Homecoming

And so we begin again. Thank you all so much for your support! I'm very excited to be writing this again. It's given me a whole new perspective on reading the books, thinking from Peeta's point of view, and I can't WAIT to reread Mockingjay!

If you haven't read Nine Lives it's ok! They are just companions, so as long as you've read Catching Fire you don't need to read my first story (Though I'd love it if you did!) Also, just a reminder, I'm not writing all of Catching Fire. I'm picking what I think are the 13 most significant moments for Peeta. So, yes, there will be things left out. Also, I know this title is actually a real book...I've actually read that book. But it fits my way of thinking about these moments for Peeta, and as this isn't actually being published I figure it'll be okay!

Read, review, enjoy! Thanks :)

My house is quiet. Silent. Almost all the time. I live in it alone, though I'd offered it halfheartedly to my family. They'd refused politely, of course, saying they needed to stay with the bakery, though we all knew that wasn't the reason. They don't know me anymore. They can't begin to understand the things I have gone through, and it unnerves them. I am not the same boy who left them, and when I returned I found I was searching for that life I had left behind, but it was a life I no longer fit in to.

When the train had pulled up to District 12 my family had been waiting for me on the platform, right next to hers. But the reception could not have been different. She fell into her mother's and sister's arms, not crying but looking perilously close. Their tears spilled enough for her, though, as they held her like they would never let go.

And I remember how Gale held her closest of all. I remember the look on her face when she saw him.

My family greeted me with hugs and happiness, too, though it seemed somehow forced. My brothers I knew still felt guilt over what had happened, and my mother never really cared for me to begin with. Still, they put on a show for the cameras. My father was the only one who seemed genuinely happy to see me, though he didn't quite know how to react. He wanted his son back, but the boy he knew had died in the Arena.

Even my friends kept away. The night I got back a few of them came over, but our conversation was strange and they left in less than an hour. And I was relieved. We no longer had anything in common. They were going to work in the mines or in the shops. Getting married and starting families.

And I…I was left alone with my thoughts.

Of the Arena, the tributes, the Games…

Of her.

In the months following our return we have rarely spoken. I don't know if I prefer it this way or not. At least I don't have to deal with the pain of seeing her and knowing it was all a lie. Still…being away from her brings pain, too. I've learned now that love is synonymous with pain. But why, then, do I have to love her so much?

For months now we've been living like this. This estranged acquaintance, barely speaking unless there are cameras, and then we put on the show the Capitol desires. And it's killing me. We hadn't spoken a single word for several weeks prior to the cameras returning, and then suddenly she was running at me with a look of elation on her face. And for a moment, I forgot everything that had passed between us, and just held her. We fell into the snow together, kissing and smiling, and for a moment I was perfectly happy.

Then reality caught up with me again, and I remembered this was all just an act.

Even after the tour begins things don't change. Somehow I'd hoped that being around all the Capitol folks we had left behind all those months ago would at least bring back some matter of civility or acknowledgment between us. But Katniss leaves the wall between us up, and I'm afraid to take it down.

It's not until I see how Katniss is hurting that I decide I need to make the first move, since I know she won't. She's so proud, she won't admit she needs help. And she knows she's hurt me, and I believe she is feeling to guilty to try to be friendly. Besides, she probably knows I am still in love with her, and doesn't know how to handle it. But I can't handle the layer of ice between us anymore, so I finally go to her.

It's after she has had an outburst at Effie—not that I blame her. Things are very stressful during the tour as we are forced to relive our worst nightmares in the Games, and Effie's over the top attitude is grating to say the least. When Katniss yells at her and storms off, I recognize my chance. At least a reason to see if she is okay. I give her a moment alone before following.

The hallway is silent and my footsteps echo throughout it, warning her to my approach. "I'm not in the mood for a lecture," she growls as I approach.

"I'll try to keep in brief," I reply taking a seat next to her. There's a hair's breadth of space between our knees that I long to cross.

She turns her head briefly and looks at me. "I thought you were Haymitch," she says, and turns away again.

I shake my head. "No, he's still working on that muffin." I watch her for a moment, absentmindedly shifting my artificial leg. "Bad day, huh?"

A strand of dark hair falls in front of her eyes and she pushes it away impatiently. "It's nothing."

