Author's Notes: I've just never been satisfied with the way Katniss and Gale's story is never resolved. This has been in incubation since April. Feedback is greatly appreciated. No copyright infringement intended.
There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave
You were what I wanted
I gave what I gave
I'm not sorry I met you
I'm not sorry it's over
I'm not sorry there's nothing to save
"Your Ex-Lover is Dead," Stars
Nothing to Save
He saved the date, ever since they announced it at her sentencing hearing, to make sure he was there to see her off. Now that the day has come, he isn't sure what he's doing there or what he'll say to her. He knows, though, that if she forgives him and asks him to come home with her, he would.
Gale hangs by the corner, leaning against the parapet of the roof with a clear view of the hovercraft bound for Twelve. He doesn't have to wait long to see a small entourage of people led by Plutarch, and in the middle of it, Katniss. He can't tell if she is unaware of or simply doesn't care where she is going, but they disappear with a blur into the open hovercraft before he is able to form her name on his lips.
This would be the latest, in the countless times over the course of just the last few weeks, that he loses his nerve to talk to her. He thinks of the last time they spoke––the one that ended with that lingering question that gnaws at them both––and he dwells in certainty of what he has known even before the bombs dropped on the Capitol, perhaps since the day he didn't volunteer to take Peeta Mellark's place at the reaping. The tether between them is only held loosely together by the tensility of a cherished past. The question remains whether it is enough to keep an uncertain future from completely tearing them apart.
His stupor is interrupted when a familiar figure makes its way onto the hovercraft's ramp. "Haymitch," Gale calls. He jogs toward the waiting mouth of the hovercraft, as Haymitch turns his head toward him. He sees the older man carefully stuffing a white envelope into his breast pocket. Gale could swear he sees Katniss's name on it, but he could be wrong.
Haymitch stands on the metal plank leading into the hovercraft. He looks down at Gale, "Only got room for one more. And I'm not about to give up my seat," he adds, "even if I could."
Gale shakes his head dismissively, "I'm not going back." He pauses before he searching for the courage to say the words, and if not to her, then at least by proxy to her mentor. "Will you tell her I'm sorry?"
"You are sorry," Haymitch responds gruffly, but his face softens just a little, an uncharacteristic wave of pity washing over him. "But it's not for me to tell her."
When it's clear that he isn't going to elaborate, Gale furrows his eyebrows but nods anyway. Haymitch throws the younger man one last look before entering the hovercraft, disappearing behind the closing hatch. Gale watches the craft ascend and slowly glide into a speck, his golden hope that he'd return home with her disappears along with it. He shields his eyes against the sun and wonders when he became such a coward.
Sitting alone, bathed in the glow of the TV, he isn't sure if it's the alcohol or seeing her again now after all these years, but his heart is sure beating faster.
The camera focuses on the couple sitting next to each other, their hands almost hidden but noticeably joined between them. She deftly and politely defers questions to her companion. They look different from the couple Gale remembers. It isn't just the absence of the absurd costumes they used be paraded around in. They look a little older, a little more worn out. But the girl still looks just as uncomfortable in the spotlight as she used to, and the boy is still just as charming. They entertain questions about the Games, about the war, and finally, about their getting married––this time, for real.
Gale thinks he couldn't have put the TV on mute fast enough, as he reaches for the remote control. He is more than certain that he made the right decision not to attend, and simply watch the broadcast from the comfort of his apartment in District 2.
When the first, then followup, phone calls came several weeks ago, they were from Plutarch's "people," asking Gale to politely respond to the invitation to yet another insipid New Capitol celebration. Gale has since stopped counting the years since the rebellion, and dismissed the whole thing as the new government's penchant for self-aggrandizement. It isn't until a phone call from Plutarch Heavensbee himself that he learns that this year, in fact, is the milestone ten-year anniversary of the end of the war. Has it been ten years?
When Gale heard the words "reunion" and "extravaganza," his sense of discomfort outweighed being flattered at being important enough to warrant a personal invitation from the maestro himself. He immediately summoned evasive maneuvers. "Plutarch, I don't know what to tell you. The invitation must've gotten lost in the mail. I had no idea how important this thing is, but I'm swamped at work. Give my regards to everyone. I'm sorry." And that was that.
Once the interview is over, the camera follows the two of them a few moments longer––probably for the amusement of the masses––as they descend the steps off the stage. She leans into him and all the stiffness in her body vanishes. He guides her with a touch at the small of her back, pressing a light kiss to her temple. He must have whispered something to her because she smiles the way she used to smile in the woods, when it was just us.
