The Choices We Make
The fight was awful.
Arguing with Peeta had always been bad before, as rare as the occurrences had been. But now that we were an actual couple it was way worse. Add the fact that we were trapped in a windowless room together while the situation raging outside our building was assessed just multiplied the tension. I couldn't walk away to cool off and replay our words over in a new venue. Instead I had to sit hunched in the corner, hugging my knees to my chest as I tried not to watch Peeta pace back and forth in front of the door as he shook his head and shot disheartened looks at me.
Even as I stewed in my anger I knew I was being stubborn. All Peeta was suggesting was that I talked to Gale before he left, especially after what he had done for us. What infuriated me was how Peeta didn't seem to understand how disgusted I was at Gale for those very things. Gale had almost cost me everything, and I was just supposed to forgive him for foolishly tracking down a would-be assassin, endangering his own life and probably disrupting whatever plans Paylor had in place for their investigation (which, admittedly, is something I only thought of after Peeta repeated Ram's concerns)? I didn't even try to ebb my anger towards Gale and his actions, yet despite my intense revulsion towards him most of my frustrations were focused on the man I was trapped in the room with.
Peeta had called me irrational. The moment he said it he winced and apologized. He might as well have slapped me in the face.
Gale's bomb might have killed my sister. Gale's words had almost lost me Peeta. Gale was hot-headed and destructive and brazen and didn't think about what his actions did to others…
I bit my lip and struggled against the glaring comparison. I was certain that Gale was poison to me now. The happiness I had finally found, the future life I wanted to have, it felt so endangered with him around. Yet Peeta of all people seemed so adamant that I talk to him, even after I expressed I had no desire to do so ever. The way he kept persisting…it made me feel like my feelings were invalid or unjustified. The way he spoke to me made me feel like I was being crazy…like he thought I was crazy.
I brushed away a single frustrated tear. My head was covered and I didn't make a single sound, but I swear Peeta has some sort of sixth sense about that sort of thing. He immediately quit his anxious pacing and focused his attention on me. I kept my head down even when he took a seat close to me, partially due to my anger but mostly because I knew I wouldn't be able to bear to look him in the face.
"I didn't mean for this to cause an argument," he sighed. I kept to my stubborn silence.
"I just don't understand why you don't even want to discuss talking to him," he continued.
"I don't understand why you don't let this go," I responded bitterly.
"Well that's strange, seeing as how you don't ever let anything go," he stated offhand. My head immediately popped off my knees.
"And I thought you didn't want to cause a fight!" I spat venomously.
"At least I got you to finally look at me," he replied with a sad smile. I quickly opened my mouth to retaliate but no words came out. For once his tease made things worse, and I simply felt more frustrated and more cornered than I had before.
"I can't believe you're not on my side about this," I replied, finally narrowing in on the feeling of betrayal as the root cause of my despondence towards him. Another strong silence passed between us as Peeta figured this out before even I fully understood it.
"I am always on your side," he said firmly, placing a gentle hand on my arm. "You shouldn't ever doubt that."
"Then drop it," I demanded as I finally held his gaze with my red stained eyes.
"I will," he answered sadly. "But I can't be mad at him for what he did."
"You can't be mad at him?" I demanded. "We're locked up because of him! Who knows what kind of madness and terror is going on out there because he took matters into his own hands and pissed off an underground counter-Rebellion group?"
"That I'm not crazy about," Peeta replied calmly as he stood. "But it's also not what I'm talking about, and neither is it why you're really upset."
"What are you talking about?" I spat loudly.
"He didn't abandon you," he stated.
I froze, feeling like an arrow had just been shot threw my heart.
"He came to you when you needed it," Peeta continued, "Just like always. And I am grateful for everything he did and everything he said."
Once again I found myself speechless, unable to grasp what he had just proclaimed.
"You mean for everything he said about us? About you?" I exclaimed in disbelief as I stood. Peeta didn't answer right away, as though he were mulling over what to say next.
"I can't believe it! You almost left because what he said, and you're grateful for him?"
"Katniss…it wasn't Gale that made me pull away, you know that. He said and did what he did because he cares about you," Peeta said.
"He was trying to keep us from each other," I reminded him firmly. "And you agree with him!?"
