As He Calls Her Catnip
I really had my heart set out on writing a Christmas-themed HG one-shot, but I could NOT think of anything entertaining. So I went with this instead.
It is a rainy day when they first meet. Gale catches the little girl - she couldn't have been older then twelve - doubled over his traps, dark wet hair falling against her pale, sallow cheeks. He watches her for a second, wondering over another human in his woods. That is, until she puts her hand on his beautiful trap.
He loves those traps like he loves his family. There is no way in hell - even if she was just a little girl - that he was letting her ruin them.
So he steps out of the bushes.
The slight ruffle alerts her, and her dark eyes flick up in terror. Gale spots the flash of an arrow on her back, and the way her nimble fingers twitch toward its bow. They stare at each other for a moment,
"What's you name?" he finally asks out loud, breaking the tension.
She remains as taught as an arrow pulled back with a bow. "Catnip…"he thinks he hears her whisper, but her voice is so low. He wondered what crazy parents would name their child Catnip.
"You know, Catnip," he says. He tries to sound strong, but it has caught him off guard to see this girl in his woods. "Stealing is punishable by death."
A spark of fire ignites in her eyes, seen for a second behind her fear. "I wasn't stealing. I was just checking your traps." She nibbles on her soft pink lip. It reminds him of someone - like he knows her, just can't place a finger where or when or how.
He remembers the next day. It was a memory he often suppressed - it was no wonder he had not recognized her on the spot.
But still, he knew now. Knew that she was the scared little girl at his father's - and hers' - funerals. Despite remembering, it is still vague. Only some parts stand out, while others are just a blank.
Her hair done up in a bow the color of rose petals.
Her hands as she clambers in the dirt to pick up the golden medal her sobbing mother dropped.
The single tear sparkling on her cheek, one that mirrored the one on his own face.
"Do you really have to do that?"
"Do what?" He looks over at the girl - his hunting partner of two weeks. Her hand is placed jauntily on her hips, eyes full of humor.
"Smacking? I don't smack."
She gives a small sniff, breaking off a hunk of the bread he had managed to get from the baker that morning and popping it into her mouth.
"Yes you do," she says adamantly, daintily chewing a small piece of the bread. "Big loud smacking sounds that have bound to scare off all the game -"
Gale couldn't help it. He threw the rest of his bread at her.
She caught it before it hit the ground. "We could've lost that, you know," she joked, taking the bread and chucking it back.
He shook his head. "Then don't try to be my mother. I already have one of those - and she doesn't let me do anything."
"Except for hunt illegally inside a fenced off woods."
Gale smiles. "Touché."
He meets her mother after three months of begging. He couldn't understand why she didn't want him to - he had met her sweet little sister many times. But her mother was an elusive ghost - a shadow lurking in Katniss' home. Only to be spoken of, never seen.
But one day, she finally gives in, leading him out of their woods and to the small broken-down the house he had lived near but never approached for so many years. Inside, her mother sits in a chair, looking exhausted.
Sick. That's the only word he could use to describe her mother. It was scary - she looked healthy enough on the outside. But her haunted eyes and yellowed skin told a different story.
He can see the pain in Katniss' eyes. She did not want him to see that. She's not ashamed - not exactly. But she knows that her mother is not right, and probably never will be.
It was in that exact moment that he realized he was lucky - lucky his mother had recovered from his father's death, lucky to not have to be the only supplier of the family. Lucky to have a happy home life.
"You can stay at my house anytime you want."
She looks at him with heartbreaking eyes. "I know, Gale."
There are some things that make Katniss sad. Her Mother. The death of her father. Not having enough to feed Prim.
There are some things that make her happy. Hunting. Prim. On occasion, Gale's company.
Gale is thrilled when he discovers something new about her - for many months, she had been a mystery, an enigma. But now she was a riddle, waiting to be cracked piece by piece.
