So I recently read Mockingjay, and it pretty much sucked. Now, I'm always open to shipping (Good Lord, I love shipping) but to simply write Gale off like that? Come on, Suzanne Collins, at least make a freaking effort to wrap it up nicely. The overall message of The Hunger Games has always been that war is bad, but I mean, there's a difference between "Okay, this is war" and "Okay, this is the last book and they're all going to buy it anyway, so here goes!" I'm in no way saying that I could write like Suzanne Collins because I can't, but I think that Mockingjay was just very poorly-written. Katniss had a total character derailment. She's manipulated by everyone-Coin, Plutarch, Haymitch, Snow. FREAKING SNOW! He tells her something-and he's her frickin' sworn enemy-and she takes him for his word. Uh, Katniss, did you not think that maybe he was making it all up? Well, of course now, you're the heroine and you're obviously going to make it to the end of the book being freaking right, but come on. Honestly.
Anyway, this is a oneshot from Gale's point of view five years after the end of Mockingjay-like, the ending ending, not the epilogue where the mutilation of Katniss's character continues.
-railing continues in the background-
Shadow would like to take this time to mourn the death of Finnick, who was far too awesome to be attacked, bitten, decapitated, blown up, and then probably spread in little bits all around a sewer. Thank you, carry on.
I watch her, as I've always watched her.
Katniss and Peeta. I can't look at them without feeling sick. I turn away, bile rising sharp and bitter in the back of my throat. I detest this feeling—an undeterminable queasiness that turns my stomach and makes me crave solitariness. It makes me feel weak.
I stand close to the ruins of the old house I'd grown up in, the scent of ash still present even from the semi-repaired walls. As I watch, I can see the skitter of a black-shelled insect across the ruined floorboards. Katniss stands just outside, waiting for me, I know. Without turning around, I say, "Someone's fixed the walls."
"People are moving back to Twelve." Her voice is hesitant. "A lot of them are in need of houses."
I nod. "Good." If a family wants to use this house, they're more than welcome to it. I have nothing in 12 that I want—or that I can have, I add darkly. I pick up the poker I'd left here years ago, running my thumb over the blackened and roughened surface. It hasn't changed, but everything else has: 12 has been reborn. After the fall of the Capitol, those who remained tied to this place—to the Seam—had returned and tried to stake out a new life here. Paylor from 8 has taken over after Snow's murder and Coin's…dismissal. I can't bring myself to think of it in any other way. That day has replayed over and over in my mind countless times, but I can remember the stillness that froze my limbs as I watched Katniss struggled against those holding her in place, her eyes flashing wild as she screamed for me. No, not for me, but for a release. A release brought about by the impact of a bullet.
But I couldn't do it.
I must be wearing an odd expression, because Katniss asks, "Are you going to be okay?"
I resist the urge to laugh. The question is only further proof of the distance between us—that added to the blond-haired boy who waits outside in the wreck of the street. "Yes," I lie. I've gotten good at lying since the Capitol fell, but of course, practice makes perfect.
Katniss is eager to leave; I can see it in her eyes. I turn to my house—or someone else's now—and run my fingers across the dusty edge of the hearth before following her outside.
Peeta's expression immediately brightens as he sees Katniss and I have to hold back the sickness I feel at it. I have no grudges toward Peeta—he took care of Katniss during the Hunger Games and is genuinely a good person—but I've sometimes seen the insanity come over him. He screams and thrashes, eyes totally dead, for minutes before he remembers himself.
I cannot trust him, but I must.
Katniss does not go to him with open arms, no hug or kiss, but I have the feeling this is because of my presence. It makes me feel distant, as far away as I've been for the past five years.
Peeta says, "Did you tell him about the new people?"
I feel a little angry that he's addressed Katniss instead of me when I'm standing right in front of him, so I feel inclined to say, "Yes. It's not a problem."
He blinks, but says nothing more.
It is a short walk back to Victor's Village, and once inside the house they now share, we sit down at the table. The silence is awkward, and no one tries to break it. After a few minutes, I get to my feet. Katniss follows so quickly, it's like she's been waiting for me to get up.
"Where are you going?" she asks.
