Short note. Just read. I'll explain my absence at the end. Enjoy. And to my American readers, Happy Belated Thanksgiving.

Chapter 21: Home Sweet Home

To say he was annoyed would be a falsehood. Yes, waking up to blood-curling screams every few hours was tiresome, but Cato couldn't blame the person having nightmares. He should have expected this to happen, what with the emotional turmoil they dealt with in the Arena, but neither of them thought that far ahead, and now Katniss was paying the price.

He wasn't even sure he'd been entirely asleep when she started to fuss beside him once again, but he simply tightened his grip on her waist and sighed. Who knows how many times she's woken up and it wasn't even three a.m. Cato had no idea when they'd fallen asleep, but they surely weren't getting much rest in this situation. As he tried to coax Katniss from her distressing slumber, he wondered what else he could do for her. Each of these nightmares was revolving around death. Back when she was lucid enough to tell him about the visions, she'd mentioned killing Rue instead of Thresh at the finale, or being back in the woods of 12 and accidentally shooting her father instead of the squirrel on the tree behind him, or even shooting Cato himself. She didn't have control of what she did in the dreams, but that didn't matter to her sleep-deprived and traumatized brain. In her mind she was a murder, a monster, and in her fragile state she couldn't handle these thoughts.

Cato tried and failed to wake her before the outbursts started. When she finally did come to, her tears were blinding her and she was confused about her location. He reminded her gently that they were back in the Capitol and safe from harm. He wasn't sure that she completely understood him, but she curled back into him and stared blankly at his bare chest. At some point in the night, through all the friction of tossing and turning and cuddling, Cato had gotten too hot for his flannel pants and tank top, and opted for his boxers instead. Katniss, being to tired to care or notice her discomfort, was still wearing a sweat soaked tank top and boy shorts, looking entirely uncomfortable and sexy at the same time.

With a hand gently drawing circles on her back, Cato kissed her forehead and asked her if she was still awake. After receiving a tiny nod, he continued.

"We're gonna go sit in the window seat in the living room, okay?" he asked.

After another small nod, he detached from her vice-like hold to slip over the edge of the bed and look for his pants. After finding them and slipping them on, he walked around to her side of the bed and picked her up, bringing the sheet with them. She laid her head on his shoulder and drew random shapes on his neck while he carried her out of their room and down the hall.

Cato hadn't been expecting anyone else to be awake, but he should have known he would be wrong. And how wrong he was. Everyone he didn't want to see, save for Haymitch and Caleb, was sitting in the living room spread out among the sofas. Ignoring them and the multiple cups of what was surely coffee among hands and upon tables, Cato strode into the room and sat on the part of the large window that was farthest from the group. As Katniss readjusted her position and tried to fall back asleep, he pulled the sheet over both of them and tucked the loose ends under his legs. When they were settled he closed his eyes as to better ignore the harsh silence resonating around the dark room.

"Is she sick?" he heard Haymitch ask quietly.

Cato briefly considered not answering, but figured Katniss may need help, and he wasn't going to ask Brutus later to get her that help. "Mentally, I think." He answered finally. Haymitch gently asked him to explain, and after a brief pause Cato continued. "Violent nightmares. Even when she has managed decent sleep she's fitful. She's barely lucid when she wakes up." Cato said with a sigh. It hurt him to say these things aloud, even though he knew them. He knew it was stupid, but he felt like he was failing her by being unable to help her.

"Psychological trauma...Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." Haymitch murmured. "I'm sure the Capitol would gladly give her some anti-depressants and or anti-anxieties for that. She'll be okay."

Cato simply nodded and held her a little tighter. He sensed eyes on him, but he just knew instinctively that it wasn't anyone he hated right now.

"Come here, Caleb." He sighed tiredly.

His little brother would've flown to his side if he could have, but his quick and quiet steps got him there nearly as fast. Caleb sat gently on a cushion he'd brought from the couch and placed on the floor beside his oldest brother. Cato smiled slightly at the antics he hadn't realized he'd missed so much, and gave his brother a side-ward glance.

"She's beautiful..." Caleb whispered.

Cato hummed in agreement. "In a thousand different ways."

Caleb smiled sadly. "I tried to tell them this was a bad idea..."

Cato shook his head, knowing where the youngest of his two was going with his train of thought. "I may not be happy about it, but its only for a little while. I'll handle it," he told him.