"Part of me did," he admitted sadly. "Because there are parts of me I can't control. I hallucinate things, I black out and can't remember what happened, and I get violent when I do…"
"Stop!" I demanded, frustrated tears returning to my eyes as Peeta once again listed off the reasons he didn't think we should be together.
"I'm not saying he was right," he responded quickly. "Or that what he did is justified. All I know is I heard what he said today and I heard what he said that night. He did everything because he cares about you and wants you to be safe. I'm glad he was there to try and talk you out of being with me because he is the one person I know you'll take seriously about it. If you still want to be with me after he said his peace then I know you at least respect the risk and we can tread carefully together. And even if he didn't know everything and was convinced I was wrong for you I still can't resent him, because if our roles were reversed and I was convinced he was dangerous for you I would have tried to stop you too."
"Don't compare yourself to him," I choked, trying with all my might to block out what he was saying. "It wouldn't have been the same, but it doesn't even matter because we love each other."
"Gale loves you, Katniss."
"I am not in love with him!" I snapped desperately.
"But you do love him," Peeta stated calmly. "And we've lost enough people we've loved. I don't think we should shut them out if we still have a chance to have them in our lives, don't you?"
I was saved from having to answer that harrowing question when Mikael and Haymitch opened our door with small suitcases in their hands.
We were moved once more, this time to the outskirts of the Capitol to someone's country mansion. The exodus was extremely chaotic, as not only Peeta, Haymitch and I were relocated but all of the Representatives and their Entourages. We were taken to the place by Banner, our long lost Guide who seemed only slightly miffed that we were still alive. He took the three of us to a small suite with two bedrooms and informed Peeta that he was to meet the other Representatives in the study right away for an emergency session. He then told Haymitch and me that while we were confined to the grounds until further notice we were free to move about them as we pleased. That was less than I needed to hear to turn and walk out the door without saying a word.
Banner was the only one that commented on my rude departure as I pushed past him and sped out into the hallway. I ran passed Dover from Ten and what seemed to be his eight sons and nearly knocked into Starla from the Capitol as she complained about not being able to stay in her own home. I had to get outside. I needed fresh air and trees and a few moments to think so I could stop the spinning in my head.
But even when I made it to the yard I couldn't find what I was looking for. The breeze was filled with a pungent floral perfume that came from artificial sprayers around the stone wall. The trees were carved and painted to look like animals dressed as people. Though we were out of the city the bright lights still stained the sky making it easy to see despite the late hour, and it was then that I realized that I hadn't seen a single star since we had left District Twelve.
My chest cramped at the thought. I would have given almost anything to be back in my woods, hunting through proper trees and earning my food rather than being served it. I wanted Sae's stew and Delly's mint lemonade and real, rustic bread cooked by Peeta's hands. I wanted my clothes to smell like Hazelle's homemade laundry soap and Buttercup because the clothes basket was his favorite place to sleep.
God I missed my cat.
I walked the grounds in a daze, realizing it had been nearly two months since we had left. Dr. Elias of all people had offered to take him in for the time we were away, but I couldn't help but wonder if he felt abandoned. Buttercup had been through his own hell and deserved more than that.
Another wave of sorrow crashed through me as I thought about abandonment and what people deserved and all of what Peeta had said.
I felt wretched. I was angry and vulnerable and on the brink of tears. I hated myself for how I had just treated Peeta. The pearl was in my hand before I even realized it, rolling it back and forth between my fingers as I thought miserably about what had happened. I knew Peeta was just trying to help me, and the fact that he continued to try even though he knew I would get angry actually made me love him all the more. And the fact that he was pushing me to make amends with Gale after everything that had happened between the three of us, when I had chosen Gale's hand over his so many times before…
I thought about the crippling jealousy I had felt when I had walked in on Peeta holding Delly, or the rage that built in my chest anytime Starla flirted with him to get his vote. Peeta was nice to Starla as he was everyone, but he always pulled away from her as soon as politely possible and avoided her all together whenever he could. And Delly had only ever been a friend, a friend to both of us, and she had only been comforting him that intimately because I couldn't. Because I had been the problem. There was no cause for me to be jealous because for some insane inexplicable reason Peeta only ever had eyes for me.
