When Katniss tells me she's pregnant again, I burn a whole batch of bread loafs. Rose giggles as I try to put out the flames, her three year old giggles filling the whole room along with Katniss's laughs too. Soon I'm laughing and we all work together to clean up the bakery before heading home.
This pregnancy was harder on Katniss for the fact of they always were watching her closely and she couldn't overexert herself, which meant no hunting. She's been moody for the better part of the day, but when Rue would come home, she'd perk up. It disappointed me slightly, that Rue made her feel better and not me, but it was child's play.
But when she held little Finnick in her arms, she was the happiest person on the planet. The doctors told her she shouldn't get pregnant again, because it would harm her and the phantom baby greatly if she ever did again, so we agreed that Finnick was our last child.
I smirk as I watch Katniss try to wake Finn up. That kid can sleep through anything I swear. Her hair was back in it's signature braid, a forest green, skintight shirt covered her torso, and hunting pants and brown boots covered the rest of her. Our son snores softly in his crib. For a two-year-old, he slept better than Rue ever did. She'd always wake up in the middle of the night, earth-shattering screams emitting from her mouth, as if her own band of monsters chased her.
One night she told me there were monsters under her bed, and I didn't know what to say. Monsters aren't exactly fake; per say, as Katniss and I each have our own batch of monsters chasing us. I told her that they'd be gone every time she sings her lullaby, but she tells me they won't always be gone. I had to agree with her on that.
Finn snorts softly, rolling onto his stomach, and I have to swallow a laugh. Rue peeps through my parted legs to stare at her little brother. I press a finger to my lips and she nods, giggling lightly.
Katniss frowns, although her eyes are playful, and I know that there will be a tickling fight soon. I just hope I'm not in it.
I stare at Finn, with his perfect lips that he had gotten from Katniss, his blonde locks, his gray eyes that are shut right now, his little frown. He looks so much like Katniss and so much like me it's scary.
"Finn." Katniss sings lightly. He sighs, but doesn't wake. "Finny Finn Finn Finn." Katniss tries again. He stirs and I know that he's awake, but is pretending to be asleep. Katniss sighs in mock sadness before an evil smile crosses her face. Her hands curl slightly and she attacks him. He shrieks and Rose laughs, running from between my legs to join in on the fun. Katniss tickles Finn in the side and he rolls around in his crib, his face beet red as he laughs happily. Katniss turns to Rose and pulls her to her chest, tickling her under her arms, falling backwards onto the floor.
Rue screams in delight, and then wrestles her arms out for Katniss's grip, and I laugh at the thought of what's going to happen next. Rue reaches up to Katniss's neck and starts to tickle her without avail. Katniss laughs hard, rolling around on the floor.
"I gotca Mommy!" Rue shouts, her little face triumphant. Katniss sits up abruptly and smashes Rose to her, grabbing Finn from his crib and pulling him to her too.
"My children. Mine." She whispers, but even I can hear her.
I clear my throat, the smirks still on my face. "I have to disagree." Katniss looks up and I continue. "They are my children also. Without me, they wouldn't even be here." Katniss face distorts and she moans softly, rolling her eyes. She whispers something into their hair and they nod, giggling lightly.
"Ready? Go!" Katniss says suddenly and before I know it, I'm on the ground laughing hysterically as my children tickle me without giving up.
"This is what you get for messing with us Peeta." Katniss laughs evilly, though the smile on her face gives away the fact that she loves this as much as I do. She slowly stalks over to my convulsing form on the ground as my children continue to tickle me with any sight of stopping.
"Alright kids, I think that's enough." Katniss calls out after a minute. I look up to see her face right above mine. Something dangerous sparks in her eyes and shivers of fear run through my blood.
"It's my turn."
