Summary: Fifteen years after the Second Rebellion, Peeta and Katniss finally believe their lives are calming down. Katniss's nightmares have almost come to a stop and Peeta's episodes are very few and far between. But, of course, nothing will ever be calm in their lives. The arrival of a familiar face threatens to shake up the Mellark family…and tear it apart.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games, its characters, or places. Just a PC and an overactive imagination.
Chapter 1: Homecoming
I'm coming home, I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home, I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
"Coming home" by Ditty Dirty Money
Some things never change. You can be gone for ages, but when you come back, everything is just as you left it. Of course it isn't exactly the same. Visually, this place has changed. The buildings, homes, even the streets look different. But underneath it all, it is the same place it has always been. The citizens may not be the wealthiest, but have the means to feed their families and keep them alive now. The people here are no longer on the brink of starvation, knocking on death's door. Still, the faces are the same. They are those who I grew up with or watched me grow up. There are new faces in this crowd; as well as some missing. I can't expect everyone I once knew to be alive since my departure.
I wonder now how much has truly changed. I know I have. I hate to admit it, but I am not the same person I was when I decided to leave my home and everyone and everything I knew with it. I still find myself asking if I had done the right thing when I decided to leave District 12. There are times when I actually have to convince myself that I did make the right choice. Those are the times when I find myself so frustrated with my life and work, I am damn near ready to pack it all up and go home. But where exactly is home for me now? I am from the Seam in District 12, true, but I have life almost as long in District 2. Fifteen years. What do I have to show for my fifteen years away from District 12?
Honestly, not much. I wanted my new life to be better in District 2 than it had been in 12. In a lot of ways, it was. I had figured out who I was born to be – a soldier. In the War for Panem, I was considered a rebel. My commitment to the cause and willingness to do whatever it took to win, it all supported my career choice. If I had never taken the job to work in the military in District 2, I would have never met Gwen.
Gwen. She was a rarity. A District 2 native, but also a rebel in the war. Both her parents were tributes in the Hunger Games, both walking out victorious. Her brother, on the other hand, had not been so lucky. He was eighteen, his final eligible year to be reaped. When his name had not been called out, he leapt forward to volunteer. He was eager to live in his parents' glory. The only difference was when he came home. Needless to say, he returned to District 2 in a wooden box. Well, what was left of him anyway.
At first, Gwen was bitter. She despised her brother's killer, wishing them a horrible, painful, slow death. But as the war raged on and the people of Panem were forced to take sides, she began to see the Capitol for what it really was. The Capitol designed the Games. The Capitol forced children to fight and kill each other. The Games killed her brother. The Games had killed her brother. Therefore, the Capitol killed her brother.
I worked with Gwen for two years before I gathered the courage to ask her out. Eventually, we got married. We were happy for the most part. It just didn't work out between us. We put our work before each other and stuck it out for as long as we did because neither of us wanted to admit we had failed. After ten years together, we divorced. We're still friends. Maybe that's all we were ever meant to be. But I do not regret the years we had together and I will always love her. I really did love her. She just thought that I was still in love with someone else.
I can't say she was wrong. It would be too great of a lie to say otherwise. The first girl I ever loved would always be my greatest. Many people called her many things. She was the Mockingjay, the Girl on Fire, the Capitol's biggest nuisance, a rebel. But to me, she would always be Catnip. Katniss Everdeen had stolen my heart when I was a boy and never truly gave it back. I loved her for a long time; longer than I care for her to know. There are things, although, that will she will never forgive me for. Things to this day I do not know if they were my fault. I can't blame her though. If the tables had been turned, I would react just the same.
As I walk through the streets of District 12, I feel more and more at home. I see Greasy Sae in a rocker by her stand. I can't believe she's still alive. It must be the decades of wild dog meat keeping her alive. I am glad she is though. I wonder if she would remember me as I approach the stand. Her eyes are closed as she rocks gently back and forth. If she knows she has a customer, I doubt it. "Sammy," she calls, her eyes still shut. "Customer."
I chuckle as a woman a few years younger than me walks out of the back. "Sorry," the woman I can only assume to be Sammy apologizes, "can't let the soup burn." She takes one look at my uniform and I can see her tense a little. I remember her now. She's Greasy Sae's granddaughter.
Then I remember the day District 12 was bombed. Soldiers in uniforms exactly like mine – along with some Peacekeepers – marched right into our streets, bolting some doors so their inhabitants couldn't escape. Hundreds of people died because of soldiers before me. Including Sammy's parents. And the Mellarks. I lower my gaze to the coins in my hand, passing them from palm to palm, hoping the girl remembers who I am.
"A bowl for the road, sir?" she asked, the last word dripping from her lips as if they were acid.
"Please," I reply as I clear my throat. I place the coins on the counter and take my bowl.
"I'll want that bowl back Gale," Greasy Sae grumbles, her eyes still shut.
I can't help but smile. She does remember me. "Of course, Sae. I'll eat here if you want."
"The get up bothers Sammy. Take it off or go away. I don't care which. I just want my bowl back."
I chuckle as I remove my hat and uniform shirt, placing them both on the stool beside me as I occupy another. This only slightly eases Sammy. She knows who I am, but the uniform associates with a far too unpleasant memory. I don't blame her for her unease. I couldn't believe it when I took the job at first either. I make small talk with Sammy. Sae jumps into the conversation every once and a while, but never for long. I finish my soup and thank them both for the meal. I retrieve my shirt and hat and continue my journey. I stop as I begin to approach where the Seam used to be. Only, it's not the Seam anymore. There is no distinction between the Seam and Merchant Section. The houses all look alike. It's just the people that help to tell the two areas apart.