I however could not say the same thing. Peeta had every right to want me to stay away from Gale. I had actually kissed him. I had almost run away with him. I had chosen him…loved him…
The thought felt so dirty for me to admit. I wanted so much to deny it now, but I could not run away from the fact that I had loved Gale as more than a friend. It was a different love than I had for Peeta, which was one of the reasons I had never really connected the feelings, but it had been love. The kind of love that might have been all I would have let myself know. If things had gone differently he and I probably would have…
But they hadn't. Things had happened as they did. Each one of us had made our choices, and it was our choices, not our birth place or social stations or even what we thought we would do, that really mattered. Our choices defined us and made us who we were. And Gale's choices and who Gale was, though so similar to me, was not what I wanted or needed in the way I wanted and needed Peeta. There was no doubt in my mind about that.
But there was doubt about wanting him at all. My heart crushed into my chest as I remembered how it felt to wake up in District Twelve, utterly alone and broken and wanting nothing more than to die alongside my sister. My mother had given up on me and the entire life that she had known and fled to District Four. Haymitch barricaded himself in his house and nursed his own demons. At the time Peeta had been locked away and I didn't even know how to ask if he would ever be set free.
But Gale still had family in District Twelve. Gale still had a home he could have rebuilt there. Gale was free to move around as he pleased. And yet he never once came back. He called on his mother sporadically, but even she was surprised at his severe separation after the Rebellion. He left his brothers and sister to grow up on their own, and he left me. It was probably his bomb that had killed my sister, and even though I know he never meant to hurt her, that he would never have had hurt her, he had made his choices. Yet while that was something that would haunt me for the rest of my life, I would have given anything to have had him there with me than to have lost every single thing good in my life that I had before Prim's name had been called for the Games.
My whole family would have died off long ago if it weren't for Gale. Gale had been a fire that kept me going in the dead of winter. He had been the person who knew me better than anyone once upon a time. And despite everything that had happened between us, there was a part of me that was missing without him in my life.
A life, as Peeta said, that had already lost so many people that it loved.
I took a deep, floral infused breath as I recognized that now might be my last chance. If I ever wanted to try and make amends with Gale it had to be tonight. As far as I knew he was imprisoned along with me at this vast estate while the government tried to read the situation in the Capitol. Yet even knowing that it still might take hours to find him. The mansion was huge and the grounds were vast. How would I be able to find him before they enforced some kind of curfew on us or let us go?
And then I reached the top of the hill that I had been climbing, and saw the thicket of trees, real actual trees, and exhaled.
I found him almost immediately. It was surprising as he was usually so quiet, so lethal in the forest that I was rarely the one to find him in our hunts. But he was dressed in his shiny leather shoes that kicked up the dirt as he walked, and instead of a bow in his hands he held a shiny sleek communicator which, according to his curses, wasn't working.
"You should try climbing a tree," I suggested as I stepped silently out behind one. "You might get better reception."
Gale turned around in shock, his face stunned as though he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"Katniss?" he implored. "What are you doing here?"
I narrowed my eyes at his question.
"I don't know. Some idiot risked his life by catching the man who tried to kill me, and now apparently the streets are ripe for a counter rebellion," I stated flatly, the idea both so terrifying and so asinine I didn't even bother processing it.
Gale stared at me, and even though I'm sure he couldn't figure out how, he knew I knew it had been him.
"If you've come to chew me out you need to get in line," he stated bitterly.
"You know I've never been very patient with lines," I quipped back. "You could have gotten yourself killed."
"But I didn't. Not even close," he replied with a hint of pride. "Besides, why would you care? I thought you didn't ever want to talk to me again."
"That doesn't mean I want you dead," I answered softly. Gale stared at me for a moment, and the way his piercing grey eyes bore into mine caused my heart to skip. I remembered how much comfort I used to take from those eyes, how often they were the only thing that made me smile. It was easy to recall why I had felt so strongly for him as we stood in the woods, our element, our home.
A violent buzzing sound sliced through the air as Gale's communicator began to ring. He tore his eyes away from mine to check the device. My pulse immediately returned to normal.
"I don't have time to argue with you right now," he said sadly, even though he slipped his phone into his pocket without answering.
"Seems to me like we've got nothing but time stuck in here," I countered.
"What do you want me to say, Katniss?" he demanded roughly. "I did what I had to do. It's my job."
"Yeah, well your boss didn't seem to think so," I spat. Once again Gale looked stunned at my possibly being able to know about the fight he had with Ram, yet once again he didn't comment on it.
