His Little Catnip
Summary: Gale saves Katniss and Peeta's daughter in the forest of District 12. Friends reunite after long years of being apart.
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games Trilogy and its characters solely belong to Suzanne Collins.
How long has it been now? Is it exactly ten years already or maybe more? I can hardly care right now. This forest looks the same. It looks untouched and as green and luscious as ever. It's almost as if I'm in a completely different world.
I keep on walking, a bow in my hand and a sheath of arrows on my shoulder. These hunting clothes I wear feel different and yet it's very familiar. I got so used to my smooth military uniform that I almost forget how this feels like. I wonder if I will see her here today. Will fate let us meet here? In this forest we both hold so close to our hearts? How will she react if she sees me? After over a decade? Will she recognize me? Of course yes… The real question should be if she will acknowledge me or ignore me…
I stop in front of an oak tree to take a break. I haven't really done anything exerting yet but the very warm weather isn't helping me feel comfortable anyway. I take out my bottle filled with water and drink from it.
I take a look around the forest. I've been walking for some time now but I still cannot find something worth to shoot. Maybe it's better if I just decided to fish. I let out a sigh. What am I doing here anyway… hunting? I don't think I planned to go here to District 12 just to… hunt. I come here to see her. But the moment I stepped out of the train early this morning, it took all my willpower not to get back into the train and go back to District 2. I'm not making this any easier for myself. I… just want to see her. I know I can sneak in the Victor's Village and take a peek but that will not really feel right. I have to face her. Even if I don't do it now… it will eventually happen except if one of us decides to go live under a rock or something.
The wind blows against my skin gently. Everything about this forest seems so peaceful. The thought of living here in the wilderness where our precious memories together still live is very tempting. But… it will just bring more pain to me.
Suddenly, a scream cuts through the air. The hairs at the back of my neck stand and I grab an arrow, readying myself to shoot at anything suspicious as I run towards the direction of the scream. As I get nearer, I can see the wild cat hissing at something or probably someone. I choose not to think more about it and release my arrow. I stop running as the lynx falls down on the forest floor, dead. I take careful steps towards its dead body and as I get nearer and nearer, the sound of sobs fills my ears.
A little girl around six or seven years old wearing a light blue dress is weeping in her hands. I rush to her side. I quickly notice the blood staining her dress. There's a rip close to the hem of her dress and there's an awful scratch on her right lower leg. There is also a long scratch on her right forearm. The lynx attacked her that is the only conclusion I can think of right now. I place a hand carefully on her shoulder. She flinches and looks up at me. Her bright blue eyes are filled with tears.
"You're okay now. We'll just have to get your wounds treated." I tell her in the most comforting way I can manage. I brush the leaves stuck in her dark hair off. "Where do you live? I'll bring you back to your parents." She frowns and shakes her head.
"My mother will get mad…" She says and wipes her nose with the back of her hand.
"That's better than your wounds getting infected." I tell her and she gives me a hard look. I cannot really tell if she is trying to glare at me. Her eyes just look so soft, she can never look threatening even if she tries her best.
"I was told not to talk to strangers." She says and I smile. This girl seems to be stubborn. There's fire in her… that reminds me of a certain someone. She tries to look tough but her tears keep streaming down her face anyway.
"I'm sorry then little miss. But I'm no stranger to you now after all I'm your savior." The stiffness in her features vanishes and she looks up to my eyes.
"I'm scared mister… I thought my mother would be here that's why I went here alone…" I hesitantly reach out and wipe the tears of off her cheeks.
"I'm more worried about your wounds. You'll be fine but we better get you back to your mother. Don't cry now. I won't leave you." She smiles at me and nods. For a moment there, I can swear that I see Prim and not this girl.
I take my bottle of water out and clean her scratches with water for the mean time. The scratches are not that deep but they still come from a wild animal better get these treated as soon as possible. She seems to be watching me. I'm glad that she doesn't seem to feel like I'm some creepy guy wandering in the forest but maybe the fact that I saved her is enough for her to see me as a good man. Good. Who am I trying to fool? A good man wouldn't be the murderer of the sister of the girl he loves. I stare at her wounds for a moment wishing I have something to wrap them up with.
"Do you live here, mister? Where is your house?" She asks curiously as she looks around. I shake my head "no" at her. "So what are you doing here?"
"I was hunting." Her lips made an "o" shape and she giggles.
"I thought it was my mother who shot the cat." She says and I stiffen. "She is very good at shooting! I want to be as good as her once I get bigger!" I watch her eyes shine brightly. I just smile at her and pat her head.
"I'm sure you will." I gather her in my arms and stand up. I hear her giggle.
"You are so tall! When will I get as tall as you are?" I cannot stop smiling around this child. She is just so innocent.
