*The M rating comes into play in the chapter*
I can't believe this is the last chapter of The Baby Games! I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have reviewed, favourited, followed and simply read my story! ;) I didn't expect such an amazing response, and I've enjoyed reading every single one of your reviews, so thank you.
For those of you who are waiting for me to actually update One Wish, I'm afraid you're going to have to wait for quite a while longer than you already have. I've written the first section, but I'm not happy with where it is going at the moment, so I'm going to put One Wish aside for now, and start on another story I've been itching to publish! Visit me on tumblr at writingforhugs dot tumblr dot com
Onwards, my trusty readers, and thank you :)
Life with Melanie is tiring, though we expected that much. She's a happy baby, always smiling, and she usually manages to sleep for most of the night, but it's the day time when she's a full-blown bundle of energy. You can't close your eyes for ten seconds before she's halfway across the room or heading for the staircase. She likes to watch her father in the kitchen, but has a habit of tipping the flour over and creating a mess (much to my amusement and Peeta's grumbling).
The first time I went back into the forest, I felt like crying. My stomach was still slightly rounded, but it was out of the way enough so that I could fire arrows and climb trees and jump from high spots without having to worry about injuring myself or the baby by landing funny. It was as if I was a bird, freed from its cage. I spent the entire day in the forest, simply basking in the warm heat. I brought home enough food to last us for several weeks in advance. We found that Melanie loved being outside, and in the summer after she was born, Peeta and I would lie outside in the backyard, in the grass, with our eyes fixed on our daughter as she rolled about on her blanket. She would eat the grass, the dirt, the leaves, and the flowers.
Peeta takes Melanie into town all the time, eager to show her off to everyone and anyone. Mom and Prim come to visit most weekends, and Prim is happy to babysit when we want days off. Peeta's father cries the first few times he visits, and I'm surprised when Mrs Mellark comes round with her husband, carrying a box of old baby clothes.
"They were never going to be used." She shrugs her shoulders, sliding the box over the table towards me. Anyone can see that she cares about Melanie. Peeta tells me that she's just glad to have a girl to dote after. One day, when Peeta is out with old wrestling buddies from school, I hitch Melanie onto my hip and walk through the town to the bakery. It's a hot day, the sun shining down, and Melanie keeps pulling her blue flowery hat from her head. Just like I used to when I was a kid.
"Melly, you have to wear the hat." I tell her, putting the hat back on her head. Her hair is growing in unruly dark curls, just like mine did. She simply coos in response, smiling her baby-toothed smile. Once we reach the bakery, I ignore the stares from other townies. It's still weird, apparently, to see a Seam girl with a Merchant's baby. However, when I turn around to glare at those behind me, I'm met with soft smiles instead.
"She's beautiful. You're very lucky." One of them says.
"I know," I say, looking at my daughter, who's chewing on my braid. Pride swells in my chest. "Thank you." It's times like these, the precious, under-a-minute moments that restore my faith in humanity- or at least some of it.
"Hey Kat, Melly," Rye smiles once we reach the counter. "The usual?"
"Please." I nod, setting Melanie down on the counter to give my arms a break.
"We've just run out of corn bread, I'll go get some more." Rye says, fondly tapping Melanie's nose and disappearing into the kitchen. Mrs Mellark appears a few moments later, manning the till. Melanie stares at her grandmother, and it takes a minute for me to realise what exactly has got her attention. Resting on Mrs Mellark's chest is a glittering necklace, the chain decorated with various tiny crystals, and the pendant in the middle an amber sphere with a flower in the middle. I remember Madge telling me about the bugs that sometimes got caught in tree sap, and wonder if this is what happened to the flower.
"Melly likes your necklace," I speak up, motioning to the baby between us. "It's very beautiful."
"Thank you," Mrs Mellark says, tilting her chin down to look at the piece of jewellery. "Farrell bought it for me many years ago." I nod in understanding and stand to the side so another customer can buy what they're looking for. There's a lull in customers, leaving me, Melly and Peeta's mother standing in awkward silence. Mrs Mellark raps her knuckles on the countertop and Melanie glances from her hand to her face curiously.
"She has your hair." She says, reaching a bony hand forward and running it through the thin locks on Melanie's head.
"But Peeta's eyes."
"Who is she most like?" Mrs Mellark asks, pulling a piece of thread from Melanie's shoulder.
"You can hold her, if you want," I say, lifting Melanie up. Mrs Mellark hesitates for a second, and then takes Melanie into her arms, cupping the back of her head with one hand and smiling softly. "She's like me," I say. "Bossy, stubborn, and loves being outside."
"Peeta must be disappointed."
"Not really. I don't think he minds that much, but it's when she knocks over flour that he gets annoyed."
"Peeta has always been a baker. From the day he was born," She muses, a serene look overtaking her usually sour expression. "Had –well, has- an awful sweet tooth. Such a chubby baby as well."
"He spoils Melanie." I nod my head.
"I'm not surprised. He takes after his father."
"Do all the clothes I sent fit her?"
"Yes, thank you," I tug at my own shirt. It still feels weird (four months on) to look down and see a relatively flat stomach. I'm working on getting myself back into shape, though it won't the amount of exercise I get most days in the woods, though Peeta says that it's nice to see a fullness in my cheeks, and to not be able to outline every rib under my skin. I snort and roll my eyes whenever he says this, because I know that those reasons aren't the only reasons. I know that he likes that my breasts are bigger now, especially since getting pregnant and feeding Melanie. "The little pink booties-"
"The ones with the daisies on the buckles?"
"Yes, those, they're a perfect fit on her."
"I'm glad," Mrs Mellark smiles, pulling a face. Melly giggles, revealing her swollen gums. She's teething now, constantly chewing on her fingers to find some relief. "At least they're being used now instead of sitting in a closet all day." Rye comes back then, apologising for the wait, and bags my usual order.
"Can I have some gingerbread cookies as well?" I ask, rooting in the satchel at my hip and pulling out some coins.
"You're family Katniss, you don't need to pay." Rye says, shaking his head.
"I'm paying whether you like it or not. It's still a novelty to me." I reply, pressing the coins into his hand. Rye rolls his eyes but puts the money into the cash register anyway.