The kids nod, laughing brightly, and Finn sits on my hands and Rue sits on my legs, both preventing me from moving as Katniss sits on my stomach, an evil look on her face. She leans forward and slowly inches my shirt up until the bottom portion of my torso is showing. My face burns, my kids have never seen me like this, and she curls her fingers. I sharply intake a breath as she starts to lightly graze her fingernails over my stomach and I bite my lip, trying to contain my laughter.
Finally I can't take it anymore and I roll to the side, laughing hard. I take Katniss, Rue, and Finn with me. They all laugh with me as we lay on the floor like the perfect little family we are.
After awhile I gingerly peel myself off of the floor and sit up. Finn grips my hair hard to not fall and Rue grabs my nose. I groan lightly, smiling slightly as Katniss grabs Finn from me. I peel Rue from my nose and she giggles. I place her upright on the floor and she bolts down the hall towards her bedroom. Katniss shakes her head, laughing lightly as she shoos me out of the room to change Finn, telling me to make sure Rue 'doesn't burn down the kitchen.'
I chuckle, leaning against the doorframe, a smirk curling my lips. "Are you sure I shouldn't be worries about you? I mean, you almost burnt down my kitchen once."
Katniss rolls her eyes, shoving me out into the hall, slamming the door shut. I turn slightly on my heel and smirk. Rue normally always takes a long time getting ready, but I know she's buried deep in her pillows, reading until it's time to eat to get out of her chores.
I call out loudly, "Rue! I seek revenge! The tickle monster is coming to get you!"
I hear a scream and a laugh come from behind her closed door. I creep up as silently as I can and lean against the closed door. I hear light breathing from behind the door and smile darkly. I count to three before slamming the door open, a triumphant look on my face.
After a few seconds I frown. "Guess she's not in here." I say, turning around, walking back into the hallway. A second later, I hear Rue start to pad down the hallway. I turn around and laugh. "I found you!"
Rue shrieks, bolting down to the kitchen. I clomp down the stairs after her, yelling, "Gonna get'ca, gonna get'ca, gonna get'ca!"
She runs into the living room, me at her heels, and I wrap an arm around her waist, pulling her to me, picking her up, suspending her in mid-air. Rue's brown hair tickles my face as she giggles, looking down at me. I hug her like a baby and press kisses to her face, laughing, "I gotca!"
"Kid! Tone it down a notch!" Haymitch smirks from the front door, looping his thumbs through his belt loops. Ever since Rue was born, and after we asked him to be her grandpa, something snapped inside of him. He stopped drinking almost right away and came around to our house every day, playing with the kids and taking them to his for 'sleepovers' whenever I would have an episode.
I set Rue down onto the floor slowly, but not before I tickle her once. She jerks slightly, giggling, before running over to Haymitch and hug him around the waist.
"Guess what grandpa?" Rue asks as I beckon them to follow me into the kitchen. "What kiddo?" Haymitch asks as he sits down in his spot, Rue sitting next to him. I smirk as I start the stove, grabbing a pan to cook some eggs on. I grab some bacon from the refrigerator and grab an extra pan. I crack some eggs open as Rue whispers not so quietly, "I beat Daddy in a tickle war this morning!"
Haymitch smirks, looking up at me as I watch the bacon closely, making sure it doesn't burn.
"Did you now?" He still hasn't taken his eyes off of me. I shrug, a small smile forming on my face. "It was rigged anyways."
"DADDY!" Rue screams, her eyes wide. "How could you say that?!" I laugh as I set down a plate for her and Haymitch, Finn, Katniss and myself and I grab the eggs bowl and the bacon plate, setting them down in the center of the table.
"Rue, can you help me?" I pick her up out of her chair and she huffs, stomping up to the cabinet where the glasses are.
"Just like Katniss?" Haymitch chuckles, scooping up a plateful of eggs for him.
"Just like Katniss." I agree, sitting down in my spot and grab a couple pieces of bacon for myself, waiting for the spoon for the eggs. Katniss comes down with Finn in her arms a couple minutes later and Haymitch stands up, smiling brightly.