In return, he got a look that clearly said "You 'handle' everything." Cato raised a challenging brow, playfully daring his little brother to speak and Caleb grinned. With that, they fell silent. Both brothers knew it was only a matter of time before their father set Cato off, and hoped to prolong it as long as they could. Maybe if they got lucky he wouldn't speak at all tonight. That wasn't very likely, but they could hope. Only instead of their father talking first it was their mother who spoke up.

"Cato...?"

Tensing, he responded. "Yeah, Ma?"

"Katniss obviously isn't alright, so it's ridiculous to ask about her wellbeing, but what about yours, sweetheart?"

See that's the nature of mothers, isn't it? And that's why Cato couldn't be upset about her being here. She acknowledged Katniss with a fondness he wasn't expecting, but had hoped for, and recognized her own child's needs at the same time. If he hadn't dealt with Rue and Prim, he would never understand juggling more than one person's well being like that, but he had, and he was fascinated with his mother's mind all over again.

"I'm alive..." He told her.

"Happy?" she pried, damn determined as she was to know about her first born.

"I'll be happier when Katniss is better, but in general? Yes. I would say I am." He admitted. Because despite the circumstances, he was getting everything he'd ever wished for.

He could hear his mother's smile in her voice now. "And you'll be happy with her in 12?" She continued lightly.

His throat tightened a bit. "Yes."

"You'll write to me? And call?" She added that motherly authority edge to her tone now, making him smile.

"Of course I will." He scoffed.

"Promise?" She asked skeptically.

"On my grave."

"I won't give you grief then. Send me pictures of my grandchildren."

Cato chuckled. "Yes, Mother."

Clearly having said her peace on the matter, Delilia let him be. Though he wasn't foolish enough to expect the same reaction from his other parent on the matter. Cato could guess his father was getting a warning stare, and heard him hiss when his mother no doubt elbowed him in the ribs. It was this pressured, uncomfortable and stressful face-to-face situation Cato had been hoping to avoid by leaving his family behind in his home District. The young victor's harsh feelings towards his mentor boiled, causing him to clench his teeth while he waited for the hell storm to begin.

So with a sigh and cringe from both father and son respectively, Cadmar bit the bullet and spoke quietly to his eldest. "Cato...I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on things..., but I have no reason to give you any hardship over this...situation."

Cato and Caleb stared at each other in shock. The eldest of the two was expecting the classic 'I'm disappointed in you, Son' talk. That was their father's signature response when they went against his will on something that wasn't life or death. Cato almost forgot that his father had paused, waiting for his reaction, and that he needed to come up with something to say. But what do you say to the man you adored as a child, and grew to loathe because his attitude at home was so much crueler than his attitude in public? How do you believe someone who's always putting on a show when there's a crowd?

"Okay..." Cato said, unsure and stalling. "...Thank...you?"

Cadmar chuckled nervously. "You still think I don't get it don't you?"

Reflexively, Cato tightened his grip on Katniss as he got defensive and was glad his back was to his father. Being eye to eye would not make this situation go more smoothly than it most certainly wasn't going already for Cato.

"That's probably because you don't." He said coolly.

"You don't like hearing this from anybody, and you only take it from Katniss, but you're wrong Cato." Cadmar said gently.

"Oh, am I?" Challenged Cato in a low growl. "I'm not sure we should start that argument when Katniss is finally sleeping peacefully."

Hearing his father sigh, and probably rub his calloused hands over his face, Cato averted his eyes back to the window. He didn't want to talk to his father tonight, or tomorrow, or ever for that matter. He wanted his father and Cameron to keep their thoughts to themselves unless they were going to talk to someone besides Cato or, of course, Katniss. Cameron had been acting like a brat for the last two years about Cato being a Career tribute in the Games. He never explained himself, not that it surprised Cato. The middle Hematitus was a boy of few words. His actions spoke for him, and he rarely removed his stony expression. The brothers had been bumping heads ever since then, the eldest felt like his brother had turned into their father, and who knew what the other was thinking.

Between his mother and Caleb, the family had barely held together. Near silence had become the standard for dinners at the Hematitus household in the last two years, give or take. Caleb would ask Cato if he would help him with homework. Their father would inquire briefly on Cato's development as a volunteer. Short, to the point answers would be given to his father, and his mother would not to subtly ask if he'd met anyone special. Then he would lie and fall silent for the evening, keeping his secrets and burdens to himself. In time the gap between father, son, and brothers stretched wider, but that was a sacrifice Cato was willing to make to put food on Katniss's table.

