Apologies for taking so long to post this! Hope it was worth the wait =)
Her little face is perfect. Round apple cheeks, perfectly shaped little mouth, nose like a button, sweet blue eyes, wispy curls of dark hair crowning her head. She's three weeks old and sleeps in my embrace, her mouth close to the nipple she will be looking for when she wakes up. We named her Paxton, a name that holds the Latin word for "peace".
I was still set on never having kids again when Peeta and I got remarried. I still don't trust the world we live in and I still carry the pain of not getting to raise my son every day and I didn't want anything more to do with bearing children. Peeta stopped spending all summer in the Capitol after we were married, limiting his visits to six two week visits each year spread out from January to October. The loss of our firstborn will probably always pain us and I knew that a new baby could never make up for that.
I've showed Peeta the crib his brother made. It was right around the time we got married again, when we had decided to finally give my house back to the government and trust each other and our feelings for one another enough that we would only ever need one house. I didn't want to leave the crib behind in the basement so I took Peeta down there and told him the story of the beautiful piece of furniture. It was difficult to see him then, his hand caressing the wood, remembering his brother and probably thinking of the son he never got to rock in a cradle. He decided we should keep it and give it to Victor the day he becomes a father. I took that to mean Peeta accepted that I wasn't going to give him another child.
I'm not sure what it was that changed my mind but I think it was a slowly appearing but increasingly strong desire to get to raise a child with Peeta. To have a baby that was part of us both and belonged only to us and whom nobody could ever take away. When I told him I wanted us to have another baby he did not need to be convinced. Paxton was conceived three months later.
This pregnancy was more difficult than my first. I spent most of it in an irrational fear that I might lose this baby too, either as an infant or that she would die young just like Prim, just like Rue. In addition to that I was worried that something that ought to bring spouses together might actually drive a wedge between Peeta and me. I knew beforehand that he had a lot of questions about when I was pregnant with Victor and he did ask a lot of them during these nine months. I should have known though that he doesn't have it in him to be hurtful or cold about things like that. All his questions came from genuine interest and concern and when he asked me how different stages of this pregnancy was compared to when I carried Victor he never had an ounce of blame in his voice.
He had an incredible amount of patience with me while my mood was all over the place. Even Haymitch avoided me for three out of the nine months. My erratic behaviour shocked me since I had been much more calm and in control of my emotions the first time around. Then again a lot of things were different about carrying this baby. I felt a lot more nauseous, gained more weight and I first felt her move much later than I did with Victor, which caused me to panic when I couldn't feel her. Peeta quickly learned when he could affect my moods and when it was better to just leave me alone. For the most part he was loving and attentive, often caressing my belly and talking to his unborn daughter, doing whatever he could to make the pregnancy easier for me.
The birth was a horrifying experience. I chose to have her at home out of a deeply rooted fear that if I gave birth at a hospital someone might take my baby away just like they did with Victor. It didn't matter that I knew things were different this time around. So I went through labour in our own home with meagre methods of pain relief. I thought it was bad the first time around. This time it was much, much worse and I have vague memories of screaming to Peeta first that I'm going to die and later begging him to kill me. He handled the whole thing calmly, or at least he faked calm in front of me, keeping me calm and focused as best he could.
They say that childbirth is easier when your partner is there with you. I don't know about that. At times it was very comforting but I was barely aware of Peeta's presence towards the end and frankly his voice constantly mumbling in my ear irritated me. What did help was going back to the thought I had when I gave birth the first time, about how other mothers could focus on knowing they would soon be rewarded by holding their baby in their arms. This time it was true for me and my whole focus was on my unborn baby and getting to finally meet her.
When she arrived I had my eyes and ears open, wanting to absorb everything. I was shocked at the sight of her, so red and wrinkly and tiny. I barely noticed the tears falling down Peeta's face, much less the ones on my own cheeks. Then she was wrapped in a tiny yellow blanket and Peeta gave her to me and it was the happiest moment of my life. To see her perfect face, feel her lovely scent, hear her adorable little noises and to know that I have as much time as I want with her. She opened her blue eyes and looked at me, seeming confused and almost as tired as I was. With the help of the midwife I got her to latch on to my nipple and this time I didn't take my eyes off my baby as she had her first ever meal.
