From the moment my bed is wheeled into the underground District 13 bomb shelter I hate it.
The complex is huge, clearly built to hold a much larger occupancy than the number of people pouring down here today, and the voices of the people echo against the walls. Walls made of solid stone and concrete to ward off aerial attack, with only scattered phosphorescent lights here and there to light the cavernous, but still somehow slightly oppressive space.
I've hated living in District 13 so far, hidden underground. I've missed the sun, the rain, the sky and most of all I've missed the sea. I've become accustomed, but this...this is hellish. And my daughter is going to be born down here.
They wheel me into the designated medical area, not really separate from the rest of the complex, but slightly segregated, minus walls.
This is where my Teesa will be born.
After everything, being conceived on the night of the Quell announcement, the night her father proposed to me, conceived of desperation and fear. After surviving the Quarter Quell, a helpless little creature in her mother's belly, surviving as I fell from the bridge, the frozen climb, the terror, stress, anguish of watching those i love die before me. After hanging on through months of Capitol torture, and the months in District 13 as a war raged on through Panem. After all that...she is going to be born while the Capitol bomb the world above, while her mother hides in darkness and surrounded by stone.
It's not fair I think, moaning softly as a contraction spasms through my belly and Fells gently soothes me through it.
But if anything the last two years have taught me this...life isn't fair.
"Where's Cato?" I pant at Peeta who is by my side, his fingers gentle in my hair. My husband had dashed off after Prim, who had bolted crying something about a cat, and Leadan, who had followed her, when the sirens went and I haven't seen him since, "Peeta... I can't do this without him!"
"Shh," he soothes me, letting me grasp his hand as he brushes my hair from my face, "Shhh, Sky he'll be here."
I watch the doors, Peeta by my side as Finnick hurries over to it, standing beside Katniss who looks frantic. She's worried for Prim I know, and I squeeze Peeta's hand nervously.
"Leadan went after her," I say softly, remembering the young girl from 12 sprinting out of the medical centre with Leadan hot on her heels. Cato realising what had happened moments later and after a moment of hesitation, watching me being readied to go, he'd charged after them. I can only hope he'll bring them back safe and sound.
The crowd thins and I see the technicians by the door looking anxiously at their instruments and the huge doors and the shapes of Finnick and Katniss standing right between them.
"They need to shut the doors," Peeta says softly, and I can hear Finnick shouting from here as the guards move to tug him and Katniss out of the way, "Oh my god they're going to lock them out..."
"No!" I try to sit up but instantly hands push me back down flat, "No!" I shout it as loud as I can, making people look around at me and then back at the doors, "CATO!"
For a moment there is silence and then, blessedly, I hear his voice, faintly, "SKY!"
"He's coming," Teesa's voice crackles through my comm, "I can see him on the security cameras. He has Prim and Leadan...Gale is with them."
Peeta runs for the doors, as I let out a huge sigh of relief. Sure enough a few moments later and the four of them dart into the room, and the blast doors shut behind them, plunging the place into almost blackness, lit only by the occasional pool of phosphorescent.
"They made it," I whisper and flop back on the bed, only to sit back up, gritting my teeth as pain spasms across my belly once more, "Fuck..."
"Sky..." Cato is there, and I look up into his blue eyes, concerned for me, and I grip his hand, panting until the muscles stopped squeezing, "There we go,"
"You had me worried there," I whisper to him and he smiles down at me, stroking my cheek with his free hand.
"No way was I going to miss this," he reassures me, and smiles.
"Cutting it a bit fine there weren't you pancake?" Finnick is here, along with Peeta and I huff a soft laugh as Cato rolls his eyes at my brother. "Someone clearly likes to make an entrance with all flamboyance."
"I blame it on you fishboy," Deccia's voice retorts and then she is there, grinning down at me, "He never used to be like that before he started hanging out with you Odair. Hi blue Sky...ready to push a basketball out of your-"
Everyone drowns her out with a wordless cry of protest and she rolls her eyes.
"Hey Deccia," I grin up at her and then hiss as another contraction grips me, "Fuck...someone...quick someone distract me..."