"How's my little Finn doing?" Finn gurgles and buries his face in Katniss neck. She laughs, setting him down in his chair.
"What's the matter little guy? You always are talking my ear off!" Katniss jokes as she grabs some food for herself.
"Just like Peeta." Haymitch agrees, standing up. He belches, turning towards the door. "Thanks for breakfast but I have to go see Hiytra, I'm bringing her to the train station today." Katniss smirks at our neighbor, remembering how she had introduced Haymitch and Hiytra together.
Katniss turns back to the table, then frowns. "What, no cheesy buns?"
Haymitch cackles as he walks out the front door. "I think you have enough buns in the oven for a lifetime, sweetheart!" He slams the door shut and Katniss growls, but a smirk is on her face.
"Wa dos mea mama?" Finn gurgles out, sticking his hands into his eggs on his plate. "Eat with your fork Finn." Katniss scolds, wiping off his face. "And forget what he said before. It's not important." She meets my eyes and I place a hand over my mouth to hide a grin. She rolls her eyes, glaring at me.
Rue huffs, still glaring at her breakfast and Katniss sighs. "What's the matter Rue?" Rue frowns and mumbles, "Daddy made me do all the work this morning." Katniss raises an eyebrow at me and I shake my head, mouthing, "Only glasses." She nods and looks back at Rue. "But baby girl, that means that you're growing up before my eyes! Soon you'll be getting all the game for us. And I'll be sitting at home, all fat and old." She pokes Rue in the stomach and Rue giggles, her anger gone.
"I'm going to be Mommy when I grow up!" Rue tells me, looking excited, her anger at me gone. I raise an eyebrow. "Really?"
She nods, taking a big bite out from her piece of bacon; little bits on her nose and chin, her eyes alight with excitement.
"Dada!" Finn cries, slamming his fists on his plate. Katniss is still pale from before from Rue's comment and she says nothing as she wipes her face from the eggs. The tension in the room is so great for the rest of breakfast and Katniss won't meet my eyes. Finally, I've had enough of this and I stand up to clear my spot at the table and to make an announcement.
"We're going on a picnic today." Katniss looks up at me sharply and Finn and Rue cheer. They always have liked picnics.
I hold up a hand. "We're going on a picnic." I gaze deep into Katniss' eyes.
She huffs and clears her spot, handing her plate to me harshly and grabbing hold of Finn to dress him for the autumn breeze in the Meadow.
"Rue Rose Mellark, you are not wearing your dress for the trip today, dress in something warmer." Katniss says as she storms up the stairs.
"Daddy, will you help me?" Rue looks up at me with her blue eyes, like looking at myself in a mirror, and I nod, clearing her place.
"Get ready and I'll be up there in a few minutes." She nods, scoots out of her chair, and runs up the stairs to her room. I try to block Katniss' anger from my mind as I quickly wash the dishes, drying my hands on a towel as I walk up the stairs to Rue's room.
She has probably half of her closet laid out on her bed, dancing around the room, singing, "Picnic, picnic, we're going on a picnic."
"Hey baby girl." I knock on the frame of her door. She looks up, a positively glowing look on her face.
"Daddy! We're going on a picnic!" She twirls around and falls onto her bed, laughing brightly.
At least someone's excited about this. I sigh as I think of Katniss' furious face as she had stomped upstairs. I shake my head as I walk over to her bed and sit down, lying on my elbow and wave a hand.
"Let me see you, model." I smile gently as Rue presses different outfits to her chest, twirling around in front of the mirror, frowning slightly, her brown hair like a fan around her face as she turns around again.
She drops that outfit she was modeling and grabs another one. One that makes my breath start to accelerate, my vision turn shiny around the corners.
I know that the outfit is a golden orange, but the way that the sun is hitting her hair and the tights and dress shine brightly in the sun because of the sequences she looks like she's on fire.