"Ten perfect little fingers..." Peeta counted. "Ten equally perfect little toes."
"She's perfect" I decided. "In every way. And she's all ours."
When she was done nursing I gave her to Peeta. I wanted to keep her in my own arms and never let her go but I knew that seeing him with our newborn baby would be an incredible feeling too. He sat down next to me on the bed and stared adoringly at his baby girl and I could tell that she already had him wrapped around her little finger. He only took his eyes off of her to lean down and give me a loving kiss. I rested my cheek on his shoulder and together we watched our daughter yawn, stretch out her little fingers, form a fist with her right hand and then drift off to sleep with a sigh. I felt a moment of melancholy wishing we could have had this with Victor but I've long since accepted that I will never not feel guilt and regret over having had to give him away.
After she had been put in her crib, the one her uncle made all those years ago, we signed her birth certificate and I asked to keep a copy of it. I keep it framed, hanging above what will one day be her bed in her nursery. I walk in there several times a day and look at the legal document that promises that she belongs to us and nobody will ever be able to undo that.
Mother's name: Katniss Mellark.
Father's name: Peeta Mellark.
She was born on May 13th, only five days after my own birthday. By the time she is three weeks old school is out in the Capitol but this year Peeta is staying home with our new family. On my birthday he surprised me with the news that Sulla and Alexandria have decided to spend this summer visiting some of the districts with Victor and that they will be spending one day in Twelve. It's just for a day but for the first time ever my son will be in my home.
Victor is twelve years old now, turning thirteen in the fall. If we had kept him and there had been no revolution he would have been eligible for the Reaping. It's strange to think that more than a decade has gone by since I had my first child. He's on his way to becoming a young man now and in most ways he is still a stranger to me. I will never let that happen with Paxton. With her I will be an ever present mother, everything I wanted to be for Victor but couldn't.
Paxton's little eyes open and she sniffs for my breast. I can't keep from smiling. She's hungry, always. Every three hours she wants something to eat which means I can barely get any sleep. Peeta got me a milk pump so for the past week he has been bottle feeding her every evening, allowing me some time to rest. Some nights I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. Others I try to stay awake because I love watching him feed her. Her tiny hands try to grab the bottle but they're too little. Sometimes she closes her eyes and seems to just enjoy filling up her belly, other times she looks up at him with what I can only interpret as utter baby love. I'm torn between suggesting Peeta should feed her more often so I can watch them together and they can share that bonding time, and not wanting to lose a single such moment for myself. I feel safe when I nurse her. I know she's right there and can't go anywhere.
For the moment there's no dilemma as to who will feed her. Peeta is not at home. He has gone to the train station to greet Victor and his parents. Alexandria and Sulla will go straight to their hotel but Victor is coming here for a visit. I think Alexandria is very curious to see how we live but with a three week old baby in the house we wanted it to be just Victor visiting. There's a nervous pit in my stomach, a mix of excitement that he's coming and worry that he might not like me. I haven't actually seen him face to face since that time years ago, half his lifetime ago, in the Capitol. All I see of him is the occasional photograph and all the drawings Peeta has made.
"Your brother is coming for a visit" I whisper to Paxton. "All the way from the Capitol."
She pays no heed to my voice, focusing only on nursing. One of her tiny hands is on my breast and I place a finger gently on top of it, loving the feeling of her olive skin underneath me. Then my hand runs over the soft, dark curls on her head. They say it might change colour and turn blonde like her father's and that her eyes might turn into my grey ones. I don't care either way. All that matters to me is that she's healthy and she's here to stay.
I hear a car pulling up and turn my head in the direction of the door. I'm in an armchair in the sitting room and right now I wish I had chosen a different spot. Like right by the door for example. Then there are steps on the front porch and the door opens.
"... for some time" I hear Peeta's voice.
"That's neat" answers another voice, one I know well from hearing it over the phone.
I smile widely down at my daughter and decide she has had enough to eat. She protests when she's taken from my breast but I put my little finger in her mouth and she suckles on it and doesn't begin to cry.