"How?" Finnick looks around, "Not like we have much entertainment down here babyface."
"Tell me a story," I grit out before letting out my breath in a whoosh as the pain passes, "Anyone...tell me a story."
"Okay," Finnick rubs his hands together, "What about the story of the time that my girl tribute threw up during the Reaping?"
Peeta laughs as I throw a weak punch at Finnick, "I hate you so much right now..." I groan at him, "Cato..."
"Can I hit him?" Cato sounds unsurprisingly eager about the idea, "Please? You have no idea how much I want to smack him in his pretty, empty head."
"No," I shake my head as Finnick pokes his tongue out at my husband, "Do you have any stories?"
"Not really," Cato begins before Deccia snorts and interrupts.
"Oh please...I have stories."
"No," Cato tries to stop her but the next thing he knows everyone has gotten settled around us and are watching his sister expectantly, "Sky..."
"Sorry Cato," I laugh softly, "I need the distraction. Go Deccia."
"You'll love this," she reassures me and settles herself in another seat around the bed, "Once upon a time there was a little boy from District 2 who wanted to be a Victor."
"Oh god," Cato groans, only to be shushed by everyone.
"See the little boy," and Deccia smirks at her brother, "Was the baby of the family, and grew up with all three of his older siblings training in the Academy. He grew up with their stories, and the dreams of Victory and so becoming a Victor was his dearest wish. Especially when first his sister, and then both his brothers aged out of the program without entering the Games. He would be the one, he vowed, the one to step up and claim glory for their family."
"You sound adorable," Finnick informs Cato who groans again, "Bloodthirsty and savage, but adorable."
"Unfortunately for the little boy his dreams of being 'the most awesomest swordslaying person of all time' took a bit of pummelling his first day of sword training. In front of the whole Academy and his older sister, who was by then a trainer, the little boy got his ass beat by someone who was just a little more naturally gifted with the sword than he."
"Oh I would have loved to have seen that," Finnick chortles, and Cato growls, only to be soothed by Peeta gently patting his head where it was hidden in my blankets.
"So infuriated was the little boy that he practiced morning and night, every day, often forcing his older siblings to practice with him. So that the next time he was called to show his skills, he was able to beat everyone put before him. We knew then he'd go on to do exactly what he wanted..." She smiles fondly at her brother who shakes his head at her.
"Good story..." I say, hissing softly as another contraction grips me, hands tightening on Cato's and Peeta's, making the blond boy from 12 flinch, "Thanks Deccia."
"No problem lovebuns."
"I have a question," Fells asks softly, and everyone glances at him, but he's looking at Deccia, "You trained to be a Tribute yes?"
"Yeah I did," She arches an eyebrow at him, "What about it?"
"Why then did you never become a Tribute?" Fells glances around and I see everyone looking thoughtful, "We've seen you fight, you're talented at it, and you in District 1 and 2 are taught to treat it as a competition. You would have been a shoe in for Victory. So why did you not Volunteer?"
Everyone looks at Deccia who looks, unusually, uncomfortable.
"In 2," Deccia said, sighing softly, and everyone watches her expectantly, "Academy students are graded on result by age group. The top 18 year old girl and boy volunteer."
"Like Cato," Peeta says softly and both Deccia and Cato nod.
"Clove didn't volunteer," I puff out, "I remember that just Cato volunteered, and Katniss..."
"Exactly..." Deccia agrees, "And here's why. If an Academy student's name is drawn, between the ages of 16-18 then their Reaping is allowed to stand. If someone who isn't a student, or is too young is Reaped then the Top student Volunteers."
"That's what happened your year?" Fells asks quietly, "A younger Academy girl was Reaped?"
Deccia nods, "Yes, Lorvenia Titus. One year younger than me, and unbearably cocky. Her name was called and I was forced to step aside despite having earned my place there. I remember she was so smug..."
"What happened to her?" Peeta asks, but my eyes are on Finnick, whose face has stilled, green eyes wide. His hand tightens on my hair and I blink up at him, wondering what has rattled him.
