AN: Just a little something that I couldn't get out of my head.
I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?
Oh simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
And if you have a minute, why don't we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know
I'm standing at our spot in the woods, not even realizing that I stopped when I sense someone approaching from behind me. It's always been hard for people to sneak up on me, but ever since the arena — and the war — it's been nearly impossible. I turn slowly to face the latest threat, my hand reaching for an arrow. But when I see the person behind me, it's the most familiar of faces, although I haven't seen him in years.
"Hey, Catnip," he says, his voice shaking just enough for me to notice.
My mouth goes dry, a lump forming in my throat as my emotions battle for control. By the way he's smirking at me, the expression not quite reaching his grey eyes, I know he's experiencing my conflicted feelings as I work through them. He's always known me well enough to do that.
It's been years. He's older now, cleanly shaven. He's hair is shorter; his eyes are darker. But he's still Gale. I know every line on his face, every scar on his body. If he removed his shirt, I could trace the marks from the whipping he endured all those years ago.
If I close my eyes, I can still taste his kiss.
I can't breathe. I can't move. And I definitely can't get a grip on my emotions. A part of me wants to run straight into his arms and feel the familiar comfort of his embrace. I love Peeta, I do, but Gale … Gale is a part of me — a part that I've been missing ever since the war. It's like having a limb amputated: you know it's gone, but you can still feel it. I can feel Gale everywhere. I always could. Nobody, not even Peeta, knows me better than the man standing before me.
The other side, of course, is Prim. And the bomb — the bomb that Gale designed. I don't know if I blame him. I don't think I do, but I've never been able to separate Gale from Prim's death in my mind. When I think of her, I think of the bomb and then I think of Gale. And then I hate him. I hate him so much that I want him dead. Even now, I can feel my throat closing, my vision narrowing. I think I'm going to collapse before I feel a tug on my pant leg.
My daughter, Rose, looks up at me, "Who's that?" she asks, her small voice barely a whisper.
I don't know how to answer that question.
That's my best friend. My enemy. My soul mate. My betrayer.
I rest a hand on her dark hair and open my mouth to speak, but no words come out. Luckily, Gale steps in. He crouches down so he's at eye level with the little girl who is barely three. He reaches into his back pocket and produces a paper bag gives her a rare smile.
"I'm an old friend of your mom's," he glances up, catching my eye. Old friend – as in not new, not current. As in not anymore. "I had to come to your district on business and I heard it was somebody's birthday."
He takes a piece of candy from his hand and holds it out. She glances up at me in question and I nod slowly, encouraging her to go forward. She scurries over to him — so trusting — and snatches the candy out of his palm, plopping it into her mouth.
Then she reaches forward, placing a small, chubby hand on the side of his face, "What's your name?"
She considers this for a moment, "I like that name."
He grins, "I like yours, too, Rose."
He blue eyes widen. She turns from Gale, to me, and then back again, "How do you know my name?"
There's a pause. I wait for the answer because I'm wondering, too.
But Gale doesn't reveal his sources. He simply winks and hands over another piece of candy to my daughter, "Like I said, I'm an old friend."
This appeases Rose. It doesn't satisfy me, but considering I'm still unable to speak, it's going to have to do. Gale shifts so that he's sitting on the ground and Rose — so young and innocent that she can't imagine any bad in the world — crawls into his lap. Maybe, instinctively, she feels the same connection with this man that I always did. Maybe somehow she knows how important he is, how he knows every inch of me, how he's always been the one person I didn't need words with.
I watch them. And wait. I don't know what I'm waiting for.
"Where are you from?" she asks.
"Here," he catches my eye again, just for a moment, but we've always just needed a moment to communicate. He's from here — District 12 — but he's also from here: this very spot, this place that was ours, this place where we grew up and grew together. "But now I live in District 2."
Rose, ever curious, asks another question, "What do you do there?"
"A boring government job," he tickles her and she giggles. "You don't want to hear about that."
"Do you have kids?"
The question instantly takes me years in the past — I'm sitting next to Gale, the day of the reaping — and we're talking about children.
"I never want to have any kids," I say.
"I might. If I didn't live here," says Gale.
