Once, he said, let's run away together.
He only said it the one time.
Sometimes, she thinks, what if he'd said it again; would she have said--
But it's too late for those kinds of thoughts, now.
There is a house in Victor's Village and it is beautiful. Katniss stares out of its elaborate, ornate windows at her District, wrecked and unlovely.
Gale says, "Catnip?" His voice is so warm, god, it makes her shiver.
She doesn't say anything, just turns, meets his eyes. His skin is hot, crowding up against her, fingertips smudging along her ribs.
She thinks: this is what happiness is, now.
It could be worse.
The taste of him is incendiary.
This year is Quarter Quell. Under fourteens.
Peeta looks at her with wide sad eyes and Haymitch drinks more than usual and Katniss bites her lip until it bleeds because this is the world, this is how it works.
She stands at the Reaping with Peeta and Haymitch at her elbows, sucks in her breath and lets Cinna's lovely golden dress wrap around her like spun sugar, like a cloud. In the crowd she catches Gale's eye and thinks, not Rory, not Vick.
She doesn't think to realize--
Effie Trinket frowns down at the slip of paper in her hand. "Oh," she says. "Primrose Everdeen."
Everything is black. She can't breathe. She feels her body jerk forward but she's not-- she's not in it.
The first thing she is conscious of is Peeta's hand on her wrist, light but immovable, Haymitch's voice, rough and burred, Katniss you can't.
You can't volunteer again.
There are noises, wrong, guttural. She thinks they are coming from her mouth.
Below them, the crowd is angry, too. They know this isn't fair.
Prim's back is straight. She steps up and forward and she's beautiful, defiant, glorious, shirttail tucked out little duck, little duck. The light shines off her hair and she looks perfect, lovely.
Katniss wonders if this is what she looked like, a little. But she thinks she was probably just terrified.
It is a sick sort of pride in her bones.
"Hey," Prim says, thirteen and standing in front of Katniss, eyes bluer than the sky, bluer than Peeta's. She swallows and Katniss can see that she is shaking just a little. "Don't worry, okay? I can do this."
You can't, Katniss thinks, and this is not fair, but the entire District, the Capitol, everyone is watching them and if there is one thing she learned it is how to play this fucking game.
"Make me proud," she says, instead, and kisses her sister's forehead, which is not protocol but will make for good television; she is not surprised when no one steps in.
Prim's fingers fist in her shirt and Katniss can feel the bird-bones of her tight against her chest. I can do this, Katniss.
The boy is Rory Hawthorne.
Of course he is.
Katniss looks at Gale in the crowd and feels sick.
The Capitol will not allow a double win. Not again.
She has never not been on Gale's side.
Gale says, " Katniss ."
She says, "shh," and bites his lip until it bleeds.
This is not how she imagined it would go but
This is not how she imagined anything would go.
There is blood all over the sheets.
After he leaves she sets them on fire, smears her fingers through the ash in the fireplace and stares at the blackness of them.
(It is better, she thinks, than red.)
Haymitch says, "I'll take Hawthorne." He is-- surprisingly sober, clean-shaven.
"Gale asked you," Katniss says. She shouldn't be surprised. Haymitch is Seam and Katniss is Prim's; it makes sense.
She cannot think of a time when she did not trust Gale, when he did not trust her.)
Peeta puts his hand on her shoulder, careful. "Katniss," he says.
She supposes she sounded--
She doesn't know how she sounded.
She doesn't know anything, anymore, and how is that going to help Prim?
She realizes, later, that she did not even think about running away.
Prim says, "I want Peeta." Her voice is gentle, careful. "Katniss, you know it makes sense."
When did you get so brave, Katniss thinks. "I love you," she says, voice cracking. "Prim, I love you so much ."
Cinna has put her in pale pink lipstick. It smudges off a little on Katniss' cheek when Prim leans up to kiss her. "That's why you can't be here," she says. "You know that."
She does. That's why it hurts so much.
(She wants Gale, all of a sudden. Wants him with every fibre of her being. It is not that she thinks he can fix anything but at least he can understand .)
"If you need me--" Katniss says.
Prim's smile is soft, fragile; Katniss knows it's barely hanging on. "You'll know."
Haymitch says, "You did this, you know."
They're sitting on the roof and the sun is in Katniss' eyes. She doesn't know where Rory and Prim are; presumably training. They don't tell her anything. She doesn't even know the strategy.
She says, "I know."
(Because part of her thought she was -- invincible. Because she and Peeta made it out.
She thought she could kiss Gale, no repercussions?
