gale/katniss ftw, yes please.
The first time he shoots a bow and arrow he ends up shooting it into a tree and a bird flies out of it, chirping angrily. Katniss covers her smile with her hand and corrects him quietly. She doesn't mention it again and he's immensely grateful for that.
Her first snare doesn't work properly. It doesn't properly kill the rabbit and he hangs there, dying slowly, and she sees it and covers her mouth with her hand and she looks like she's going to throw up. He takes the rabbit down and kills it quickly.
Gently, he sits her down and moves her fingers, showing her what she did wrong.
Her snares never fail again.
"Are you dating that girl?"
The girl in front of him is about a year younger than him. She's a Seam girl and she's unnaturally tall. He looks up from his lunch.
"That girl. With the braid. Are you dating her?"
He has three siblings and a mother to feed, and Katniss is a thirty year old in a twelve year old's body. He doesn't have time to date, and this girl is twirling her hair obnoxiously and distracting him from his food.
Clearly she wants more than a one word answer but he ignores her. Finally she just says, "Oh, that's cool."
It's not remotely cool but he doesn't care. This is why he likes Katniss- she doesn't waste time on useless things like who's dating who.
It takes Katniss months to smile back at him but it takes her even longer to laugh. He makes a little joke- it was so stupid and meaningless that he doesn't even remember what it was, but her face lights up and she lets out a bark of laughter, before slapping a hand over her mouth to try to quiet herself, but she turns to look at him and her eyes are lit up.
He can't help it. He laughs back.
It soon becomes his favourite sound in the world.
The first time he realizes that maybe this girl is a little more than just a hunting partner is when they're lined up for the Hunger Games.
Effie Trinket is jumping around and yipping like a little dog and Haymitch is drunk and he hates it all. He looks around and he sees Katniss. She's standing with a bunch of her peers looking a weird mixture of bored and scared. She meets his eyes and gives him a tiny smile.
That's when he realizes that he's terrified it'll be her name that's called.
"What's your favourite colour?"
"You're favourite colour."
"Why does it matter?"
"It doesn't. That's the point. It's meaningless shit. Friends know meaningless shit about each other."
She studies the ground. Then she shrugs. "Blue. I guess. I don't know. I never really thought about it. It doesn't matter."
He's quiet, slightly embarrassed. Then she says, "What about you?"
He laughs. "I dunno. Blue?"
"That's my answer."
"You don't own the colour blue."
She smiles, laughs again. He grins back.
He's pretty sure he starts to love her soon after that.
If he wants to put an exact time to it, it would be on his sixteenth birthday. It lands on a Sunday and Katniss is in a tree. Of course she is. Katniss is always in the damn trees.
"Hey," she calls, and he looks up. She has her bow out and her legs dangle, her hair pulled hastily back. He smiles.
"I'm gonna go check the snares." She nods and goes back to scouting.
They caught two rabbits in four snares and he's heading back to see Katniss when an arrow suddenly zips out from her tree and into a squirrel he hadn't even noticed. Damn, he's getting soft.
"Wanna get that for me?"
He goes to gather the squirrel but stops, because there's something attached to her arrow.
He realizes it's a tiny piece of paper that says, happy birthday. He looks at her in the tree.
"If this somehow lowers the quality of this squirrel, I expect you to pay the difference."
She rolls her eyes and he turns away so she doesn't see his grin.
That happiest days of his life were spent in the woods with Katniss. Building up a relationship, getting to know her. Slowly, slowly. Becoming her friend. Sharing their techniques.
That's what he hates most about Peeta Mellark. He watches her for a few years and he thinks he knows her. He smiles and shoves bread in her face and he's the perfect lover boy and he's just the cousin back home, forced to watch her die on television.
He wishes he doesn't have to let her go. He gives her promises: he'll take care of her sister, of her mother, he'll feed them.
But he wants to take care of her.
He fucking saves her.
Not that he isn't happy as shit over that- he wants her to live. Needs her to live. Because he needs to see her in person, before him, to hug her again. He has to. So yeah, he's so, so grateful that Bread Boy saved her.
But that's the thing- he's grateful. Because now he owes that sonovabitch something.
(It should have been him who had saved her.)
"She's going to win, Gale!"
Prim has so much faith it's almost sickening. He nods gruffly and hands the meat to Mrs. Everdeen, who gives him a tight lipped smile in return. Katniss's mother has said maybe two words to him since Katniss left- a thank you at the beginning that he supposes applies to every delivery, since it hasn't been repeated. Katniss had told him about what had happened to her mother when her father died, and he's been watching her carefully, making sure she wasn't sinking into it again.
"She's doing so well. She has a partner now! That girl from District 11."
Yes, Rue. Tiny, twelve year old Rue who can jump through trees and not much else.
Excuse him if he's bitter.
"What do you think, Gale?"
He looks at her. She seems so terribly innocent but she isn't, because there's a gleam in her eyes, a fierce worry for her sister because Prim isn't an idiot and she knows full well she may die. She seems to accept this better than Gale is.
"Katniss is the toughest person I know, Prim."
It isn't a lie.
But is it enough?
Sometimes he doesn't think so.
The cameras watch her carefully.