Caleb said his brothers name quietly, drawing him out of a spell and back into the tension filled room, where his father was waiting for his attention. Apparently satisfied with no form of acknowledgment, Cadmar started speaking again. "You know, for the last few weeks I've been watching this grotesque show on my television. Twenty-four kids are thrown in an area, and told to fight to the death. See before that part started, they interviewed each of these young people. One of them told the nation about this girl he was mad for, and that he would give up his winnings to see her sent home..." Cadmar paused and cleared his throat. Cato briefly wondered why this was causing an emotional response from his father, but remained quiet.

"See, I know this boy very well. Not once had I ever heard of a girl. I knew of his District companion and I knew he wasn't fond of her. So that couldn't be it. But where else in the country could this young man have found someone he cared for so deeply, save for his home district? I thought he was lying for sponsors, and it made me very upset with him." Cadmar paused again. "But then a timer went off, and twenty-four kids, twelve boys and twelve girls, ran into the middle of a field and started killing each other. That boy was the first to reach the weapons. The rest of the kids weren't far behind him, but there was one girl who made history. She didn't run towards the weapons that would secure her life against the others. No. This brave soul walked."

Cato smiled slightly at the memory that felt so far from him. Back when his days with Katniss felt limited and unsure.

"Now two of these young people had me troubled. Why would she so carelessly risk her safety in such a way under those circumstances? Did she not care for her life? Or, as my wife realized quickly after that boy handed her a silver bow with arrows, was her safety merely secured?"

"I didn't believe my wife at first, even as I watched arrows fly into eyes and the boy hack people to pieces, I couldn't believe that somehow, this boy was in love with a girl from District 12. Or how he was willing to risk everything for her. He was the one who beat the crowd to the cornucopia and secured a weapon for himself, and for her. He fought his way out of the chaos and handed her said weapons. Then they charged back into the fray, in their own ways, and took down most of their opponents. I didn't understand it then, but I started to very quickly." Cadmar continued.

"When he brought her medicine after a night full of crying and self hatred for deathly blows she had no choice but to inflict, pieces started to fit together. He knew what weapon she would use most precisely in a fight, sure, that would be discussed in the training room, but to know exactly how a migraine affected a specific person after such an awful night of sleep? Or how he was careful to spend time glancing at each of the ladies near him, just so he could watch the one he actually cared about. All while working the camera's and sending the country on it's head as it tried to figure out which girl truly held his affections."

"Do I need to mention how he barely covered up slips in his composure any time his district partner threatened the safety of that girl from 12? I've never seen him so angry, so wild in all the years I've know him. Shortly after the incident he admits that this girl from 12 is the girl he cherishes. Then they meet this kid. She's small, but extremely clever, and they drop a nest of Tracker Jackers on the fake alliance the boy and girl had made. In the process they both get stung, and are ridden with nightmares that seem to revolve around losing each other. Then the girl from 12's district partner starts causing trouble, and the boy can't find her. He's weak from Jacker venom and his senses are failing him. She's miles away, unconscious, and he's panicking. He finds her eventually, and now the group has four. Two boys and two girls. That doesn't last very long though, since the boy from 12 is a dimwit."

Cato smiles again at his father's words, if only for a moment.

"Then something terrible happens. The little clever monkey gets hurt, and her surrogate parents sing her to eternal sleep. Then they're alone again with only each other. And the boy from District 1 has been chopped to pieces. It's a dark day. It gets darker when the girl from 12 gets poisoned and almost dies. I've never seen that boy in so much pain before. Even after she was cured, it's like it traumatized him. Broke him. It bothered me, because I've been his protector his entire life, and I couldn't protect him from this. I couldn't tell him what to do, I couldn't tell him how to help himself heal. I felt like I'd failed him, when I hadn't done anything to cause the situation. Except perhaps, allowing him to volunteer."

Cato was beyond silent now as he mentally flashed over the days his father was depicting. He remembered the nightmares of Capitolites torturing Katniss, and the feeling of her heated flesh against his while they waited in their cave for medicine. It didn't feel real now, but he had lived it just a short day ago, and his father's view was slightly different to his own.

"Then he gives her a beautiful ring, and they set out to end the Hunger Games. They won, but at what cost?" Cadmar asked rhetorically. "You're a hell of a lot braver than I would have been, Cato. Both of you are. I'm proud of you, not disappointed in you."

Though he didn't know it, Cadmar had just sent his son's mind in circles. His father had always acted differently when others were around, but Cato wanted to believe what his parent was saying despite what past situations were telling him. What would Katniss tell him to do? She had lost her father by fate, not by choice. Would she want him to try to give his father another chance, because he might regret not doing so in the future? Or should he just stick to his original idea?

