Effie had never associated operating theatres with good memories before. She had lost her mother who passed away at the operating table to stomach cancer years ago. While she had not felt such a terrible loss from her absence, the wave of sadness still washed over her when the doctor broke the news. That woman was still her mother even if she had not always been there for Effie.
Effie herself had nearly lost her life at the operating theatre in District Thirteen. That memory had not been pleasant, tinged with pain and despair and a desperate need for them to let her die. It was a scene of utter chaos as she screamed herself raw on that gurney while the medical team scurry around to prevent her from dying, white gloved hands covered with blood and fingers desperately trying to hold her down.
It was different this time. There were no screams of dying patients or doctors and nurses shouting over each other, frantically giving commands and demanding medicines for their patients.
It was quiet and despite the nervousness, Effie liked the stark contrast. Perhaps this time, it will be different. She wasn't going to lose her life in this room. No, she would not. It was a simple surgery. This time there will only be good memories for her; a memory of her bringing a life into her world. That would be the memory she would take away from this room and one that she hoped would be strong enough to overcome the other two painful ones.
"I want to see," Effie whispered to the nurse as they prepared her for her surgery. "When my baby's taken out, I want to witness it. Please."
The nurse conversed with Dr. Bell, informing her of Effie's wishes.
"We'll lower the screen slightly for you when it's time," Dr. Bell told her. "Lay back now and think pleasant thoughts. We'll begin shortly."
Turning her head to the right, Effie saw a glimpse of the metal instruments arranged neatly on the tray just before they pulled up the screen over the lower half of her body. Effie couldn't help the shudder that went through her at the sight of the gleaming silver instruments. The image of the scalpel and dissecting knife was enough to throw her back to those dark days she spent in the Capitol's prison.
Effie was beginning to regret sending Haymitch away. So she did the only thing that was within her power. Effie closed her eyes and brought to mind the image of her husband; the smile of relief on his face when he saw her at the hospital bed after she delivered and the gleam in his eyes when she told him it was a boy. Effie thought of her son, forced herself to remember how he looked like when the nurses showed him to her just before he was taken away. She imagined both father and son together in the nursery and she smiled. They were waiting for her.
There was a light pressure on her belly which made her wonder if Dr. Bell had made the cut across her skin. Effie stared up at the ceiling, counting the tiles as they worked on her. It wasn't long before a nurse tapped her on the shoulder to bring her attention to the screen that was slowly being lowered, not so much so as to allow her the full view of everything but enough for her to see Dr. Bell reaching into her uterus to guide the baby out. It was a weird sensation, to be able to feel her own baby being pulled out of her but with none of the pain she expected from having a gaping hole in her belly.
Lifting her head slightly, Effie watched as they inserted a suction tube into the baby's nose to clear the liquid as another nurse cut off the umbilical cord. Effie had no idea the sound she made - a cross between a cry and a laugh of relief - when the baby started crying, emitting a soft piercing wail.
"Happy birthday," one of the nurses cooed. "Mrs. Abernathy, we're going to clean and weigh the child first."
"Effie, I'm going to start the stitching process. This will take about 30 to 40 minutes. Okay?" Dr. Bell informed her, keeping her abreast of everything that was going on.
It felt like forever before they brought the infant over to her, clean and wrapped snugly.
"It's a baby boy."
"A boy," Effie repeated dazedly and nodded, a finger tracing the smooth skin on her son's cheek. "Twin boys. They're going to drive their father crazy."
She barely had any time to greet her child properly, a mere 'hello, my sweet,' before the nurse handed him over to the paediatrician for further examination and he was whisked away from the room.
"We're sending him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit because he was born premature. He'll be with his brother."
Dr. Bell was still working on her, stitching the cut back layer by layer as the nurse continued to explain things further to the exhausted woman.
"After the surgery, you'll be sent to the recovery room. We'll inform your husband so he can be with you."
"When will I get to see my babies?"
"Not for another twelve hours, I'm afraid. You're not allowed to walk before then and once you're allowed to move around, you may visit them at the NICU."
The nurse was about to turn away when Effie thought to ask. "How far apart are they?"
There was a flurry of activities in the room, not that Haymitch paid much attention to what was going on around him other than the rise and fall of Tristan's chest. Never in his life had he given a baby that much thought like he had with Tristan.
News of birth in the district hardly garnered any reaction from him other than that the child's name would be in the reaping bowl in twelve years' time. It was different now; there were no more Games which meant that the child's life had not been doomed from the moment of birth. But most importantly, it was different now because the one who had just been born was his child, his son. So, of course he was enraptured, and of course, he would pay attention to this child and ignore everything else.
Haymitch never noticed the nurse approaching him until he felt her tapping his arm to get his attention.
"Mr Abernathy? Would you like to meet your son?"
There was a frown on his face as he tried to understand what the nurse was trying to tell him. He was with his son so he didn't quite comprehend it. Haymitch straightened up, extracting his hands out of the incubator to face the nurse.