"Back to my place," I answer. "I'm leaving tomorrow morning to return to Two."
Her face falls, but just so. If I didn't know her as well as I do, I would have missed it. "So soon? You just got here."
Her response cuts through me. As if I had forgotten the look on her face after Prim had died: I'm not stupid enough to think she's forgotten that incident.
Peeta speaks up for the first time, to me directly this time. "Would you like us to walk you back?"
I bite back an angry statement and simply say, "No. I know the way around Twelve, thanks."
Katniss's eyes narrow, but I don't care. Peeta is likeable, but there's a line that I draw. I have no interest in being friends with him. "I'll see you later," I say, even though I don't mean it. I knew it as soon as I set foot in 12: this will be my last time here.
Katniss's gray eyes—so much like mine, so much like those who were gone—lock on mine, and I want to say something, I want to tell her so much, but I don't. I want to tell her that it wasn't my fault that Prim died, that her mother didn't return to 12, but I can't. I don't know if it's true. "I can walk you outside, at least."
I don't argue. I nod to Peeta, who nods back just as awkwardly, and follow Katniss outside. Her step is light, a hunter's walk, and in instinctively fall in rhythm behind her. We walk down away from the house to the gates that set off Victor's Village from the rest of the Seam, not speaking. Only once I step outside does she say, "Wait."
I turn, already expecting this. "What?"
I can just see the gleam of her eyes in the light from the half-moon, but her expression isn't accusatory like I expect. "Do you have to go already?"
That twists my stomach. "I don't belong here. I just wanted to…" I trail off because I don't know what I want. I don't know what I want here. "It's time for me to go back home."
Katniss ignores my inelegant fumble. "I've been doing a lot of thinking recently," she says. "Can I talk to you…just for a few minutes?"
I want to, badly, but I know this will only lead to more pain—obvious to me now that it will only be on my part. "I need to get some sleep," I respond. "I need to get back."
Something flicks across her face but I recognize it—uneasiness. She does not trust me anymore, and I doubt she will again. True, I am the one who helped design the bomb, but if she thinks I had something to do with Prim's death, she's kidding herself. But the look on her face tells me just that.
I've always been good at reading her, and in this moment, I know that skill is not lost. She stares at me like she would look at a wild dog that seems slightly tame—wary and watchful. Like I am going to snap out at her.
"My mother hasn't been back," she says.
"I know," I say back. And I do. My position as 2's ambassador to the Capitol lets me into all sorts of details.
"She's not coming back." But this time, she phrases it as a statement, even though her pitch rises at the end.
I shrug and try to look as if I don't know.
"Your mother is here."
I don't want to be here right now, I realize suddenly. Just as suddenly as I realize that Katniss is trying to keep me here. "What are you doing?" I ask. "What are you playing at?"
"Nothing," she lies. "I wanted to tell you…Peeta and I are getting married."
My veins run with ice water. "Well, that's good for you." My voice is not recognizable as my own.
"I just thought you should know," she says, and now her old spirit is surfacing; I can see it in her eyes.
I laugh hollowly. "Why? So you can invite me to be your best man?" My words are cruel and I do nothing to dampen them. "So I can watch while you're given away to someone else? To him?"
Her eyes are still distrustful and now anger is competing in them. "I can see now that it was a bad idea."
"Yes," I agree. "It was." But I don't want to leave on bad circumstances like this, even if I can't bear to look at the wariness in her eyes. I have not been here for nearly five years, and already this place's appearance is fading in my mind. I turn away and take a deep, steadying breath, returning my gaze to hers with a coolness that feels unnatural to me. "I think it's time for me to go now."
She doesn't argue.
Not that long ago, I thought that Katniss and I would be together. I thought that we could make it work. But now, as I look at her, I know that I was being stupid. She is far too far away for me now. In another world. One that is not for her. I know that Peeta is not good for her—even if it is only selfishness that goads me on.
My fingers ache to touch her, but I resist. It will only cause me more agony. Eventually, it's time. I can feel it. I turn back to her, watching for a change in her expression, something to tell me to stay here, that we can go back to our old life hunting and being together and supplying our families with food. For an instant, I can see it. Those days before the Hunger Games stole her away from me and her family and turned the entire country of Panem upside-down with a simple handful of berries.