"Hush..." I say softly. "We have a visitor."
I look over my shoulder as Peeta and Victor walk in. For almost a full minute I do nothing but stare at the boy who is my newborn child's older brother. When I last saw him in person he was six and still a small child but now he is twelve and an adolescent. His hair is still ashen like his father's and his eyes are still blue but they have kept the shape of mine. Other than that it's hard to tell which one of us he resembles, if he does in fact look much like either one of us. He seems tall for his age and sports a tan which suggests he spends a lot of time outdoors. I wonder if he plays sports, like his father does, or if he spends time out in whatever woods the Capitol suburbs have to offer.
Victor isn't looking back at me. He's staring at the infant in my embrace. It must be strange for him, I realize. Being as closely tied to this little bundle as two children can be and yet all he knows about her is her name. She doesn't look much like anyone at this point, just a tiny little face which is now creating large amounts of spit when my finger is no longer in her mouth. Peeta walks over and leans in to wipe it off with a soft bit of fabric from the baby blanket. He kisses my brow and encourages Victor to come up and have a look at the baby.
Slowly, hesitantly, the boy steps up.
"Hey..." he says carefully. "Hey Paxton."
The baby burps which makes Peeta laugh and Victor look startled.
"You can come closer if you like" I say and angle the baby so that he can see her better.
Victor leans in and takes a good long look at the infant. He doesn't seem overwhelmed, rather he looks like he doesn't get what all the big fuss is about. He takes a seat on the couch next to Peeta and the two chat easily with each other, though my son keeps looking over at Paxton and me. I stay mostly silent, focusing on the baby. It's enough for me at the moment just to see and hear Peeta and Victor together.
Victor stays for a few hours. Peeta sets out cookies and hot chocolate. Then they go outside for a while and I'm not entirely sure what they are up to but I think a ball is involved. While they are out I nurse Paxton again. When they come back inside they both take a seat on the couch but then the baby needs a diaper change and Peeta offers to do it. He leaves with our daughter and I'm alone with our son. I pull my feet up under me and smile faintly, trying to think of something good to say.
"It's a shame you can't stay longer."
"Uh-huh" nods Victor, looking around the room at all the things around us, as if he's trying to get a better feel for who we are. Or maybe just who I really am.
We sit there for a few minutes in awkward silence. I get the feeling there's something he wants to talk to me about or ask me but either he can't find the right words or he doesn't dare to. He looks at me with a frown, the look that reminds me so much of Ryean.
"When I get older, can I come here for visits during summer?" he asks, a question I had not expected at all. "Dad says it's okay but I thought maybe..."
"What would your parents think?" I ask, regretting having opened with that as soon as the words leave my mouth.
He shrugs and looks down at his shoes.
"Haven't asked them yet."
"Well... If it's okay by them..."
He looks thoughtful. I wish I could just tell him how much I would love having him here but I'm afraid I might frighten him if I'm too enthusiastic. We're still strangers to one another. He looks up at me again with hopeful eyes.
"Can I come and visit Paxton?"
"Of course" I say. "She's your sister."
He smiles at me and I wonder if it's my own smile I see on his face. It's not Peeta's or anybody else I can think of with blood ties to the boy. Perhaps it is his very own. Encouraged by his favourable reaction I find myself smiling back at him and giving a bit more generous of an answer.
"You're always welcome here."
"How long before she can... you know... do something fun?"
I laugh a little.
"Probably a while. She hasn't even begun to smile yet. She'll get there, eventually."
Peeta comes back with Paxton and sits down with her next to Victor. The boy leans in and takes another close look. I can't keep a smile off my face, seeing the three of them together. The three people I love the most in the world, all connected to one another through me.
"We have to get going" says Peeta with dismay after fifteen minutes. "I promised your parents you would be back in time for dinner."
He gets up and walks over to me, carefully handing the baby over. I get an awkward little wave from Victor before he heads off with Peeta, the two of them already caught in a conversation about some new instrument Victor wants to try.
