I shift nervously in my spot outside of the train station. Shuffling my weight from one foot to the other surely makes me look like a mad woman. Or perhaps it just gives off the indication that I need to use the restroom. That realization instantly stills my movements, and I continue to wait in tense silence.
I peer down beside me at my little sister, Prim. Her hand is gripping mine tightly and her feet are doing the same dance mine had been only seconds before. Her blonde braids, so much different than my singular, dark one, falls in front of her shoulders and she's twisting the end of one with her free hand.
Our mother stands behind us, one hand on each of our shoulders. Her hair, the same pale blonde as my sister's, is pulled back from her face in a low bun, and she has on one of her favorite dresses. She's really made an effort with her appearance; this was the most put together I've seen her since he'd left.
It's easy for me to forget just how important the event that's about to take place is for anyone but myself. I constantly neglect the fact that, over the last few years, he has become an unofficial part of our little family. He is a surrogate son to my mother and an older brother to Prim.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am 16 years old. I live in District 12. My best friend has just won the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
Peeta Mellark is coming home today.
The atmosphere of the crowd at the station is almost too much for me to comprehend. There are cameras everywhere, some even trained on my family, in order to capture ever second of his arrival on tape. Everyone is filled with excitement as well as a want to congratulate and thank him.
Peeta has always been well loved here in District 12, so having him make it home to us is reason enough to celebrate. The gifts our region will be showered with are merely an added bonus; a bonus that I had forgotten about completely until the supply train had arrived in town yesterday.
His own family is standing only a few yards away from us. His father and brothers are huddled together closely, heads bent in quiet conversation. I know that they are over the moon that he's returning home. When I stopped by the bakery this morning, ignoring the 'CLOSED' sign on the door, Mr. Mellark had hugged me tightly with tears in his eyes and told me so himself.
Mrs. Mellark stands with a few feet distancing her from the rest of the family. She has always been a cold woman, but her actions today are really setting me on edge. She barely looks up as we all hear the whistle of the train in the distance, and goes back to examining her nails.
It feels as if we've been standing here all day. As the train finally comes into the station, I have to physically restrain Prim from pushing to the front of the crowd. We talked this morning about how it would be important to let Peeta's family be the first to greet him. The look of embarrassment on her face shows me that she's just remembering that conversation herself.
"It's okay, Little Duck," I squeeze her hand gently. "We'll get to see him soon enough."
Prim nods up at me, and I face forward once again.
Peeta has been gone a little over a month, but it's felt like a year to me. I think back to the last time that I saw him; in person, not broadcast nation-wide on television.
My family and I had waited at the end of his line of many visitors in the justice building. I had watched as the teary faces of his family members and friends passed by us when their allotted time was up. Even Gale, whom Peeta had built a rather precarious friendship with, had seemed emotionally distraught upon exiting.
I could have visited Peeta alone, waited until my mother and Prim had said their goodbyes, and then gone in. I couldn't find it in me to face him by myself, though. I had known that without my little sister there to put on a brave face for, the tears that had been collecting in my eyes since his name had been called at the reaping would surely fall.
More crying was the last thing that Peeta needed that day.
When we finally entered the room to say our goodbyes, I was shaken by the look of relief on his face. He had immediately jumped to envelope my mother in a hug, and moved on to Prim directly after. When she had finally let go of his waist, he stepped over to me. He had wrapped me in a bone-crushing hug. The sound of his breath hitching as he laid his head down on my shoulder almost caused me to lose it.
"I almost thought you weren't going to come."
His whispered words caused a knot to form in my throat, and I swallowed hard to try and make it go away.
"Well, then you're a dummy."
A smile spread across his face then and, however pained it was, I was glad to have been the one to put it there.
We sat there for the next few minutes, Prim and my mother quizzing Peeta the best that they could on different healing plants and ways to take care of himself while in the arena. The space between his eyebrows was knitted in concentration, but I couldn't be sure if he was able to take in their last minute lessons, or not. Soon, too soon, the Peacekeepers came to the door to let us know that our time was up. Mother and Prim hugged Peeta one last time.
As I stood before him, the Peacekeeper behind me ready to escort me away, I reached into the pocket of my skirt. When I pulled out the mockingjay pin that had belonged to my father, a look of shock crossed his face. I took his hand and laid it flat in his palm, closing his fingers over the top of it.
"You're allowed to wear a token in the arena. Something from home." My voice broke on the last word, but I kept going in order to get it all out. "Will you wear this?"
"Katniss, I…" Peeta's eyes darted from the pin in his hand, back up to my eyes. "I can't… I know how much this pin means to you."
I felt the Peacekeepers hand on my elbow, but darted forward before he could fully pull me away to place a quick kiss on Peeta's cheek. My eyes filled with tears as I was jerked back quickly, and I blinked them away so I could see him clearly one last time.
"Then you'll have to bring it back to me."
The sound the train coming to a stop pulls me away from my thoughts. I glance around at the crowd one last time. The video cameras have already started to roll, despite the fact that the doors of the train car have yet to open. Peeta's family has been ushered to the front of the platform, his brothers elbowing each other to get into the foremost position.