"Where's Melanie gone?" He asks. I tilt my head towards his mother, who's moved to the window so Melanie can look outside. "Seriously? You let her hold your daughter?"
"Come off it, she isn't that bad. And it isn't like she's going to harm the only girl in the family."
"You're a girl."
"Shut up, Rye. I'm your sister now. I can beat you up if I want." I say. Rye raises an eyebrow.
"Who's the wrestling champion here?" He asks, leaning forward over the counter. I stand my ground, arms folded over my chest.
"I take down stag and wolves."
"Don't get big-headed." Rye chuckles, moving back and pulling a damp rag over the countertop.
As the following year stretches on, Peeta and I are too preoccupied with Melanie's first steps, first word (which, regrettably, is 'Dada'), and other parts of the little girl to have much interest in the uprising. It takes a seat on the back burner for most of the time. By the second year since Melanie's birth, I've almost completely forgotten about it. Nothing seems to be progressing, so I settle down at ignore everything, focusing completely on Melanie. It stays that way for a long time.
And then the Lomenzo twins vanish.
Trace and Trenton Lomenzo are last seen walking down one of the backstreets on their way back home. Their parents raised the alarm when they never returned. After the entire district was searched- buildings turned inside out- in a desperate effort to find the lost boys. No-one has seen them since, and no-one has any idea of how or why they had vanished. This, of course, brought up the disappearance of the Hawthornes back into main focus.
"Despite everything, I wish Gale was here," I say to Peeta one night. He's bent over the side of Melanie's crib, watching his daughter slowly drift off to sleep. "And Hazel. And Vick, Rory and Posy. I would've loved them to have met Melanie."
"I know. But we'll see them again someday." Peeta reassures me, holding out a hand for me to take.
"I miss my best friend." I whisper, thinking of the lonely hunting trips in the woods. All the times I needed him to just hold something for me while I set a snare. Or help me carry a heavy kill back home. Or to simply be there as a comforting ever-present company.
"I know you do." He replies, his eyes sad yet hopeful. I look down at sweet, care-free Melanie. It's a battle between my heart and head; deciding on whether a rebellion would be better or not.
Melanie is four and a half months old when Peeta and I take her, a bag containing some clothes, and a few of her toys over to my old house.
"Are you sure it isn't too much of an inconvenience?" I ask, handing Mom the bag. Peeta is rocking his daughter against his chest, murmuring softly. Although he was the one to suggest giving ourselves a night off, he's finding saying goodbye to his baby very difficult. He held Melanie the entire way here as well.
"Melanie is my granddaughter, Katniss. It will never be an inconvenience," Mom says, patting my arm. "Besides, both you and Peeta look a little bedraggled. Don't forget that you're only seventeen. It'll be good for you to have a rest."
"Thank you," I say. Mom simply nods in understanding. I turn to Peeta, who presses a kiss against Melly's forehead before handing her over to me. "See you tomorrow," I murmur, rocking the baby back and forth in my arms. "Be nice to Grandma and Aunty Prim." Melanie pats my cheek with one chubby hand and coos softly. Once we've said our goodbyes, Peeta and I head out from the house. Mom and Prim stand on the porch, and my sister takes Melanie's hand, making her wave to us. Peeta and I head to the Hob, where Ripper sells us an unmarked bottle of amber liquor, claiming that it's the 'best in the district'. After that we head home and make a small dinner of toasted bread and stew.
"It's so quiet without Melanie." Peeta whispers, breaking the companionable silence we held.
"I know," I say, smiling softly up at him. "But she's in safe hands with Mom and Prim. And she's be back tomorrow afternoon."
"Don't you think it's funny though?"
"Don't I think what's funny?" I ask.
"How quickly we've become used to having Melanie in the house, always making noise?" Peeta grins. "It's weird."
"I know," I nod my head, looking down at my bowl. "I keep waiting for the sound of her crying... or laughing..."
"I bet she's being a nightmare over at your place." Peeta chuckles.
"Probably." I agree, taking a sip of the liquor we bought. The bottle is half gone already. I'm definitely beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol- it's stronger than Ripper said it was. From the glazed look in my husband's eyes, and the red flush that's slowly worked it's way over his cheeks, I can tell that he's drunk as well. He continues to chat about how strange it was to be the only married guy –who was also a father- in his wrestling group. He talks about the little kid that always mucks up the glass display case in the bakery. He talks about Melanie the most. I watch him as he talks, noticing the way his eyes light up. He really does love his daughter, more than anything. I'm so deep in thought that I don't hear him stand, or see him take my bowl and his to the sink. It's only when he begins to massage my shoulders that I come back to myself, leaning back into his hands with a groan.
"You know, it's been months since we've had night alone." He murmurs. I smile mischievously.
"What are you suggesting?"
"That we get a good night's sleep." Peeta teases. I can hear the smile in his voice.
"We appear to have different ideas," I say draining my glass before standing up to face him, pushing my chair aside. Peeta raises his eyebrows. "Very different."
"I think I know what you're talking about."
"Show me that you understand."
"Close your eyes." He instructs. I swallow and do as I'm told, waiting for him to move. I'm suddenly hyperaware of every little sound in the room, from the hum of the generator, to the sound of me breathing. I fight the urge to open my eyes and force myself to wait, curling my hands into fists. Nervous energy is rushing through me, electricity buzzes under my skin. I'm just about to speak; to ask what Peeta is doing, when I feel soft lips on mine. A soft gasp escapes me. Peeta's hands rest on my lower back, pulling me closer to him, and my hands fly up to his upper arms, my fingernails digging into the thin material of his shirt.
I can taste the alcohol on his mouth. He's just as drunk as I am.
"Peeta," I whisper when he finally pulls away, only to latch onto the skin on my neck. "What are you doing?"
"I'm showing you that I understand." Peeta breathes, looking up at me, his eyes blazing. His hands slide down to cup my ass, and he lifts me up. I wrap my legs around his waist, feeling the band of muscles around his torso shifting as he walks me back against the wall, kissing me forcefully, rolling his hips against the cradle of mine. I mewl in delight and Peeta chuckles against my mouth. It's been way too long without this feeling. In the months before Melanie was born, either my stomach or my hormones stopped me from wanting anything remotely sexual with my husband. After she was born, we were simply too busy, or too tired to do anything but share a heated kiss or two.