"Dad..." Cato started with a sigh. His throat was tight as he continued, "I'd be willing to consider..." He paused, trying to form a coherent thought, "...giving you another chance. But only after I've gotten Katniss's opinion of all of you. From now until it's time for us to leave, if she feels like she can trust all of you, then I'd be willing to entertain the idea of...visits." He said slowly and carefully. His mother had sucked in an excited breath halfway through, and he really hoped she wouldn't over do it.

"Deal." Cadmar agreed. "Cameron, I believe you had something to say to your brother as well?"

Cato released Katniss with one hand, and put it up to stop his family. "Whatever Cameron has to say can wait until Katniss wakes up. I'm not risking anymore of my patience and stability to play group therapy tonight." He said firmly. Caleb tried to hide a smile as Cato re-situated his grip on Katniss.

"Are you gonna go back to sleep, sweetheart?" Delilia asked her eldest son.

"Not purposefully, Ma." He told her. "I'll take a nap before lunch or something.."

"I suppose it is past four in the morning..." His mother mused.

Cato wanted to ask what they had stayed up for in the first place, but didn't have the energy. Eventually they started talking amongst themselves again, though Cato was paying much more attention to the dark skyline out the window. Beside him, Caleb was silent as well, sensing that his older brother needed some quiet time. Between the three people by the window, not a sound was made from that point until long past dawn.

In Cato's mind, time had stood still, until at some point he must have fallen asleep. Because hours afterward, the smell of coffee, caramel, and possibly brown sugar awoke him. While his eyes battled the brightness from the window he's been leaning on, he realized that Katniss had moved. His initial reaction was to panic, but the night before flooded back to him in a rush, and he remembered that they weren't in the Arena anymore.

With the sleep finally rubbed clear from his eyes and hunger kicking in, he managed to look at the person sitting on him. She nibbled on the edge of what looked like a very soft piece of cake, with two cups of coffee being held between her thighs. Crumbs fell with each nibble she took onto a ceramic plate in her other hand, which held an identical piece of her treat.

She smiled when she noticed he was awake, and set down her cake on the plate so she could hand him his cup of coffee. He wasn't surprised to find it exactly how he liked it (heavy cream, light sugar) since she knew everything else he liked. Her's was similar, except not so much cream, and surely much more sugar. He sipped the warm brew and took her in as the dawn's golden rays reflected from her hair and skin, while she leaned back against the window again. To his eyes she looked like an angel, but she would probably try to kill him if he told her that.

"Good morning." She said quietly.

He kissed her temple in return, and used his free hand to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear. His stomach quietly protested to his lack of food as he eyed the cakes on her little plate. He felt her take his coffee and situate it back between her legs where it had been before. Then she handed him the cake she'd yet to bite off of, fully expecting what came next.

"I really don't think they intended for you to shove the whole thing in your mouth, Cato." She said with an amused smile.

He shrugged and took his coffee again, lightly sipping it to help keep himself from choking. He recognized the flavor of the treat immediately. And was very pleased with the order of his actions.

"It's coffee cake, Katniss." He said once he had swallowed his mouthful. "You're supposed to either dip it in your coffee, or follow a bite with a drink." He explained.

She tilted her head and looked at him curiously. He was about to ask what she was confused about, but she suddenly leaned in close to his face. And her eyes were focused on his lips. And then she...

He stared at her when she pulled away smirking. Not believing what had just transpired.

"What the hell was that?" He asked bluntly.

She sipped her coffee and raised an innocent eyebrow at him.

"Don't act all innocent! What was that!?" He demanded.

"I licked you." She said simply.

Again, he stared at her. "Why?"

"You had cake crumbs all around your mouth."

"So you..-"

"Licked you. Yes." She was all but laughing at him now, while he scowled at her. "I'm sorry, did you want a kiss?" She asked simply.

Smirking mischievously, he replied, "Nope." And sat back with his coffee.

Aside from Katniss, other voices were now chuckling around the room, as the pair had acquired an audience without realizing it. Cato heard Caleb say "Those two are funny!" and Haymitch agree with him. Cato shook his head at them and looked down at Katniss. She smiled and this time actually kissed him when she leaned in. She tasted like cake and caramel, but he'd yet to figure out where the latter flavor was coming from.

"What is that?" he asked when he pulled back and licked his lips.

"What's what?"

"What tastes like caramel?"