"But you do," I say, irritated.
"Forget it," he snaps back.
I finally find myself hoping with all of my being that he says yes. Gale would be an incredible father — strong, sturdy, protective. Caring. He took care of his family for so long; he took care of my family for so long. He deserves to be happy.
But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking that Prim deserved to be happy to.
"No," his answer is soft, but I hear it.
And I'm watching him with my daughter, who seems completely enamored with his existence, and I see tears in his eyes. I want to go to him, to stop the tears from spilling over. But then I taste salt on my lips and I realize that I'm crying, too.
"I knew you'd kiss me."
"How?" I saw. Because I don't even know myself.
"Because I'm in pain," he says. "That's the only way I get your attention."
Rose considers this for a second, "Are you married? Like mommy and daddy?"
I wince. A ghost of a smile reaches Gale's lips.
"No, I'm not," he shakes his head. "I work a lot."
"You should get married," Rose says decisively and then she's grabbing his hand, encouraging him to stand. "Have you ever had the good berries that mommy gives me?"
I inhale sharply, which is funny, because I didn't even know that I was breathing. Gale doesn't look at me this time and that says more than a glance ever could. It's too painful for him to look at me; it's too painful for me to look at him, too. Suddenly, I'm sixteen again, in the woods with Gale and I can't imagine anything ever changing.
"I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games!" He plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us. "And may the odds—" He tosses a berry in a high arc toward me.
I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. "—be ever in your favor!" I finish with equal verve.
"I could go for some of those berries right now," he tells her.
He bends down and she climbs onto his broad shoulders. He stands up carefully, her small hands inside of his, and walks over to a few of the bushes. Gale moves his hands to her legs, holding her steady as she reaches out to grab a few berries. She eats two and then reaches down, placing one in his mouth.
I'm bombarded with images: Gale and me eating berries, hunting, laughing. Being. Gale taking Prim away at the reaping, holding her thrashing body in his arms. Gale comforting my mother; Gale lying unconscious and bleeding on the table.
He was the one who took care of my family; he was the one who risked his life to go my family's room in District 13 and make sure everyone was safe. He saved Prim. He rescued my belongings, all the ones that meant the most to me.
He rescued me in a way, too. He was always rescuing me.
But his creation also took away the person I loved the most. I spent my life protecting her and ironically, the person who helped me ended up creating the bomb that killed her. I couldn't look at him anymore without thinking of her and thinking of her is too painful.
I don't want to do it anymore.
Sometimes I wonder if the only person that could heal me is the person I pushed away.
Suddenly, they are walking back toward me. Rose is on the ground again, one hand holding Gale's and the other clutching her bag of candy. Even when she gets close me, she stays at his side. In her eyes I see pure adoration.
My little girl has found her new best friend.
I know how her heart will break when he leaves.
He's smiling at me again, twirling a single berry in between his fingers. He holds eye contact as he tosses the berry off of his fingers. A silent question passed just between us.
"And may the odds—"
The berry is in the air and I'm watching it descend. My heart rate increases. I want to open my mouth. I want to catch it. I want to go back. In that moment, more than anything, I want to free him from the pain and guilt. I can see it in his eyes, the burden he's never stopped carrying. I know if I kissed him now, it would taste of regret.
I can't make myself move. The berry hits the ground with a soundless bounce and rolls slowly down the hill. I watch it until it comes to a stop and I'm thinking of Prim. Of how much she loved him, of her kind heart and innocence. She was so much like Rose.
Prim was gone. She couldn't forgive him, but I know that she would. You're being silly, Katniss, she would say, it's not his fault. And I know that's true. It's not. Gale might have designed the bombs, but he didn't know what they would be used for. He didn't know when they would fall. The boy who would've risked his life for my family would never hurt them.
But he did. Is that all that matters?
My head snaps up. All of the sudden, I don't want to lose the boy with the snares again.
"Gale…" my voice is a choked whisper.
But by the time I turn my head to where he was standing, he's gone. All that remains of him are his footprints on the ground and the bag of candy in my daughter's hand.
Gale is mine. I am his. Anything else is unthinkable.
Except that it isn't.