I look at her and want to find a way to say something, but I can't. She will always think of me as her sister's murderer, no matter how many good times we had before that.
"Goodbye, Katniss," I say calmly, my anger gone in an instant—I force it down so she won't see how much I am breaking.
She nods to me, something on her face. There's an awkward pause between us before she says, "Goodbye, Gale." She turns away, leaving me standing there stiffly, and goes into her house, shutting the door behind her. I hear Peeta's chair scrape along the ground as he stands up to greet her and try not to think about his mouth on hers. I have seen them kiss too many times.
The wind picks up as I walk back to the hovercraft hangar where I am lodged. The scent of ash no longer fills the air but I still imagine I can smell it. I remember watching Katniss walk these very streets years ago after the bombs had first fallen, worrying not for her physical safety, but her mental intactness. Bodies had piled these streets, stinking and rotting. Now they are clean, swept recently, and I walk by.
I go past the hangar and to the place where the Hob had once rested—now a perfectly-legal restaurant sits there. I go in, and the warm air quickly blows the cold from my clothes.
The matron seats me at the bar and takes my drink order, leaving me without the usual chitchat. I must look like one who does not partake in those kind of socializations, I think idly, staring unseeingly down at the wooden table.
She hands me a glass of white liquor and walks away. Looking down into the glass and wrinkling my nose at the scent, I remember when Haymitch had drunk the strong stuff. But that was when I was young, and I am not longer a novice. I tip back the glass and down half the glass in one burning swallow. The liquor feels like someone has set a fire beneath my ribs but it clears my head. I wonder vaguely if I'll become like Haymitch if I keep up this kind of behavior, then decide that I don't particularly care. With my standing, I doubt I will be fired from my position in 2.
I am not aware of the girl at my elbow until she repeats her question: "Are you Gale Hawthorne?"
I look down at her in surprise. I hadn't heard her come up, but maybe that was because of the glass in my hand. "Yes," I say, clearing my throat. "I am."
She smiles. Her teeth are straight and white, but above them, her eyes glow a strange goldish-brown. Capitol stock, I think dully, and the realization is backed up by the twisting black tattoo braceleting her wrist like a cluster of wires. "I thought so," she says, her voice smug. "I'm good with faces."
So am I usually, but I don't tell her this. The white liquor was settling in my stomach now, coating the back of my tongue in a layer of foul-tasting grit, but I want another glassful of it. "Are you new around here?"
"I just got here tonight," she tells me, backing up my thought. "I'm checking out the town. Twelve is really small." Her tone makes it clear this is a complaint.
I turn away from her and look into the dregs of my drink, pondering why she was talking to me. "Compared to the Capitol, everything is small," I say unfeelingly, but she seems to take this as a good sign and continues to talk to me.
"Yes," she says. "I've been traveling to all the other Districts. I haven't seen anything outside of the Capitol my whole life." Her round yellowish fix on me brightly as she adds, "I see you on the TV all the time. You're a lot cuter in person, you know."
I assume I'm to take this as a compliment, so I nod my head to her and drink my refilled glass of liquor.
"My name's Glamour, by the way." The girl continues to speak to me, but her voice is high-pitched and annoying, nothing like Katniss's.
I stop myself that instant. I should not be comparing anyone to Katniss, because she is not mine to compare. She's not mine now, she won't be mine tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that. She's Peeta's and Peeta is hers and she has forgotten about me.
I turn quickly to Glamour, who looks startled, and say, energetically now, "You said this is your first time in Twelve?"
"Y-yes," she says, her surprise fading and a blush creeping up her round cheeks. I can see the faint outlines of more tattoos along her hairline.
"Well, then, allow me to buy you a drink." I feel a rush of vindictiveness that I can't totally explain as Glamour and I chat about airheaded nothings like the current fashion in the Capitol and the latest scandal the new members of the government have brought. I listen raptly, feeling a disjointed sense of wrongness that I can't comprehend at the moment—probably because of the white liquor settling like an acidic bubble in the pit of my stomach, I admit to myself dryly.
