A/N: CATCHING FIRE. SOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOD. Asdfghjkl Someone go watch it again with me.
Finnick was perfect and Johanna was amazing and Beetee was great and every scene in the Games asfgjkl Mags dying asfgjf anythig with Peeta and Katniss ahajfkfj Haymitch ahdkg. Not gonna lie, my friend an I were holding hands for like half the movie because it was so intense.
So...this is a lot later than it should be. I'd blame it on two weeks in Europe, but really it's just my Homestuck obsession. Highly addictive stuff.
Okay, so I know this happens in stories a lot, but I saw it as a suggestion in one of Lemon-Made's reviews and thought it would actually be a good way to change her mind. So, this is me, giving one of the most popular after-the-books ideas a shot. With a spin ;)
After a week where carting around a baby is your normalcy, being without one is weird. I felt strangely exposed to not have Cassel strapped to my chest, in my arms, or laying nearby. Katniss acted like it didn't make a difference ("he's not our baby, Peeta. You're being weird"). She hunted, cooked, and slept like nothing had happened. It was starting to bother me.
"Oh, look. I packed one of Cassel's toys by accident." I hold up the toy goat for Katniss to see. Somehow it got tangled into one of my shirts. "Remind me to mail this back to Johanna."
"She's coming in two weeks, just give it to her then."
I frown, but try not to let Katniss see it. "Do you think she's bringing Cassel?"
Katniss shrugs, and walks out with the basket of dirty laundry. Buttercup follows her.
The doorbell rings.
"I'll get it." Katniss calls, since she's closer. I hear her drop the basket at the bottom of the stairs.
I can hear her gasp as she pulls the door open, and I button my shirt a little faster.
"Can I come in?" A familiar voice asks.
I know that voice. My fake leg slips as I race down the stairs but I somehow stay on my feet.
"No," Katniss says, before I even get down the stairs.
Katniss is subtly shifting her weight from the balls of her feet to her heels —the way she does when she's uncomfortable, uncertain, and a little scared.
Gale Hawthorne stands in our doorway. He's even taller than I remember, which doesn't seem fair. His hair isn't as shaggy as it used to be, and it's clipped shorter so it doesn't hang in his eyes. He's wearing a green button up shirt. Katniss's favourite colour.
He sighs. "Can I talk to you outside, then?" He runs a hand through his hair, over his face, and I see the grey bags under his grey eyes.
Katniss looks at me hesitantly, questioningly. I can feel my eyebrows furrowing together, drawing lower and lower. She squeezes my hand, because she knows what that means.
"Only if Peeta can come." Her grip on my hand is tight. I never realized she'd be this reliant on me if something like this happened.
Gale's gaze turns to me, and his eyes narrow, thick dark brows low. They remind me of the kind of strokes you get if you draw with charcoal.
He sighs. "Fine," Gale grits out.
He stalks off our threshold.
Katniss glances up at me, still gripping my hand. She's watching my expression.
"You don't have to take me if you don't want to. It's okay if you want to talk alone." Honestly, even though I know it will be extremely awkward, I don't want to stay inside. I trust Katniss, and I'm not jealous. I know she loves me. I just don't trust Gale. And there's a small part of me —the dark part that wants to kill her, or that gives me nightmares— that whispers "she only chose you because Gale was gone."
I know it's not true, but it still hurts.
Katniss shakes her head, squeezing my hand. "I want you to come." Then I see it in her eyes: she doesn't trust Gale anymore; he hurt her, and she doesn't want to be alone.
I pull Katniss to my chest. "Okay," I let go, starting for the door. "Let's do this,"
Katniss takes a breath, and then the stoic face I know so well slips into place.
Gale is pacing in front of our house. He hears us —well, me— coming, and glares at our intertwined hands (probably without realizing it). I drop Katniss's hand, because I know what it's like to see someone you love with someone else. I haven't forgotten what it feels like yet.
Gale frowns at me anyway. I guess he wants to tell her he's still in love with her or something, and I completely ruined his plan.
