This is a One Shot of Gale's Point of View, having to watch Katniss in the arena.
Every day I tell myself that if I had known, I would have told her.
If I had known that the Capitol was going to rip Catnip from my grasp, then I definitely would have told her that somehow, somewhere along the lines, I had fallen in love with her. I hadn't known it myself until six months earlier, at the New Year. Darius had been flirting with her, as he so often does, asking for a kiss, and of course she was laughing it off. That was the night that I realised that I minded other men asking my Catnip for a kiss.
Just like every Reaping Day for the past few years, I had been preparing for my own name being called out through the microphone. The odds have certainly not been in my favour for a long time now. Forty-Two slips of paper threatening to rip me from the District and thrust me into the hands of the people I hate the most. The Capitol. Instead it had been one slip of paper that had caused my world to crumble. Hundreds of names in that bowl, and yet it had been Primrose who was called upon.
For one very selfish second I had hoped … hoped her voice wouldn't ring across the square. Of course my brief delusional was shattered in moments, and I was awash with guilt for that small hope. It would mean sending Prim to the slaughter. At least Katniss has a chance; a good chance, even if she doesn't realise it.
My second selfish thought of that day was that Effie Trinket would pull my name from the large bowl of male names. I knew that if my name were called, there would be nobody to volunteer for me. I would have to go into the arena, where I could keep her safe. Instead, it had been some boy with the surname Mellark. I only gave him a second glance because I trade with his father at the bakery sometimes. I could still volunteer, force my way into the Games …
The screen at the side of the stage had zoomed in on Katniss trying to look brave for the crowd, and then a shot of Prim clinging to Mrs Everdeen's hand, her face screwed up and wet with her tears. It was those few seconds of footage that made me bite my tongue. With Katniss gone, I had two families to care for now.
Going into the Justice Building was the hardest thing to do, knowing I had to say goodbye. I walk into the room and she's in my arms in an instant, so I hold her to me tightly, allowing myself that one brief moment. The words were on my tongue, but this was not time for last romantic gestures. This was the time to remind her she has to fight, to come out alive. All too soon the Peacekeeper was there to take me away and I hadn't even made a dent in what I wanted to say. I ask for more time, but he's shuffling me out of the door. There will be no extra squirrels for him in the weeks to come. Katniss was yelling at me, telling me to look after her family which is ridiculous, because she should have known I would do it. I couldn't stand it any more, and she had to know, but the Peacekeeper was yanking on my sleeve hard.
"Katniss, remember I-" The door slammed shut and the two final words were lost in my throat. Love you.
I had been forced to watch the Capitol parade her in front of the country, setting her alight in clothes of fire, making everyone see that spark that I missed so dearly in my life. The Mellark boy confessed his love for Catnip, for my Catnip, in his live Interview. Katniss' face gave me no clues as to the thoughts inside her head. I continued to hate this distance between us, seeing her only through the Capitol's eyes, where she is so guarded and closed off, showing only what she thinks the audience want to see.
I had never taken notice of the Mellark boy before, but now I certainly was. It was difficult to single out the boys at school who cast longing looks at Catnip. There had been plenty of them. I think the Mellark boy had been in her year at school, and I had noticed him a few times. Now that I thought about it, I do remember him glancing at her more than most boys. Of course, Catnip was oblivious. She was oblivious to a lot of boys and their feelings, I think bitterly.
The arena came and I was forced to watch her go through each trial that the Gamemakers threw at her. I cursed Haymitch under my breath when he sent her no water, wondering if he means to kill her before she's even given a chance, only relaxing when she finally comes across a small pond. I root her on at every minute that I have to watch, almost feeling her pain when the small girl dies in her arms. When Catnip sings, I shift uncomfortably, hating the people around me for being glued to the screen. This is a moment between Katniss and the young Rue, this is not for the Capitol or the Games, but a private moment that we shouldn't be privy to. If I weren't so full of anger, I fear I might have had to wipe away tears instead.
When I don't have school or mandatory viewings to distract me, I find myself in the forest, searching for her face in the trees, but finding only birds and squirrels instead. I don't have to think too much in the forest. I can allow myself to switch to autopilot, fixing snares and snatching up small animals in the brush. I try my hand at the bow, but my shots are never as neat as Catnip's, and the kills are always messy. People still accept them.
I spend most of my time with Prim and Mrs Everdeen, because I cannot stand the fleeting, pitying looks that my family give me. My mother always looking at me with worried eyes, asking me how I am coping. My brothers and sister asking me the questions that tear me apart. I have to remind myself that they are young, and they don't understand how it hurts me when they ask if Katniss will die today.