She chuckled and held her coffee up to his lips. Taking a small sip of what was, in his opinion, too sweet and too bitter coffee, he realized she literally had mixed caramel into the drink and smiled.

"We're keeping a generous supply of caramel at our house." He announced.

"Yeah?" she said smiling and pulling her coffee back to her own lips to drink.

"You're not allowed to eat anything else from now on."

Her eyes grinned at him over the rim of her cup, and he heard his mother's laugh from the sofas. With a yawn he wiggled his legs and told Katniss to get off of him so he could refill his drink. He took the plate from her lap as she stood up and plopped the last bite of cake into her mouth. Together they walked into the kitchen, Cato smiling because of the event that was about to take place. Haymitch and Brutus chuckled behind them and encouraged the others to watch.

"Silverware is in the drawer to the right of the sink. Plates above that." Brutus said.

As Cato's mother asked about the relevance of such a random statement, Cato set his coffee cup beside the machine. While he took the plate over to the breakfast bar to get two more slices of cake, he heard Katniss pouring their drinks. Setting the plate down, he reached over and pulled a spoon out the the drawer to the right of the sink, and tossed it over his shoulder. At the sound of another plate, which he had taken from the cabinet above the drawer, being set on the counter, as well at the spoon he had thrown to Katniss, he turned, and they traded places. While he spun around, he slipped a butter knife from the drawer onto the counter, and they passed each other.

He could hear her loading up the new plate he'd gotten, as he took the pitcher of cream and poured their desired amounts into each newly filled cup. He could see the jar of caramel beside the coffee maker and reached for it with one hand, while using the other to reach behind his head and catch the butter knife Katniss had just thrown him. Smiling, he used the spoon she left beside their cups to get a scoop of caramel and wiped it off the spoon with the knife.

Licking the extra caramel off the knife, he used the spoon to stir the thick substance in with the still steaming drinks. He didn't bother adding any sugar to his, as the caramel was sweet enough, but added slightly less than Katniss's usual amount to her drink. When he turned around with their drinks in hand, she had just finished turning with their two plates of food. Smiling at each other and remembering a similar morning routine from their childhood together, they went back to the window. Save for Haymitch and Brutus, every person in the room was staring at them in disbelief. Until finally, Caleb spoke up.

"How...exactly did you guys just do that?" He asked, bewildered.

Sitting with his back to the window so he could face the rest of the room, Cato sat down both coffees beside him, and pulled Katniss into his lap once again. Nuzzling her neck and putting the smaller of the two plates beside their coffees, Cato responded, "Cause we're in-tune with each other."

Katniss leaned into his affections while replying with a soft, "We've had a lot of practice," and a laugh when Cato nipped the shell of her ear. While Cato's parents murmured their impressed sentiments, their eldest son allowed himself to briefly reflect on the night before. He questioned Haymitch about a doctor for himself and Katniss to see concerning their anxieties and emotional trauma from the Games. Though Katniss didn't like the idea of taking medicine for her emotional stress, she agreed to being open minded about it. Cato didn't bring up the topic of his discussion with his parents, however. He wanted Katniss's instinctual opinion of his family before he decided to let them stick around.

And that is how a week later, after countless boring interviews regarding the end of the Games, Cato and Katniss were in the same room with their respective stylists getting prepared for their journey home. It had been a long week of post-Hunger Game activities for the pair. Most of which Cato found boring or plain unnecessary. The crowning of the victors with President Snow had been flat out repulsive for both of them. The president gave off the unmistakable scent of old blood and didn't seem to trust the engaged pair any more than they trusted him. Luckily, there were able to skirt their way out of picking awful post-victory professions since they had a wedding to plan and a life to build.

As Cato had noted this morning, today was the sixth day since he and Katniss had started taking anti-anxiety medication. Aside from being slightly less irritable, Cato hadn't noticed much of an effect from the tiny capsules he had been prescribed. Katniss, on the other hand, was sleeping soundly through the night and had stopped reporting nightmares after two days. According the the Capitol doctor, it would take a month for the full effects to begin to take place, but that they would each notice a different variety of changes before then.

Cato's family had been sent back to District 2 the day before, and now the young victors were nearly ready to board their own train back to 12. Cato was still on uneven terms with Brutus, and hardly speaking to him. So any instructions or needed information was told to the pair through Haymitch, or from Haymitch and Brutus to Katniss to Cato. They would pretend to be perfectly fine for the camera's as they left the hotel and headed for the train station, but the minute they were out of sight of the cameras, Cato was taking Katniss to their own private area of the train for the entire ride home.