I look down at my precious baby daughter and smile again. I can't seem to stop smiling whenever I'm with her. Haymitch just snorts at that and tells me that once she's kept me up all night for a few weeks and she poops and pukes all over the place I will be on his doorstep with the baby in a basket begging him to take over for a while. I tell him I wouldn't allow him to babysit if it was a matter of life or death. He's probably right that the wondrous feeling I'm experiencing probably will go away eventually but for now I intend on enjoying it, and my family, every single waking moment.
Paxton grows and becomes a beautiful little girl with a stubborn streak a mile wide. Her hair is long and dark, her eyes are grey and she looks much more like me than her father except when she grins. The grin of hers is exactly like Peeta's and she quickly learns that she can disarm me completely with that face. From an early age I can tell that she will grow to be more like her Aunt Prim than me or her father, showing great love and fascination for every animal she encounters.
When she is three years old she gets a baby sister whose name ends up being Kitty, completely against my wishes. Kitty was very active in my womb, my stomach literally bellowing towards the end of the pregnancy as she moved around in there. Peeta took to calling her the little wildcat so when she had been born and Paxton was introduced to her new sister she pointed at the baby, took the pacifier from her mouth and exclaimed "Kitty"! After that there was no convincing her that Kitty wasn't her sister's name and eventually I had to give in. Peeta suggested we name her Kathryn and leave Kitty as a nickname she could set aside as she grows older but I have a feeling that nobody will even remember her name is Kathryn when she grows up.
From the age of thirteen Victor begins to spend his summers with us in Twelve. Alexandria and Sulla protest and claim he's too young to leave them for such a long time but Peeta curtly reminds them that he is still the legal parent and that twelve was deemed old enough to be taken from your family and put in the arena.
"I can't help it" he told me later. "It's satisfying to see the look on their faces when I point stuff like that out."
As time goes on I develop a better relationship with my son. He's always most comfortable with Peeta but we begin to understand each other when we spend more time together. He never calls me Mom or any other variation of Mother. I assume he's just too old to start using a name like that on me. I can live with him calling me Katniss but I wonder if there's ever been anything I've liked to hear better than my girls calling me Mother.
My son gets along very well with his sisters. Paxton in particular adores him and likes to brag to her little friends that she has a brother in the Capitol, which was how the secret came out to the public. The media frenzy was insane for a while and I suspect they will always enjoy speculating about what really went on between our Games and the end of Snow's regime but neither Peeta nor I say anything on the subject and Gale is anything but forthcoming when they approach him. He acknowledges that he's not the actual father but that's all he will say.
When Victor is sixteen we finally have the talk I sensed he wanted to have the first time he visited us. Kitty is eight months old and sitting on my lap playing with a rattle. Peeta has taken Paxton to town to buy her new shoes which she has been going on and on about all morning. The house is still and quiet and Victor takes a seat on the couch while Kitty and I sit on the floor together.
"Did you want me?" he asks, so out of the blue that I don't even understand the question at first. "When I was born..." he elaborates. "I mean, you were just seventeen. A year older than I am. From what I understand you didn't even... love Dad then..."
"Who told you that?" I frown and push Paxton's toy car away from Kitty's greedy hands.
"The old alcoholic who lives two houses down."
"Haymitch?" I exclaim.
"At school they teach us about the Hunger Games and the star-crossed lovers from District 12 is one of the major points they bring up. Mother and Father can't shut up about what a great love story the two of you share but I distinctly remember that you weren't together those first few years when Dad started coming around. It didn't make a lot of sense to me and I ran in to Haymitch the other day and thought I would ask him. He just kind of... guffawed."
"The reason I gave you up for adoption had nothing to do with your father" I tell him. "If you've read about the Hunger Games then you've read about the Reapings. They rigged the Reapings to put children of victors in the arena. I knew that they could never resist making mine and Peeta's child a tribute so I made the decision to lie about who your father was and give you away. It was the only way I could think of protecting you."
He ponders it for a long time. It must be a lot to process and I'm betting he has been wondering these things for many years. I give him some time to digest what I just told him. I set Kitty down on the carpet and let her practice crawling. Her high activity level did not stop after birth and she immediately tries to worm her way to the end of the carpet, making me have to lean forward and catch her.
"Did Dad know?" asks Victor.