"She went to compete...but she didn't come back. Neither did the boy."
"The 65th Games," Finnick suddenly speaks, and I understand in a rush, "That was my Hunger Games."
Again Deccia nods, "I watched the broadcasts, the parade, the interviews, the scores...everyone knew from the moment the Games started that if the Careers didn't turn on you early you would win. And sure enough..."
"I killed the District 2 girl," Finnick says softly, "She was trapped in my net and screaming for help...but her District partner was off hunting another Tribute..."
"I saw," Deccia's eyes fix on his, and I feel my breath catch, even as another spasm of pain clutches me, "I had been so sure this was my moment of glory, only to have it snatched away. And then to realise that that little bit of fate had been the only reason I'd lived...it was humbling. And terrifying."
Silence fell around the bed and I process the revelation, "I wonder what would have happened...if you had gone Deccia?"
"I would have died," Deccia's voice is blunt, but not self-pitying, or harsh, and she flashes Finnick a small smile, which he returns, still staring at her, "Simple as that. I would have fallen for Fishface's guppy mouthed charms just like everyone else, and he would have killed me just like Lorvenia."
"Sky would have died," Cato says softly and everyone looks at him in surprise, including me, "I would have wanted revenge. Even though it was nine years earlier...I would have wanted to kill District 4 first...and messily, definitely the boy. Might have delayed killing the girl."
Everyone shivers thinking what would have happened if Cato had been so ruthless towards the other Tributes. He'd been brutal, but there had always been heart to Cato. Without Deccia...with the need to avenge her in his mind...how would things have been different?
It hurts; it hurts so much, reminding me of when Snow poured the poison down my throat. The stomach cramps, so agonising then, are the contractions now that will bring my baby girl into the world. I know it's necessary. Doesn't mean I like it any better however.
My friends tell me stories, trying to distract me.
Fells tells the story of the time he'd tried to climb into Cashmere's Capitol apartment, and had almost landed in bed with Plutarch Heavensbee, which draws laughter from us all.
Peeta tells a story about Cato during the early days of our first Hunger Games, back when he was part of his Career Pack. Apparently Cato had gotten lost somehow and Peeta heard him bellowing when he went into the trees to relieve himself. Deccia cackles when Peeta relates how he found Cato in front of a hacked up bush.
"It was an evil bush," Cato insists, but he rolls his eyes, taking the teasing on the chin. He returns the favour with a story about Peeta trying to teach him to cook while I was in the Capitol. Apparently Peeta had thought it might soothe him. Instead it had resulted in Cato being banned from the District 13 kitchens, and Peeta being placed on probation. Apparently his sweet cupcakes had won the hard District 13 cooks over, and he'd been allowed back into the fold.
It's hard to tell, in the constant dim light of the bunker, the only lights being around us in the medical area, but our body clocks tell us that night has fallen above, even as the sounds of bombing from above continue.
"Lyrra," I ask finally into the comm I have on my chest, "What's the time?"
"Past 23:00 hours," Lyrra replies promptly, and I wonder if she ever sleeps herself, "You've been in labour for just over nine hours now."
Fells shoos everyone away from the end of the bed and checks how it's all progressing.
"The good news is, that everything seems to be going well," he reassures me, stroking a hand over my belly, "Teesa is facing the right way and there is no sign of bleeding or concern."
"But?" I ask and Cato tenses beside me.
"But…" Fells allows, "You're far from being fully dilated, I'm afraid this birth could take a lot more time to complete."
So I send everyone to bed, including Cato who tries to insist on staying. I warn him that if he stays I will punch him hard in the face for putting me through this…to which he made a vaguely constipated expression as his self-preservation and common sense warred with his protective instincts.
Eventually Peeta drags him off, leaving me alone save for my mother, who sits beside me, Shia who joins her soon after, along with Riam, Leadan and Prim who is with him. Katniss joins us too, looking for her sister, and she looks at me with some concern.
"I look that good huh?" I joke, flopping my head back against the pillows, "They say the second one is easier,"
"You're going to have another child?" Katniss sounds surprised, eyebrows arching, "After all this?"
