"Peeta, what's this?"
I let the water run over my aching muscles for another minute before I stick my head past the curtain. Katniss is standing, her gaze focused on my father's letter. It strikes me then that maybe I don't want her to see it.
Maybe I don't want to see it.
I'm out of the shower and pulling her against me, my fingers slowly setting the letter on the bathroom cabinet.
The letter is forgotten and the next day, I hide it in my bedside drawer next to Portia's notebook.
We're officially moving into Katniss' house and giving Prim and Rory mine. Everyone's involved in the move and our stuff is sprawling out between the two houses. It's been four years since the war and every day we've been practically living together since. But now it's official. Now there's no backing out, no running.
I've never been more excited. I've never been more terrified.
Somewhere, in the distance, Gale and Delly are fighting over how to best fit something or other through the door. Katniss is hiding in some bedroom, tidying up and looking for any last things we've left behind. Haymitch loiters on his porch, drinking so as to not have to lift a finger. All around me, my family are thriving.
My footsteps fall heavily on the wood porch as I carry another box loaded with painting supplies. "Look out, Prim!" I shout, giving her fair warning to vacate the steps before I kick her.
"Peeta?" She asks, her voice tentative as she moves to stand by the rail. I see it then, the folded parchment slightly yellowed with the hands of time. For the first time, it's open and by the look on her face I know that she's read it. My stomach feels sick as I set down the box and look her in the eye. From the way she steps back, I'm not sure if I'm meaning to be menacing or not, but I must be.
"Where'd you get that?" I ask harshly. I try to clear my throat and push the anger away. Prim didn't mean to invade – she really would never.
"I – I found it. When I was cleaning out your drawers – I – Peeta, I'm sorry!" I see the tears slip from her cheeks as she thrusts the letter at me, the paper moving in the slight breeze. It's my turn to step back, away from the threat of anguish that she waves at me. "Take it," she pleads, stepping forward again.
"Prim." I crack. My fingers pinch my nose to try to stave off tears.
"To my boy, Peeta," Prim's voice shakes as she reads the letter.
Secretly, I want to plug my ears or take off into the trees. I don't want to hear my father's last words to me. I don't want to remember how much it hurts to have him really be gone. This will mean it's real and in all honesty, perhaps his death is something I'm still not comfortable with.
"Reading this, you will find that I'm not as good with words as you – we were never the wordsmiths you became. You are the son I know, not what I raised. I do not think I have yet raised a man as good as you. You became this man, one with honour and integrity and love, from your own strength. And you are reading this now because you, my intelligent and kind son, have found another loop hole. You found your way back to your family, to your love, to your dreams. And you are reading this because despite everything, you have survived.
The son I know is a Victor. The son I know is not the cowardice of his father or the anger of his mother. The son I know is the bravery in facing death. He is the love that you read about. He is the son I know, the son I love.
Bring him home to me. Make this name honourable again.
I'll see you soon."
Somewhere along the way I've closed my eyes, letting Prim's words rush over me and hearing my father's voice speak them aloud. When it ends, I realize that I'm on my knees and that these arms around me are the love he spoke about.
My father knew me so well.
Prim kneels before where Katniss and I sit, holding each other together. Her fingers are still holding the letter tightly as she watches us. "I think you should have this too," Prim adds quietly and reaches forward to lay Portia's notebook before me. Inside is tucked her note to me, the one that reminds me to keep living.
I don't cry when she hands me the letter. Nor do I cry when I realize it's also the deed to the bakery. I wait until later, when we're in the new house and I'm kneading dough to remember the man who wrote that letter.
My father, the man I'd known.
Life is not a game to be won. There are no ranks to obtain and no competition to beat. People will tell you otherwise – they will make it sound dreary and endless. They will tell you to give up, that it only gets worse.
But what they don't tell you is that it is always darkest before the day. I came home without a leg, without my love, without my family. But they came back to me, one by one. The hardest part was to live after. But it's only through living through the bad that you can value what you truly have.
I'm ready for when it gets hard again – because it will, because that's life.
I'm ready to be the man my father knew.
And as I stand here holding my son, watching my wife push my daughter on the swings across from our bakery, I see it all so clearly now. I see the dream I had all those years ago on these very swings. I know now that life isn't a game.
Life is simple. Life is living.
AN: That's it, that's all folks.
Now, I know in a story this size there's probably a mountain of things that I haven't addressed. If you have any questions or want some outtakes etc, I'm open to that. I make no promises. But I'll give it a go. Thank you again for all your lovely reviews - you've been the best.