"Soon enough. How old are you anyway?" I ask as I start to walk back to District 12.
"6!" She informs me. "May I know your name, mister? I will give you something in return once we get home." She promises me.
"Gale. And you don't have to. You're a nice company that's enough to repay me." She is quiet for a while.
"Gale… Gale… Gale… I've heard of that name several times before." She says.
"Really? Where? Could I be famous?" We both laugh a little.
"Will you give me your name since I've already given mine? Or… you want me to call you little Catnip?" She laughs and it really sounds good to my ears.
"My name is Katherine Mellark!" She says proudly. I stop walking. The wind suddenly feels cold to my skin and my grip on this girl tightens. There is no doubt about it now. This girl is Katniss and Peeta's daughter. She just stares at me in pure wonder why I suddenly stopped walking. "Mister?" I shake my head and force out a smile.
"Sorry. I just thought of something." I say and continue walking. My heart just broke. What am I talking about? It has been broken since ten years ago. The pieces of what is said to be my heart is shattered to tinier pieces after that revelation. How can I face Katniss now? I don't even know how she will react once she sees me carrying her daughter. My chest tightens. I don't think I can bring this child home. It just feels wrong… and too painful for me. But I know I cannot just leave her or drop her to someone she knows. Doing that, will just be wrong as well.
We are getting closer and closer now to Victor's Village. I know I can still get out of this but… I cannot really leave this child right? What am I being a coward for? I just saved their daughter's life. But I also don't think that's something for me to brag about. I take deep breaths to calm myself but with each breath I take, my heart pounds faster and louder against my ribcage. I did not plan for us to meet like this. It just doesn't feel right at all.
"Do you know my parents, Gale?" Katherine asks me.
"Yes. They're famous, aren't they? Of course I know them." That's the only thing this child needs to know. She doesn't need to know that I was once a big part of her mother's life until I killed her little sister. Yes. This is really wrong. I shouldn't be here holding Katniss' daughter with the same hands that created those bombs that killed Prim. These hands of a… murderer…
I almost feel like I'm choking. What will this child think if a grown up like me just cries his heart out? I try to keep the tears hurting my eyes at bay. I can just hope that no one is home and I can leave her to herself in their house.
"Gale! You know I'm having a baby brother soon!" Katherine says happily.
"That's great. Take good care of him okay? I can tell you'll be the best older sister." Just like your mother. She grins at me. It's almost funny how I'm here being best friends with Katniss' daughter while she might be hating me out there with every fiber of her being.
I can see the luxurious houses of Victor's Village now and I know there is no escaping this encounter.
Katherine opened the front door of their house. "Come on inside, Gale." She invited the tall dark-haired man standing at the doorway awkwardly.
"I cannot really stay longer. I'm sorry." Gale Hawthorne felt a stab in his heart when he saw the disappointment written all over the little girl's face.
"But… My mother has to know you saved me." She insisted and took hold of his hand.
"She doesn't really need to know. I have to go. Take care, okay?" He took an unsure step backwards but the girl held onto his hand tightly.
"Will I see you again?" She asked hopefully. He just gave her a ghostly smile. He couldn't really promise anything to this girl.
"Katherine? Is that you, sweetie?" Gale froze on his spot upon hearing her voice. He felt like running away but he knew that will be just idiotic for him to do.
"Yes, mommy!" Katherine held onto Gale's hand tightly. The girl wanted him to meet her mother so badly.
Gale took a deep breath and tried to compose himself as he saw her emerge out of a room. Gray eyes locked with gray eyes. Katniss Mellark stood there, rooted on her spot upon seeing him. Her mouth was hanging open and her eyes were starting to water.
"K-Katniss…" Gale wanted to greet her as warmly as possible but he still failed to do so. He watched her placed a hand over her swollen belly and the other went up to her chest as if she was trying to calm the erratic beating of her heart. He started to feel guilt consuming him alive. Katniss was heavily pregnant. For him, this was the least desirable moment for them to meet. He thought that it will be bad for Katniss and the baby she was carrying at the moment meeting him like this. It might upset her greatly.
"Gale…" He wasn't sure if she really said his name because it was too soft.
"Mom!" Katherine tugged on her mother's dress to get her attention but Katniss couldn't take her eyes off of the man standing at their doorway. "This man helped me! A wild cat attacked me in the forest." Katniss snapped out of it upon hearing the words wild cat and attack. She quickly assessed her daughter and winced at the sight of the scratches.
"I t-told you…" Katniss' voice was shaking. She was looking down at Katherine but it seemed like she was talking to someone else. "I-I… I t-told you n-not… not to go in the f-forest!" She tried to sound angry and reprimanding but her crying didn't really help her.