Prim and Mrs Everdeen don't do anything like this, they only hold my hand tightly and silently root Catnip alongside me. Prim confided in me that for the first few days she had been worried that her mother was lost again, imprisoned in her own mind. It was my first delivery of game that had woke her up, and made her remember Catnip's last cry. And Mrs Everdeen had pulled herself together for the sake of her youngest daughter. Although sometimes I glance over at her, and see that glazed look in her eyes, as if the clouds have rolled in. I do not blame her. I would resort to anything to not be able to watch Catnip suffer so much.
The Gamemakers' made the announcement of the rule change, giving everyone hope that we could have both District Twelve tributes back with us. She calls out Mellark's name in the forest, and I curse her in my head for being so stupid, and being loud in the middle of the night. For not calling my name. I notice the shift in Prim, her eyes flicking to me for a second and back to the television. I stare at the back of her head and wonder what she had been thinking, or what she might know.
The Seal shows on the television, signalling the end of the mandatory viewing, although it will return tomorrow. I say my goodbyes to Prim and Mrs Everdeen and return to my own house, to my bed that brings no sleep. I stare up at the ceiling in the darkness, playing that one moment over in my head. My Catnip calling out for another boy, the name blurting from her lips without her even thinking. Could it mean anything?
I should be happy that she can have another ally. But Mellark is injured somewhere and knowing my Catnip she will not leave him to suffer, but do whatever it takes to nurse him to health. Not to mention this is a boy who declares that he is in love with her. I think the largest horror of all would be seeing her reciprocate feelings for this baker's boy that she never knew before now.
Of course helping Mellark has to involve kissing him. I glare at the television in the corner, watching Katniss lean in and press her lips to his. It takes a moment, but I realise that I am watching her first kiss; with a feverish boy in the arena. It's not how I had pictured her first kiss to be, or who I had pictured it to be with. For the past six months I had fantasised of cupping her face gently in my hands and kissing her softly, making her realise her own feelings for me. The fantasies of a stupid boy.
I jerk to my feet and take a few steps towards the door, stopping and turning back. I pace for a moment or two, with Prim and Mrs Everdeen's gazes glued to me.
"Gale … are you all right?" Prim asks me tentatively.
"Of course I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be all right? She's safe … she's – she's-" I don't finish my sentence, because I forgot what words I had been going to say. Instead, I settle for sinking my fist into the wall at my side. Mrs Everdeen jumps and shrieks a little, her hand flying to her mouth, eyes wide in shock. "I'm sorry." I say, taken over with guilt. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to do that." I mumble, cradling my hand.
Prim sighs and walks over to me, taking me hand in hers and leading me to the kitchen. She cleans my hand and pulls out the few splinters that had found their way under my skin, wrapping it lightly to stop the blood. "I'm sorry," I mumble again.
"It's okay," she reassures me. "Just don't make a habit of it." She adds, and I actually laugh a little. Prim smiles tightly for a second, but her face falls into a serious expression. I sigh and pull her into a hug that I usually save for my brothers and sister. "It's not your fault," I murmurs, kissing her briefly atop her head.
"It is," she mumbles quietly into my chest, not wanting her mother to hear. "It was my name they reaped. If it hadn't been my name – if, if she didn't volunteer-"
"Then she wouldn't be Katniss," I cut her off sternly. "She is your sister, and she loves you more dearly than anything in this World. And that's exactly why she's going to return to you – to us." I say firmly, nodding.
"Do you believe that?" Prim asks me quietly, searching my eyes for an answer.
"Yes," I finally say, because I do believe it. I had only just realised it. I'm certain that she will return to us, because it's impossible to imagine a world where she doesn't exist.
We return to the other room just in time to see Katniss plant her lips quickly upon the Mellark boy again, and I can almost taste the bile in my mouth.
The cameras arrive the next day, ready for Interviews of family and close friends. Prim and Mrs Everdeen are first, and they make their way through the town, looking to speak to someone who had been close to Katniss. Everyone seems to point them in my direction.
The best part is when they mention that I am Katniss' cousin, something I had not been aware of.
I wonder who came up with the ploy, wondering if it may have been part of Haymitch's plan. They don't want any possible rivals or competition that might disrupt the Star Crossed lovers story, so I have to stand in front of the cameras and pretend to be related to the girl I love. It's the only thing I can do to protect her.
How I wish tearing through and destroying the Capitol was an option.
"What are your thoughts on this budding romance between your cousin and Peeta Mellark?" Cousin. The world seems so distasteful now.
"I never really saw it coming. A lot of boys had a crush on her, but she usually didn't notice." Even when they spend every Sunday with her in the forest.
