I just can't let go of this Universe can I? :). This was really hard to write ... I think I lost touch, or at least forgot how to write in an adult's PoV. I hope you enjoy it anyway though! Big hugs and best wishes for the Christmas season!
Katniss naps in the tiny hospital room, warmed by the orange hues of the setting sun while I gently rock our son next to the window. Aidan stares at me with sleepy gray eyes and a mouth wide open in wonder, as if he's trying to come to terms with life outside his Mommy's belly. He came a few weeks early on a Friday morning, rushing into the world so quickly and determinedly that Katniss and I didn't even have the material time to realise what was happening. Luckily, his eagerness to join our family did not give us time to be crushed by the same terror that we faced when Alba was born. The contractions started at midnight, and by the time my mother-in-law drove to our house to stay with the still sleeping Alba, Katniss was fully dilated and ready to push as soon as we reached the hospital. There was no time for our hearts to stop in fear as we waited for him to take his first breath; before we realised what was happening he was screaming indignantly and handed to us as a squirming bundle.
"You doing ok, Tiny One?" I whisper gently as he clutches my finger with his small, perfect hand. This is the third time we've faced childbirth, and after being nearly destroyed by the tragedy of the first one, and overcome with joy in the second, I was expecting this time to be somewhat easier to handle. In some ways it was, but I am now discovering that this overwhelming, indescribable feeling of meeting one's child for the first time is not something that I can ever get used to.
My phone vibrates on the bedside table, causing Katniss to stir. I frown apologetically but she just smiles and holds out her arms sleepily to gather Aidan once more to her chest. I tap my screen to reveal a text from Barley.
We're in the waiting area and there is one excited little girl who wants to meet her brother :). Let us in bro!
I turn to Katniss, and read out the text to her. "Are you up for the family invasion? Or shall I just bring Alba up?" I ask as I bend down to kiss Aidan's brow.
Katniss yawns and shrugs with a small smile. "Since he's awake, might as well let them meet him now. But then I want it to be just you and Alba. She must have been so upset at waking up without us, and I want to cuddle her tight."
I grin happily and nearly forget to kiss her before walking briskly out of the room in excitement and pride. As soon as I reach the waiting area, I'm assaulted by an excited four year old who jumps into my arms and peppers my face with kisses.
"Dah-dee! Where did you go? Why did you leave me? Where is Moh-mee? Where is the bay-bee?"
Each question is interspersed with two or three kisses and angry scowls. I hug her tight to me, trying to get a word in between her barrage of reproach.
"I'm sorry sweety-pie. Mommy and Daddy didn't want to upset you. But you were sleeping and we didn't want to wake you and we had to run very fast to get you your brother," I try to explain.
"But then I woke up and you weren't there!"
"I know love, I know."
"But I cried Dah-dee!"
"But there was Grandma with you all the time, we didn't leave you alone," I try to explain gently.
"Yes I saw Grandma," she concedes.
"And what did you do with her?"
"I cried more Dah-dee."
I stifle my grin while nuzzling her hair, knowing fully well that forgiveness, at least at this point, is definitely out of the question. I can't wait for Alba to meet Aidan, and as we walk to the room with the rest of our family I remind her that she's a big big sister now, and that she's important has to teach the new baby everything that he has to know in his life. She swells with pride and almost falls out of my arms in her enthusiasm to take a lfirst ook at her brother. Katniss angles her arms in such a way as to make him face his sister, but our smiles freeze in our faces when Alba takes a look at him and frowns before her face crumples into unhappy tears.
She buries her face into my neck while Katniss and I look at each other in bewilderment. "What is it baby?" she asks trying to reach out for her. Alba shakes her head and refuses to answer, her small body wracked with sobs.
Katniss' mother walks over to me and rubs her back soothingly. "She's probably a little jealous and overwhelmed," she whispers to me sympathetically.
I'm not convinced that this is really what's going on, but I'm at a loss on what to do. At that moment, Prim decides to call from France, where Rory is currently stationed, and Katniss has to reply, even though she still keeps looking distractedly at the corner of the room where I'm trying to comfort our crying child. As my mother fawns on Aidan, Barley walks up to me and tickles her, trying to get her face from where it is still buried in my chest.
"I think my niece would feel better with a walk and some candy," he states with fake cheer and an understanding look. He's a couple of years older than me, with a 6 year old who's already given him his fair share of worry. "What do you think Alba? Do you want to come for a walk with me? We can even look at the fishes in the aquarium down the corridor. How does that sound?"
"I think she wants to stay -" I start to say just as my daughter wriggles in my arms and reaches out for my brother.
"Fishes with Uncle Barley!" she sobs and leans into his waiting arms without a backward glance at me. I think I hear my heart crack at this unexpected rejection.
Shit. It hurts.
Barley pats my shoulder and walks away with my daughter, while Katniss frowns as she tries to keep up with her sister. "She'll come round, give her some time," says my mother-in-law. "It's just a phase. She'll be back to normal before you know it."