The day and a half long train journey was already making Cato jittery, and he wasn't even on the train yet. He just wanted to be back where he belonged, and it was taking far too long for that to happen. Katniss took his hand when Cinna deemed her hair finished, and the two were finally allowed to go meet Haymitch and Brutus at the elevators. From there they would go to a car waiting in front of the hotel, and then to the train.

The two mentors had just exited the elevators when the young pair caught up with them. Cato and Katniss were dressed in complimenting attire. Her very figure flattering and comfortable looking blouse was a rich caramel color with white leggings and an adorable pair of brown wedge-heel boots that Cato thought made her feet look cute, though they would still function in the woods back home. Even with an extra two inches, she still had to look up at him, and he lean down slightly to kiss her lips, which he would do every time he got the chance.

He, on the other hand, was wearing a button up t-shit that was a shade lighter than Katniss's blouse, with dark wash jeans, a white belt, and his own brown boots- minus the high heel. They had matching dark brown jackets of simple leather, though Katniss's was snug around her middle to compliment her curves, and his fit normally. Haymitch and Brutus were dressed similarly to Cato, just different colored shirts and boots.

The group made quick work of getting through the lobby full of reporters to the car. From there it was smooth sailing to the station albeit the tense car ride. Cato did his best to keep his knee from bouncing with impatience as he fingered the hem of Katniss's blouse. Her hand rested on his knee, giving him small squeezes every time he seemed to get more agitated. The walk from the car to the train was a blur of flashing cameras and fake smiles as Cato tried in vain to hold himself together. Needless to say, he was still having a claustrophobia issue. As was Katniss, but she handled it better.

Thankfully, the curtains to all the windows in their compartment were already closed, allowing them privacy. For his own sake, Cato locked all of the sliding doors before joining Katniss on one of the plush sofas.

"You ready for this?" He asked her quietly, inviting her into his arms.

Accepting his invitation, she nodded, pausing briefly before replying. "You gonna be able to get along with Gale? You know he'll be trying to set you off for at least a year."

Cato chuckled. "I'll just remind him who's ring is on your finger. That'll shut him up."

Katniss threw her head back and laughed. Little did she know, that simple sound calmed Cato's anxieties just enough for him to start relaxing and survive the two day trip...

It was two days later when a dull knock woke Cato. He was lazily wrapped around Katniss's still-sleeping form on the largest of the sofas in their apartment. The window curtains of the train were closed to block the afternoon sun and the television had been muted by himself earlier that day. Though he wasn't entirely sure of the time, Cato's stomach knew it was after lunch. Carefully untangling himself from Katniss, he rose to answer the door. Haymitch was waiting for him on the other side, uninterested as usual. Cato cocked a slightly irritated eyebrow at the drunk and inquired about his visit.

"I came to let you know that we'll be in District 12 in an hour or so. You'll want to get ready, the cameras will be around for a while. That whole hoopla about the family reunion and crap," Haymitch explained. "Plus the Capitol has a homecoming surprise for the two of you, so you'll want to be ready for that."

"What surprise?" Cato asked

At this Haymitch grinned and snorted. "Yeah, not telling you. You're reactions are going to be too priceless too spoil it."

Rolling his eyes, Cato shut the door without bidding the drunk farewell. Shuffling back over to the sofa, he crouched beside his sleeping beauty and examined her. Though he had taken care to memorize her matured features, now without the pressure of the games, he could properly inspect the changes in her physique that had occurred in their two year separation. Though she had grown, her cheeks still held a slight roundness he had adored about her in their childhood. Her lips, though the same dark shade of strawberry, had become plump and tantalizingly soft. Her skin, though smooth ivory, had been spotted with the palest of freckles and a faint scar adorned her left cheek. Her dark chocolate waves were slightly frizzy from sleeping on the couch with him, but some pieces still managed to frame her face. Both her hair and dark eyelashes stood out against her skin, making her look even more delicate to his eyes, though he knew she was far from fragile.

With a daring hand, he gently brushed a lock of fallen hair from her cheek. Though he tried his best to not disturb her, her eyelashes fluttered at his touch and her eyebrows drew together. Her not so little chest expanded when she drew in a deep breath, momentarily taking his attention away from her face. Luckily, he was able to steer his gaze back up where it belonged when her eyes finally fluttered open. She searched briefly, before finding him beside her and smiled so brightly she left him no choice but to return the gesture.

"Good morning, Beautiful." He said softly.