"I need to talk to you alone, Catnip. Please." He tries. I'm a little surprised at the emotion on his face.
She shakes her head in that stubborn way I know so well. "If you wanted to talk to me alone, you should have come three years ago."
Three years too late. Has it really been that long?
"Look, I'm really trying, okay? I've spent the last three years trying to forget you. I know you still blame me for a lot of things. I get it. I get that you never returned any letters. I know I'm ruining your perfect picket-fenced life by showing up here. I know that." Gale runs both hands through his dark hair, staring intently at the ground. He looks up, and his eyes are so hurt and pleading that I feel even worse.
"I can't take it anymore, okay Katniss? I can't stand not talking to you. And I know it's the last thing you want to hear, but I'm still in love with you. I think I always will be. And I know things will never be okay between us, but I can't stand the thought of not talking to you for another three years."
Katniss's thin lips draw into an even thinner line. Her grey eyes are shinny, like the road when it's raining. She subtly rubs the side of her finger with her thumb. It's one of the few tells I don't know.
"I can't, okay Katniss? I just need to talk to you. Just once. And then I'll go away again. And I won't come back. Not for another three years. Please."
"Gale..." She starts. Tears are welling up in her eyes.
I take a deep breath. I take Katniss's hand. "Katniss, I'm going to go make some plum pie, okay? Call me if you need me." I look straight into her eyes, so far into the grey, that I know she gets what I mean: 'I don't think I can watch anymore. I'm not leaving you. This is something you need to do. I'm right here if you need me. I'm not leaving you alone.'
She stares back. 'Okay. Don't leave. Okay. I can do this.' She takes a shaky breath and looks at Gale. Her fingers linger on mine and then she moves away.
I walk to the door and pull it open. Katniss is staring at me. She nods. I walk in and I close it.
It's a little scary to know that she's out there by herself with Gale, but I also know this is something we all need. Gale needs to talk to her without me there. Katniss needs to get her goodbyes out without me there. I need to trust Gale without me there.
I start baking.
The tray burns my hands. I stare at the window for another second, still debating it. Take a breath.
I peek out the window hesitantly, waiting for all my fears to materialize before me. Instead they're just standing there, two feet apart, Katniss holding herself. Gale's hands are hanging by his sides.
I push the window open and put the pie on the sill. I know Katniss will see it, sooner or later, and she'll know what it means.
'Hey. Are you okay? I'm good now. You can say goodbye. I'm waiting. There's pie. No rush.'
I try to sit down in the living room, but my leg won't stop tapping. I go back to the kitchen and glance out the window. Katniss is staring at the pie. She's not smiling, but her eyes are bright. She's nodding along to whatever Gale's saying.
Katniss sticks out her hand for a handshake. Gale takes her hand slowly. I'm starting to feel a little weird about watching this, so I try and sit in the living room again. Katniss walks in about two seconds later and wraps her arms around me. She breathes against my neck and grips me tighter. "Thank you,"
I wrap an arm around her waist. "It's okay." I take a shaky breath.
Katniss pulls back, brushing a piece of hair out of my eyes. I need to get it cut again.
"Is Gale still out there?"
She glances at the window and nods.
"Do you think...would it be a good idea to invite him in for pie?"
Katniss smiles uncertainly. "Probably."
I stand carefully and walk to the door. Gale's standing in our yard with his hands in his pockets, staring at our house. I can't place the expression on his face.
"Do you want to come in for some pie?" I ask in one of my softer tones.
Gale's grey eyes move to me. He hesitates, but he nods. I can tell he thinks it's a bad idea.
Katniss already set out three plates, like she knew he'd say yes. I was a little surprised, to be honest, but she knows him better than I do.
Or she used to, anyway.
Gale sits cautiously, careful not to touch anything. His movements are as silent as Katniss's.
I put the pie on the table carefully, slicing it and doling out the pieces. Katniss stares at my hands and Gale stares at the table. I know I've been in more awkward situations, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any.