Glamour is all hands as she speaks, her motions are wild and nearly unbalance her, made worse by her rapid drinking. I find it strangely interesting to watch her talk—it's like watching an overexcited rabbit. Her breathing is quick and shallow, and she has to grip the edge of the table hard to keep herself on the narrow stool.
In this moment, I am reminded strongly of Katniss and the way she had walked away from me, her dark hair swinging in its braid. She went inside her house back to Peeta and forgot all about me once again. It almost is like the ending to one of my television spots for the Capitol. Gale comes on. He speaks. Show's over. Show the seal. Cut to black. Who was he? The one just on? Was that Gale Hawthorne, the one from 12? Oh, well, life goes on. More interesting things to look at here in the real world.
So when Glamour leans toward me, pulling back her long blonde hair in to show me the tattoos I had noticed before on her forehead, I kiss her.
Her lips taste bile-bitter from the white liquor, but they are soft and warm. Glamour's surprise is quickly overridden by my gesture, and she closes her eyes and sighs gently, tilting her head a little to get a better angle and raising one hand to my cheek, her fingernails just barely grazing over my skin, making me shiver.
The action stops me and I pull away. Wrong.
Glamour's eyes are half-closed, and she reaches forward and grips the front of my jacket, trying to pull me back to her but I grab her hands. "Stop," I say, my heart hammering in my chest. I haven't felt this way in a long time, but to feel it with a girl I didn't even know… It was wrong. "Stop."
"Why?" she breathes, that glazed look still in her eyes.
"I can't do this." My head swims, but whether it's from the liquor or the kiss, I'm not sure. "I'm sorry."
Glamour's face crumples noticeably, but I slam down a handful of coins for my drink on the bar counter and walk out without looking back at her. A hard pit has formed in my stomach and it makes me feel like I'm about to be sick. I lean heavily against the wooden post holding up half of the roof and take deep breaths, the cool air washing over my face like a gentle wave.
The people of the Seam—or those that had decided to come back—walk past me, obviously on their way back to their warm homes. Homes that would welcome them back. But the only home I want to go to—that I ache to go to—isn't warm or welcome.
I move on before Glamour can come outside and find me, flipping up the collar of my coat and wandering toward the hangar. My fingers brush against my lips, as if to wipe away where Glamour's had been. What was I thinking? I was being stupid, I know, but I just…acted. I usually planned these things out, nice and slow, like in the years I'd known Katniss.
I stop in mid-step, looking down at the cold frozen ground in front of me. Like Katniss, I think. It always comes back to Katniss. I'd done everything I could—and I tried to hard—but it didn't matter. She had made her choice. I remember now what I had told Peeta a long time ago, Katniss will pick whichever whoever she thinks she can't survive without.
And it looks like she can survive without me.
There's a feeling of intense grief in my gut, like I'd lost someone, but I can't bring myself to blame Peeta. It would have been so much easier to hate him if he wasn't so damn likeable. No, this isn't Peeta's fault, but it's not mine. Katniss is to blame, I think.
But as I look around at the Seam—my used-to-be home—I think that's wrong, too. Sometimes people just don't work out, right? Sometimes things that are too similar just aren't compatible, and people are no different. But even as I think it, the scars on my palms from hunting with Katniss prove me wrong. Something was wrong, something went wrong, but it can't have been anyone's fault.
With a bitter smile, I think of when I had told Katniss I love her—still present-tense after all this time, of course, and doubtless as long as I live—and when I had gotten her to kiss me by showing how much her actions were tearing me up inside. But did I really love her? Even now? Now that she was with Peeta, prepping for their no-doubt private wedding, I don't know. I don't think that I want to know. It wouldn't help either of us. Katniss will never look at me the same way again, and I don't think I can look at her without seeing the distrust there. As if all of our memories vanished and left only one guess behind. I suppose that's for the best. I suppose I'll just have to move on and try and forget her like she wishes she can forget me.
But I'm not dead yet, and I won't give up anything because of this.
I keep walking toward the hangar, itching to get back to 2, where at least I can keep my mind away from topics too painful to linger on.
Oh ho, present tense, you really like to screw with me, dontcha? Hopefully it wasn't that awful-I know I'm not used to this first-person thing, too-and I hope you liked it. :3