Now, he thinks––sourly, as old habits are difficult to get away from––she probably only smiles for him.
He takes a generous sip from the bottle of white liquor, then places it on top of the heavy-stock parchment that had been sitting on the coffee table since he opened it a month ago. Gale watches as the bottle perspires, forming droplets of condensation, etching a ring of moisture onto the card just shy of the embossed calligraphy that reads, "The New Capitol Cordially Invites You to…"
The smell, he thinks. The moist, earthy, green smell is what he misses the most. That, and the feel of the forest under his shoes. Granted, the shoes he has on now are more solidly crafted than the flimsy boots he used to own. But despite the upgrade in footwear, his feet instinctively lead him to the usual haunts he thought he had long forgotten about.
After two hours exploring the forest, Gale comes upon a clearing, spotting a dark object on the ground ahead. He trudges closer, and discovers it is an unattended game bag. He picks it up and looks around for signs of its owner, but sees no one. His eyes fall upon a snare laid among the dense greenery not far from where he stands. He edges closer and crouches down to inspect the handiwork. The pang of familiarity hits him the same time he hears her voice from behind him.
"You know, stealing's punishable by death, or haven't you heard?"
Without turning around, he smiles in recognition of the speaker and her words. "I wasn't stealing it. I was just admiring your snare."
"Well," she admits, her voice without a trace of malice, "I had a good teacher." At this, he turns his head and rises. She is standing several yards away from him, at the edge of the clearing. His eyes travel over her, cataloging the changes between his memories of her and the actual person before him now. She is no longer the skinny girl from the Seam he used to share quiet moments with, but at the same time, he is surprised to find that she is in there, too. She stands a bit taller, though she has not grown. She simply holds her posture more confidently. Her face is a little plumper; she's being well-fed, no doubt. She still wears her hair in the same braid that drapes over her shoulder. Her hunting attire is similar to ones he's seen her in hundreds of times before, yet there is something about her that he can't quite measure, not even in the imaginary version of her he'd formed over the years.
"'s my game bag," indicating the brown bag he has slung over his shoulder.
He nods. "You left it here." He hands it to her, closing the distance between them.
"Yeah," she laughs at herself, shaking her head a little, "I've been really forgetful lately." She almost forgets, too, all the years and the distance between them, and continues to explain, "Peeta thinks it's because I'm––" A beat, and she stops herself mid-sentence. Her smile fades as she remembers just who she is talking to.
"So, um, you're..." Gales observes tentatively, careful not to leave evidence of surprise on his face.
Her hand flies instinctively to her belly––which, Gale now notices, is rounder than the rest of her frame––and she responds almost shyly, "Yeah."
He cannot read her expression, but he interprets it as something between guarded and offended, as if he has just uncovered a closely-held secret. He settles for an innocuous "Congratulations," and shocks even himself at how sincere it sounds.
"Thank you." And that does it for pleasantries. She probes cautiously, as if asking the question equated to stepping onto a minefield, "What are you doing here, Gale?"
"I don't rightly know." She looks at him dubiously, so he adds half-jokingly, "Look, I'm not here to win you back or anything." She scoffs lightly, but not callously, at the idea. "I just… I don't know..." he trails, and they fall into a quiet that is not quite the same as the kind they've shared before. Instead, the air is filled with a silence between two people with too much to say to one another.
When it appears that Katniss is just as stubborn as she used to be, she probably won't be the first to speak. Gale finally breaks the silence, "I've got fifteen years' worth of things to say to you, and I can't even say the one thing that I've needed to tell you all these years."
"If you think I spent the last fifteen years waiting for an apology," she shakes her head, "then you don't know me at all."
"I guess not," letting out a small rueful laugh. "But then again, how do you apologize to someone for possibly destroying the thing they loved the most?" There he said it, however flippantly, he said it. Her answer surprises him.
"It isn't for me to forgive, Gale. It never was."
They look at each other for a length of time, letting the meaning of Katniss's words sink in: for him, hearing it come from her; and for her, hearing herself say it out loud. All this time, it was never her forgiveness he sought, but his own. He just needed her to tell him that. A small part of him wonders stupidly why they didn't do this years ago, and maybe saved their complicated relationship sooner. Or maybe this isn't something that needed to be saved. They might as well start over anew.
Never one for preamble, Katniss suddenly blurts, "Would you like to come over and have dinner with us? I mean, if you don't already have plans."
"Yeah," he laughs easily, "I mean, I don't have plans." Feeling braver than he's felt in a long time, Gale confesses, "Dinner sounds good."