Brave New World

After the Games, after the Mockingjay, after my victory, I have still lost. I have lost Prim. I have lost Finnick, Rue, my father. I have lost people with names and faces I never knew well enough to care about. I have lost Peeta, who looks at me with his beautiful sad eyes as he swings his bag over his shoulder.

"Nothing has to change," I say.

"Yes, it does."

It's only then that I realise I am holding Gale's hand, have been holding Gale's hand for so long and so hard that his fingers are striped red and white from the pressure of mine.

Peeta looks at me one last time, and then he leaves.

I crumble. For hours and days, I curl in a ball on the floor and screech into my open palms. No tears fall, because the pain is too sharp for that. It doesn't give me long enough between attacks to cry. Instead, I crouch and screech. Peeta. Peeta, whom I saved in the Games. Peeta, who saved me in the Games. Peeta, without whom I wouldn't be alive. He stayed beside me all those nights I dreamt of the arena, and he didn't hold it against me when I was kissing him for the cameras one minute and then ignoring him the next. He understood. He understood when I realised I really did love him, by accident, and almost as fiercely as he loved me.

Gale fits himself around me, his thighs framing my thighs, my back against his chest. He strokes my hair, my neck, and we cramp together. We starve together. He shares in my pain, which I know must hurt him too because it's for Peeta. I don't speak. He doesn't speak.

But he stays.

"Gale," I whisper. I'm not sure how long has passed since the door closed behind Peeta. "Gale, you won't go, will you?"

"No."

"Never?"

"Never." He turns my head and kisses the bridge of my nose, right between my eyes. He kisses me in the sweet spot for a bullet. "I'll never leave you."

"I'm so sorry."

Without asking, he understands. I'm not sorry for my love for Peeta, which will never leave me either, but I'm sorry Gale has to be a witness to it. My love for him has been in me since childhood, waiting for the right catalyst to draw it out. It floods my body like morphling, running through my veins, erasing some hurts but not all. I hope he can see that too, know that if he left me, there wouldn't be enough of me left to crouch and screech. I would lie down and die on the rug in the hall of this house, and nothing and no one would be able to save me.

"Don't be sorry." Gale rocks back on his heels, and I tumble into his lap. My legs are too sore to straighten, so he holds me as I am, curled into a ball to keep myself together. "He's a part of you."

"You're a part of me," I insist.

"We can both be parts of you. Peeta…" He struggles a little with the name, and I wonder if I'm not the only person who will miss him now he's gone. "You wouldn't be who you are without Peeta."

"Peeta," I murmur, and finally, I start to cry. The tears fall like rain down the icy slopes of my cheeks, and Gale doesn't wipe them away as Peeta might have. He lets them fall, knowing that, like rain, they have a purpose and a place to be.

"It's a new world out there, Catnip," he tells me. "And you're not alone in it."

No, I think, staring straight ahead at the door Peeta disappeared through, at the door this new world is hiding behind. Gale's arms are around me, and his pain is my pain. My pain is his. I'm not alone. Gale is sure and strong, broad through the shoulders, broad across the back. Gale will never leave me. I will always love Peeta, but I have always loved Gale, who will love me my whole life long. I dream of Peeta finding his way in this new world, frosting cakes instead of painting his face, his bright head and bright smiles making another girl smile. The pain is still too sharp, but I will never be alone in it. I will smile for Gale. Gale will smile for me.

It's a new world out there, and red flowers are blooming where red blood once spilt.

And Gale's arms are around me.

Fin.