"What's your favorite food?" he asks. It is the first day of summer, and he can't help but feel liberated, now that school is over. The forest is alive with the sounds of birds and the sunlight streaming golden through the trees.
She thinks for a moment, fiddling with the end of her long plaited braid. She did this whenever she was thinking (Gale was proud to know this too).
"Blackberries," she finally says, giving an affirmative nod to her own statement.
Gale smiles. "Blackberries?"
She looks defensive. "They're Prim's favorite too - she gets so excited when I bring them home in the summertime."
This makes him smile wider. He takes her hand and starts to lead her in a different direction.
"Where are we going?"
They walk for a moment longer, until he leads her into a small patch free of trees. She examines the ground carefully, her smile growing as her eyes roam further.
Gale grins. "As far as the eye can see."
Despite herself, she gives a giggle, then tromps off into the patch and starts gathering the sweet little berries. Gale joins her.
Afterwards, they sit in the warmth of the sun and eat every last one of them until the vines are bare an their fingers are stained with purple.
"Do you like him, Catnip?"
Katniss looks up from her broken arrow, stifling her attempts to desperately mend it. She looks confused. Inside, Gale curses himself for uttering those words.
"That…that guy you wear sitting with at lunch," he explains, looking away. No, she mustn't know. She couldn't know. But what would he do if she really did like that boy?
She looks at him with wide eyes, finally understanding. "Oh. No! No!" She looks slightly sickened by the thought. "That's Lane. He's my partner for a project."
"Oh," Gale says, trying to mask his glee.
She still looks confused. "But why did you a-"
He's already ten feet away, busily checking one of his traps that he had only just set.
"Have you ever thought about running away?" It has taken him nearly three years to pluck up the courage to ask that simple question.
She looks as if she has suspected that for a very long time, calmly closing her eyes as she tosses a blackberry into her waiting mouth.
"Yes," she answers quietly, not opening her eyes.
Gale swallows nervously. "How much?"
She looks at him with sad eyes. "All the time."
"How much do you want it?"
"More than anything." She sighs. "But we can't."
He sighs along with her, a small voice in his head going, "But I wish we could."
His sixth Reaping. Her fourth. It is extra hard this time - her classmate - her friend - gets chosen. She had been as close to a girl friend as Katniss had ever had.
Gale had never seen Katniss cry. She was not a crier, just like him. They were alike in many ways - birds from the same nest.
But today is different. After, when they are alone in the woods, she just breaks down. Deep, heavy sobs that frighten him. But he knows that more than ever he has to be strong. For her.
So he holds her tight, pressing her head against his chest and stroking her long, braided hair. He whispers he names - both of them. Katniss Catnip Katniss Catnip. They sit there - crouched in the middle of the eerily quiet forest - for what seems like hours.
Finally, she stops sobbing. Her tears slow to just a trickle, her eyes red and puffy and nose running.
"Better?" he asks quietly, his voice no higher than a whisper.
She nods shakily. "As much as I can be." She gives him a watery smile.
He smiles back, wiping the last of her tears away. Even after she stops crying, she sits close to him, huddled up tight.
They watch the sun go down, casting orange and red shadows over the trees of the forest, over the place that they had spent so much of their childhood. The place where they had had to grow up, had to become adults.
Gale was very happy that she had been with him through it.
"Gale likes Katniss! Gale likes Katniss!" Vick and Rory race around their older brother's legs.
"No I don't!"
"Yes you do!"
"Yeah! She's your guuurlfriend." Rory acts like this is a dirty word.
Gale sighs. If only he was lucky enough for that to be the truth.
He chuckles. "My Fearless Catnip? Afraid? Of what, might I ask?"
She looks serious. And terrified. "Of," she licks her dry lips, looking at the ground, "The Reaping. It's Prim's first, and you have some many papers in there, and -"
He wraps an arm around her. "I'm afraid too. But it will be okay. It always is."
She looks at him with hopeful eyes. "You can't know that."
He smiles. "Of course I know that. They don't call me Gale the Psychic for nothing."
