Five years after their toasting, Peeta finally succeeded in convincing Katniss that the world was safe enough to bring a child into it. She lost the baby before she even knew she was pregnant. After mourning the loss of the unborn life, she swore she would never try again.
Just days after their tenth anniversary, their daughter was born. Dark hair and blue eyes, she was the love of her father's life. But Katniss was wary. Every second of her pregnancy scared her, and she was sure that it would be worse after she was born. Peeta, for the first few weeks at least, had been the sole caretaker. He saw to each meal, each diaper change, each nap.
Despite her protests, Peeta returned to the bakery, leaving Katniss home alone with Dahlia. Katniss cried when she cried, which was often. She begged the little girl to eat or sleep or lie quietly in her cradle so she could have a moment to just breathe. They would walk to the bakery, Katniss ignoring the stares and pitiful looks she received from everyone she passed. Peeta would hold Dahlia and calm her down while Katniss ate, often her first meal of the day.
Then, one day on their walk to the bakery, Katniss turned toward the Seam. The fence around the woods had long since been taken down, and she was easily able to stroll through the trees. Finally, Dahlia calmed down. It became their haven. When they returned to the house, Katniss's anxiety and Dahlia's screams returned with them. But in the woods, they were safe and happy.
Gavin Mellark was born on their fifteenth Christmas together. While Dahlia often clung to her father, the little blond haired, gray eyed boy sought his mother's comforting arms. She was more comfortable the second time around, more at ease when he cried. There was no longer a need to run to Peeta because now she could handle it herself.
The two children share Prim's old room, still decorated with the beach at sunset mural Peeta had designed years ago. Effie Trinket, the former Capitol designated escort for District 12, had sent a machine that simulated the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. It lulled Gavin to sleep each night as he rested his small hand on the cool wall as if he could feel the surf and sand. Dahlia, however, seemed to sense her mother's reluctance to allow anyone in the room, and slept in her parents' bed until she was three.
Gavin was daring and outgoing, and the first to coin their former mentor "Papa Mitch." The little boy smiled often while Dahlia was prone to thoughtful stares. He cried when Katniss left for the woods, waking up early each morning in hopes that day would be the day she would take him with her.
"Think you'll ever teach them to shoot?" Peeta asked one day as he baked a loaf of raisin bread.
"Couldn't hurt," she replied, tasting the wild turkey stew that simmered on the stove top. "It breaks my heart every morning when he hears me leave. Maybe tomorrow I'll take him. I don't need to hunt."
Peeta sidled up beside her and kissed her temple. "I think he'd like that," he murmured.
The front door opened and was kicked shut. "Someone get these brats off me!" Haymitch shouted as the children giggled. "I'm too old to be a climbing post."
Wiping the flour off on his pants, Peeta came to his rescue. He removed Gavin from the older man's pant leg, but Haymitch held onto Dahlia. "I'll keep this one," he decided. "She doesn't give me guff the way this little terror does. Too much like his mother."
"Mama?" Gavin asked excitedly as he looked around for her.
Peeta bent down to his level and whispered conspiratorially, "Check the kitchen, buddy. I think she has a surprise for you."
Dahlia sat on Haymitch's lap and fiddled with the button on his shirt. "I'm not a brat," she mumbled.
Gavin squealed enthusiastically as Haymitch's mouth hung open with a retort that died on his lips. Katniss joined them with the little boy held aloft in her arms. "I go woods, Daddy," he declared, peppering his mother's cheek with wet kisses.
"Does that mean I can go to the bakery with you, Daddy?" Dahlia asked, hoping he would say yes.
"Don't you have school tomorrow, sweetheart?" Haymitch asked. Katniss chuckled softly, knowing Peeta would have said yes just to make their daughter happy. "School's important, ya know. It's where you learn all your reading and writing skills, so you can come over and read stories to your old Papa."
"I'll pick you up and you can spend the rest of the day at the bakery with me," Peeta offered. Beside him, Katniss cleared her throat. "And you're not allowed to bribe me into giving you a cookie for each assignment you complete."
Haymitch laughed as he scooped her up and rose to his feet. "Eh, you'll give her one anyway," he said, carrying the little girl to the kitchen.
Peeta scowled as his wife attempted to cover up a smile. "He's right," she pointed out, setting Gavin down on his feet and sending him off to the kitchen.
"I don't spoil her," he mumbled.
She wrapped her arms around his waist. "I know," she replied. "Just her appetite."
"My dad did the same thing to me, and I turned out fine."
Her arms tightened around him and she rested her chin on his chest. "More than fine," she agreed. "You're practically a saint just for putting up with me."
"The things we do for the ones we love," he replied with a smile as his arms finally held her. Leaning down, his lips grazed hers. "You love me. Real or not real?"
"Real," she replied, drawing him nearer so she could deepen the kiss.
"Knock it off," Haymitch yelled. "Your kids are hungry."
Dahlia joined in. "Can we have apple pie for dinner?"
Chuckling, Peeta moved one arm to her shoulders while the other fell to his side. "Why do we keep him around?" he asked, leading his wife to the kitchen for dinner.
Katniss shrugged. "Because he's family."