That's what she always does. Brushes aside concern in favor of going it alone. But I'm tired of struggling by myself. I want to go back to the way things were, before my world was torn apart. I know that's not possible, so I'll have to make do. "Look Katniss," I say, starting slowly. "I've been wanting to talk to you about the way I acted on the train. I mean, the last train. The one that brought us home. I knew you had something with Gale. I was jealous of him before I even officially met you. And it wasn't fair to hold you to anything that happened in the Games. I'm sorry." I'm speaking hurriedly by the time I finish, nerves accelerating my words. She stares at me for a moment, and I'm frightened of what she is going to say. It's strange that she scares me more than anything else. She, who I would trust with my life, can ruin everything with just a few words.

"I'm sorry, too," she replies, catching me off guard. But at least it's not a rejection.

"There's nothing for you to be sorry about," I answer honestly. "You were just keeping us alive." She shrugs. "But I don't want us to go on like this, ignoring each other in real life and falling into the snow every time there's a camera around. So I thought if I stopped being so, you know, wounded, we could take a shot at just being friends."

A smile creeps ever so slightly onto her face as she nods in agreement with me. I can tell it is a weight off her shoulders as much as it is off mine. Still, I can sense her wandering off into her own thoughts again, and so I try to bring her back.

"So, what's wrong?" I ask again, naively hoping for a different response this time. She doesn't respond. "Let's start with something more basic. Isn't it strange that I know you'd risk your life to save mine…but I don't know what your favorite color is?"

"Green," she says with a wider smile. "What's yours?"

"Orange."

"Orange? Like Effie's hair?"

I make a face. "A bit more muted. More like…the sunset." Specifically, the sunset I glimpsed through the cave in the arena when I held her in my arm.

"You know, everyone's always raving about your paintings. I feel bad I haven't seen them," she says.

"Well, I've got a whole train car full. Come one." I reach down for her hand and am gratified when she accepts and leaves our fingers intertwined. Apparently I am a glutton for punishment, for though I promised her I simply wanted to be friends, I think we both know that will never be the truth. And having her thin fingers laced in mine is just giving me a taste of what I know I will never have.

As we approach the dining car Katniss starts to shift uncomfortably, finally announcing she needs to apologize to Effie. Her words are frilly and fluffy and sound as if she's just committed the most horrid crime ever imagined. Perfect. Effie accepts graciously, even offering Katniss a small hug, to which she responds less than enthusiastically.

When we reach the room where I store my paintings, I push the door open slowly, nervous about what her reaction will be. I don't fear for her criticizing my skill. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I know I'm good. But it's their content—the vivid re-imaginings of the Games—that I worry will upset her. I hesitate and almost decide not to show them to her at all, but I need to show someone. Someone who will look at them and say more than just, 'Oh, how pretty,' or compliment my skill. I know Katniss. I know she will feel the same way I do when I paint them. And I need someone to understand.

"What do you think?" I ask after she had been staring at them for several minutes.

"I hate them," she gasps out. Her voice sounds choked. "All I do is go around trying to forget the arena and you've brought it back to life." Her words are almost accusatory. "How do you remember these things so exactly?"

I lower my gaze from hers and say softly, "I see them every night." Nightmares, which I had never suffered from prior to the Games, now plague me every night. Everything from the pain of Cato cutting me to the smell of the dank cave to the fear of losing Katniss feels as real as if I were still living it.

"Me, too. Does it help? To paint them out?" She doesn't look at me as she speaks. Her eyes rest on a painting of Rue, and in the bright white light of the train, I see tears sparkling in her soft, gray eyes.

"I don't know," I answer honestly. I wish things were different and I could take her in my arms again. Somehow being close to her always seems to make the bad things seem further away. "I think I'm a little less afraid of going to sleep at night, or I tell myself I am. But they haven't gone anywhere."

"Maybe they won't," she responds, taking a deep, shuddering breath. "Haymitch's haven't."

I shake my head sadly. "No. But for me, it's better to wake up with a paintbrush than a knife in my hand."

I don't confess to her then, though I wish I could have, that after losing her, this is my greatest fear. Becoming like Haymitch, so stuck in the Games that I can never really get out. Becoming someone I don't recognize. I didn't lose myself in the Games, just as I promised my brother. I still knew who I was, even as I fought. Even as I killed. Why, though? I know I've changed. I've gone from an innocent baker to a haunted survivor, but I still know myself.

I look up again and see Katniss staring at me. There is no anger in her gaze, nor love nor even compassion. She wears a look that no one else would recognize. It simply says, "I understand." And for just a moment, though we are in a train full of people, it feels as if we are alone in the world. And I realize then that as long as I have her I will know who I am. As long as I love her I will not have lost myself.