Poor guy. All that time without anything from his wife.
I take a deep breath, steadying myself, and speak. "Do whatever you want," I tell him, hating the crack in my voice that betrays my nerves. "Anything, Peeta."
"Fuck, Katniss." He hisses when I reach under his shirt and rake my nails lightly down his back.
"Please." I beg. He kisses me again, my head hits the wall behind me, and our teeth knock against each other, but now it's almost frenzied. The mix of alcohol and pent up frustration has resulted in a relentless flood of want. Peeta tugs my shirt up, over my head, and presses soft open-mouthed kisses down my neck and onto my chest, his hands boxing me in against the wall. I pull his shirt up as well, desperate to see his skin. I laugh when the shirt collar gets stuck on his ears, but the noise is muffled when Peeta begins kneading my breasts through my bra. They've been extra-sensitive due to feeding Melanie, so the sensation is amplified. Peeta removes my bra quickly, letting the garment slide away onto the floor. I stare at his torso, admiring the sharp cut of his hips, the sculpted stomach, the ridiculous broadness of his shoulders.
"You're so beautiful." He whispers, latching on to one nipple, lightly tugging on it with his teeth. I arch my back, moaning in relief, my fingers twisting on his broad shoulders. His tongue swirls around the tip of my breast, and his other hands moves down to kneed the other. I push against his chest, squirming under his greedy ministrations, and he releases me, letting me stand on two feet. I stretch up on my toes to kiss him once more, slanting my mouth against his, sliding my tongue over his bottom lip before turning and heading for the stairs, pulling my soft grey shorts from my legs. I'm halfway up the stairs before I hear Peeta's uneven footsteps following me. He shuts the door once we're both in our bedroom, and I pull him by his belt loops down onto the bed, crawling up to him and straddling his waist, feeling the bulge in his pants against my centre. Leaning down to kiss him, my hair falling around my face, I roll my hips against his. He groans, his hands gripping my hips tightly. I begin to kiss down his chest, running my fingers through the patch of soft golden hair upon his chest, when he lips us over so he's above me, resting his weight in the cradle of my hips, propping himself up on his hands and leaning down to kiss me again.
Our bodies move against each other easily, and I can't decide where to put my hands. His shoulders? Neck? Waist? I don't have much time to think, however, because Peeta cups my breast again, squeezing gently and rubbing my nipple with his thumb. I gasp against his mouth, my hips bucking against his. I can feel his erection and I reach down to rub my palm over the front of his pants
"No, Katniss." He says determinedly. His eyes are clouded with lust and almost black in colour as he rips my hands away and pins them above my head. His free hand snakes down my stomach and to the waistline of my panties. His fingers skim across the pale material, and dip down to trace my centre, sending my hips forward towards his hand, desperate to feel the feeling I so badly want. He tugs my panties down, tossing them aside and releasing my wrists. I prop myself up on my elbows as he slides his hands over my bare legs, inching closer to my core. He presses soft kisses along my inner thigh, over my stomach, over my chest, sucking and licking his way over my skin.
"Peeta, please." I beg, opening my legs to him. He glances at me before dipping his tongue into me, forcing my hips down onto the bed, working relentlessly with his mouth. He sucks my clit into my mouth and I groan, tugging harshly on his hair, biting my lip. When he slides a long finger into me, I choke at the feeling. It's definitely been too long since this happened. The coil in my belly tightens even further, tighter, tighter, until it springs loose and I fall over the edge, fisting the bedcovers in my hands, arching off the mattress. Once I've come back to myself, I push on Peeta's chest, pushing him back onto the bed and kissing him hungrily, tasting myself on his lips.
"I should do that to you every day," Peeta pants against my mouth. "It's only fair."
"It isn't fair until I return the favour." I say, cupping his jaw in my hands and sliding my tongue over his. I unbutton and unzip his pants, tugging them down his legs. His boxers look uncomfortable, so I make quick work of them as well, and fling them aside, gripping his thighs and taking him into my mouth, swirling my tongue around the head of his cock. Peeta gasps my name, and brings his hands up to his hair, groaning loudly. I bob my head up and down and grasp the base of his cock. His hips begin to thrust upwards so I suck in my cheeks and keep my head still, letting him do the work. A strangled moan escapes from his throat, and I dig my nails into his leg as he comes, swallowing his semen eagerly. He pulls me up, back to his face and kisses me then, closing his eyes and panting raggedly into my ear.
"You didn't have to."
"I know." I shrug.
"Thank you," He whispers, not giving me a chance to thank him back. "Not only for that, but for being such an amazing wife and mother."
"You're welcome," I say, drawing shapes on his chest with my thumb. He kisses me again, and sucks and kneads my breasts until he's hard again and I'm gasping for breath. "You need a condom, Peeta," I say, my clit throbbing between my legs. "We all know what happened last time."
"Would it really be that bad?"
"Yes. It's been four months Peeta. We're not trying to overrun the district with Mellarks." I grin against his mouth and move over so he can find the box of condoms Rye bought him all those months ago. I admire the curve of my husband's ass as he rolls over and digs around in the bedside cabinet. He tosses the box onto the bed and pulls out one of the silver foil squares.
"There aren't that many." He says.
"Anticipating more of this?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.
"Obviously." Peeta rolls his eyes, rolling the condom on.
"I'll see what I can do." Peeta asks me if I'd rather be on top and I agree, deciding to take it easy after all this time. I straddle his waist and grasp his cock, positioning it between my legs before sinking down. After all this time, the sheer size of him is staggering. I gasp once he's fully sheathed inside me, sitting still, my hands fists on his chest, and I squeeze my eyes shut until I get used to the feeling of being so full.
"Are you okay?" Peeta's voice is soft but strained, and he caresses my behind tenderly.