Fucking hell, Katniss, good job there.)
Peeta says, "That's not fair. It's--"
"The rules of the game," Katniss says. She has never been a revolutionary; she has never been Gale. She sounds bitter, though. Bitter and fierce. "We live in this world and I knew the rules and I broke them."
She thinks, Prim.
Rory says, "Katniss?" His eyes are wide. He looks like Gale.
"Hey, kid," she says, putting on a brave face. She hugs him careful, gentle, because this is Rory and she loves him, she has loved him for so long.
He says, "I don't want to do this."
She says, "I know, Rory." She takes a breath. "You can do this, okay? Be brave. Be strong."
The rule is still technically in place.
Cinna dresses them, of course. Not fire; no repeats here. Instead they are diamonds, sharp-edged and beautiful. Rory's eyes are piercing.
She wonders, for a moment, what Gale would have been like in a Game.
Katniss has never been much for revolution. But now-- now it is different.
(She keeps closing her eyes and seeing Prim's blood.)
The entrance interviews are different, from this side. Caesar Flickerman asks Katniss if she's proud to have her sister in the Arena.
Katniss thinks, in what world, but she says, "I have every faith that she will do what needs to be done." Katniss is the ice princess set on fire. It is a role she has learned to play.
Peeta's hand, in hers, squeezes once. He says, "We're worried, obviously. But Prim's smart and competent." And a target, he doesn't say. "And Rory Hawthorne is terrific, too."
Nobody is interested in Rory, though. Prim is the story here. Prim is the tragedy.
Prim says, "I just hope I can make everyone proud." Her eyes are blue in the dark, searching. There is nothing you could do that would not make me proud,
Katniss thinks. She puts her hand over her heart, where the mockingjay pin sits on Prim's lovely white dress.
She will not watch the Cornucopia, she thinks. It will be a betrayal but what is one more in the scheme of letting Prim down.
Katniss is walking, where she does not know. The streets of the Capitol are unfamiliar, overly ostentatious; Finnick Odair offered to show her around but the curve of his mouth sets her teeth on edge. She can't get lost, anyway. She's Katniss Everdeen; they all know her name.
An Avox catches her eye, a tall man with green eyes. She doesn't take it seriously; Avoxes never make eye contact. She assumes it's a mistake.
He catches her wrist. Follow me.
Well, it's not like she has anything better to do. (Prim is on the television and she is all alone. )
"Hi," Gale says, six feet underground. His eyes are harder than they were, flint, steel.
She doesn't hug him. "How--"
"That's nice," he says, like it's meant to be teasing but the lightness doesn't carry. "I hitched a train. I needed to be here."
"What are you doing?" she asks, but she knows, because it's Gale and Cinna set Katniss on fire but Gale was always, always burning.
"We can't run away anymore."
"So you want to, what, stand and fight?" It's meant to be mocking but she comes out desperate, sad.
He says, "Yes." He was always the idealist; she was always the pragmatist. There is steel in him now and she understands.
Years ago he said, we are going to burn them down and she didn't believe him. Now there is an Avox fire behind him and she can't look away from the brightness of his eyes.
He does not ask the question.
He doesn't have to. It is about Prim, and it is about Rory. (And it is about Rue, too, and Thresh, and everyone they've ever lost.)
"Okay," she says. "Let's do it."
Caesar asks, "Do you have any advice for the tributes?"
Katniss looks at Prim, eyes huge in her tiny face. "The best advice I ever got," she says, "came from our very own Haymitch Abernathy. Stay alive. "
She means, I will come for you.
They let her say goodbye. There are cameras but not close mics.
Prim says, "I love you, I love you, I love you." She closes her eyes and presses herself into Katniss' arms and she's spiky with the suit but still so small. "Don't do anything stupid, okay?"
Katniss kisses her hair. "All right," she lies. "For you."
Peeta says, "Don't let them change you." He sounds grave, like he's officiating a funeral.
She loves him, so much. Peeta and Prim; they never belonged in this world.
"No," Rory says. "Not ever."
Prim tucks her hand in his. "We don't intend to let them win." Her smile is tearful. "See you on the other side."
Haymitch says, "Katniss?"
She says, "I saw Gale. What do you need me to do?"
When Gale was sixteen he said, there is a whole world out there. We could find it.
Katniss is seventeen, and a victor, and bereaved. I am so sorry, she whispers, to the boy in the forest with the the bow in his hand. I wish I could give you something else.
But she can't. She can only give him fire.
That's all they have, now.