And the first time I'd seen her on fire was at our interviews for the Hunger Games. She twirled around and smiled so brightly that I had been mesmerized, and I hadn't felt nervous about proclaiming my love for her.
But then, afterwards, she had mocked me to no end, the dark side of her coming out. Her eyes had been blood red, and the snarl on her face looked almost feral as she growled out, "Little Peeta Mellark and his little love for me. Gale was a better lover than you ever will be-"
"Peeta!" Katniss shouts, shaking me out of my episode. Finn and Rue are watching me with wide eyes and I see that I was this close to strangling Katniss in our living room. Finn starts to cry, and Rue brings him outside, mumbling that she'll be at the Meadow.
I slump onto the couch, shaking hard, hanging my head in my hands. Katniss sits next to me, laying her head on my shoulder.
"Katniss, I love you so much, you know that right?" She nods, pulling my head out from my hands to look me in the eye.
"Peeta, what's wrong?"
I shudder, then whisper, "There will always be much worse games to play." I grab her hand, to bring her out to the Meadow, where our children play.
They play in the Meadow. The dancing girl with the dark hair and the blue eyes. They boy with the blonde curls and gray eyes, struggling to keep up with her on his chubby toddler legs.
I nod, trying desperately to capture that moment this afternoon and paint it all onto the last page of our memory book.
It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree. But Peeta wanted them so badly. When I first felt her stirring inside of me, I was consumed with a terror that felt as old as life itself. Only the joy of holding her in my arms could tame it. Carrying him was a little easier, but not much.
I capture the way Rue's bottom lip curves downward when she's happy, the way her gray eyes light up when we talk about her favorite bow.
I capture Finn's little smirk, his chubby cheeks with his two front teeth.
The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built; there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them in school, and the girl knows we played a role in them. They boy will know in a few years. How can I tell them about that world without frightening them to death?
We don't say our children's names in the book, for fear the games will come back, or the press will find out we had kids. We've kept a secret this long, but we need to be safe.
My children, who take the words of the song for granted:
Deep in the meadow, under the willow,
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow,
Lay down your head, and close your sleepy eyes,
And when they open, the sun will rise.
Here it's safe, here it's warm,
Here the daises guard you from every harm,
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true,
Here is the place where I love you.
I draw Primrose dancing around the Meadow, a content smile on her peaceful face, her head tilted towards the sun, no signs of the awful death that awaited her.
And Rue, jumping through the trees, a flock of Mockingjays following her as she sings her song over and over, soothing the wounded along with Prim.
Katniss cries when she sees the picture but steels herself to continue writing without getting her tears on the paper, which is getting quite full.
My children, who don't know they play on a graveyard. Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I'll have to explain about my nightmares.
Why they came.
Why they won't ever really go away.
I rub Katniss's back as I gently take the book from her, read what she wrote, and draw her nightmares along with mine. Katniss's blood soiling my hands as hers cover mine, her delicate hands covered with the blood of the nation.
Her blood red eyes, haunting me even now. Rue's death glare as she screams obscenities at Katniss, cursing her for winning.
I'll tell them how I survive it. I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do.
I draw Rue, my Rue, dead by the hands of Cato, his eyes gleaming as he laughs proudly, finally bringing honor to his phantom District. She was Katniss, I was dead.
She was his last obstacle to get to the top.
To be the Victor of the Hunger Games.
It's like a game.
Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.
My breath hitches as I underline and bolden the last sentence she wrote before we christen it with sea water and seal it shut, finally after twenty years we have finally paid back our portion of memories to the lost and fallen.
Our own little memorial.
And as I lay my head down on my pillow that night, her last words on the book still ring in my mind, even in my peaceful dream.
But there are much worse games to play.
A/N: Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games, or any of it's characters.
I certainly do not own the epilogue to Mockingjay. The words in italics at the end are from Mockingjay.
And there was my attempt at humor. Hmm. I need to get out more. :P