"My job is to keep Panem safe from slipping back to the way things were," he defended loudly. "Which includes taking down counter-rebellion terrorists."
"And you're the only one who has that job?" I asked, my voice wavering as I suppressed my fear and anger.
"That man tried to kill you. And Peeta and Haymitch and God knows how many others," he snapped. "And you know what else? Paylor knew where he was before I did and she did nothing!"
"Don't you think there might have been a reason for that?" I inquired. Gale winced in offended shock.
"Since when the hell do you think like that?" he demanded. "The old Katniss would have been right there with me, aiming an arrow at his heart."
"The old Katniss killed way too many people," I said solemnly. "And she usually never read people's motives right. I've learned to accept people's actions who I trust, even when I don't understand them. And I trust Paylor with my life."
"You trust Paylor?" he repeated with a scoff, pacing irately as he wound himself tighter and tighter. "She's a Capitol now. She may not have always been but she sure as hell is now. This place and everyone in it is so fucked up that it deserves to be…"
Gale froze before exhaling a shaken breath. I watched him turn back and forth briefly, cradling his head with clenched fingers just like Peeta did when he had one of his spells. The comparison caused me to go to him and place a gentle hand on his shoulder. Gale pulled his hands away and looked at me in amazed confusion. He straightened out and took a seat on a large smooth rock behind him.
"That haunts me every day," he whispered, staring at his hands. "You have to know that."
"I know," I replied gently as I took a seat next to him.
"And I couldn't come back to Twelve after everything. I couldn't stand the idea of you looking at me like you are now."
I turned my face away, knowing that the sadness and anguish and anger I felt when I thought about Prim's death showed clearly on my face, like it must show every time I saw Gale.
"I know there was no way for you to know she would be there," I struggled slowly. "I didn't even know."
"But you hate me for it anyways," he completed.
"I don't hate you, Gale. Not even a little bit," I replied honestly as I turned to face him. "I am so tired of hating and being so angry. I can't be that kind of person any more. Not if I want any chance of life turning out to be good."
"What makes you think life could ever be good?" he asked without a hint of malice.
"Peeta," I answered simply. "He never gave up hope, never gave up on me. I don't know how he didn't or where he finds the patience or how he does all the things that he does, but he just infects everyone around him with goodness. Somehow he makes even being here in the Capitol feel like being at home. And that's something I never thought I'd have."
Gale nodded at me with a sad smile on his face.
"You really love him," he stated again.
"I do," I replied immediately. "And with everything that has happened I can't believe that I can feel the way that I do. I'm glad that you can still fight, that you can channel what happened into keeping the country safe, but I can't do it anymore. I should be dead or catatonic or heavily medicated, but against all odds I'm actually happy. And if I want to stay that way and have a chance at building a good life I have to move past all the anger I have."
"I'm proud of you, Katniss," he said. "I really am. And you deserve nothing but the best and a long, peaceful life with him."
"Thank you," I replied, not sure what to say next. We both sat there in silence for a while, watching the leaves twirl in the wind.
"We've both really changed, haven't we?" he asked as he pulled his communicator out of his pocket.
"We've grown," I corrected. "Adapted."
Gale laughed softly at my comment.
"You've grown a hell of a lot better than I have," he stated. Again I wasn't quite sure what to say, and simply watched Gale flip his device in his hands.
"You could always come home, you know," I told him with a dried throat. "Back to Twelve I mean. It's already changed so much for the better and I can't wait to see what it's like now. Rory's gotten so big, he looks just like you when we first met. And Vick is totally love sick with his new girlfriend and Posey, little princess Posey of all people wants me to teach her how to hunt!"
Gale smiled, undoubtedly knowing all of this already via his mother, but he indulged my tellings.
"They miss you, Gale," I continued earnestly. "And so does your mother."
"And what about you, Katniss," he inquired almost roughly. "Do you miss me?"
I kept quiet for a moment, annoyed by his reaction and had an immediate desire to lie. But then I thought about the fight I had with Peeta over how angry I was with Gale. I had always allowed my anger to mask the hurt and vulnerability I felt, and only Peeta could get me to see past that. And Gale, as far as I knew, didn't have a Peeta to help him balance and see straight.
