So – it's been 2 years. I have always wanted to go back and write this story. The longer I waited the harder it became to finish. But, I hate it when authors leave stories unfished, so I am determined not to do that myself.
I must warn you – that I now realize how crappy my grammar/spelling/word usage was/is. I hope what I am writing now is slightly better now that it is at least reread a time or two and not posted without a reread. However, I suck at comma usage, dialogue punctuation, and a lot of other kind of writing no-nos. I apologize if it is distracting, but I can at least promise to try!
That night, on the train ride to 12 I can't sleep at all. After tossing and turning for a few hours I finally get out of bed and walk down to the dining car. The train sways slightly from side to side as it races towards my old home but is otherwise silent. I sit down and cross my legs on one of the leather couches in the luxurious car and watch the night outside race by.
I close my eyes and allow my mind to drift off into memories of other rides of this train, and most of them are with Peeta. Before the war the people of the Districts never traveled on the trains for any positive reason. The trains carried Peacekeepers and officials to the Districts and rarely took residents to the Capitol and never took us between the Districts to visit. Riding on the train was not a good thing; it usually meant you were a tribute being sent your death in the arena.
I make my way quietly to the dining car, hearing the low sound of voices inside. I appear in the doorway and spot a table laden with food, a gruff looking older man and a bright pink haired woman standing off to the side, and Peeta, sitting quietly at the table and looking down at his plate. I make my way across the room, take a seat across from him and follow his lead, staring intently at the china plate in front of me.
Effie makes her way over to the table and sits down on my right while Haymich plops down on my left. "Well, such an honor for you two to be here, it's all a little overwhelming I'm sure." I look up at her words and my eyes meet Peeta's for a moment before I roll them as high as they will go. It's such an honor to go off to kill and be killed for the entertainment of others. She seems to truly believe that this is such a great thing, for us to have been chosen, I think that she must be out of her mind.
"Eat up you two; we want to make sure you're in good health when you arrive. I can't have you going into the arena as thin as you are now." Effie throws a look at me and clicks her tongue on the roof of her mouth, producing a tsking sound. Her eyes belay both pity and disgust, and anger rises up within me making my face feeling hot. How dare she judge me for being too thin? I'm thin because the Capitol does not provide us with enough food to eat, we're malnourished on purpose.
Peeta has decided to ignore her little speech and has dug into the spread before us. I am not sure how he can eat right now; we're pigs being fattened up before being sent to slaughter. I know he hasn't lived the life I have, being from the town he grew up slightly better off than me, but how can he not feel disgust at them giving us this feast on this one way train ride to our death?
I shake myself out of the memory, but the anger at Effie and the Capitol still burns within me. And it hits me, Peeta likely did feel the same things as I had, but he ignored them and made the best of the situation. That's what he always did, no matter how dire the circumstances he would find something good, something to cling on to. While I tended to base my mood, decisions, and actions on the worst case scenario or the most awful thing currently happening, Peeta was just the opposite. He always looked for the good, he always talks about what was going right first, and as a result was the more gregarious of the two of us.
I realize how thankful I should be to have him with me. There are many days where I could pull myself into a pit of despair I don't think I could crawl out but he is right there and he won't let me. He's the reason I am here in this place, taking on this tremendous task, and he is responsible for helping me keep myself together as well as I have. What would I do without him by my side? I did not know, and I don't want to find out.
Feeling sleepy and tired at last I get up from the couch and make my way down the hall and back to the sleeping car. I open the door and tip toe in, barely able to see Peeta's outline in the darkness. I crawl in next to him and snuggle my body against his as he lets out a sigh of contentment before rolling towards me and wrapping an arm over my waist.
The morning comes quickly, and before I realize it the train is slowing down as it gets close to the station in 12. I look at Peeta in panic but his face is a mask of calm as he reaches a hand towards one of mine to provide me with comfort. I smile as I realize how often he is the one to calm me down and to help hold me together. Whenever I am about to panic here is right there, grounding me in the moment.
"It's going to be okay Katniss", he gives my hand a squeeze, "these people want to see you, and they've been waiting for this since we started our little tour." I take a few deep breathes to calm myself. It's easier with the physical contact between us and I squeeze his hand back.
I pull my other hand to my head and I rake it through my loose hair. I am sure he's right and I am going to face a welcome reception here. I find it hard to imagine that whoever remains feel anything but hate for me. So many people are dead, so many houses and buildings destroyed. 12 was hit first and was hit hardest after the breakout, and I can't help but feel that these people's losses are my fault, that the death that happened here is on my plate. The moment I failed to die during the first game, these people were in danger.
"I know what you're thinking and don't" he pulls he to look at him, "you're blaming yourself for the bombings here, for the actions of the Capitol, and you can't." he places his other hand on my elbow and shakes me slightly. "You just can't Katniss. None of this is your fault. You can't blame yourself for what the Capitol and Snow decided to do, and I know that no one who is waiting for us here blames us." He make a lot of sense. Anyone who did hate me or blame wouldn't be likely to come to my welcome home reception.
"Thank you." I lean my head against him shoulder and wish I had something more to say to him, something more meaningful. I want to know how grateful I really feel to have him here with me. "I mean it Peeta, there is no way I could ever do this without you." I face him and try to convey my seriousness with my eyes.