"Y-yes," I splutter. "It's just... wow..." I trail off, and Peeta chuckles. "Just- just move slowly." I shift my hips forward slightly as Peeta thrusts, and the pressure makes my limbs tingle with electricity. I lean down and kiss him, moving slowly. Eventually I get used to the feeling, and I rock back and force, swivelling my hips as Peeta thrusts with a good amount of controlled ferocity. He latches onto my nipples again, kneading them skilfully, and he reduces me to a mewling, quivering mess on his chest after we've both come.
During the night we have sex three more times, Peeta on top, Peeta behind, and I discover my favourite is when we somehow end up on the floor. I'm exhausted and fall asleep content in his arms. He wakes me up in the morning with fresh breath (and I'm hesitant to kiss him back with my morning breath), though I melt underneath him less than two minutes later, crying his name as he moves above me.
It takes three years before Peeta manages to convince me to have another baby. I kept telling him that we shouldn't, that it was too soon the first time round, and that we weren't prepared.
"I've just turned twenty, Peeta," I say one morning, attempting to get Melanie to eat a spoonful of porridge. She keeps turning her head away at the last moment, and ends up with porridge smeared all over her cheek. "I'm barely out of my adolescent years."
"Yes, but little Mel here has turned out alright, hasn't she?" He replies, straddling his seat and taking the spoon from me. Melanie likes her father the best. I try not to let it get to me, but sometimes, after I've spent the day frustrated because she wouldn't go to sleep, the way Peeta manages to send his child into a deep sleep for a few hours makes me angry.
I hesitate, biting my lip. "I'll think about it."
Peeta looks up and smiles genuinely. "That's all I'm going to ask of you, Katniss. I'm not going to pressure you into anything. I know that the first time around was difficult and upsetting. Tell me if I'm smothering you."
"You aren't smothering me," I say, ruffling Melanie's hair and kissing Peeta on the cheek. "I'll be back by lunch."
But I notice how he looks at the younger children who are carried into the bakery.
I try to hide it, but I notice.
The morning of my decision, I decide to keep Melanie up all day, to keep her busy, so that she'll sleep solidly through the night. At three, she's begun to develop her personality even more, and it's clear that she's just a stubborn as me. This leads to Peeta playing the good guy and getting us to make up. I sit my daughter at the kitchen table and hand her a pack of chunky, garishly coloured crayons for her to use while I cook dinner. I make his favourite meal and set everything out to be ready when he gets home, and when he does, I greet him with a kiss on the cheek. Melly gives him a drawing.
Later that night, after Melanie's been put to bed and Peeta and I are brushing our teeth, I pull the bottle of contraceptive pills my mother gave me from the cabinet under the sink.
"Are you due?" Peeta asks, the toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.
"Yeah." I say, staring blankly at the Capitol seal on the bottle cap.
"Are you okay?" Peeta continues, nudging my side. I unscrew the bottle and tip one of the powdery circles into my palm. I swallow, straighten my back, and look up at him in the mirror.
"How much do you want another baby?" I ask. He blinks, considering his answer.
"It's about what you want, Katniss, not me-"
"No. This is about you as well. How badly do you want Melanie to have a sibling?"
"More than the world," Peeta mumbles, looking ashamed. Everything is quiet. I drop the pill back into the bottle, screw the lid back on, and return it to its place on the shelf. "Whoa, what are you doing?" He exclaims. "You're due, Katniss. You have to take it."
"That's only when you don't want to get pregnant." I whisper.
"What does this mean?" He asks steadily, leaning over the sink to spit.
"I want another baby, Peeta." I say, my words getting higher in pitch as I speak. Peeta jerks his head back, and in his haste he bumps it into the cupboard.
"Oh, fuck." He curses, grasping at his head. I laugh and bury my face into his chest.
"I know you want another baby."
"I do." Peeta says, rubbing his head.
"Let's do it," I nod. "Let's responsibly make a baby because we want to, not because we're drunk." Peeta drops his toothbrush into the sink and hugs me, lifting me up and spinning me around in the small space of our bathroom.
That night, I come harder than I ever have before, grasping at his shoulders and wailing.
After the first six months of trying to get pregnant again, I begin to worry that I can no longer have children for some unknown reason. Peeta tells me that it's okay. That we can keep trying. That they're nothing wrong with me.
Of course, I don't mind the valiant attempts me make. Over the past few years, Peeta has well and truly become more of a man. His voice sunk even lower, his shoulders got broader, and he's become the best father any little girl would want. He's attentive, kind, unselfish, and brave. I'm come to realise that he's not only my husband, but my soul mate. I fell complete when I'm around him, as if I was simply a lost, lonely shell of a person until I found him.
I'm at my mother's house when I first feel it. The twinge in my stomach that sends me hurtling back four years. I drop my cup of tea in shock.
It's been so long.
So many years of tears, shouting, cursing, begging and praying for something like this.
Now that it's actually here, I'm terrified all over again, returned back to sixteen-year-old me, worried and confused because I was carrying an unwanted child.
But this child was planned.
"Mommy," I whisper, staring up at her, a hand on my stomach. "I felt something." Mom chokes on her cake and stares at me, then down at the hand on my stomach.
"What do you mean?" She asks. I forget that she doesn't know about Peeta and mine's valiant attempts at a second child.
"Peeta and I... we've been trying for another child for two years."
"You're only twenty one."
"Let's do a test to be sure," Mom says, her wide. "Honey, I had no idea."
"I thought there was something wrong with me."
"I'm sure there's nothing wrong with you," Mom says, bustling around the kitchen and pulling her medical bag apart, searching for a test. "Here we are." I feel just as terrified as I was in the apothecary after Haymitch's crude lesson on contraception, though there's now an underlying sense of excitement pulsing through my veins.
"Since when did you have a supply of those things?" I ask.
"Ever since my daughter fell pregnant at sixteen!" Mom exclaims with a grin, whacking me on the head with box before handing it to me. I disappear into the bathroom, pee on the test, and wash my hands, returning back into the kitchen and covering my eyes.
"Mom, I can't look." I say, letting out a breath. Mom pats my arm and sits me down in a chair.
"Well, I'm not going to say anything until you look." I pull my hands away and narrow my eyes at her, before taking the test and glancing down at the screen. The small plus sign that glares up at me. Fear's bony hand squeezes at my chest.