"Hi," she whispered back. "We home yet?"

"Not yet, but we're close. Haymitch said we should start getting ready, and apparently they have some big surprise planned for us." Cato summarized.

Satisfied with that answer, Katniss stretched quickly and allowed Cato to help her off the sofa. After a quick kiss, the pair made their way into their private bathroom. Since they both agreed that they didn't have time to reap the benefits of such privacy, their joint shower was quiet uneventful. After their shower, Cato was able to convince Katniss to wear her hair down for once, though she wasn't entirely happy about it. To compromise, Cato ended up helping her apply multiple products to the chocolate waves, and even blow dried her locks to perfection.

By the time they were both dressed and fed, the train gotten within a few miles of District 12. It was at this point that Cato noticed the knots in his stomach, because after all this time he was finally back. He wasn't sure how he would be received, but he knew that his life was where he had always imagined it would be. It was this mixture of paranoia and excitement that was tensing his muscles. While waves of nostalgia swept through him.

Now back in the main area of their apartment, Cato opened a curtain at the far end of the room. In an attempt to calm his mind, he watched the scenery fly past him. Most of what he saw was green or rocky, but eventually the vegetation began to lessen. Suddenly hit with a past memory, Cato realized exactly where he was. This was where he watched Katniss grow smaller as the train took him farther away. This was where she had to stop running, because on the other side there was a fence. A fence she had been stuck behind. A fence she cried at, with Haymitch running but far behind her. This was where his heart broke at the sight of pure agony on her face, two years before. This valley between two mountains, the same valley that had been the last place he saw Katniss's face, heard her voice, before he returned to District 2. When the metal of the District 12 border fence came into his view, he shuddered. This time he wasn't leaving. This time, Katniss was on the same side as he, and they would never be separated again.

"Almost there." Katniss said quietly from behind him. He hadn't noticed her approach, but she didn't startle him.

Turning to face her, Cato took a deep breath. "This is it."

Katniss nodded and together they walked through the train towards to front where Haymitch and Brutus were waiting. The train was slowing before they reached their mentors, and Cato was focusing more on Katniss's hand in his own that his mentor. Brutus hadn't seen him since before they left the Capitol, and hopefully the former was smart enough to know that now wasn't the time for conversation.

That is why Brutus surprised Cato by clearing his throat. The latter nearly flinched, but met his mentor's gave with a passive coldness no sane person would challenge. Silently, and almost hesitantly, Brutus held a closed fist out to Cato, as if to hand him something. While the train reduced its speed to a crawl, obviously nearing the station, Cato held his hand out with his palm facing upwards. Brutus dropped two glittering objects in his hand, which Cato recognized immediately. Placing his wedding rings in his pocket, Cato gave Brutus one solid nod in thanks and ignored him once more.

The entire group tensed visibly when the train finally stopped. The crowd could be heard, but what they were saying was too muffled to understand. Katniss looked up at Cato and smiled encouragingly. IN return he kissed her temple and squeezed her hand.

"Prim." He murmured.

Katniss beamed and nodded.

"That damned cat too, probably."

Katniss laughed quietly, but stopped when the gears inside the door could be heard as they unlocked. To Cato it seemed the door crept open, purposefully blinding him with sun so he could only hear what was happening outside the train. His name and Katniss's were the bulk of the crowds shouting. Judging by the noise, Cato guessed the entire district was present and as his eyes adjusted, his realized that he was probably correct.

On the platform, standing to greet them was Mayor Undersee and his daughter. Behind them at ground level, the small community of District 12. Camera's were places sporadically, but Cato paid them little mind. He was too busy scanning the crowd and picking out faces he knew. From Greasy Sae, Rooba the butcher, Gale and his family, and many others. It took him a few moments of waving and smiling at those he knew to finally find Mrs. Everdeen and Prim. However he was most certainly unprepared for who his eyes fell on next. Was this a side effect of his medicine or had he finally gone mad? It wasn't remotely possible for his eyes to be telling him the truth.

"Katniss..." He said quietly, shaking her arm.

She looked up at him, worried, and then followed his gaze. When he felt he go still beside him, he knew he wasn't going crazy. It still didn't make sense, but he didn't care. He could feel the tears prickling at the edges of his eyes, but he didn't wipe them. He couldn't be bothered with them right now. Because his feet were moving. Weaving through the small crowd between the train, and his fiancee's family, Cato sprinted.