The questions go on for a while but I give them nothing particularly interesting so they move on.
News travels fast about Katniss and I being cousins, and some of the girls I've had encounters with seem to creep up out of nowhere. A particular girl called Keeta is persistent in chasing after me, always somewhere nearby ready to flirt and give me her best seductive looks. A couple days after Katniss first finds Peeta, I have to sit and watch through the show mostly being about her and Peeta in their cosy cave. First she risks her life for a feast, and I was on the edge of my seat, with Prim clutching at my wrist so tightly there are still small bruises. She was almost killed by the crazy girl from Two, but was saved by Thresh. She returned to Peeta and collapsed beside him, after saving his life. I hate him for that. For somehow being important enough that Katniss would risk being killed to make him better. The two of them nurse one another back to health, and I want to watch less and less, declining into the chair. They kiss and tell one another sweet stories and I find myself boiled over with hurt, jealousy and anger.
The next day, Keeta appears from nowhere and I'm not sure what it is that makes me do it, but I grab her face and kiss her hard. The guilt strikes me almost as soon as her hot lips close in on mine, and I wonder what the hell I'm doing. I barely know this girl, I don't even remember the taste of her lips from the last time we had kissed. The kiss lasts only a few seconds before I pull away, shaking my head and backing off quickly.
"Hey! Where are you going?" she yells after me, but I'm already turning and running.
I duck under the silent fence and sprint into the trees, only slowing when I'm a couple miles from the fence, surrounded only by wildlife. I lean over to plant my hands on my knees, taking a moment to catch my breath, waiting for my panting to stop. Something moves a few metres from me, behind a tree. I stand up straight and bolt in that direction, pushing brush aside and shouting out Katniss' name.
The rabbit tries to skitter away from me, but it is trapped in a snare that I had set the day before. I remember that Katniss is not here, she is in an arena somewhere supposed to be fighting for her life and cuddling up to the son of a baker instead. She should be killing other tributes, not kissing them. I fall to the ground in a heap of misery, watching the trapped rabbit with curiosity, find myself wanting to let it free. Instead I kill it quickly and put it in my hunting bag, knowing that Greasy Sae will be thankful for some extra meat.
It's strange being the only one people depend on now, with Katniss gone from our lives. It reminds me of the days before I had met Katniss, just after my father had died. My family were wasting away; of course, my mother did all she could and worked all kinds of hours to try and feed us. But it was difficult with three children and another on the way. I still had school, I was too young to work in the mines, but my father had taught me a few tricks before the mine accident. He had started me off hunting when I was ten, showing me the best parts of the forest to hunt, teaching me what a snare was. My father only knew a few basic snares, but I took what he had taught me and expanded the knowledge into new, more complicated ones. At least I'll always know that that was one thing he was proud of me for.
I had hesitated for a long while, under the impression that surely without my father, I would be caught outside the fence in an instant. I changed my mind one night after helping wash the children. Rory had removed his shirt and I could see the outline of all of his ribs, could feel the ridges under the wash cloth in my hand. My little brother was wasting away before me, and I knew that I couldn't let it go on. The next day I took my first trip to the forest and caught a few squirrels. Mother had been furious, but eventually she came round to the idea of a full meal.
I drag myself from thoughts of the past and shoot down a squirrel from a nearby tree, dumping it in my bag along with the rabbit. I take them both to Greasy Sae, knowing that mother has a lot of meat still from my hunt the day before. I stop by the house to drop off my bag, make sure the kids are behaving, then I kiss my mother goodbye and drag my feet across town to the Everdeen house.
The announcement for mandatory viewing is made and we settle down in front of the television, ready for the day's events. The storm has stopped, and Catnip takes Peeta out hunting. When they are separated and she realises he has gone quiet, the cameras follow her running through the trees, calling his name. He is safe, of course, but I feel even worse than before. The way she had cried his name, how she ran for him frantically; I'm starting to wonder if maybe Mellark doesn't have any competition, like as she had said.
But I know my Catnip, and I know how hard her shell is. A few days in a cave is not enough to melt away that hard, protective wall she builds. She says such endearing things to him and kisses him so many times, but it makes no sense. The Catnip I know is sarcastic and unforgiving, so why is she so quick to reassure this Mellark boy? I begin to think that perhaps this is some ploy for the audience, playing up the Lovers. Or perhaps I'm just too stubborn to admit that I'm watching a girl find a boy she likes in some unusual circumstances.