"Melanie's going to have a sibling." I whisper. My mother stands from her seat and hugs me, laughing into my shoulder and kissing my cheek. A tear rolls down my cheek and I smile widely.
"Congratulations, darling. Have you told Peeta?"
"He'll be thrilled, I'm sure."
"I know he'll be happy, it's just a lot to take in," I admit, wiping at my eyes and laughing at my silliness. "All this time I've felt like I haven't been able to give Peeta what he wanted."
"Oh, Katniss," Mom shakes her head, smoothing down my hair. "Sometimes you really are oblivious. Peeta worships the very ground you walk on." I bite my lip and look down at my flat stomach. I can do this. I want this.
I rush away from home with the pregnancy test in my hunting bag and Melanie in my arms. I strap her into the highchair we traded for at the Hob, and ransack the kitchen and the pantry, looking for the artfully crafted apron Fenton made Peeta all those years ago. He still has it, and wears it from time to time. Pulling it out, I tie it around my waist and cook dinner, entertaining Melanie and waiting for Peeta to get back from the bakery. My pulse spikes when I hear the front door opening, and Melanie bangs her hands on the tray of her chair, saying 'dada dada dada' over and over again.
"Is that Melly making all that noise?" Peeta asks, smiling widely as he enters the kitchen, putting his set of keys and a paper bag undoubtedly containing some sort of treat from the bakery onto the table. Melly coos and babbles consistently with a few real words mixed in as Peeta lifts her from her chair. "Because she's gonna be in big trouble if it is!" He throws her up into the air and blows raspberries on her stomach, causing her to fall into a fit of giggles. "Hey, Kat. Smells good." He greets me, and I turn around.
"Is that bakery bread?" I ask, opening the paper bag.
"Uh... yeah." He says, returning his daughter to her seat.
"Something wrong?" I ask, acting casual and normal.
"I hid that thing," Peeta says with a smile, gesturing to my apron. "Why'd you get it out?"
"Didn't want my clothes getting dirty." I shrug my shoulders. Peeta pauses, narrowing his eyes.
"Tell me the real reason." He says, reading the text on the apron.
"What does the apron say, Peeta? Say it. Out loud." I say, putting my hands on my hips.
"Peeta Mellark: Making babies since the age of sixteen," He says, reading the white text. I wait. Peeta's eyes widen. Bingo, bread boy. You've got it. "Are you pregnant?" He asks, staring at me in disbelief.
"Found out this morning," I reply, finally allowing my lips to curve upward into a wide grin. Peeta lets out a laugh and steps forward, pulling me into his arms, lifting me from the ground. I bury my face into his shoulder and smile. "Are you happy?" I ask.
"Of course I'm happy," Peeta says, pulling back to look at me, his arms around my waist, holding me to him. "This is wonderful news!" I cradle his face in my hands and kiss him, wet tears rolling down my cheeks.
"It finally happened..." I whisper, grinning widely. "I thought it was never going to happen –that there was something wrong with me."
"You were wrong, Kat," He says, kissing my forehead. "There's never been anything wrong with you."
The next six months are easier than the first time round. I don't get morning sickness. But my craving for chocolate is even stronger.
Blonde-haired, silver-eyed, Hugo arrives in late Autumn.
He's exactly like his father.
[One year later]
It's springtime. Hugo is making a mess, mashing the flour-and-water dough that Peeta cooked up for his son to play with in his chubby hands. Melanie stands beside him, her nose only just breaching the tabletop. Peeta went out three hours ago, to visit Haymitch. The look on his face sent thrills running through me. It's something about the rebellion. I can tell. I'm by the sink, rinsing dishes and leaving them on the rack to dry.
At first I think that I'm just hearing things- that the persistent, high-pitched noise is something conjured up from my imagination. That it's all in my head. But the noise doesn't go away. Sirens. I blink, cocking my head and narrowing my eyes to concentrate and listen.
The sirens that are positioned on towering grey poles around district are supposed to warn us of an impending attack from someone or something outside the district boundaries. When I was young, about Melanie's age, there was a wild storm. Ferocious winds during the night brought down an oak tree from the forest outside the district, and it fell onto the fence. This provided wild animals with an easy access point into the district by simply climbing over the tree and the warped metal squashed below.
Because the Peacekeepers never bothered to patrol the fence, the destruction went unnoticed. It was only when a pack of wild dogs ran through the Seam and into the Merchant Quarters that the dogs were shot, the fence was fixed and the dog meat was burnt. Blind to the starving people around them, the dog meat was thrown away. It was such a waste. When the sirens first went off I was playing out in the street with Dad. He swept me up into his arms and carried me into the house and calmed my heavily pregnant mother as the pack lurched past mere meters from the house, their eyes glistening, drool hanging from their jaws as the sirens screeched.
Melanie tugging on my pant leg brings me back to reality with a frightening jolt. I look down and squeeze her hand reassuringly. Her eyes are so similar to Peeta's. It gives her an unfair advantage when it comes to getting what she wants. I can't say no to those eyes, and she uses that to her benefit.
I call Peeta's name despite knowing that he isn't here, pulling Hugo out of his seat and into my arms, holding Melanie close to me as the sirens ring out and the ground shakes.
"What's dat noise Momma?" Melanie asks, her eyes wide and anxious. Hugo snuggles against my chest.
"I don't know sweety." I reply.
"He'll be here in a minute," I say, trying to reassure my children as well as myself. Peeta bursts into the room, his cheeks flushed, and wraps his arms around all three of us, pressing a kiss to my forehead. "What's happening?" I exclaim.
He covers Mel's ears before speaking, his face sombre. "Capitol hovercrafts are coming. They've bombed Seven, Ten and Eleven. They're bombing us next. We need to get out of here now."
"The Capitol?" I ask, horrified.
"Haymitch and Effie are running about with megaphones, telling everyone to head for the woods."
"Rescue hovercrafts are gonna save us, now come on!" Peeta exclaims, his eyes worried. He reaches out and takes Hugo, supporting his head with one large hand that almost covers Hugo's small skull. If you didn't know Peeta, you'd think that he was a brute- possibly violent- who used his size and evident strength to bully people. Not that he was a loving father who held his wife and child close to him as if they were the only things that mattered.