A few yards away from the Mellarks, I spot the Cartwrights. A swell of grief rushes over me as I think of their daughter, Delly, who had been the girl tribute for our district this year. According to Peeta, the two of them had played together as children. They hadn't remained terribly close over the years, but they had still been friends at the time of the reaping. Unlike members of some of the other well off families in District 12, Delly had always greeted everyone with a smile.
I hadn't really known her, but that didn't stop me from emptying the majority of my game bag on her family's back steps the morning after she died during the battle at the cornucopia.
The sounds of the door to the train car opening cause me to unconsciously take a step forward with one foot. I stop when I see that the first person to disembark is Effie Trinket. My stomach rolls in anger as I think back to the way she had sounded when she read Peeta's name off the slip she'd selected from the reaping bowl. Deep down, I know that it's not her fault; the games, or the fact that Peeta's name was chosen, but I can't help but partially blame her. It's easier to blame Effie, with her stupid pink wig, audacious clothing, and ridiculous Capitol accent.
Even now, as she's making some speech to the people gathered around, all I can think of is how much I wish that she would just shut up.
I've missed most of what she has been saying, but the last sentence stands out from the rest.
"And now, the moment you've all been waiting for! District 12, I present to you your 74th annual Hunger Games victor, Peeta Mellark!"
As Peeta comes into view, stepping out on the platform, my heart leaps into my throat. He's thinner than he was when he left, has dark circles underneath his eyes from obvious lack of sleep, and is still unsteady on the new leg that the Capitol has given him. He looks different, changed. Still, up until a few nights ago, I was unsure of whether or not I'd ever see him again. I will gladly take this modified Peeta in front of me over the alternative of no Peeta at all.
When the sounds of merriment from the crowd hit his ears, a grin stretches from one side of his face to the other. I'm happy to see that his smile has not changed.
Only seconds later, he is nearly tackled to the ground by his brothers. I can hear my mother laugh softly from behind me at the scene, and feel her fingers clutch my shoulder. I see the dismay on Effie Trinket's face as they ruffle his carefully combed hair.
After Chord and Leif finish welcoming their little brother home in their own, special way, Mrs. Mellark steps forward. Although she has always let it be known that she'd wished for a daughter while pregnant with him, and never treated him with quite the same love as his brothers, she manages to look happy at his homecoming. She does not hug her son, but touches the side of his face instead. She then carefully combs his hair back into place with her fingers, and moves aside.
Mr. Mellark is the last of his family to greet him. He has always been such a kind man, and my heart is consumed with joy as I see him embrace Peeta tightly.
My eyes fill with tears again when I remember the morning after Peeta had been announced winner. Gale and I had made our usual rounds after our hunt, and stopped at the bakery to drop off a few of the squirrels that Peeta's father was so fond of. As we completed our trade, Mr. Mellark had grabbed my hand tightly in between both of his and looked at me with moist eyes.
"He's coming home, Katniss," he said in a watery voice.
I watch as their heartfelt reunion comes to a close. The fact that Prim has let go of my hand finally registers as I see her blonde hair pushing through the crowd. Once she reaches her destination, I see her latch herself around Peeta's waist. He picks her up from the ground and swings her into the air the best that he can with his new leg. When I see him give my mother a firm hug, I realize that I've been frozen in place the entire time.
Once they break apart, Peeta stills and turns his face in my direction. I'm vaguely aware of the cameras that are flashing around me, and the fact that the people in the crowd are quickly moving to form an open pathway between us. It's not until my feet are moving at an alarming rate that I bring a hand to face and realize it's covered in tears.
Suddenly, my arms are around Peeta's neck and his are encircling my waist tightly. After a few moments, he tries to pull back, but I won't allow it. I keep my face buried deep in the crook of his neck, trying to will my breathing to go back to normal. When we finally pull apart, just enough to look at each other's faces, Peeta smiles and I cannot help but mirror his expression. He rests his forehead on mine, and wipes away the few remaining tears from under my eyes.
Before I can stop myself, I say the first words that pop into my mind.
"I almost thought that you weren't going to come home."
Peeta's mouth pulls up on one side, and he moves back, bringing his hands to my shoulders.
"Well, then you're a dummy."
A real laugh escapes my lips for the first time in over a month.
Before anything else can be done or said, Haymitch, the nasty, old drunk that calls himself a mentor, grabs Peeta by one hand and me by the other. He yells something to the crowd and then to the cameramen about the photo-ops being over, and begins to pull us toward the cars that will take Peeta to his new home in the Victor's Village.
Once we are far we enough away from the crowds, Haymitch stops and turns to face us. A look of frustration is evident on his face as he runs a hand through his greasy blonde hair. He then leans forward, speaking in a low hiss.
"Good job, Sweetheart. You just signed your own death warrant."
Author's Note: Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you liked it! This story will be updated on, most likely, a weekly basis. It's an AU, so anything OOC is purposely done, but hopefully doesn't take away from the essence of the characters too much. :)