He can practically see the gears working in her mind as she studies the Career's food source. Then, suddenly, she has her bow and arrow out. The cameras seem to understand her intention and cut briefly to a sack of apples.
He understands. He watches her aim, her fingers on her bow, and he has no doubt she can do it. Katniss has the best aim out of anyone he knows.
One, two, three arrows and the world explodes, and he can't help but grin, for the first time since she's left.
That's his girl.
He's upset when her partner dies, but not for the little girl's sake. Yes, it's terribly sad, and it seems so unfair that a twelve year old be thrown into this mess, but better her than Katniss.
He's upset for Katniss. He hasn't missed the likeness to Prim and he knows that was part of the reason she trusts the little girl, why she partnered with her.
When she starts to sing, he stares. He knows everything about her, he could write a book about Katniss freaking Everdeen, but he's never heard her sing.
It's incredibly beautiful.
He loves her so much it hurts.
"Congratulations on being the final six! I'm happy to report that there has been a change in the rules. This year, if the two tributes from the same district are the last two alive, they are both eligible to win. If you and your district partner reach the end together, you will both win. Good luck to you all."
The cameras are on Katniss (she's been on the cameras so much. He doesn't know whether to be grateful because every time he sees her he seems to ache all over, but at least she's alive) and suddenly a name comes out of her mouth.
He repeats the name back. Peeta. Peeta. She's partnered with Peeta. It has such a foul taste, coming out of his mouth. He has every reason in the world to hate Peeta Mellark and no reason at all.
Peeta Mellark is absolutely useless.
It would be funny if it wasn't endangering Katniss. He lies there with his leg torn open, hiding from the world and how the hell is she supposed to win if she has to tag around with him? The boy can't even stand up, let alone fight that beast of a boy from District One and the giant from District Eleven. Katniss works hard to fix him up but, just like she said, she is not her mother. Mrs Everdeen murmurs about all the things needed to fix Peeta and it's absolutely hopeless. He's going to die and Katniss should accept it, because she doesn't need to as well.
She can win this.
She can come home to him.
They interview him.
"How close are you to your cousin?"
He glowers at the cameras and says, gruffly. "She's my best friend."
"Do you think she can win?"
What do they expect him to say? No, I think she's going to die, actually. Any more questions?
"Of course I think she can win. I know she can."
The reporter is excited because this is as far as District Twelve as ever gotten since Haymitch won. He bounces around and asks Gale useless questions. What do you and Katniss do together? It must be hard to feed your family, how do you do it? Questions he isn't allowed to answer truthfully.
"Is there anything you would like to say to Katniss?"
There's a million and one things he would like to say to Katniss, none of which he is allowed to say on camera.
Katniss, I love you. I love you, please come back. Please come home to me. I need you.
"I just want her home safe."
Mr. Mellark brings him bread.
It isn't totally fresh but it still looks pretty damn good. He hands it to him silently and then smiles.
"I know how this must be for you."
He has to work hard to remember that he is not just saying that like so many others who have no idea. He actually knows. He has to watch his son wither away, has to watch him die while Katniss can do nothing. He forces a smile on his face that is probably more intimidating than a glare.
He gives the bread to his mother who splits it between the younger kids but he doesn't eat a slice of it. Instead he watches Katniss snuggle up to Peeta and tries to remind himself that she is doing this to survive.
The thing about those kisses are that they seem real.
Katniss is not a good actress. She is not a good liar. She tells the truth, and the truth tells itself on her face. She cannot hide things from anyone.
So he knows that the only way those kisses could look real would be that they are real. That she likes kissing Peeta Mellark and she feels safe with him and what does it matter, anyway? Gale is her best friend. Gale is her cousin. Gale and her never had a romantic future.
She gets hurt and Peeta is there to take care of her. One time. But he has taken care of her more times than he can count. He has carried her through the woods, he has saved her from wild animals, he has cleaned up blood and bandaged her and gripped her hand as she pulled thorns out of her legs but nobody wants to know about that. All anybody cares about is Katniss and Peeta.
The two star-crossed lovers from District Twelve.
Making out in a cave.
Eventually he almost accepts it.
There's nothing he can do. He's safe at home and she is out there with no one to protect her but the baker's boy and, he has to admit, he's doing a fine job of that. Sure, she does most of the work but the stupid boy seems to genuinely care for her and Gale knows he would throw himself in front of a knife for her. So he watches. And he broods. But he accepts it. He accepts the hugs and the kissing and loving banter because it is Peeta Mellark's job to protect her. It is Peeta Mellark's job to bring her home.
But he knows Katniss. And he knows what she wants. And it isn't a future with the baker's son. It isn't a bunch of golden haired children running about with bread in their hands. And he has no doubt that that is what Peeta Mellark expects. He can tell by the way he looks at her.
It won't work out for them, because Katniss doesn't do loving, caressing or lots of kissing unless it's a life or death situation. Which this definitely is.
Peeta Mellark will bring her home but then things will be like they used to be. She will come back to him. They will hunt again and the Games will be a memory, a nightmare that he will chase away for her.
He is hers, and she is his, and it will take a lot more than some silly bread boy who thrashes his way through the forest to come between them.