"No, Peeta. Tell me what's going on. I don't understand this." I say, yanking Melanie behind me as if she could be used as an object to force Peeta to speak. My husband looks wounded, glancing down at his daughter. My heart cracks a little, but he eventually speaks.
"You know when I worked in the mines?" He asks. I nod.
It was so many years ago now, but I can still remember the feeling of pure terror I felt as I ran through the district, not knowing if my husband was safe or not, whether I would left alone aged sixteen with a baby on the way. "And that I heard rumours about an uprising, and how people weren't happy about being under the rule of the Capitol?" Peeta continues, lowering his voice a substantial amount, glancing around. I frown. What is he looking for? Cameras? Microphones?
I nod in response, too confused to speak. "I... I haven't lost contact with some of the miners. They know about secret groups of- of rebels who are plotting against the Capitol," Peeta pauses, stepping closer to me and holding my gaze. "All survivors are to be taken to District 13. I want my family to be part of those survivors." He says, smoothing his thumb over my cheekbone.
"District 13 doesn't exist." I whisper.
"That's what I thought."
"Please, just let me get some stuff first." I tell him, letting go of Melanie, pushing her towards Peeta, and racing for the stairs.
"No! Katniss we need to go now-!" Peeta yells after me.
"Wait!" I ignore my husband's pleas and pull some faded drawstring bags from the small closet under the stairs. The sirens seem to get louder and louder as I climb the stairs to steps at a time, a wailing, droning sound that rattles through me. Shivers ripple down my spine. All the information that I've just been told is too much to comprehend in one fell swoop.
All of those words are wrong, all of those things sound so, so wrong. But at the same time they sound dangerously right.
I can hear Hugo crying downstairs, and just louder than the sirens, the soothing tones of Peeta as he tries to calm his children. "Katniss! Come on!" He shouts. Racing into Melanie's bedroom, I throw some blankets and toys into one of the bags for Melanie and Hugo, and then I turn into the bedroom Peeta and I share. Skirting around Hugo's crib, I locate Peeta's sketchpad, pencils, my pin, and the box containing the cufflinks Peeta wore at our wedding. I'll have to try and grab my bow and quiver once we're in the forest, before the hovercrafts come- if they even exist, that is. I sling the knapsack over my shoulder and dash down the stairs. Peeta is standing at the doorway with Hugo in his arms and Melanie at his side.
"I'll carry Melly. You take Hugo." He says, passing the baby over to me. I strap him against my chest. Peeta lifts Melanie up into his arms.
"Is this actually happening?" I ask my husband. He nods, eyes wide.
"We'll be okay. Everyone'll be okay." He promises, opening the front door.
Out in the street it's absolute chaos. People are running with carts or armfuls of belongings. I see someone amble pass with a donkey. Peeta and I hurry down the street, following the wave of people advancing forwards, towards the Seam. This makes me think of Mom and Prim. Are they okay? Have they gone to the forest? I throw open the front door of my house when we reach it, yelling out for Mom and Prim. There's a note on the table, stating that my sister and mother have gone to the forest with everyone else and that they'll see us there. Peeta pulls me out of the house by the elbow, and when we reach the fence I see that someone has widened the hole Gale and I've been using for years, and propped the flap of sharp metal up in the air with a plank of wood. Peeta climbs through, and we walk Melanie through. I pass Hugo to his father and follow close behind, ignoring the grumbles of 'hurry the hell up' from various people waiting to get out of the district. I'm in my element in the forest, and dart forward down the small winding trails I'm so accustomed to in order to find the hollow tree containing my bow and arrows. I add them to my rucksack. We're gasping for breath, stumbling up a grassy hill near where Gale and I used to meet, when there's a loud explosion from somewhere in the distance. Everyone pauses and stares in horror as the mushroom-shaped cloud erupts into the air.
"They're here!" Someone screams. "Everybody run!" Only a few people start to move, but there are others that are rooted to the spot, watching the district beginning to burn, at the Capitol hovercrafts that drop the bombs and the ant-sized figures fleeing down below in the valley. We continue on, over the crest of the hill and back into the dense woodland. Animals are fleeing from the scene as well, whinnying and squawking in terror. We reach a clearing after what feels like an eternity of running, and find a small army of helicopters and hovercrafts on standby. Smartly-dressed soldiers with giant '13's printed on the back usher people forward to various aircraft, ordering people to be quick but orderly. I can tell that it's a small percentage of the district in this valley. The loss of life will be great.
I spot Haymitch among the crowd and he waves us over.
"Get into that helicopter. Tell them that I sent you. That you're Lowell's daughter." He says, looking half-sober but ever professional. This whole thing is too organized. They've been preparing for this moment. Lowell's daughter? What has Dad got to do with all this? There's no time for questions, and I rush forward, Peeta on my heels. Melanie is looking around in fright, and Peeta mutters something to her repetitively, trying to keep her calm. Hugo is crying, his red mouth a round 'o'. I shush him gently. We approach the helicopter.
"Haymitch Abernathy sent us. I'm Lowell's daughter." I repeat. The soldier's eyes widen behind his visor. He nods after a moment and instructs us to keep our heads down as the helicopter blades spin above us, whipping the air about, causing a racket. It only adds to the confusion and panic of the situation. "Make sure Dahlia and Primrose Everdeen are accounted for. And Aymee, Farrell, Fenton and Rye Mellark." I order stonily before getting onto the aircraft.
"Will do, Ma'am." The soldier repeats. The glass door slides shut and the ground disappears from beneath us. The next thing I know, I'm in District 13.
District 13 is an underground maze of endless grey corridors, rooms, and elevator shafts. It's organisation like I've never seen. Everyone knows their place. Their job. Everything is programmed to be perfectly sustainable, perfectly planned. But one of the only flaws to the system is the lack of people. At least two generations of these people have never seen natural daylight. Any disease that contaminates anyone or anything ravages the underground chambers. That's why so many families and young people were being kidnapped. They needed new blood. They were dying out. Our only hope of freedom was breaking down.