"I always wanted kids," I inform her, sighing softly, "And after I fell in love with Cato I always wanted to have his kids. Eventually. This was a little sooner than I expected but…we will have more kids…yes."
"I never wanted children," Katniss admits, sitting down, "I didn't want to bring anyone up in District 12. Didn't want to condemn a child…"
"What about when the rebellion succeeds?" I ask her, gritting my teeth through another contraction as my mother pets my hair, "Will that change anything?"
"I don't know…" she says honestly, "Maybe? If things are better? And It's not certain we'll win you know. Or even that I'll survive the winning."
"Think positive," Shia says softly and Katniss glances at her in surprise. For a moment I see her frown, trying to place where she's seen Shia before, before her face tenses and I realise she recognises whose mother she is, "The rebellion has been going well by all accounts."
"Even better since you were able to go out in the Districts," I remind her, touching her hand softly, "Katniss, we're winning."
"That can change," she says softly, glancing at Shia once more who gives her an understanding look, "I…"
"There is no need dear." Shia stands and enfolds Katniss, who stiffens uncomfortably, into a warm embrace, "I forgave you long ago. It is the Capitol alone who was responsible for my Darrien's death."
Slowly Katniss relaxes into the embrace and Shia smiles, stroking her hair gently. I just watch, breathing through the contractions, as I wonder how long it's been since Katniss has allowed herself to be held like this. Not in a lovers embrace, or a friends. But like a mother holds her young one. Katniss' relationship with her mother is so stilted, she rarely yields around her.
So I stay quiet, watching the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion and the hope of thousands, relax into Shia's warm hold.
As more and more hours pass, the residents of District 13 slowly come and join us, as do the people of 12 and 4. They can't all come too close, but Peeta tells me, when he returns from his sleep, that everyone is on this side of the bunker, despite their assigned sleeping places.
It makes it easier when the terrible pains grip me, and I bite down a yell. They're close together now, and Fells is nodding approvingly when he checks me. "Shouldn't be too much longer," he tells me, his soft soothing voice a comfort as pain clutches at my belly once more.
I grip Cato's hand, gratified to see him flinch as I bear down on it and on the babe in my belly. Finnick, holding my other hand is pulling a similar face and Peeta, standing beside him, looks a little smug, at least until finally I scream, and then he just looks concerned.
Cato looks pale.
"Okay, she's fully dilated," Fells informs us all, but I can barely hear him, so lost am I in my struggle with my body, "Sky! You need to push now."
I hear that, and so I do. When the next contraction comes, I push and the feeling is indescribable. I scream, and everyone around me winces.
"Come on baby," My mother is there, stroking my hair, pushing the sweat soaked strands out of my eyes, "Come on, you can do this.."
"It hurts!" I wail, and scream again as the pain blazes through my belly, "It hurts!"
"You'll be okay," Cato tries to comfort me, which is absolutely the wrong move at that time. Fortunately for him, his head is out of the way of my wild swing.
"I hate you so much." I howl at him, and Cato stares at me, shocked, "I hate you so much right now Cato."
"Good," Fells says, and everyone looks at him incredulously, "Oh every woman threatens her husband. If she's at that stage then we're close to the end…"
"So this is normal?" Cato asks, looking a little relieved, even as I thrash in his and Finnick's hold once more, screaming as I push.
"Completely," Fells says over my next howl, "Right I can see the head, she's crowning. Sky you need to push…"
"I HAVE BEEN PUSHING!" I screech at him, wishing I had something to peg at his stupid blond head, "Oh god!"
It feels like forever but suddenly the pain crescendos and I scream as loudly as I can as I push, bearing down, and then suddenly it's like the pressure is gone, and I hear the wail of a baby screaming indignantly at being thrust out into the world.
Faintly I hear cheering from around the bunker as Teesa wails in Fells' arms, Katniss' mother helping with the cord and cleaning up the after effects of birth. Prim helps Fells with the bathing, and Peeta goes too.