"Your wife gave birth to another son. If you would like to meet him, come this way."
Haymitch stood rooted to the spot, not moving a single muscle.
"You're ah… You're telling me the twins are boys? As in… the second one is a boy? Just like this little guy over here?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," the nurse smiled.
"And my wife? Effie… how is she?" he stared at the nurse intently.
"She should be at the recovery room. That's the procedure after surgery. You may wait for her at the recovery room if they haven't sent her down or you could greet your boy first before you meet your wife."
"I …" he chanced a glance towards Tristan. "I'll meet him first. Just give me a moment."
Turning once again towards Tristan, he slipped his hand inside the incubator and stroked the top of the baby's head. "You have a younger brother, peanut. I'm gonna see him now and then I gotta go and make sure your mother's alright. I'll be back."
Nodding his head towards the nurse, Haymitch followed her as she led him to the incubator just next to where Tristan was. Just as it was with Tristan, this little child was sleeping, hooked up to monitoring machines and a breathing tube.
"Hey there…" he trailed off, taking in the pale blond hair and the same facial features that he had only seen seconds ago on Tristan.
Identical twins. How do I tell one from the other? Those thought ran through his mind, good luck to us, sweetheart. He supposed Effie would be able to tell them apart. Haymitch had heard stories of how reliable a mother's instinct could be.
His eyes trailed over the boy's small form, pushing the blanket back a little to expose the skin underneath, searching for any distinctive mark that could set them apart. He found none on …
"Don't have a name yet, do you?" he muttered, slipping his hand through the hole in the incubator to touch the boy. "What's it going to be then?"
The boy uncurled his fist and Haymitch rested his pinky on the palm of his son's hand. He responded reflexively, the little fingers closed around his father's pinky and Haymitch smiled when he felt the grip the boy had on him; a tight, firm grip for a newborn.
"I know what to call you," he chuckled. "Saw it in your mother's book of names."
A quick check at the counter with one of the nurses on duty confirmed that Effie was already at the recovery room. He walked along the hallway and collapsed onto one of the many waiting chairs outside the recovery room. Haymitch needed a moment to himself before going in to see Effie. Propping his hand on the arm rest, Haymitch pressed his forehead into the palm of his hand and breathed deeply with his eyes closed.
He felt overwhelmed and he wasn't equipped to deal with himself or with everything that had happened. His first instinct was to leave the hospital to search for a bottle of whiskey or bourbon but he refrained from doing it. Effie needed him and he could not afford to show up drunk.
It was still difficult for him to grasp the fact that he was now a father. He wasn't a father the day before or even earlier today. That morning when he woke up, he was not responsible for two new lives. It was just him and Effie but now, he had a family to call his own; his wife and his two sons. His.
The emotional upheaval together with all the rushing and running he did to get from the Capitol to District Twelve was taking a toll on him but beneath that was a quiet sense of elation and pride and something else that he could not quite put a finger on which started the moment he first saw his son.
The last time he saw Effie lying in a hospital bed, she was in a coma in District Thirteen. He had sat vigil by her bed side for two weeks when the night fell, watching over her quietly even when the schedule on his wrist stated that he was supposed to be in his quarters. Effie never knew that and he didn't see the need to tell her. He heard that she had nearly lost her life and he didn't doubt that, not when she looked so gaunt and emaciated, buried beneath layers of white blanket.
Seeing her now reminded him of that time, the images flashing before his eyes cruelly and he was almost paralysed with fear until she blinked and opened her eyes, looking at him with a tired smile on her face.
He had never been so relieved.
"Haymitch," her lips parted as she tried to speak, her voice coming out in soft whispers.
"I'm here," Haymitch rushed to her side, stroking her hair comfortingly. "You look so tired and pale."
Her hair was spread over the pillow like a halo and despite how drained she appeared to him, Haymitch thought she had never been more beautiful than at that moment. He kept this to himself because it was not in his nature to say such things to her or to anyone for that matter.
"You try giving birth to twins, Haymitch, then we'll see if you're not tired," she teased.
"You did good, sweetheart. I'm…," he swallowed. He could tell her this at the very least. She deserved to hear it from him. After what she went through, he could afford this if nothing else. "I'm so proud of you, Effie."
Effie's lips quivered and her eyes watered when she heard those words. She turned her head slightly to the side, placing a kiss on the palm of his hand that was cupping her cheek.
"I'm happy, Haymitch, so very, very happy."
"I know," he nodded, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I am, too."
"You are? You're happy?"
He paused. He was, he realised with a startling clarity. He was happy and he had not felt this way for so long he had forgotten what happiness felt like.
"You're here," he began. "You're alright and the twins… they're healthy despite your fibroids and complications and being born early.… that's all I wanted. For you and them to be safe."
