I always envisioned what my family would look like one day. My wife and my children were always solid in my mind, but faceless. It was too hard for me to imagine Katniss as my wife back then because I was convinced it would never happen. Why torture myself further with images of her as my wife and our children running around happily in our home?
The most painful thing in the world for me to do was stand on that stage next to Ceaser Flickerman before the Quarter Quell and announce to Panem that Katniss and I were expecting a child. Not only because it was a lie, but because it was a future that I had accepted I would never have. I was meant to die in the arena and become nobody's husband and father to none. Yet, somehow, here I am with all of it.
I'm a husband to the only woman that could truly fill the faceless image in my mind. On good days I tell myself that all of this happened to us for a reason. It helps me to understand everything. It does me no good to look in the mirror at my scars, or at the Primrose bushes in the yard and know that is the only reminder we have of the little girl that meant the world to the woman that means the world to me. We both lost siblings in The War, but I was never responsible for providing for mine the way Katniss was with Prim. Because of that, she will always feel as though she failed Prim and there's nothing I can do to convince her otherwise.
She was so against having kids, and though I never pushed the topic too far, she knew I really wanted to be a father. The day she told me she wanted to have a baby, I thought she was joking. By that point it had been 15 years since The War ended and I was grateful for what I had. I am the only person alive in Panem that can say they recovered from being Hijacked. The flashbacks will never go away, but they are few and far between and barely have any effect on me anymore. It's not a full recovery, but the doctors consider it a success; most people that have been hijacked either live the rest of their lives in a cell, or they kill themselves. I have a life when I shouldn't be lucid or alive, a thriving bakery, two amazing children, and a wife that is more captivating and precious than she will ever realize.
When she assured me that she wasn't joking, my next thought was to assume that she was only doing this for me. She knew how badly I wanted children, and I didn't want to do this if she was only doing it for me. I don't need that guilt on my shoulders, and I would never want her to resent me one day for making her feel as though she had to do this. It had to be for both of us.
For the first time, Katniss was eloquent. She said it was because of Prim that she decided she was ready. She tried to imagine what life would be like if The War had ended and Prim had not died. She would have been 28 years old then and even though it took Katniss all that time to realize it, she finally understood that Prim would have gone on with life. She would have become a Doctor, she would have met a man, and they would have gotten married and had children of their own; nieces and nephews.
She tells me that even at 13 years old, Prim was wise beyond her years and it makes me sad that I never got to spend time with her in District 13 because I was incapacitated and on 24 hour watch due to being Hijacked. Katniss is usually the last one to realize what other people around her already know, but she knows it now; Prim would want her own nieces and nephews to play with, she would want to see her sister happy; loving and protecting them the same way Katniss tried to protect her.
I'm reminded of the promise we made to each other shortly after coming back to District 12, and even though neither of us knew the other was thinking it, we both repeated it at the same time, "We promised to live well to make their deaths count." I will never forget the look that Katniss had on her face at that moment. She was serious and she wasn't doing this for me; she wanted a baby. She wanted life to go on not only for us, but for future generations. She truly wanted to be a mother.
That first pregnancy was not an easy one. Medically, it was picture perfect, but when the baby began to kick, Katniss was terrified. I could always tell when she was kicking, because Katniss would tense up and shake just slightly. A kicking baby made it real, a kicking baby is a baby that will become a child and instilled a fear within Katniss that she would fail this child as well.
The pregnancy did a number on me as well. I had several episodes that were brand new and all too horrifying. Visions of Katniss giving birth and immediately mauling the newborn and then laughing about it, telling me she would never want a child with me and that I didn't deserve one. After a few months of this, I was able to ward them off in the way I always do, but before that I spent a lot of time away from my pregnant wife because I was afraid I would hurt her. I will never get over the guilt I felt knowing I couldn't be there for my wife when she needed me the most.
We didn't discuss names until we saw her. Katniss was too afraid to give the unborn baby a name for fear that something would go wrong and the baby would die. One thing was certain though: we were not going to name the baby after anyone. Our family is one that stands for future and hope, and neither one of us felt it would be wise to live in the past. New babies were to be given new names that they could make their own.
When Zuri was born, I saw Katniss content for the first time in 9 months. Holding her brought Katniss a joy that could be seen a mile away; I believe she even surprised herself with how much joy it brought her. I was on cloud 9, I had a daughter and she was perfect. Since the baby was a girl I felt it was best to let Katniss name her, and I was surprised at how quickly the words fell from her lips. "Zuri. It means beautiful." I wasn't sure where it came from, but she later confessed that she had a book of baby names sent to her that people in The Capitol use. It listed names and their meanings and the first thing that came to mind was that the baby was beautiful. And she was a beautiful baby, with wild tufts of dark hair and a pair of blue eyes that I only see when I look at myself in the mirror.
It may have been hormones, but I've never seen Katniss more emotional than when our children were born. She couldn't stop looking at Zuri. I remember a particular day when Zuri was a week old, Haymitch was over and we sat around the living room as Katniss held Zuri, still staring at her. Suddenly, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said to me, "Look at what we made, Peeta." I was taken aback; never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect Katniss to say something like that. I replied with a smile and a nod, certain it was hormones talking, but Haymitch wasn't so tactful; it happened so quickly. One minute, Katniss was full of bliss, in tears over the beauty of her first child, the next, Haymitch is scoffing and saying, "What corny romance novel did you steal that one from, Sweetheart?" When Katniss stood up, I knew things wouldn't end well; when she handed Zuri to me, I knew Haymitch's life was in danger. She grabbed my boot quicker than lightning and hauled it at Haymitch's face before either of us could stop her. It took 2 hours to get his nose to stop bleeding, but he has never said a negative word in regards to either of the kids since, even in joking.