After much fighting, I'm allowed to be placed in a room with Peeta, Melanie, and Hugo. Alma Coin, the woman in charge of District 13, insisted that I be in a separate room, away from 'distractions'. I don't like President Coin. She's cold. Calculating. She never has a hair out of place. I don't see her as a flawed human being with emotions. I see her as a robot. Programmed to feel very little. Programmed to hold an indescribable power over everyone.
Those who died in District 12's bombing were mourned. The Undersee's burned in their mansion. Mitch was with them. Peeta said that his friend was finally introducing himself to the Mayor. Rye was caught in the blast. Twill was shot. Delly made it out. Effie and Haymitch made it out. Sae, Ripper, and the owner of the apothecary made it out. The florist made it out. But so many people didn't.
And that was in my district alone.
I spot the Lomenzo twins in the cafeteria one day. They no longer look like the teens I last saw them as. They're hardened soldiers, trained by Coin. I demand to see the Hawthorne clan. Even Gale sheds a tear when he sees us.
"Catnip, you're here." He whispers, hugging me tightly.
"I missed you," I sob into his chest. He's grown as well. Everyone looks so much older. Rory even has the guts to ask Prim out. "I missed you so much."
"I wanted to go back and visit you. They said it was too much of a risk," Gale says, his voice loud in my ear. "You look well, Catnip. Mellark been treatin' you right all these years?"
"He's a keeper," I laugh. "Gale, I'd like you to meet Melanie and Hugo Mellark." Gale is shocked to say the least, but eventually he slaps Peeta on the shoulder, asking him 'how the hell did you manage to knock her up twice?' To which Peeta replies, 'I have no idea'.
It's soon after my reunion with Gale that I find out the truth of what happened to my father. He didn't just die in an accidental explosion. The Capitol found out about that main group of rebels –which included my father and Gale's- and sent them all to one area of the mine. And then they blew them up. They knew all this time and hoped that killing off a few dusty old miners who wanted to rebel would stamp out a bigger force. But the spark had all ready turned into a full-blown inferno that threatened to swallow up the country. This information only makes me angrier. I spend more and more time in the command room, surrounded by maps and screens and officials who advise Coin on what our next moves should be.
Alma Coin decides to call me the Mockingjay, after seeing the pin that Madge gave me. It's simply Mockingjay this, Mockingjay that. I try to get on with her, but pretty quickily I begin to see the dark side of our president shining through. She doesn't care about those who are killed fighting on the front line. As more and more of the districts join our fight, she begins to train more and more people.
"Mrs Mellark." I correct her as we walk down a corridor.
"Yes," She nods her head. "I would like you to observe the soldiers at work today. I'm sure that you'll be very impressed with how well-trained they are. How efficient and skilful they are." I say nothing as we enter a large room the size of a warehouse. She wasn't kidding when she said that the soldiers were well-trained. They are all the same. They have the same uniform, the same way of holding themselves as they march in perfectly synced blocks. Every bullet hits its target. All their movements are sharp and precise.
It's then that I realise that Alma Coin in building herself an army.
It's three months in and four days since I last saw Peeta or my children, when there's a shout from outside command, a thump, and the sound of electricity buzzing. Boggs –Coin's second in command- jumps up from his seat, pulling a sleek gun from his belt.
"President, Mockingjay, stay where you are." He says, inching closer to the door.
"Fuck off!" I hear someone shout from outside. Peeta?
"Wait, it's just Peeta!" I exclaim, flying across the room.
"Peeta?" Boggs asks.
"My husband." I explain, wrenching open the door. Out in the corridor it's chaos. Two soldiers lay unconscious on the floor. Two more soldiers have Peeta pinned against the floor, and another wrenches the taser from my husband's hand.
"What is going on out here?" Coin shouts, a vein in her forehead bulging out.
"Ma'am, Mr Mellark was causing a disturbance." One of the soldiers reports, saluting Coin. I roll my eyes.
"Peeta, what are you doing?" I ask, crouching down to face him. His face is mashed into the floor.
"Tell these idiots to get off me!" He exclaims.
"Why'd you taser them?"
"Because I need to talk to you."
"And you couldn't have simply requested to be let in?"
"I tried that," Peeta sighs, his chest heaving. "They denied my access."
"So you tasered them?"
"Soldiers, let him up." Boggs orders. Peeta climbs to his feet and brushes off his 13-issued grey clothes.
"Look, I'm finalising plans. Haymitch will be here in a minute with Gale and Paylor and a bunch of other important people, and then we're going to start talking strategy," I say softly. "I'll be back by tonight."
"This isn't all about you!" Peeta snaps. I frown.
"I know it isn't."
"You obviously don't," He retorts. "Since you've been locked up in that damn room for four days now. I haven't seen you. Melly and Hugo haven't seen you. Nobody's seen you, Katniss! All you do is stay in that room and finalise things that are never going to happen. Where has my wife gone? Where has the mother of my children gone?"
"I'm right here!" I exclaim angrily, my hands balling into fists. How dare he accuse me of anything? I'm fighting for him!
"No, you aren't," He says stonily. "You aren't Katniss Everdeen –or Katniss Mellark anymore. I don't know who you are."
"Why are you being such an asshole?" I ask. "I'm busy helping out. Unlike you. All you do is complain!"
"I complain? I haven't complained in the slightest! I know this is important. I know you're important as an Everdeen. But you need to get your head out of the clouds and spend some time with the people you're fighting for," He pauses. Everyone is silent. My cheeks flush red. "I love you, Katniss. But it's like you don't exist anymore. It's like you're just a name, a rumour. Not actually a person."
"Dear me, you really know how to stir up trouble, don't you boy?" Haymitch chuckles, advancing towards us. I scowl. Peeta curses under his breath.
"Enough!" Coin hisses. "At a time like this we do not need this. Mr Mellark, return to your children and your job. Mockingjay, back inside, please."
"No." I say, suddenly feeling very tired. Peeta's right. I have lost myself. I've spent too much time looking at facts and figures, determined to fight for my father died for. I've bitten off more than I can chew. Looking back, I realise what I've done. I've cut myself off from those that I need. Those that I love. This underground network has become a prison. I begin to wish that I wasn't so important, because I've spent so long trying to give my all to Peeta, Melanie, and Hugo. I've spent so long being a scowling, stubborn Seam brat. I've spent too long working on being a better person. And now I've thrown it all away. Something pangs in my chest. I miss my family.