"No" I say, keeping my eyes on my daughter because it's easier than looking at my son. "I wasn't sure we could pull it off if he knew. Either way, why subject him to it? I never thought I would get to see you again or ever find out how you were growing. I didn't even know if I had given birth to a boy or a girl. Sparing Peeta from that pain seemed like the decent thing to do."
There's another long pause.
"So... Did you want me?"
"I never wanted children at all" I admit frankly. "I couldn't handle the thought of standing there on Reaping Day and possibly hearing their names drawn. I had to hear Effie Trinket read my sister's name and that was horrendous enough. Getting pregnant was never part of my plan."
"Oh" he says. He sounds dejected but not surprised.
"Once you existed I couldn't afford to let myself think about keeping you" I go on. "I knew I didn't want an abortion but I had to protect you somehow and if I got emotionally attached I would never be able to give you up. That's why I never even knew your gender or saw your face when you were born. Still I... I've missed you every day of your life and always wished I could have had different options. I don't regret making the choice that I knew would save your life but I have always loved you."
"So you didn't give me away because you were unmarried at the time? And kept the girls because you had them in wedlock?"
"I would have kept you if I only dared to. Marriage had no role in it."
He smiles faintly. Then he gets up from the couch and walks over and kneels opposite me, about five yards away. He holds his arms out to his sister and encourages her to come to him. Kitty needs not be told twice and she lets out an excited shriek and begins to make her way towards him. It's more worming than crawling but she's surprisingly quick. When she reaches her brother he scoops her up in a hug and gives her a big kiss on the cheek.
"You're a little speedster, aren't you? Go back to Mama."
He turns her around and when she sees me she gurgles happily and her whole face scrunches up in a grin. She worms her way back towards me but encounters a problem when she comes to the edge of the carpet. Frustrated by the hindrance she begins to shriek at the top of her lungs until Victor lifts her up and places her on the carpet.
"Alright, alright, there you go" he says calmly.
She quickly makes her way back to me and I lean down and give her a big kiss. I then turn her back around and we spend the next fifteen minutes with Kitty practicing her crawling, going back and forth between me and her brother. Whenever she reaches Victor and he gives her his full attention I can almost pretend I'm watching a teenaged Peeta playing with our first child. It's the closest I will ever get to seeing that old daydream realized and I think again of how different things could have been, should have been for us. And yet, with all the pain and suffering and loss we have been subjected to it's almost impossible to believe that we can find any happiness at all in life anymore. Our children add to that happiness but I know I will never be without that gnawing sense of worry in the pit of my stomach, the one that beckons me to keep a watchful eye out and make sure that no harm ever comes to these three lives we have brought into the world. None of them asked to be here and it is on our shoulders to shield them from the things that hurt and damage.
As the years go by Kitty continues to be a whirlwind. She looks exactly like a female version of her father except she has my hair. It's almost strange looking at her and seeing Peeta yet not Peeta. She resembles Victor more than Paxton, who takes after me much more than her father. Together the three of them make up an interesting group and it doesn't seem to matter how old they grow, they always seem to be up to mischief whenever they are together.
Music continues to be Victor's great passion and he plays several instruments by the time he's fifteen. Kitty always seems to be on the move and Peeta wants to let her try all kinds of different sports and channel her energy into something. Paxton loves animals and constantly nags her father and me for a pet and while Peeta often wants to relent I am firmly against it. To me you don't keep pets unless they can contribute to your sustenance in some way and after the war I can't think of anything we might need from an animal. Peeta dryly suggests that companionship might be a quality that a dog or a cat could bring but I retort that we don't need an animal for that, we have each other.
One summer's evening Victor offers to read the girls a bedtime story and Peeta and I both gladly accept. Kitty has been all over the house with what feels like every single one of her toys and the place is a complete mess. It takes us forever to clean up downstairs and put all the toys back in their chest in the downstairs guestroom, which functions as a playroom.
"I'm exhausted" groans Peeta and sinks down on the couch. "Is that girl sneaking sugar from the cabinet when we're not looking?"
"Either that or Haymitch lets her drink from his bottles" I say, sitting down next to him and putting my legs on his lap.