The second pregnancy was easier. I was able to keep my episodes at bay and Katniss was not nearly as terrified when he started to kick. It still scared her, but she didn't shake anymore and she had Zuri to distract her mind from going to dangerous places.
Zuri was 3 when Katniss was pregnant the second time. She was a hyper ball of energy that danced from sun up until sun down and sang her sentences rather than speaking them. On days I would take her with me to the bakery to give Katniss some time to rest, she'd run into the house when we got home, hug Katniss and kiss her belly and proclaim in song "I missed you mommy, I missed you baby." Zuri helped keep both of us on track, giving us laughs when Katniss got to thinking too much and showing my imperfect brain that Katniss was never going to tear our children apart and laugh about it.
Atem came early; eager to start his life on the outside. He wasn't early enough for it to be a concern, but he was early enough to give us all a surprise. We were almost completely unprepared for him and I was up for 48 hours straight painting his room and building his crib after he was born.
Katniss told me I should name him, and so I picked Atem from the same book that Katniss used to find Zuri's name. It means completion, and that's what I felt like when he was born; complete. I felt that he was the missing piece to the puzzle of our family. However, it took a week for Katniss to agree and it was for a reason that I never expected her to point out. On the day we finally decided on Atem, she said to me, "What if we have another? We can't have completion and then have another one. It makes his name meaningless." At first, I didn't know how to answer that. It's rare you find me speechless, but I couldn't believe that Katniss was actually considering another one. The only thing I could think to say was that we'd name the baby Surprise or Just Joking. All Katniss could do was laugh and call me hopeless, but she finally agreed that Atem was the name and we would cross the bridge of naming a third if we came to it.
That was 18 months ago. Zuri is 5 now and started school this year. It was bittersweet walking her to the school that first day. Making sure her name tag that proudly read "Zuri Mellark" was securely attached to her dress was surreal to me. I was sad to lose my little baking partner, but proud that she was starting school. Katniss, Haymitch, and I stood at the front of the school and watched her walk in, waving at her even after she had turned her back to us. Katniss, Atem on her hip, stood silent. I think part of her was thinking to the day that they begin to teach the kids about The Games, and the other part was proud that we'd gotten Zuri this far without complete disaster. Just before Zuri walked into the school she turned back to us and yelled, "Go away, guys!" As we walked away, Haymitch was the first one to say what we were all thinking, "What do you guys think? Is she going to meet her future husband today?" Since then I've been keeping a careful eye on the boys in her class.
Atem is just beginning to show us his personality. At 18 months old he walks on unsteady legs, but refuses a helping hand, and gets angry when you try to brush his blond curls out of the grey eyes that I know from looking at his mother's all these years. I think it's safe to say that as soon as he is old enough he will be out in the woods with Katniss, learning all about plants and how to shoot a bow and arrow.
Raising children has made Katniss and I a team in different way than we've been teammates before. There's a lot of discussion and planning, but it's good for us. Making new memories for ourselves and for our children has made it easier to keep the past where it belongs and we've always been good as a team, so it works for us.
I tell Katniss all the time that she saved me from becoming Haymitch. Her response at first was simply to nod and say "Me too," in a voice that was so low, I had to ask her to repeat herself. In that sense, we understand Haymitch. It could easily be one or both of us living to see the bottom of a white liquor bottle every day; so while we could spend our days ignoring him and his snide remarks, we keep inviting him back. He's family now, former mentor and fill-in father when needed, uncle Haymitch to our kids and all around one of the wisest people I've ever met. He drinks less since Zuri was born. He will never stop entirely, but it's obvious he has cut back. Though he'll never admit it, he adores both of the kids. He gets this look when Zuri runs to him screaming, "Uncle Haymitch! Uncle Haymitch!" that I don't see any other time. Atem is learning, we've gotten an "Unc" from him a few times. Haymitch responds with a bellowing laugh and advice to keep trying.
It's important for us to keep reality close. We know that our family is unique and that one day both of our children are going to find themselves learning things they would be better off not knowing, and they will also realize one day the true nature and depth of all of our problems. I calm myself when those thoughts creep in by vowing to do the best that I can for both of them to ensure they grow up better than Katniss and I ever did. It's all I can do and it's the best I can do. Katniss reacts more severely to these thoughts than I do, but I do what I can to keep her calm, though it doesn't always work. All I can do is be there for her and for the kids, and since I have no plans to ever change that, I think we'll be just fine.
A/N: And there you go, a brief introduction to the Mellark Family. The next oneshot that I'm planning will delve deeper into the life of Peeta, Katniss, Haymitch, Zuri and Atem. That means more dialogue, more insight on their relationships with each other and as much humor as I can get in there without washing out the true personalities of these characters.
Thank you all so much for your wonderful reviews to my first oneshot. It means the world to me, I swear! If you could all be so kind and review this one, I'd appreciate it. The reviews keep me going and the more reviews I get, the faster more stories will be written. It's my motivation to read what people think of things I've written. I'm not holding future stories ransom in exchange for reviews, it's just the truth. The more feedback I get, the easier it is for me to write. Also thank you to everyone that has added not only my first story to favorites, but adding ME as a favorite author. I am ridiculously flattered, you couldn't chisel the smile off my face right now.
As always, feel free to suggest any ideas for future stories. I have plans to write all of the things that have been suggested to me thus far, so keep them coming, I love to hear your ideas!