Three days later however, Alba is still silent and unhappy, and refuses to interact with her brother at all, or with us unless she can help it. She spends the weekend curled up on the couch with her Teddy, refusing to talk to us or play, and not even protesting about having to eat broccoli for lunch on Sunday. By that evening, Katniss and I are at our wits' end. The Alba we know and love wakes up in the morning clamouring for milkie Moh-mee! like a little despot, and on days when she does not go to playschool, her time at home is spent on throwing herself on cushions and beds, explaining in great (loud) detail what is happening in Paw Patrol, and dragging out all her toys in the living room because I need EVERYTHING Dah-dee!. This obedient, silent girl is alien to us, and I spend all weekend desperately yearning for our little tyrant to come back.
On Monday, things do not improve, and when I go to pick up Alba from playschool, her teacher calls me inside the classroom to explain that she had refused to play with her friends, spent all the time hugged to her bear, and refused to speak about her baby brother, even though the previous week she would hardly talk about anything else. She reminds me to keep showering my daughter with attention, so as not make her feel left out and unloved, and to remind her of how important her role is in taking care of the baby. Even though this advice, unsolicited and to my eyes unfair, rubs me the wrong way, I thank her through gritted teeth, trying to figure out where, and how, Katniss and I are failing our daughter as parents.
The drive home is silent, completely different from the usual "songs Dah-dee!" which usually indicates that my daughter wants the radio on. Through the rear-view mirror, I see her clutching Teddy tightly, with her nose buried in the toy's fur, and all my attempts to engage her in conversation fail miserably.
As soon as we get home, Katniss is walking out from our bedroom, closing the door softly and turning on the baby monitor, a sure sign that Aidan has just settled down for a nap. We share a look as Alba prepares to curl up on the couch like yesterday, and we move together to sit on either side of her to try and reach out. I settle her on my lap while Katniss gently pries Teddy away from her arms.
"It's ok, it's ok," she soothes our daughter as she immediately starts getting agitated, "Teddy Gabey is right here, look, he's here sitting next to you. You can hold his paw, yes that's right, like that. But Mommy and Daddy love you, and they want to hug you and talk to you, and they want you to look at them and not hug Teddy for a tiny little bit."
Alba's eyes fill with tears and I bounce her a little as I pull her to my chest, kissing the top of her head while Katniss continues to soothe her. Her small hand never softens the grip on her toy's paw, but after some time, and with the aid of many kisses, she finally manages to calm down.
"Sweetie, are you angry at Mommy and Daddy?" Katniss begins. Alba does not reply. "Are you sad?" she tries again, once more to no reply.
I decide another approach. "Has Mommy cuddled you less since Baby Aidan was born?" I ask. Alba actually seems to ponder this, before shaking her head slowly. "Have I given you less kisses?" I continue, releasing the breath I was holding when she shakes her head again.
"So can you tell us what is wrong then?" Katniss tries once again.
Alba squirms a little in my arms and opens her mouth a number of times before finally speaking. "I'm this pointed, Moh-mee," she concedes.
"Alba, do you mean disappointed?" my wife asks, her amused eyes betraying the fact that she's trying hard not to smile.
"This pointed, yes Moh-mee."
"Why are you disappointed sweetie?"
At this question, the squirming increases. "I can't tell you," Alba murmurs. She traces little lines on my arms as I try to steady her on my lap.
"Why can't you tell me?" Katniss asks with a frown.
"Because Dah-dee made me promise-promise!"
Katniss looks at me with raised eyebrows and obvious disapproval. I shake my head in confusion and look down at our daughter. "Love, what are you talking about? What did I make you promise?"
She shifts in my arm to look up to me with eyes wide open in indignation. "You made me promise-promise to ask you before speaking to Moh-mee about Angel Gabey!"
I feel, rather than see, Katniss stiffen in front of me. "What about Angel Gabey sweetie?" she whispers in a neutral tone.
I feel a lump in my throat that is as large as a brick, and it seems to make breathing impossible. I know that my wife's heart is breaking at the mention of our dead son, just as mine seems to be trying to beat its way out of my ribcage. I wish that I could somehow protect her from this conversation, but if this is the only way to get our daughter back, then I won't be the one to stop it from happening. So when Alba looks at me for permission to speak about Gabriel, I look away from Katniss and nod.
"Gabey is my brother," she murmurs, clutching at my index finger with her free hand. I give her a gentle squeeze, silently urging her to go on while Katniss tries to hide the fact that she's clenching the hem of her sleeves so hard, that I'm scared she might tear right through the cotton. "And you told me that you're getting me a brother, but the bay-bee is not Gabey!" Alba ends her explanation with an indignant scowl, even though her sweet eyes are watering up with tears.
My wife seems unable to speak so I slowly turn Alba in my lap so that she's facing me. "Gabey will always be your brother sweetie, but he lives in the sky with the other angels," I explain softly, trying to contain the bittersweet pain that is threatening to engulf me. "Since he's in the sky, he can't play with you as much as you want him to, and you can't speak to him whenever you want to - "
"When I sleep!" she interjects with eyes wide open.