At a loss for words, Effie nodded, the tears falling from her eyes and soaking the pillow underneath her head. Resting her hand on each side of his cheeks, she pulled him down gently towards her and lifted her head slightly to kiss him. She wished she wasn't crying because the kiss was wet and she wanted this moment to be perfect.
"Why are you crying, sweetheart?" he asked in between kisses. "You're not disappointed that they're not girls, are you? I know you wanted girls but -"
"No, no I'm just… happy. I'm overjoyed. People cry when they're happy."
"I never understand that," he deadpanned. Haymitch waited until she had wiped her tears and then, in a more serious note, he told her, "thank you, for being so strong."
Effie had scooted over, making just enough room for him to lie down next to her on the bed. He had obliged simply because he didn't want to aggravate her while she was in that situation.
"Did you see them both?" she asked, using his arm as a pillow, with her head tucked under his chin.
"Yeah, just before I came down to see you. They're next to each other."
Effie threaded their fingers together and she wouldn't let go of his hand, even though if he so much as moved, she would know being all pressed up against him. He knew she was afraid that if she let go, he would be gone and she would be left alone again. That was when the guilt returned.
"Effie, sweetheart, hey, I need you to listen to me, okay?"
She had nearly fallen asleep when he roused her, shaking her shoulders lightly. Her eyes fluttered open, brows crinkled as she forced herself to focus. She wanted nothing more than to sleep but he needed to do this.
"I know I made you a promise and I – I didn't keep it. If I knew you were in labour or that you were due to – "
"No, Haymitch," she interjected. "Nobody knew that I would be giving –"
"No, listen – listen to me. I wouldn't have gone to the Capitol," he insisted, desperate for her to understand. "I would have stayed here with you. I would be there when you gave birth but I wasn't. The point is… What I'm trying to say… I'm… I'm sorry."
And right before his eyes, as if his guilt had been transferred to her, Effie's face morphed into one of remorse.
"I should have let you be with me for the second one," she fretted. "I shouldn't have sent you away."
"You had a good reason. You didn't want him to be alone. I get it - it's fine."
Effie was quiet; the only indication to tell him that she was still awake was the way she fidgeted as she tried to find a comfortable spot in the small hospital bed.
"I wish we are at home, in our bed. It's so uncomfortable here."
"In a few days," he answered. "Are you still mad at me?"
"A little," she yawned sleepily. "You can make it up to me. How about you wake up at night for diaper change duties… for the next one month?"
"Diaper change duties?" he echoed, eyes widening slightly at how horrible it sounded. Not to mention outright disgusting.
"Yes. Haymitch? What did you name him?"
"It took you this long to finally ask that, eh?" he laughed into her hair. "I've been waiting for this. Ethan."
"Ethan?" she repeated. "Ethan Abernathy. And his middle name?"
"Oh, for goodness sake, Effie!"
She pulled back slightly to look at him, a frown marring her face. He saw her lips parted but whatever she wanted to say, it was interrupted by a knock on the door.
The woman who stepped into the room wasn't a nurse but she wore the uniform of the hospital in District Twelve which meant that she was one of the support staff here.
"I'm sorry to interrupt. I'm here to remind you that you are mandated by law to report the birth of your children. If you have not thought of names, that's fine. You can amend the report at a later time to include their names within one month from their birth. But you are to report their birth within twenty four hours so the information could be catalogued by the necessary government body. Once a report has been lodged, you will receive a birth certificate for your child where it will be stated that they were born under the marriage law."
"Is that truly necessary? The bit about being born under this law?" Haymitch asked, the irritation was clear in his voice.
"Yes. That is how they keep track of the number of babies born per month and the rate of birth since the law came into effect. Once reported, you will also receive a maternity package from the Government."
"A what?" Effie queried. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"A maternity package. It's a …. Let's just consider that as a gift from the Government, if you will."
"Ah, a thank you gift for a job well done?" Haymitch quipped, snidely. "Very well, then, is that all?"
The woman nodded, leaving two packs containing the registry form on the table before leaving.
"Are you going to fill that up?" Effie asked. "It says here the registration counter's open twenty fours daily."
"No. Not tonight. I'll do it tomorrow. Report within twenty fours be damned," he snorted. "Let them wait. Go to sleep, Effs. We'll see the children tomorrow."
Over the past few months, I have been getting reviews and asks about the gender, with most of you readers wanting girls and a handful wanting boys. I noticed people often write them as having a baby girl in this fandom and I think it's cute to see Haymitch dealing with a girl but I also think a boy will drive them both nuts, especially two boys. I hope you're not too disappointed and I'm sorry, if you were expecting the twins to be a boy and a girl.
There's a bit of history here in this chapter which I felt was appropriate to weave into the story at this point. We still don't know what happened to Effie in that prison, but at least you know it's bad. ;)
I really, really did enjoy writing this chapter so I hope you like it as well. Please leave a review. In the next chapter, hayffie will talk about the names!