"I do," I said determinedly. "And I wish things hadn't turned out the way they did. We used to be so close. Back before the Games you were the only thing that ever made me smile."
Gale stared at me, his eyes flickering back and forth as he read over what I had just said. I held my breath, realizing that there were a million different ways he could interpret it.
"Before the Games," he repeated distantly, even though we both knew what that really meant was "before Peeta".
"I miss you too, Katniss," he finally admitted. "It's been…very hard for me to deal with, but I've been able to move forward with my life. I've got a job that I'm good at and people in my life that don't remind me of what was."
He flipped open his communicator and showed me a picture of a fierce looking woman with long, curly dark hair.
"She's beautiful," I stated, feeling a lot less than I thought I would yet more than I wished I did as I recognized what she meant.
"We live together," he informed stoically, almost as if he were giving his statistics to the census board.
"What's her name?" I inquired lightly as I passed him back the picture.
"Rosewood," he said shortly. "She's Ram's daughter."
My lips parted slightly as I took in that information. I wanted to ask questions, like which one he met first, his boss or his boss' daughter, how long had they been together, were they in love, yet his lack of interest in continuing the conversation answered more than I would ever dare to ask.
"I'm glad you found someone," I stated politely. Gale chuckled as if he didn't buy it. We sat there in silence once more, and as the sky never darkened further due to the bright lights of the city I couldn't say for how long.
"Can I ask you something," Gale finally inquired. "And I don't want you to take this the wrong way, it's just something I really need to know."
"Okay," I stated hesitantly, already dreading the direction of the conversation.
"If I had gone back to Twelve after everything, would it had made a difference for us?" he asked.
My heart clenched at the question. It was one that I avoided thinking about. It was one I could sometimes tell was on Peeta's mind, especially tonight. It was a "what if" scenario, and I could never afford to let myself think about those. My sanity was fragile enough.
But Gale had asked, and I had always been honest with him. I owed him as much to tell him the truth.
"Romantically in the long run, no," I stated firmly.
The ends of Gale's lips flicked upwards, as though he thought that's what I would say.
"You and I are too much alike. Together we would have been volatile. And while there would undoubtedly have been some good moments, in the end we would have destroyed each other, probably to the point where we would have been ruined from ever finding someone else," I continued. "You and I need someone who can contain our fires, like Peeta and Rosewood."
Gale chuckled again, and I couldn't help but feel like Rosewood might not be the balance for Gale that I hoped she was.
"I thought so," Gale concurred. "It's another reason why I stayed away. I just had to ask because I hate the thought that I ran away from us."
"Just because we shouldn't be together romantically, doesn't mean we shouldn't still be friends," I pointed out.
"Yeah?" he asked skeptically. "Do you think you could ever get over what I've done to you?"
I bit the inside of my cheek and I chewed on his question. Gale had done a million things to me, both big and small. The majority of them had been amazing, and I knew I wouldn't be alive and as strong as I was without him. In a way Gale and I were essentially the same person, and it was all too easy for me to see myself on his same path, making the same choices he had. Yet again his choices were what drove a wedge between us and what made me think about him in a different way. His "win at all costs" attitude which had stunned me during the rebellion was still all too apparent on him. With the exception of Prim, he was unforgiving for his stance. It was, in his mind, the right way to be.
I could have all too easily have believed that too. People were untrustworthy and you had to do what you could to survive. And yet the moments that I thought like that, acted like that, were the ones I was most ashamed of. Zero sum games extinguished and ignored acts of hope and kindness, and I had learned that this goodness was what made life worth living for.
It was then that I realized that the best choice I had ever made was Peeta. When I was too lost to make any kind of decision, let alone the right one, he held my hand and guided me until I found myself. I suddenly felt the desire to rush out of the woods and find him, but I knew he'd want me to finish my peace with Gale first.
"With a little more time I think so," I answered honestly. Gale's eyes widened, and I found I rather liked that I had become unpredictable to him. "Do you think you'll ever get over what I've done to you?"
"I don't know if I'll ever fully get over you," he replied, grinning as he gently squeezed my hand. "But I'd like to think we could still be friends. As long as Peeta was okay with it."
"Peeta's actually the one who wanted me to talk to you," I admitted, squeezing his hand back. "I started a big fight because I didn't want to have anything to do with you, but he defended you until the end."