When they kiss again, I notice the small smile on Prim's lips. It disappears quickly and she glances to her side at me, obviously hoping I didn't see. I'm beginning to think that I'm the only one not excited at the prospect of Catnip and Peeta returning home hand in hand. I just want my Catnip back, safe with us and without the baggage.
I don't allow myself to entertain the notion of her coming home, especially not the next night when we're introduced to the muttations. Frightening enhanced creatures that hunt down the tributes, back the last three up to the Cornucopia. When we see the mutts for the first time, Prim squeals and tears spring to her eyes. I have to pull her to my chest in an awkward hug, whilst keeping my eyes trained on the screen in the corner.
"Shh, it's okay. Our Katniss is strong, and quick. She'll be okay, she'll be okay." I murmur into the top of Prim's head, trying to believe it myself. She is strong and she is quick, and she makes it to the safety of the Cornucopia, scrambling on top and helping Peeta up there with her. Cato is waiting, and a struggle ensues. When he has a grip on Peeta and threatens to pull them both over the edge, I can't decide whether I want him to or not. Just this one boy who needs to die, and my Catnip will be coming home. If he takes the Mellark boy with him, I pretend that Katniss will be fine, she'll work her way through it and I'll be there the whole time. But somehow I know, that if the Mellark boy dies now, she won't be my Catnip any more. Not for a long time, maybe not ever.
The District Two boy goes over the edge and the mutts rip into him, whilst the three of us stare at the screen, watching the horror. It's Mrs Everdeen who speaks first.
"They did it. She did it." She whispers.
"She's coming home?" Prim asks quietly.
"She's coming home," I repeat, and suddenly I'm laughing. We're all laughing, and cheering, because my Catnip is coming back to us, our Katniss will be returning.
The Panem seal comes up on the television, and there's no more of the arena. We stop suddenly, staring at it.
"Why aren't they announcing the Victors?" Prim asks. "Mom, why aren't they saying it?" she begins to panic, looking frantically between the screen and her mother.
"I don't know sweetie, I don't know," Mrs Everdeen's voice breaks.
"Is that it for the night?" I mumble, mostly to myself. Do we just go to bed now and wait for tomorrow? As if I could possibly sleep now?
I have to return to my home, where my mother avoids my gaze and the children are already asleep. I lay in bed, tossing and turning and wondering what my Catnip is doing. If she has won, then we would surely know. So what is going on? The District Two boy had not been dead when the screen went off, he was still struggling.
Light filters into the room, and we've barely gotten ready for school when the announcement is made. School and work is cancelled for the day, and we must gather in the square for mandatory viewing of the Games. This means it is most likely going to finish today.
I'm surrounded by the people of District Twelve, and I have never wanted to be alone more than this moment. The square is silent as we watch Katniss take the final shot at the District Two boy, ending his suffering. I finally breathe, and even start to smile. There's the sense of relief in the square, and people start to relax. A murmur starts up in the crowd, I hear people talking about them coming home. The Lovers of District Twelve. I'm still watching the screen, where Katniss and Peeta are limping to the lake, waiting for the trumpets that do not come.
Everyone seems to realise this, because the cheerful murmurs are replaced with the confused ones. Where are the trumpets? Why aren't they announcing our victors? My eyes are locked onto Katniss' face on the screen, watching the display of emotion that she doesn't hide.
The second announcement. The last rule change has been revoked. There can only be one victor. There are gasps in the crowd, cries as they realise that either Peeta or Katniss must kill the other. There had probably been no plan to let them both win at all.
I stand stiff and grit my teeth, watching Katniss and Peeta argue it out. Just kill him and come home. Neither of them want to do it, and as much as I wish she would I know my Catnip. She won't kill him, not now. When she pulls out the nightlock I dig my nails into the palms of my hand, silently cursing her. If you do this, I will never forgive you.
They stand back to back, holding the nightlock in one hand and their free hands interlocked. They start counting back from three.
Don't you dare swallow those berries. Pretend to do it and let the Baker's Boy eat them.
They both lift their hands to their mouths, the berries touching her soft lips that I've never had the chance to feel.
I will never forgive you. Don't do it Catnip.
Claudius Templesmith starts speaking over them frantically, telling them to stop. They spit out the berries and wash their mouths, and she is alive.
"I give you – the tributes of District Twelve!" She is coming home, my Catnip is coming home. Prim is suddenly at my side, a bright smile on her lips.
"She did it, Gale! She won!"
"They won!" Someone in the crowd shouts. Of course, it is not just my Catnip returning, but the Mellark boy as well. I have to wait to find out if there was any truth those supposed feelings, if there was a meaning behind those kisses. I'll have to wait to find out if there is a chance for my Catnip and I.