" Oh Katniss" he smiles, "you could do anything." He misunderstands my sentiment, and suddenly I know where my error is.
"No, you don't understand. I wouldn't want to do this without you." He raises his eyebrows in surprise. "I just, I want to have you with me, to be where you are…to…" I begin to babble, unable to put words to my feelings as usual. "I'm just glad you're here Peeta." That statement doesn't come close to what I want to say but it will have to do as the train slows to a stop.
Peeta leans down towards me, his hot breath moving over my skin, as he whispers, "I think I know what you mean Katniss." He closes the gap between us and places a gentle kiss to my lips, then he moves only far enough away to tell me, "I love you so much Katniss."
He pulls back from me as he train jerks to a stop and Effie and Haymitch hurry unto the car to see us out to the platform.
"Ready?" Effie is as chirper as ever. "The townspeople are really looking forward to this, they've been waiting for a long time."
That is a relief; she's seen the crowd and it doesn't consist of an angry mob that is out to get me. Peeta lets go of my elbow but keeps a tight hold on my hand. The train doors open and in an instant we are walking out on to the platform, hand in hand.
The loud cheers of the crowd startle me, as me and Peeta raise or free hands to wave at the crowd. After getting my bearings I start to see people I recognize in the crowd. There is Delly and her younger brother, Greasy Sae and her granddaughter, Leevy, and Thom. I breathe a sigh of relief a sigh of relief, most of the survivors from 12 have moved back from 13 after the war ended. I know many of the people in the crowd, these people were my classmates, neighbors, and friends before this entire mess had begun.
Effie grabs my elbow and guides us off to the side of the platform where a reporter and camera man wait and nods to them. "OK, I thought we'd get an interview in right away and then let you head to Peeta's old house right afterwards." She glances at me with concern, "is that going to be alright?"
I look at Peeta who is waiting for my reaction and nod, "it's okay with me." He always makes sure I am OK with a situation, something I often took for granted.
Effie smiles and steps aside for the reporter.
"Carmen Long, correspondent for the Panem Insider." She thrusts her hand out towards me and I shake it, this ritual is repeated with Peeta before she continues. "It is a pleasure to meet the two of you and get to witness your home coming. " Her grin is wide and genuine, and her demeanor makes me feel slightly more at ease.
"Thank you." Peeta smiles graciously, slipping into the cheery public persona that he seems to have perfected.
Carmen nods and starts right in on her questions, "I have to ask, how are you feeling about this homecoming?"
"It feels great, we're truly happy to be back here with our neighbors and friends. I see many new people as well and I am looking forward to meeting them as well. I am glad that so many people have come back, and that other people have chosen to move here."
Carmen nods and waves at the camera man to get closer to us. "The last time you were here was right after the bombings. What are you hoping has happened in the meanwhile?"
"Well, I know these people and they are hardy folks. I hope to see that their lives have gone on and that rebuilding is happening all over the District. More than anything I hope to see that life is better for people now than it was before the war. "
I nod along with him and add "that's really the most important thing to me, I want to know that things are actually better here. " I normally don't say very much and Peeta looks down at me and gives me an encouraging smile. It's what I want for these people more than anything. That all the suffering, destruction, and loss have led to a better world for them to live in.
"Are there any places you'd particularly like to see while you're here?" Her genuine curiosity is evident.
"As hard as it will be, we want to see our old homes, but we're not sure if there are still standing or not. Of course I would like to see the bakery, and I am sure Katniss would like to see the Hob. The areas we weren't allowed, outside of the fence, are on the list as well."
I nod along with him, but don't say anything further. I am not sure how I will react if someone else's home is built over the land where my family's home once stood. I had not given much thought to the woods, and now wonder whether the fence was still up around it. Did these people walk around them freely or was it still an off limits area?
"I think you'll find that while a lot has changed around here some things are as they were." Her words are cryptic, but I forget about her tone quickly as she launches into a series of questions that I am happy to let Peeta answer.
Haymitch sits at the wheel of the car and Effie gets in the front, next to him. Peeta and I scoot into the backseat after we get our luggage into the truck and we are off to the Victor's Village. The District speeds along behind us as we make our way to our home and we can see that there is a lot of construction happening and that there are many new homes and buildings that have already sprung up on the newly paved roads.
Haymatch pulls up in front of Peeta's house, "OK kids, here we are." He pulls his door open and after a moment's pause we follow him.
"The cameras and the microphones…." I want to know whether they are gone. I imagine some unknown enemy watching and listening to my every word and interaction and a shiver passes through me. "Are they gone? Has anyone looked?"
Haymith nodded, "Yes, we've had several people with knowledge in this area go through the house and remove and destroy all of the equipment." He keeps speaking before I can interrupt and ask my follow-up question. "There was a lot of it, something in every room and a few things out on the porches and yard. We did my house and yours as well."
I breathe a sigh of relief, "thank you." I knew that he would know how important this was to me.
Peeta takes my hand again and tugs me towards the front door. "Ready to do this?" he pauses so he can regard me carefully, always making sure I'm OK.
I nod firmly, "As long as I'm with you Peeta." And it's true. With him I can do and handle anything. Having him by me makes me strong, even when faced with walking into the house that holds so many painful memories for me.