Katniss, managed to sprint ahead of him by a few feet. Ignoring her new pants, she dropped to her knees right before their small family and slid the last few inches to the object of their desires. Adorned in a soft blue dress that contrasted brightly with her dark curls as she wrapped herself around Katniss's neck, stood a smiling, happy, and very much alive, Rue.

"Surprise!" She laughed, as she enjoyed her mother's affections.

When he reached them he dropped as well, enveloping his girls in his arms and squeezing them both. A familiar set of giggles blessed his ears while he enjoyed the warmth from his love and Monkey. It wasn't until Rue pulled back and wiped tears from his cheeks that he noticed he'd begun to cry, but he smiled at her anyway.

"You brat," He choked. "You missed all the fun."

Rue laughed at him while Katniss pressed a hard, tearful kiss to her forehead.

"You could have gone a bit easier on Marvel, you know." Rue chastised.

"No." Cato said darkly. "I went too easy on him as it was."

Rue simply grinned and leaned into him. "Yeah, yeah, Dad. We all know how tough you are."

Squeezing her, he kissed her hair, while Katniss brushed stray curls back in place. "That's Mister Dad, to you, Monkey." He murmured. "I'm not even gonna ask how you're still alive, when I sang you to...sleep, but I'm glad you're back, Kiddo," Cato told her, before releasing Rue to Katniss.

Now slightly able to compose themselves, the group stood and dusted themselves off. Cato was more than happy to ignore the cameras, but threw a grin to Haymitch over his shoulder. Rue stubbornly held Cato's and Katniss's hands from the moment they had set her down, though neither of them were complaining. Katniss was still wiping her eyes when Cato finally caught her gaze and smiled.

Prim and Mrs. Everdeen had no trouble shuffling through the crowd, and lead the reunited family through the district to Victor's Village. No longer alone in the small division, Haymitch would now be accompanied by two neighbors. One house stood near the gate across the street from Haymitch's neglected home, the other, also across the street, but there was a good three houses worth of space between it and the first house. Rue was quick to inform Cato and Katniss that their house was at the end of the lane, for privacy purposes, while Prim and Mrs. Everdeen would stay across the street from Haymitch.

And it was as they walked up to their new front door, hand in hand with their adopted child, that Cato realized how right everything felt. It didn't matter that the cameras were around, or that people were watching them. Right now, Cato felt good. He had kept him promise to Katniss, and brought her security she otherwise never would have experienced.

As he turned the doorknob, Rue tugged on his hand. Having offered her his attention before he proceeded, Rue grinned at him and said, "Welcome home, you guys."

"You too, Rue." Cato said, smiling back at her. "You too."

Is it cruel of me to stop here? Probably. Oh well. Yes, I know, I haven't updated in how long? (I stopped keeping track of the time.) Lets put it this way, mentally, I was very ill, and I basically couldn't write to save my life because of it. However I am starting to get better now, thanks to an SSRI that I really wish my doctors had given me sooner, since it makes a world of difference in my life.

Here is your long awaited Rue surprise, my dears. Yes, she's alive. Next chapter reveals how she's alive, but I'm sure you smart cookies can figure it out.

I'm not going to make any promises for when I will update again, since that's been backfiring pretty badly. Just know that I will update eventually, even if it takes me a very long time. :)

Many thanks to those who stuck through my unplanned hiatus, and many more to those who reviewed far beyond that silly limit I made up last time. 593 total reviews for the fic guys? Warmed my heart. Honest. Still trying to read them all :) I have read most of them however and thank you all for them.

For those who are wondering, in my absence I have become a much more confident writer in general. (At least when it comes to essays for school - bleh.) So The review minimum has been removed. I'll review when I can without giving myself too much pressure, and you all wont have to worry about this story being left unfinished. I have plans. Its just a matter of finding the time to put them on paper.

Also, quick shout-out to my prodigy. Yes, though I am not yet a legal adult in the U.S., I have acquired a creative writing apprentice. As an inside joke, I'll call her Cali for now, but I shall post a link to her stories on my blog at some point when I find the time. Her writing is quite contrasting to mine, as is her personality, but she is a budding novice writer with a lot of potential and under my wing. And as I teach her the art of creative writing, I hope that one day, she will have a story that brings her the pride that mine does. So three cheers for Cali, my grotesquely optimistic new friend, who's happiness knows no bounds, though I still haven't figured out where it comes from. :) Keep writing, Cali, and I shall lovingly critique you until you tell me not to.

That is all for now my lovelies. Happy Thanksgiving, my American readers. Happy Thursday evening to all my other nationalities! :D

~D.A.K-hime