"If I wasn't this beat I would suggest that we leave the girls with Victor and go for a nice refreshing calm and quiet walk through the woods... ending with wild sex up against a tree."
"Ha!" I scoff. "You couldn't even manage lazy sex right now."
"Is that a dare?" asks Peeta, one eyebrow suggestively raised.
"You wish" I say and give him a playful smack on the shoulder. With a huff I get up from the couch. "Besides, we can't leave them with Victor and go for a walk. You know how Kitty goes crazy if she wakes up and we're not here."
Peeta nods and gets up as well. Our youngest is going through a phase where she has bad dreams that everyone is gone and then she panics if she can't find us right away when she wakes up. The dreams are very disturbing to me; I deeply hate that my little girl should have to experience worries like that in her dreams and seeing her fear and sadness when she wakes up breaks my heart. There's not much we can do, though, and the doctor we've spoken to says the dreams will go away on their own when she grows older. For now we're just going to have to live with her coming running in to our room several nights a week and jumping up in our bed, sobbing and wailing.
"I'm going to go prepare the dough for tomorrow's breakfast" says Peeta and yawns and stretches his arms.
"Okay" I say and place a kiss on his cheek. "I'm heading upstairs to check if the girls are asleep yet. Maybe Victor would like to take a walk if you want to get out of the house for a while. I could stay and calm Kitty if she wakes."
"Nah" shrugs Peeta and gives me a proper kiss. "I wanted to take a walk with you."
I smile at him and grab the last of the toys from the coffee table. These go up in the girls' rooms. Kitty's toy train which she likes to run through the entire house in the morning, never minding who she wakes up. Paxton's crayons and the colouring book Peeta has made for her. She doesn't show any of her father's talent for painting, at least not yet, but she likes to colour things. There's also a stuffed toy, a monkey given to Paxton from Haymitch on her second birthday. She loves it like crazy, always wrapping the monkey's arms around her neck so she can carry it with her. The only time she doesn't seem to care for it is when she's going to bed. She has never had a binky or a security blanket of any kind and seems to hate having inanimate objects in the bed with her.
I reach the top of the stairs and walk towards the bedroom our daughters share. In a few years when they no longer need their playroom we're planning on turning it back to a guestroom and letting the girls each have their own room. For now they get to share. Neither Peeta nor I see anything negative about it; we both shared a room with our siblings before we became tributes. The only thing that makes it troublesome right now is that Kitty wakes Paxton up when she's had her nightmares. Paxton has learned to just wave her sister off when Kitty shakes her shoulder to check that she's really there and then go back to sleep when her sister trots off to check on Peeta and me. Peeta wants Kitty to go back to her own bed after a nightmare but I'm far more lenient and want to let her sleep with us so she can feel safe and protected. Peeta argues that she'll never learn to sleep on her own that way and I suppose he has a point but I can't fault her for wanting her father and me near after a bad dream. I still cling to Peeta when I have one, which is usually at least once a week. The biggest problem I see with letting our youngest sleep in our bed is that she's just as active in sleep as she is when she's awake and she often ends up kicking one or both of us or sprawling across the bed to the point where we can't all fit comfortably. One of us, usually me, then gets up and goes to sleep in Kitty's bed instead. Peeta is better at comforting someone after a nightmare anyway.
There is a soft light coming from the half open door of the girls' room but I can't hear a sound. Are they both asleep already? If so, where is Victor? Carefully I nudge the door fully open with my foot and then a smile spreads across my face.
All three of my children are on Kitty's bed together, barely fitting in all three of them. Victor is flanked by both his sisters, Paxton with her head resting on his chest and Kitty drooling on his arm. He notices neither because just like the girls he has fallen asleep, the book laying open in front of him. The sight of the three of them together nearly brings tears to my eyes and as quickly and quietly as I can I tiptoe over to the tiny toy chest by the foot of Paxton's bed and place the train inside of it together with the crayons and the colouring book. The monkey is put on his spot on her nightstand. Then I walk back to the door and just stand there for a while, watching the three of them.
A pair of strong arms sneak around my waist and my husband's lips find my cheek.
"Uh-oh, looks like he succumbed to the exhaustion of reading bedtime stories too" murmurs Peeta, and from his voice I can tell he's smiling.
