Author: Annwyd PM
She doesn't recognize him at first. Years after it's all over, two people who were once very close take steps together again.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship - Katniss E. & Gale H. - Words: 1,099 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 2 - Published: 10-01-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6364788
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I don't recognize him at first: the man who steps slowly into District 12, wounded confidence in his stance but caution and old grief in his gaze. But he strikes me as familiar. He looks like one of the soldiers I remember making up the new defense force in the Capitol. They all have very serious faces, like they're trying to make up for the frivolity that hasn't faded from the city around them, and the weight of the war never seems to leave them. This man is like that, too. He looks like he might be in his early thirties, but his hair is graying prematurely at the sides.
People from the Capitol and other districts visit us sometimes. Not that often, but sometimes. I shouldn't be too fixated on this man coming up the road, shying away from the Victor's Village but hesitant to go into the main square as well. But he both draws me and repels me. Well, Peeta has been teaching me, over the years we've spent growing back together, how not to let that sense of repulsion push me away from people. I get it too often anyway.
So I approach the man, stopping just off the square. "Are you from the Capitol?" I don't know if he'll recognize me. The people know my face, and the scars barely touch it, but so much about me has changed. The visitors don't always recognize me.
But this one does. He gives me a strange look. "No, Catnip," he says quietly. "I'm not from the Capitol."
My heart goes thud. How could I not have recognized him? Has he changed that much? Have I changed that much? "Gale," I say. No, we've both changed, but that isn't it. It's just that it's been over nine years since I last saw him. And when I saw him then, I decided I didn't ever want to see him again. So I didn't until he forced me to. Would that have made me angry, once? I can't recall. I feel a little old anger now, an irrational flare of bitterness, but mostly I feel ashamed.
I didn't recognize him. The boy who was my shadow and my other half for four vital years. It's like losing part of myself.
I fall into step beside him without either of us saying anything more. He moves slowly through the rebuilt town. Finally, he sits down on the steps of what used to be the mayor's house and is now a community center. I sit down next to him. It's nothing like our hunting hideout in the forest, but nothing will ever be like that again.
After a while, he says, "I was worried you would throw me out."
"I can't," I say. "It's not my decision who comes to District 12."
"Since when do you evade questions like that?" he asks.
I look down at my hands, still patterned with burn scars. "Since you showed up again," I say. It's true—even now, I'm a bad liar.
"So would you throw me out, if you could?" he asks.
"No," I say. "I don't know." Then I think of something else. "Peeta wants to have children," I say abruptly. It seems to me like it flows naturally from the conversation before, but I realize, belatedly, that it doesn't. I don't always have the best grasp of when to say something anymore.
Gale's expression tightens. "You wouldn't want me around them," he says. Part of him is still my shadow. He guessed what I meant, by saying that then.
"I'm not sure how I'd feel about it," I admit. I am half-convinced that if I get any closer to him, Gale will still smell of gunpowder and bombs. Of the war. Of all the things I've spent most of a decade trying to escape.
"I thought I'd want children, once," Gale says. "I don't know anymore."
"I thought I wouldn't," I say. "I'm not sure anymore either."
"Is that supposed to be some way of saying that we still have things in common?" Gale turns an empty gaze on me. "You know we don't."
I don't know what to say for a minute, but I know I'm shaking my head. "That's stupid," I finally come out with. "We still have too much in common. And my life is frightening enough with me in it."
"I'd be too much," Gale says.
"I guess so," I say. But saying so feels like trying to rip off an arm. I wince.
He looks at me with those serious gray eyes. "Flashbacks?"
"No," I say. It's not flashbacks. It's thinking about how Gale was once a part of me, and how I can't pretend that part of me doesn't exist any longer. Not now that I've seen him, with his grim face and graying hair.
"I don't get flashbacks," Gale says. "So I wouldn't know."
No, he wouldn't. But he sounds so empty when he says that. Does he think he's missing something? It's almost enough to make me angry. But sometimes, I still need to feel angry. Just sometimes. "Stay a little while," I say.
"Will Peeta mind?" Gale asks.
"It doesn't matter," I say. I know he won't mind, but that's not what needed to be said.
Gale gets up to walk again. I follow him. Eventually, he asks, "So are you going to have children like he wants?"
I shake my head. "Not in a world that still has people like us in it," I say.
"Maybe I will," he says. "There's a girl back in District 2 who likes me. Blue eyes, blond hair. I haven't met anyone so kind in...a long time. She gets so upset when people get hurt. She runs an animal shelter."
Why are you describing Prim? I almost ask, but I hold it back. Because I understand, now. He has a different kind of flashbacks. He just doesn't notice because he lives in them all the time. So instead I say, "When you marry her, bring her here. So she can see where you came from."
"Will you put up with me?" Gale asks.
"I have to," I say. "I put up with myself, don't I?"