"I maintain my life would be a hell of a lot better if he were easier to hate," he proclaimed, shaking his head.
"I could actually see the two of you getting along," I stated cautiously. "Maybe the two of you could even be friends?"
"One thing at a time, Catnip," he grimaced playfully, standing to his feet. I rose with him, and without a second thought I pulled him into a hug. He replied back warmly, though pulled away after a few seconds.
"You should go find him," Gale encouraged. "Make up. Give him a big kiss from me and let him know I was wrong about him."
I laughed at his suggestion which made Gale smile genuinely. I wanted to hug him again but could tell he too needed a little time.
"Promise you won't be a stranger," I asked, tucking my hair behind my ear.
"I promise," he nodded, though he immediately averted his eyes as his communicator buzzed again.
I smiled at him once more, before turning and sprinting back to the mansion.
The grand doors to the study swung open after about twenty minutes of me pacing in front of them. My adrenaline still pumped as though I had been running that whole time. I pushed through the crowd of Representatives and Capitol politicians until I found Peeta wrapping up a discussion with Paylor. His face immediately dropped with concern as he saw me rushing toward him. With no other precursor and dozens of the most powerful people in Panem watching I threw my arms around his shoulders and kissed him.
Peeta's lips stumbled for a moment out of shock but quickly caught up with mine. We melted into one another, ignoring the cheers and comments from those around us. I didn't need to notice they all eventually filed away, leaving us alone in the huge, book lined study. We were the only two people in the world as far as it mattered.
"What was that for?" he asked breathlessly when we finally pulled away. I laughed when my initial response changed for a humorous one.
"That was actually a request from Gale," I stated with a grin. Before he could furrow his brow in further confusion I grabbed his face and kissed him again with exponential passion.
"And that was because I love you more than anything, and for being the best thing that's ever happened to me," I explained through panted breath.
"Well, seeing as that was two things…"
I giggled when Peeta finished his sentence by picking me up and seating me on the varnished mahogany table stacked with important looking documents. His hands slid all over me as we latched on to one another. Within a few minutes most of our clothing had been shifted off and I was moaning in pleasure despite knowing we had not locked the door behind us. I slipped into ecstasy again and again as he rocked his hips against mine and held me close. When he finally shuddered and moaned my name we laid completely in the center of the grand conference table, papers strewn everywhere including one which stuck to my sweat soaked back.
"I'm sorry about the mess I made," I said sadly, brushing his matted curls off his forehead as we sat up and I settled into his lap.
"Don't worry," he grinned as he pulled the paper off my skin. "I'm sure someone will come and clean it up."
"No, I meant with us," I pressed eagerly. "I caused a fight when I shouldn't have. You were just trying to help and you were right about everything…"
"Katniss," he laughed, kissing my cheek and stroking the end of my now-messy-braid playfully. "We're going to fight. It's just going to happen. But as long as we always make up, preferably the way we just did, it'll all be okay."
I exhaled in relief before wrapping my arms around him tighter. I kissed the salty skin of his neck and buried my head into the crook of his shoulder, feeling lighter and happier than I perhaps ever had.
"I'm still sorry I fought with you," I exclaimed when I pulled away. "I just think being here and with everything that's happened I'm going crazy. But I promise to control myself better while we're still here."
"I don't think you'll have to worry about keeping that promise for very long," he said with a giant grin.
"What do you mean?" I asked, not daring to hope.
"With what had happened to you on the streets and with the terrorist finally caught people are demanding swifter action. We just had an emergency meeting where Paylor basically threatened executive reign if we didn't all finish our agreements. The gridlock basically banished and we were able to pass everything we needed to change and establish a new constitution. Ratification elections are to start next month, following elections for more representation for the Districts," he explained in elation.
"So what does that mean for us?" I urged, needing him to say the words.
"We can finally go home," he answered happily.
I exhaled a stressed and elated breath, and it was all I could do to keep from sobbing. Peeta wrapped his arms around me as we shared in our jubilation. Home. We could finally go home. For once I didn't even try to suppress the tears that rolled down my face.
"When?" I asked desperately, ready to forgo the small suitcases we had, find Haymitch and then jump on to the next train.
"Now," Peeta said with his charming smile as he brushed my tears away with his thumb. "We just need to pick up a few people before we go."