Those from the Seam still have dark hair, olive skin, and gray eyes. The others donned blonde hair and blue eyes, bearing the "Merchant Section" look. Not that it mattered anymore. Everyone co-existed. Poverty no long reared its ugly head over these modest people. Still, they knew where they came from. They never forgot their humble beginning or nightmarish past. Perhaps fear of history repeating itself keeps them from wanting more. They ration their food and money, savoring the fact that it is available to them.
I can feel a million pairs of eyes on me. Everyone is looking in my direction, some even stopping to stare and point. I hear whispers all around me. "Gale? What's he doing back?" I can hear them say. Or, "That's him – the Seam boy that went to District 2." Above all, I hear on question asked most: Does she know? I can only wonder who they mean by "she." I know some refer to my mother. I write to her constantly and we talk on the phone occasionally. We talk about our lives, but we avoid a few painful subjects; the two biggest being Katniss and, shockingly, my younger brother Rory. He still hasn't forgiven the mistakes I made fifteen years ago.
I make a mental note to find my mother later. I haven't exactly told her I was home yet. My journey continues to the large homes beyond the other residential area of District 12. These twelve homes were all that were left standing after the bombing. They belonged to District 12's tributes that made it home after the Games. Victor's Village.
I can feel the knots in my stomach tightening. Am I mad for coming here? What am I expecting? I laugh to myself as I make sure my dress shirt is fixed properly. I know exactly what I am doing here and what I expect from it. And yes, I am mad for wanting such things. Originally, only three homes were occupied here. One for each victor of the long gone Hunger Games. The longest home to be occupied here belongs to Haymitch Abernathy, the winner of the 50th Hunger Games, also known as the Second Quarter Quell. He was a drunk, but who can blame him. He never meant to defy the Capitol. He was just doing what they expected him to do: trying to stay alive. He returned home to find all the people he loved – his mother younger brother, and girlfriend – had been killed by the Capitol for outsmarting them. He was forced to relive and endure the darkness that came with winning the Games alone. So he turned to alcohol.
I am a bit surprised to see that the home I know to have been Peeta's to be dark and virtually unlived in. The front yard has been maintained, but looking through the windows, you could see there is no furniture or lighting of any kind inside. My mother made it a point to avoid talk of Peeta Mellark when we spoke or wrote, though I know she was fond of the Baker's son. Upon returning from the Games, Peeta had sent a loaf of bread to my home while I was working at the mines. My mother would slice it before I got home so I could not shove it in the baker's son's face. He knew what I meant to Katniss and he wanted to be sure no one went hungry at my family's table.
I thought it was charity at first. Or perhaps he was mocking me because he and Katniss had kissed and slept beside each other for weeks. But even little Posy knew his true motives. "He's such a nice boy," she was say dreamily. And it's true. It was hard to hate someone who truly wanted to do good in the world, but I managed.
Part of me hoped he had packed up and moved away, but reminder of the smell of delicious fresh bread in the Market section as I passed earlier dashed my hopes. Besides, I had seen the bakery myself. No one other than the Mellark family ran a bakery in the District for as long as we could all remember. I try to not think about the Mellark family. Not because of Peeta, but because of the screams, pleas, and begging coming from the bakery the day the bombs had been dropped. Again, another story for another time.
I snap back to reality and stare at Katniss's home, which stands beside Haymitch's. The house is surrounded by life – literally. Primroses line the front and sides of the home and dandelions, of all things, sprinkle the front lawn. I stand at the end of the pathway, staring up at the porch that leads to the front door and tell myself, "This is it."
I'm about to head up the path when I hear a tiny voice yell, "Whadyawant?" I look down as I feel something poking my leg a moment after. There, at my feet, is a chubby little blonde boy, poking me with a broken tree branch. He keeps repeating his question to me as he jabs at my leg.
"Hey, hey, stop that now," I say to him. But it's useless. He won't stop until I tell him whadiwant. I grab the stick from his hands and he looks up at me with fury. Suddenly, I'm staring down a tiny version of someone I wasn't so fond of. He is definitely his father's son. His face is round and chubby from dozens of sweets his father let him indulge in. He's angry, but his face is still gentle and friendly. He looks just like his father, except for one little detail. His eyes.
I can hear the front door turning a few yards away as the owner prepares to step out. I am torn from the little boy's gaze, looking up in hopes to catch my first glimpse at my childhood love. The girl that walks out of the house stops my heart. It's the face I've been longing to see, but many years younger. Her dark hair is even in a braid, flung carelessly over her shoulder as she clutches the straps of her backpack. When she looks up, I realize that like the boy, her eyes are not the same as I would have expected. Before I can recover from my shock, he joins us. His head is hung as he fumbles with his keys. There is something smeared along the side of his right arm. He's taller than I remember, but only slightly.
"I promise, Juliet, your mother is coming," he says, his eyes still cast down. He pokes his head back into the house and shouts, "Katniss! We have to get going! Your daughter's getting impatient."
"Poppa," the girl named Juliet says, "who's that with Aden?"
"No it's not."
I can tell he's making a face by the way the top of his head moves. He doesn't know I'm here, but he will in a moment. "Of course it is. I took him next door mys…" He trails off when he lifts his head and sees me. The years have been more than kind to him. If he has aged, it is very little. He still looks like the boy who baked bread and decorated cakes for his father. He was once a man of many words, but in a moment's notice they escape him. I don't know if it's the shock of seeing me or the shock of his son with me. He straightens he posture as we stare each other down.
"Gale Hawthorne," he says. All I can do is smile back at Peeta Mellark.