My smile grows even wider and my hands reach down and caress his.
"Just look at them..." My voice barely holds as emotion overcomes me. "I never thought I would get to see something like this. My son... with my other children, who I never had to give away. You know he comes more to see his sisters than to spend time with us, right?" I laugh shortly. "He's seventeen years old now. The age I was when he was born. When I look back we seem like we were so adult at that age but he is still a kid."
"As he ought to be" says Peeta softly. "He is what seventeen year-olds are supposed to be when they haven't been forced into an arena to fight to the death and they don't have to get married."
"You're right" I smile. "Should we wake him up? We need to move Paxxie to her own bed anyway. He's going to get a wry neck if he lays like that for much longer."
"Yeah..." says Peeta unconvincingly. "Shame, though. They look pretty great together."
"We could get the camera."
"I think I actually might."
I giggle and he lets go of me to grab the camera. It's in his painting room since that is the only door of the house we have a lock to aside from the bathrooms. We keep everything in there that we don't want our daughters to break and the camera Effie gave us for our second wedding is definitely one such item. Peeta loves it and used to take all sorts of artistic photographs before the girls began to interfere with his attempts at taking pictures.
He returns with the camera and I step aside to give him room. He snaps a couple of pictures and then goes to put the camera back. I wait for him to come back to the room and then together we walk up to the bed where our three children are sleeping.
As gently as possible Peeta scoops up Paxton in his arms. She comes to a little, mumbles something incoherent in a whiny tone and then falls back asleep before he's even carried her all the way to her own bed. She wakes again when he lays her down but then she's rolled over on her side with her face to the wall and is once again fast asleep. I lean in and give Victor's shoulder a gentle shake. He stirs, blinks and looks around him with a bit of confusion.
"The girls are asleep" I tell him in a whisper. "You should move. That looks uncomfortable."
He groans and carefully sits up, making a disgusted face at the drool on his arm. Kitty doesn't notice at all that her pillow leaves but in her sleep she pulls her teddy bear closer. Carefully Victor gets off the bed and yawns, looking quite groggy.
Peeta switches the nightlight on, a big gaudy thing Effie gave Kitty for her birthday. It's shaped like a butterfly and Paxton is really jealous of it and it doesn't help to point out to her that they share a room so both get to enjoy it equally as much. I turn off the light on Kitty's bedside table and then I follow my husband and son out of the room, switching the light on the ceiling off as I walk out. The door is left ajar and the lights in the hallway are dimmed so that the girls can still find their way if they wake up and go to find us.
"You know what?" mumbles Victor, rubbing his neck. "I think I'll just go to bed now, too. I don't know where Kitty gets her energy from but after chasing her all around the house and the lawn today I could probably sleep for twelve hours."
"Good idea, head to bed" says Peeta and gives him a pat on the shoulder. "In fact, I think we could all use an early night."
"Maybe we should take Haymitch up on that offer to put up an obstacle course for her on his lawn" I say tiredly. "She could run around it for hours and tire herself out."
We say goodnight to Victor and retreat to our bedroom. Our usual bedtime rituals are performed. We wash our faces, brush our teeth, change into bedclothes, open a window, fold the bedspread and finally climb under the sheets and wrap our arms around each other. I feel so much at peace on nights like these that I could almost forget the nightmares that probably await me and the grief I still carry over the people that I've lost and the horrors that I live with, from Hunger Games and the war. On nights like these I feel like a normal wife and mother enjoying a normal, happy life.
Peeta's lips find mine and immediately I feel the familiar hunger. We begin to work at each other's clothes, removing only our underwear in case we're walked in on, and then Peeta's face moves further and further down my body until it's right where I love it the most. We have to be quiet and I could swear Peeta is amusing himself by trying to make me lose control and make noises I oughtn't to. He fails, but only barely. We make love to one another and then settle in for the night.
"I love you" I whisper to him before I close my eyes to sleep.
And thus it endeth. An enormous Thank You to everyone who's stuck with the story. Thanks for all the encouragements, comments, constructive feedback and the love. It means a lot to me and I hope you think it's been worth the ride =)