Hope dances on my father's grave.
Her delicate, pale arms are held aloft as she spins, whipping her dark braids through the air. Her smiling blue eyes sparkle with joy. Her chubby blonde little brother tries to catch up, a look of dedicated concentration in his steely eyes. She flits away, giggling. He topples over, falling on top of some dandelions. Their seeds fly into the air and drift across the Meadow.
Dad would have loved this.
I can barely believe it myself. Katniss was so adamant that we would never have children, that we never could have children. And I accepted it. But that didn't mean that I didn't still long for them. I suppose it is impossible to hide something like that from someone who has been through so much with you, because she always knew. Every time a child came into the bakery and she saw that I noticed, her eyes would cloud over with guilt. I always smiled, and told her to stop. But when the day came when she informed me that she hadn't renewed her shot, and asked what exactly I was going to do about it, I threw her over my shoulder and took the stairs two at a time.
The pregnancy was difficult for her. We had to put away the picture of Prim, and the memory book. I would often come home to find her hidden in the dark of our bedroom closet. She spent many tearful hours on the phone with Annie and her mother. I tried so hard, but nothing could alleviate her terror and despair until the moment she held our baby in her arms. Carrying him was a little easier for her, but difficult in other ways. Realizing our daughter was about to have a sibling made me long for mine constantly, and I often found myself roaming the Meadow alone. The first month after his arrival, I woke in the middle of each night, taking him sleeping from his bassinet and rocking him for hours as both he and Katniss dreamt on peacefully.
She is beside me now, a thoughtful look in her eyes. I know what she is thinking. How can we possibly tell them what lies underneath their playground?
I have no clear idea, really. But I know we'll do it together when it is time.
The years have been kinder to us than most, perhaps to make up for the brutal early days of our young adulthood. But I cherish every faint smile line that has crept onto her face. Lines that I know I helped to put there.
Twelve has flourished. To replace the industry of coal, a factory was built to manufacture medicines from the abundant natural life that surrounds us. Vick works there now. In fact, he practically runs the place. Thom began to farm, just as he always hoped he would, but somehow also managed to be elected Mayor without asking for the job. I certainly voted for him. Delly stayed in the Capitol with Julia. Together they opened a treatment center for people who struggle with mental illness, with Delly as the administrator and Julie as the head neurologist. I miss them both, but they visit as often as they can. My mother-in-law arrives to see her grandchildren every three months, like clockwork. Annie and her son often join her. He is an absolute hellion at nineteen, and looks just like his father. Johanna and Gale come out on "official business," but I think that's just an excuse. Their children seem to love it here.
We are, all of us, still a little bit broken, though. Some more than others. Haymitch started raising those awful geese, but he never did stop drinking. I'm pretty certain it's no coincidence that his monthly delivery of liquor is often accompanied by a clandestine visit from Effie, and I am glad for this, at least. Rory moved into a small cabin he built for himself in the isolated woods. He rarely comes into town, and already the other young children have developed a sort of mythology about him – the wild man of the woods. I don't think he ever got over the loss of Prim. Honestly, I don't think anyone really has.
Katniss' nightmares still get bad with a regularity that we have both just resigned ourselves to. There are occasionally days when she cannot bring herself to get out of bed at all. I bring her cheese buns and kisses. I hold her and tell her I love her while Posy, who has just become the schoolteacher, watches the children. It's all I can do but she tells me it is enough. It has to be enough because there is nothing else.
The flashbacks never completely went away, but I haven't hurt anyone since that terrible night nineteen years ago. When they come, which is always on days that I feel the strain of immense anxiety, I grab on to the back of a chair and hold on for dear life. It's not nearly as bad as it once was; I don't even black out anymore. When the episode has passed, I sit at the kitchen table and with trembling hands I make a list of everything beautiful I have that hasn't been taken away from me, of everything beautiful that I've had, even for a short time, and everything beautiful that I have been given. Afterwards, I bake or I paint. Eventually the stress fades.
Life, for the most part, is blissfully uneventful.
And when I incredulously wonder aloud, as I sometimes do, if this marvelous existence can really be my life, my daughter wrinkles her mother's nose and looks at me with my father's eyes.
"You're so silly, Daddy. 'Course it's real."
I'm not really one for author's notes, but I wanted to thank everyone for the alerts, favorites, and, quite especially, reviews over the past week and a half. I didn't really anticipate this level of response, and it has been very helpful in a lot of ways, not to mention heartwarming. I would specifically like to thank (and simultaneously recommend) TheWeekendSinner, who has consistently reviewed every chapter of every single thing I have written, as well as provided helpful advice. It has been very encouraging, to say the least.
I hope to write something else about Peeta and Katniss and their family after I finish Le Couperet et Le Collet, my likely-to-be-enormous, Hunger-Games-in-Johanna's-POV story, and I think I will probably be writing the occasional one-shot before then. So, since many of you have said you hope The List goes on forever, I hope that this eventuality will at least be a somewhat satisfactory alternative. Or you could just read The Luxury and the Necessity by Devanrae. Actually, you should definitely do that, regardless.