Author's Note-again, thanks for all the reviews and subs! I'm going to be out of town for a while so no updates for a while ):
Effie insisted we eat brunch with her, but we declined the invitation. Katniss was so eager to see Gale that we caught an earlier train than the one we'd expected. Still, Gale was at the gate waiting for us when we arrived, as if he'd known we'd be there.
He definitely looked different. In the five months since I'd seen him, I didn't know that it was possible for him to put on more weight and muscle. He was bulkier than before and hardly looked twenty at all. He could pass for at least twenty eight with his dark facial hair. Other than that, he wore a distinct gray uniform with pins and medals on it. In his wide stance he showed off his shiny boots; he also held a gray cap behind his back.
"Hey, Catnip." He grinned, taking her into a hug. I smiled watching Katniss wrap her arms around her best friend. I looked into Gale's eyes; at first, I saw a cloud of memories cover his vision, but he shook his head and pulled away. "You look good." He said, tugging a lock of her hair. "Good to see Bread Boy has been taking care of you."
I chuckled slightly. "Always good to see you, Gale." We shook hands and linked eyes for a little bit. In his there was a flash of regret and worry, but I ignored it.
"Well, come on; I've got lunch on the table at home." He said gruffly, picking up Katniss's bag. He offered to carry mine, but I shook my head and picked it up myself. He offered Katniss his hand, but she ignored it and went by my side. Even though I knew there were no feelings between them anymore, I still felt good about that one.
Gale lived in a large complex; his place was on the top floor. It was huge; I guess that's what you get for being a high ranking officer. Immediately I saw the pictures of his family, still living in District 12. There was also a newer one, obviously from when his family visited Gale; Rory was now fourteen and resembling his brother more and more every day. Vick still had a boyish pudgy face, and Posy was still tiny. Hazelle looked a little less stressed.
Gale saw me looking at the pictures. "Rory's going to come up soon. He wants to start training."
"Isn't he a bit young?" Katniss asked, frowning.
Gale shrugged. "He wants to go into military school. I won't stop him."
We walked further down and got into the kitchen. It was all metallic and shiny. A bowl of fruit sat in the middle of the table; it was clean. In fact, it was way too clean for just a guy living on his own…
And then I remembered Johanna. Wasn't she living here?
"You clean up nice, Gale." Katniss said, sitting at the table, poking at a banana. "What's with the décor?"
Gale turned red. "Uh, about that…"
I heard the voice I hadn't heard in a while and froze. She'd been a cellmate to me. She was my only link to life. When I felt so close to death, she'd whisper those words I needed to hear so much…
My head leaned against the cold wall. It was thin, and I felt as if I could hear her deep breaths through the paste. I coughed blood for the tenth time; that was it. I was close to death. Katniss, I thought. I couldn't protect you.
They were trying to cloud my vision, but I wasn't taking it. I knew they were going to just strap me down eventually, but the torture would last until I gave out. Part of me just wanted to die before I could think badly of her. I could never think that way about Katniss. I loved her too much.
"Don't you give up on me now, Peeta." A voice wheezed.
I pressed my face against the wall. "I can't do it." I croaked.
"Where's the victor now, Peeta? You have something to live for. Live for her." She scratched out.
I gasped inwardly. "Who?"
Her voice wheezed again. "Katniss…live for Katniss…"
Her hair was longer now; it was in a bob that stopped at her chin. She effortlessly walked into the kitchen and leaned against the metal wall, a smile on her face.
"Well, look who it is." Johanna Mason said triumphantly.
Katniss's jaw dropped. "Johanna? What are you doing here?"
Johanna slipped into the seat next to Katniss. "No one told you? I live with Gale." She said. Johanna picked up an apple and looked to me, nodding. "Hey Peet; you look better."
I nodded at her and smiled; something seemed so good about her. The Johanna we'd known was sullen and angry. This Johanna was smiling and filled with life. Part of me felt that it had to be because she had something to live for. It was obviously Gale, who she eyed curiously.
"You too, Jo. Your hair looks good." I commented politely. My eyes flickered towards Gale, who curled his hand into a fist.
Maybe she wasn't the only one with feelings then.
"So, you've come to visit me?" Johanna asked, grinning. Somewhere deep down I knew she and Katniss had become good friends. Katniss grinned slightly and leaned towards her, nudging her slightly.
"Not at all." Katniss joked.
"You've come to help plan the anniversary then, haven't you?" Johanna asked, taking a bite. "I can't believe it's coming up so quickly. Nine months, wow." She whispered.
My head tilted. "Anniversary? What anniversary are we planning?" I asked. I knew what anniversary it was, but I didn't know why it was being celebrated.
Gale coughed slightly. "Yeah, I was supposed to talk about that with you, Peeta." He said gruffly. "Plutarch wants a televised tour of the newly reconstructed districts, just to install some hope within the people. You know, he wants everyone to see that we're coming along. At the end he wants a huge Victory ball." The words sounded wrong coming out of Gale's mouth.
"What does he want me to do about it?" I asked.
Gale shrugged. "We'll go ask him. He's in the main control building in the center of town." he said. "Come on, we'll go see him."
I was so used to just walking places, but Gale had a hovercraft to take us to the main control building. Inside, it was like a huge studio; I knew this was where they would shoot propos. A sick knot twisted in my stomach.
Plutarch stood at the base of the stage; a set was being arranged. It looked like a cozy room with a fireplace and chairs, but it was out of place in the dark studio. Plutarch turned and smiled.
"How did I know you'd be here?"