"I-I'm really sorry, Mom… I won't do it again. I promise!" Katherine looked teary. It wasn't because she was scared of her mother's wrath rather she thought that she was the cause of her mother's uncontrollable crying. "M-Mom… I'm really sorry. P-Please don't cry…" Katniss tried her best to calm herself but her tears kept coming like an unstoppable waterfall.
Gale felt like the air from his lungs was being sucked out with every second that passes. He couldn't stand seeing Katniss like this. He knew she was crying because of him. The pain on his chest was getting more and more unbearable with every tick of the clock.
"I'm sorry, Catnip." He said loud enough for her to hear. "I-I'm sorry." He turned his back to the mother and daughter and walked away.
"G-Gale!" He stopped in his tracks but didn't look back. "Don't go…" It was none other than Katniss. He turned back to her. She was standing at the doorway. Her form was shaking because of the force of her sobs. Her long dark hair was in her usual braid and her gray eyes looked as fiery as ever. Gale looked down at his boots. The tears in his eyes were starting to fall. He chewed on his bottom lip, refusing to look at Katniss. But he took long strides towards her and once he was in front of her, he placed a hand behind her head gently and pulled her onto his chest.
She cried on his shoulder, clutching on his arms and he shamelessly cried with her. They could hardly care if Katherine was confused of what was happening. "I'm sorry." He whispered on her hair and kissed her forehead. He didn't need to say anything more. He knew that Katniss knew what his "sorry" meant. It was not just about Prim's death. It was not just about him leaving her alone in her darkest hours. It was not just about the strong bond they have lost. It was for every single thing that they failed to do for each other. They just stood there, crying and embracing each other. Katniss' mother walked in on them like that. She called her granddaughter and led her upstairs to give the two some privacy while she herself tends to the little girl.
"D-Don't go. Don't l-leave… Stay here p-please or else I-I won't forgive you." The look on Katniss' face said that she was very serious. Gale gave her a small smile as he pushed back some strands of her hair sticking on her face at the moment. He cupped her face in his hands and wiped the tears off of her cheeks with his thumbs.
"If that's what you want… I won't go." He said and his heart skipped a beat when she finally smiled at him. Her smile alone pieced back together his long shattered heart. He embraced her again just like how he would embrace a long lost family member, a long lost friend, a long lost lover. She might be Peeta's wife now. But he knew that she is still his little Catnip and that he will forever have a little special place in her heart. That was enough for him.
Later that night, Katniss Everdeen-Mellark felt the tell-tale jolt of pain on her belly. Her mother helped her go through the painful process of labor. Peeta was at District 11 at that time and he couldn't get back home until the next day. They didn't expect the baby to come so soon. They all knew that it was still quite far until her due date. But there was no use recounting when she should be giving birth, the baby was coming at the moment. Katherine stayed over Haymitch Abernathy's house because her mother's cries won't let her sleep and it scared her. Katniss was cursing Peeta all throughout the labor process that Gale could almost say that the baker was probably dead at that time if Katniss' curses could kill.
"I-It h-hurts…" She sobbed out and squeezed Gale's hand. He couldn't even feel his left hand now. His right hand already lay useless at his side thanks to his best friend's iron grip.
"Shuushhhh… It will be over soon, Catnip. You can do it. Just push a little harder." He said and kissed her forehead. He was very sweaty considering the fact that his hands were going through tough labor as well.
All the sweat and pain was worth it the moment Peter Mellark graced them with his presence and his loud wails. Katniss held her little baby boy close. Gale smiled at the scene before him. This was all he wanted for Katniss. He wanted her to have children and be happy regardless if she was with him or not. She looked at him. Her face pale yet beautiful. She gave him a smile and mouthed a "thank you" to him. He couldn't be happier. He got his precious best friend back. What more could he ask for? When Peter showed them his stunning gray eyes, they were all in awe. "Look, Pete. This man here is your Uncle Gale. You must keep in mind that his hands got broken to deliver you safely in this world okay?" Katniss said to her child softly. Gale couldn't tell if there were double meanings in her words. But he just smiled. The warm feeling in his chest just kept growing with each passing minute.
When Peeta got back home the next day, Katniss gave him the cold shoulder and because of that he and Gale almost got into a fight because Peeta got so irrational he started accusing Gale of many things. He stopped bugging Gale when Katniss threw the alarm clock at her bedside table at him. The baker turned to his wife with a confused look on his face.
"Stop bugging him. Our son and daughter won't be here if he didn't miraculously appear in the forest yesterday." There was a joyful smile on Katniss' face. She was more than grateful to have Gale back and around.
A year later, the hunter and the huntress wandered in the once forbidden forest of District 12 once again. It was the only time the forest seemed to be complete.
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