"Mockingjay. Back into command," Coin repeats. "That is an order."
"Peeta's right. I'm going back." I say, locking my jaw. Haymitch grins widely. Boggs fights a smirk. Peeta breathes a sigh of relief.
"If you leave, you will be excluded from all future conferences."
"No I won't. You need your precious Mockingjay too much." I reply, before turning on my heel and marching down the corridor. Peeta follows close behind. It's only when the elevator doors close in front of us that I let myself go, falling into Peeta's chest and crying.
"Hey, it's okay." Peeta soothes, all the anger from before disappearing.
"It isn't, Peeta. Stop being a jerk and be angry with me! Yell at me! Call me a bitch!" I say, slumping against his form. "You're right. I'm sorry. But everything is so much worse than everyone thought. So many people are dying. So many people's lives are being ruined. Panem is a mess, and I feel like it's all my fault."
"It's Snow's fault."
"But I should've stopped all this. I should've done something... anything..."
"Katniss, stop it."
"And now I've cut you off. Melly, Hugo, Prim, Mom. For fucks sake. I didn't see Gale and his family for six years and now that they're in the same area as me, I never see them! Madge is dead! Mitch is dead! Everyone is damaged. Rye was killed," I swallow, thinking off the mangled mess Rye ended up as. There was so much blood. "I did that."
"You didn't do that, the Capitol did."
"You don't understand! It's my fault, and I should be doing so many things differently but I can't because I feel like I'm being suffocated and I-"
"Katniss! Shut up!" Peeta shouts, gripping my shoulders and shaking me. "Stop beating yourself up about everything that's happened! This isn't your fault!" I blink and shake my head. "I'm angry with you. But I'm also proud of you. So please, stop blaming yourself, and come and be with everyone who loves you. Hugo is crying for you, every single night."
I spend the next week and a half ignoring Coin. Ignoring everyone. I spend time with Peeta. I play with Melanie and Hugo. I shoot arrows with Gale in the training units. I hug my mother.
But despite everything, I'm still exhausted. Everyone tells me not to pile everything onto my shoulders. The voice in my head taunts me at night, images flashing in my head of the destruction around the districts. Burning houses, burning people. Bleeding people. Floods. Complete and utter devastation.
The voice in my head sounds a lot like Snow.
It takes two long years of fighting before the Capitol falls, leaving Panem a free country. One week later, I'm appointed to execute President Snow as someone who can represent Panem as a fighting, independent nation, and as the daughter of the man who started the rebellion. Haymitch, however, says it's Coin who is to be shot. At first the idea seems absurd. Me? Kill the person who pushed us to victory? Haymitch rolls his eyes and explains that Coin has nothing to do with it. That she's as bloodthirsty and power-hungry as Snow. I eventually warm to the idea.
Mom and Prim stand with Peeta's parents and brothers. Peeta holds Hugo against his chest and stands hand-in-hand with Melanie with a determined look on his face in the protection of a group of soldiers. "Shoot straight." He tells me. I made a bargain that if anything went pear-shaped my family would be protected.
The circle is deathly silence as I step out into the weak sunshine. A reporter to my left stares into a camera. "And here is Katniss Mellark, daughter of Lowell Everdeen, taking her spot in the circle to end this tyranny." My breath steams out in front of me as I walk forward, the eyes of our world fixed on me. Snow kneels in the middle of the concrete, drowning in shackles.
"For you, Dad," I think to myself as I position my feet and notch the arrow into place. The President is much more terrifying up close- all waxy skin and stretched red lips- but he's really just a frail old man. I won't let anything get under my skin. "For everything you died for." I whisper. There's an audible intake of breath from the crowd as I draw back the arrow and take aim, closing one eyes and swallowing. I glance up at Coin. She isn't even watching the execution taking place just below the balcony of Snow's mansion. Closing my eyes, I imagine that I'm in the forest with no one but my father with me. I can feel him guiding me to shoot properly, his calloused hands, soft smile, and gentle words.
I can smell the forest, hear the crickets, feel the cool breeze, taste the clean air. For a minute I'm lost in my memories. And then I open my eyes. I aim the arrow forward, and fire it up into Alma Coin's perfect head of hair. She falls forward, plummeting over the balcony railings and to the ground. In front of me, Snow cackles, blood spurting from his mouth. I smile contently -a strange calm taking me over-as the crowds surge forward, trampling Snow.
Everything has serene feeling to it later that night. Everyone heads home to celebrate with their loved ones. Gone are the days of an oppressive rule. Back in District 13, everyone celebrates by cracking open the rations to eat what they want, when and where want it. In command, the table is cleared of holos and screens and papers to make way for all manners of foods. Peeta and I sit side by side. Hugo curls up in the crook of his father's arm, falling asleep almost immediately. Melanie stays awake for as long as she can, but eventually she falls asleep with her head on my shoulder. We call it a night, give everyone a smile or a hug, and make our way back to our compartment. The elevator ride is quiet. The process of changing Hugo and slipping Melly into some night time diapers is done quickly and efficiently, and twenty minutes later after walking through our front door, Peeta and I strop to our underwear and collapse into each other's arms.
"I love you." I say, kissing his chest.
"I know," He replies. "I love you too."
"I can't believe it's over. I don't think I'm going to actually realise what's happened for a long time."
"It's weird. But it's nice."
"We'll be able to go back to District 12 and be happy and save." I mumble.
"I've never heard anything so beautiful." Peeta grins tiredly, tracing over the burn scars on my shoulder.
"Nothing will ever be the same." I whisper.
"It's a good thing though. Everyone can start fresh. Build up their lives again." Peeta tells me.
"Not everyone," I say, my eyes brimming with tears. "Not Madge. Not Mitch. Not Rye." Peeta's breath catches at the mention of his brother. The loss of lives has been great, but the lives left behind, the lives that were spared, they will go one and flourish and make Panem better. Memorials will be built. People will mourn and celebrate and remember. But Panem was fought for. It was protected by its people –not its government.
And I, for one, am glad that I carry the surname of Mellark while I did it.
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