"That's right, when you sleep," I acknowledge with a quick glance at Katniss, whose eyes are squeezed shut. "But Baby Aidan is your brother as well, and you can play with him and speak to him when you're awake, isn't that nice?"
Alba mulls this over pensively. "So I can play with Gabey while I'm asleep?" I nod. "And I can play with Aidy when I'm awake?" I nod again with a smile. "So I can play all the time?" she asks, her eyes brightening.
"When Baby Aidan grows up a little bit more, yes sweetie. You can to play with two brothers, all the time!"
Alba giggles and reaches up to hug me. "I'm not this pointed any longer Dah-dee!" she announces with a series of pecks on my cheeks. When she turns to her mother, she sobers up and scrambles off my lap to hug her tight. "Don't be sad Moh-mee," she murmurs, "Angel Gabey doesn't like it when you're sad, because he's happy all the time!"
Katniss draws in a deep breath, and I take that as a signal to gather Alba up in my arms with a promise of cuddles and a nap. Within ten minutes, and after begging me hard to let her nap in the same room as the baby, I have her wrapped up in a blanket on our bed.
"Like a roly-poly!" she whispers, giggling softly.
"My favourite roly-poly girl," I acknowledge with a final kiss on her cheek. "Are you warm?"
"Are you cosy-comfy?"
"Yes a lot."
"Do you love Mommy and Daddy?"
"Yes a lot a lot!" she whispers loudly before shushing herself with another giggle. I wish her a good sleep and make my way to the kitchen, where I find Katniss clutching a steaming mug, looking blankly outside the window as tears flow, unrestrained, down her cheeks. I move behind her, wrapping my arms round her waist in a desperate attempt to provide her some sort of comfort. For a few minutes we stand in silence, none of us seemingly willing to bring up the subject.
Finally, Katniss speaks. "Do you think it's true? What she says I mean. About talking to Gabriel?"
I measure my words for a second or two. "I don't know," I reply slowly, "but I kind of hope it is…and I don't exclude it."
Katniss lowers down her mug on the counter and turns in my arms to face me. "You know how difficult for me it is to believe in the things that you … that your faith seems to be so sure of," she explains earnestly. "But if it is true, and if maybe I decide to believe that Gabriel is somewhere else, and he's happy, why doesn't he speak to us? We're his parents, don't we get the opportunity to speak to him as well?"
I actually do see her point, and to be honest it's a question that I have asked myself a number of times as well since Alba confessed to me to speak to our dead son in her dreams. "I think he does speak to us, it's just that Alba happens to know how to listen to him," I explain thoughtfully. "Maybe she's a bit more sensitive, and perhaps she will grow out of it, I don't really know. All I know is that Gabriel is talking to us, but he just happens to be doing it through his sister since it seems to be the easiest way for him to say hello."
Katniss nods silently after a second or two. "I just wish -"
She is interrupted however by the baby monitor, which comes to life with Aidan's whimpers. We move to make our way to our bedroom before he wakes Alba up, but a second later we hear our daughter's whispering through the monitor.
"Hello Aidy, you can't sleep? Sometimes it happens to me too!". I stop and grab Katniss' hand, and we both share a small smile as Alba continues to talk and Aidan calms down. His whimpers stop, and soon all we can hear is his sister's whispers and his tiny breaths. "When I can't sleep I usually tell stories to Teddy Gabey. He's my bestestest friend. Would you like a bestestest friend too?" she asks him. She seems encouraged by Aidan's response because she continues. "Do you like penguins? I have a penguin called Puffy. He sleeps with me when Moh-mee says that Teddy Gabey needs a bathie. I think you like penguins so you can have Puffy as your bestestest friend if you like, but I think you need to give him back with Teddy gets his bathie because I can't sleep without hugging my friends!"
Aidan gurgles and Katniss wraps her arms round my neck as we cling to each other in relief and happiness. Alba does not seem to be quite finished yet though.
"I spoke to Angel Gabey before you woke me up and he told me that he chose you to be my brother," she drawls. "I think you will like it here! Moh-mee gives Snuggle Cuddles after the bathie and Dah-dee gives Better-Better kisses and they are magic. And when you have a nap Dah-dee wraps you up like a roly-poly and Moh-mee sings and everything is nice and warm and sleepy." She stops for a moment, and we chuckle when we hear what she next comes up with. "Moh-mee and Dah-dee love me a lot. Shall I ask them if they love you too? Maybe you have to give them a little time, but I think they like you a lot. Not as much as me but I have been here a long long time!"
Katniss moves slowly to the bedroom and quietly opens the door. We find Alba with her hand in the crib and the look of someone who's very pleased with herself as Aidan grips her finger. As I pick her up and hug her, she blows him a kiss before cuddling up to me and whispering "Thank you Dah-dee, I think he's a nice bay-bee after all."