She gives a small laugh. "No one calls you that. You're just being a doofus."
"Did you just call me a doofus?"
"Yes, I did."
"Well, as long as you're not sad anymore." He smiles. "Everything will be fine. Trust me."
She twines her fingers in his, looking up into his face. "I already do," she whispers quietly.
She is Reaped.
He did not want to stay - to leave Katniss to fend in The Arena herself, to die cold and alone. He wanted to volunteer, to go with her. They would die together - just as they always should have.
But he loves her. He loves her enough to know that she would never forgive him if he went to die with her, leaving sweet little Prim and her pain-filled mother to fend for himself. She would hate him for it.
So he lets her go, lets the one girl in his life leave him forever. He tries to stay numb. The pain is easier to handle this way.
He does not hope. He does not cry. He just waits, waits to see if his Catnip will come back to him.
He starts to watch the Games in private - he can't face his family anymore. He goes to Haymitch's empty house on Victor's Lane. He has left plenty of booze and cigarettes to help Gale ease the pain. Every day, almost like clockwork, Gale sneaks through the unlocked window, grabs a bottle of cheep beer from the fridge, and sits down in front of the archaic television to watch his Catnip suffer.
It broke of a little piece of his heart each time he saw Katniss. She didn't deserve this - she had been one of the best people he had known. Sure, she wasn't a saint. But she was also the most patient girl in the world, the kindest older sister, and the best friend Gale had ever had.
It started to hurt even more when she started to grow close to Peeta….Peeta. He loathed that name. What was he, to take from him something he barely even had anymore?
He loved Katniss. He had known it for some time - years of time. He only wished that he had been brave enough to tell her.
He knows now that this is his deepest regret.
She comes back from the Games.
She has changed.
It scares him in a way that he would never be able to describe.
He has lost her - it is blatantly obvious, so obvious that it cuts him like a razor every time he even thinks of it. Peeta has taken her. The Rebellion has taken her. She is a new person. She is not his Catnip.
He has changed too, he knows this. It hurts to think it, but he has. The War has shaped him into a murder machine, a deadly weapon. He thinks of all the lives he has ended. Men, women, children. All of them are dead because of him. Prim is dead.
She is right to tell him to leave.
Sometimes he hates himself.
His new house is empty and cold. There is no warmth, no happiness. Gale is miserable
. He starts to question moving to District Two. He knows that no newfound comfort will be here. He knows that his family will welcome him back with open arms.
But he turns on the T.V. and sees her face.
It reminds him why he needs to stay.
Seventeen years after the Rebellion, he finally sees her again. She looks older, but she is the same Katniss he remembers.
She is alone, sitting on the park bench in the middle of District Two. He wonders what she is doing there - it could not possibly be because of him. People bustle around her, not noticing that she is the Mockingly - the reason they are so peaceful.
She is staring at her shoes - with a jolt he realizes they are her muddied hunting boots that he remembers so well. Her braid is slung carelessly over her left shoulder. She is just as he recalls from so many years ago - all she needs is her quiver full of arrows and her bow. A smile would have been nice too.
It all comes back to him - holding her as they watch the sunset, eating blackberries in the woods, snickering as they traded stories about the kids, spending long lazy days in the sun. Just being best friends.
In a split second of decision, he walks towards her.
She looks up and gives a start as she sees the man coming toward her. She looks exactly she did that fateful day in the woods so many years ago, when they had first met.
"Katniss?" he whispers.
"Gale?" she whispers right back.
They look at each other for a long time.
"What are you doing here?" he asks.
She blushes - it stirs something deep inside the put of his stomache. "I…I was looking for you." She doesn't give any other explanation.
He just stares for a moment - not daring to believe, not daring to hope. He offers her his hand. "Walk with me?"
She hesitates for a moment, then nods. "We have a lot of catching up to do."
He nods. "You can say that again Catnip."
He doesn't miss the grin that crosses her face as he calls her Catnip.