I'm exhausted, but there's something very warm about it, something soothing in my tiredness. My daughter…she's here.
And soon enough Peeta is there, and with a warm smile on his face he places her in my arms.
She's so small, but solid, so present in my arms as I smile down at her, at her little flushed face, her tiny features. She quiets when she settles into my hold, and snuggles in, little eyes opening, unseeing, but somehow still quizzical all the same. They're pale, and I think, looking at them, and then up at her father who is there and looking down at her with a stunned expression on his face, that she will have her father's blue eyes.
"Welcome to the world," I whisper, stroking her soft cheek, oblivious to everyone celebrating around us. To me it's just me, Cato and Teesa, all together finally, "Welcome Teesa."
I wake hours later to see Cato, sitting beside my bed, little Teesa in his huge arms and my mouth curls up in a smile at the sight of them. But before I can say anything, my body drags me back down again, and I fall asleep once more.
I spend most of the next two days sleeping, waking only to feed my daughter, because I'd been very firm and very loud in my demands prior to her birth that I would be the one to feed her.
I was exhausted from the long birth, and everyone helped Cato out with nappy changes and spending time with her. Annie sang her soft nonsense lullabies, her own belly swelling under her clothes, much like Cashmere's. Annie seemed much more present these days, much more alive, less lost in her own broken mind. It was as though having Finnick there, and the baby in her belly were grounding to her, keeping her with us. More touchstones to hold her to the world.
Petra and Cato's father Tiderius came to meet Teesa soon after the birth, both of them happy to meet their first grandchild. My own father had silently wept as he held her, and my mother had kissed my head telling me how proud she was of me.
Our Victors too joined us to celebrate Teesa's arrival, Johanna, Enrid, Fells of course, Cashmere, Gloss, Enobaria (who kept her mouth firmly closed because she did not want the baby to be afraid of her), Ria and also Haymitch turned up.
It was kind of heartwarming to see grumpy, irascible Haymitch Abernathy with a tiny, quizzical little baby in his arms. And even more so to see his face watching Deccia hold Teesa. The longing there was so great that I had to look away, to give him the privacy to imagine Deccia standing there, not with her niece in her arms, but maybe her own child…her own child with Haymitch.
Katniss and Gale visited with Shia, Riam and Leadan, along with Prim, and they all cooed over her, even the tough Katniss softening enough to tickle the little Teesa with her finger, grinning when she burbled a laugh.
Peeta and Finnick rarely left my side, and Cato never did, sleeping beside my bed, Teesa's little cot carefully within arm's reach.
Fells releases me from my bed, just in time for us all to leave the bunker, and re-emerge into the world above.
Before I know it months have passed in a haze of new parethood exhaustion.
Lyrra releases the video of my torture and the birth of Teesa, and the Districts and Capitol react violently to it, just as we had hoped they would. For the first time, Snow's hold on the Capitol began to weaken, and we see our chance.
The Rebellion releases video after video, exposing Snow's cruelties. Haymitch allowing a small snippet of his own torture to be used as well.
But it comes to a head soon after the births of Cashmere and Fells' little twins, and Finnick and Annie's son.
Cashmere told the story of how she'd been sold to high paying Capitol men and women, and how she'd been kept from the man she'd loved. Fells quietly adding his own parts to the story, and ending it with sharing the twins with the world. Little Jasper and Pearl are beautiful, like their mother, although little Jasper looks like he might grow up to have his father's honey gold eyes.
And Finnick, holding his son in his arms, tells his own stories of being sold, and shares incriminating secret after incriminating secret.
Finally he just smirks at the camera and presses a kiss to little Darrien Odair's forehead, and in the Capitol all hell broke loose.
Report after report comes in of riots, of the Capitol forces being destroyed first in District 10 then 9 then 3 then 1. Of the Capitol's own citizenry rising up in anger.
And Coin looks at all of it laid out on the Command table and she smiles savagely.
"It's time," she says.
And I…who have been formulating my own plans with Lyrra, using this time to plan how to bring Coin down along with Snow, smile back.
One way or another…it's time.
There is no turning back now.