I clear my throat. "How are things in District Two?" I ask, trying to break the tension.
"Fine," Gale murmurers.
"What are you doing over there?"
Gale sighs. He finally meets my gaze, "Look, Peeta. I appreciate what you're trying to do here; I do." He's making some hand gestures for emphasis. "But I really don't want to talk about it."
Well, he's definitely more direct about his problems than he used to be. And more talkative.
"Okay," I slide in to the seat next to him, keeping a careful distance as I adjust my leg. "What do you want to talk about?"
Katniss, who had recently picked up her fork and taken a couple experimental jabs at her pie, glances up. She shoots me a startled What are you doing? look.
I smile softly. It's okay, I know what I'm doing.
"Look, it was really nice of you to offer, but I think it would be best for all of us if I just went home."
Katniss glances up, her mouth wrinkled up slightly and a crease forming between her eyebrows. She doesn't want him to go yet, but she's not so sure she wants him to stay either. She catches me looking and drops her gaze to the table, hiding her expression. Like she's lying.
Gale starts to stand.
Words are pulling themselves together in my head, finding the perfect string of sentences to make him stay and defuse all the awkwardness.
Katniss beats me to it.
Her voice is a croak buried deep in her throat. She glances at me hesitantly. Is this okay?
I nod gently, reaching for her hand.
"Please stay," She whispers.
Gale's eyes are conflicted, and they remind me of the way the clouds look when a storm's brewing. He makes up his mind and slowly takes a seat.
"We haven't seen you in years," I say. "We have some catching up to do."
Somewhere in the next four hours we get Gale to open up. We move to the living room and just sit and talk. No one brings up the Games or the war or the fact that Katniss and I are married now. We manage to cut all that out of our conversation entirely, even though it hovers on the edges of sentences and words and is replaced by pauses.
We find out that Gale has been working high up in the politics in District 2, in peacekeeping strategy (something the sadistic side of me finds ironic). He doesn't tell us much about it, but he does manage to talk about a couple of his coworkers and the changes in District 2.
We tell him about Twelve.
Katniss talks about the woods and Greasy Sae and everything good that's happened in the past twelve days. I talk about Effie and Haymitch and the new shops and the bakery.
Eventually, we get to Johanna and Aspen and even Cassel, and Gale actually smiles at a fee of our Cassel stories.
Then he looks at the clock.
"The last train leaves in ten minutes."
Katniss's smile crumples. She grabs my hand and rubs my knuckles with her fingers. "Are you taking it?"
He nods. "I...I have work to do tomorrow."
So much for whisking Katniss away into happily ever after.
"Okay," She says. It's just one word, but I read a lot from it. She still doesn't want him to go, but she's reluctant to see him stay. She wants to offer for him to spend the night but is worried about what it means.
"We'll walk you," I say.
Katniss and I hate fog, for justifiable reasons.
I still haven't forgotten what the burning feels like, what the loss of feeling in limbs does to your head, or the terrified feeling you get from the tremors.
Gale's shoulders are hunched. Katniss walks in the middle, and I'm careful not to take her hand, even though I want to.
We reach the stop where Gale will board. He sighs.
I'm surprised when he hugs me.
"Thank you," He says, not exactly gruffly. I nod when he lets go and smile.
"Katniss..." He hugs her, too, which is even less surprising. I don't let it bother ms how tightly he holds her, or for how long she hugs back.
"Goodbye, Gale." She mumbles into his shoulder. Katniss lets go and looks at me. I nod. "You can come back if you want to."
"Thanks, Katnip." The train pulls in. "Bye."
He steps onto it. He waves. The doors close.
I grab Katniss's hand the second they do.
"I'm sorry-" I start.
Katniss cuts me off with a tight hug. "Thank you," She whispers.
I hold her, tightening my grip and burying my face into her neck. "It's nothing."
She pulls back. "It isn't." Katniss kisses me. "I love you."
"I love you too."
We walk back home, holding hands, and suddenly the fog isn't as scary anymore.