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Title: A Bitter Pill
Author: rumpelsnorcack
Fandom: The Hunger Games
Rating: G
Characters & Pairings: Gale, Katniss/Peeta
Word Count: 1198
Summary: It’s in a fit of jealousy that Gale tells Peeta that Katniss will choose whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.
Notes: Many thanks to my wonderful beta mollywheezy who always manages to tame my wild typos.
Disclaimer: Sadly none of the characters are mine, I just enjoy hanging around in their sandbox.

His voice breaks as he whispers, ‘leave me; I can’t hang on.’  There is desperation in hers as she says, ‘Yes. You can!’  It’s almost a shout, and the sincerity of her words is clear in every quivering line of her body.  He shakes his head.  His eyes are almost totally black, the pupils so large they obliterate most of the blue.  ‘I’m losing it.’  His whole body is shaking; his hands are locked against the manacles, which are the only things holding him to reality.  ‘I’ll go mad.  Like them.’  The last is so pained that it’s no surprise when she leans in to him.  There is heat in the kiss, despite the desperation.  His arms have raised against her, in an attempt to fend her off as his body shudders, worried possibly that in his war with himself he will hurt her.  Instead she uses them – runs her hands up to his, clenches them as she forces him to come back into himself.  She pulls back, looking at him.  ‘Don’t let him take you from me,’ she says, her voice fierce and yet tinged with a tone it’s never had before.  He’s still in the grips of the beast within as he groans, ‘no.  I don’t want to …’ He is obviously not talking to anyone but himself, but she stays with him, forces herself into his consciousness.  Her hands grasp his even tighter, the fingers white against the red of his clenched fists.  ‘Stay with me.’  The tone is there again, unmistakable to all who hear it.  His eyes return to their normal blue, though a hint of the agony remains behind.  ‘Always,’ he whispers and her face lights up.

That’s the moment it becomes real for Gale.  He had spent so long hoping, believing even, that Katniss would love him, that everything with Mellark was just a game, a show for the cameras.  But it becomes clear, from the tone in her voice when she speaks to him and the light in her face as she brings him back, that she is his.  She had been his from the moment they were reaped.  From the moment they set out on the journey through unbelievable darkness together this had been inevitable.  Gale had just been too wrapped up in who she had been to see who she has become.  Gale looks away from the pair of them, but in his imagination he can still see the look she gave Peeta.  He can still see the feeling etched over her face – the look she has never given Gale, not even when she begged him to run away with her.

It’s in a fit of jealousy that Gale tells Peeta that Katniss will choose whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.  He knows she has already chosen, but he can’t stop himself from continuing to fight.   He feels a stab of guilt as Peeta’s face settles into a mask of resignation and he lies down to sleep.  It’s obvious that Peeta genuinely believes he’s so broken no-one could want him, and that Katniss will choose Gale.  Gale carefully doesn’t remind his rival that Katniss is a total sucker for the pained, the broken.  Bitterness bursts in his heart as he realises he can never compete – even now, when he has been wounded, the other guy is wounded worse.  And anyway, that look she gave him, that tone in her voice.  They had nothing to do with pain and everything to do with … Gale sighs as his brain shies away from the thought.  He probably never could compete.  Well, perhaps if the reaping had never happened.  If, if, if.  But it did happen.  He looks up and catches Katniss’s eyes on him.  The pain in her eyes is intense and he winces, cursing himself as an asshole.  He forces himself to look away and get ready for sleep.

Gale isn’t thinking of himself when he hands over the nightlock pill to Peeta.  He’s thinking about how decent the guy is; how he tried to hate him but wasn’t able to.  He can see the terror in Peeta’s eyes as he remembers being tortured.  He’s thinking about how hard it would be to be back in Snow’s hands.  He’s remembering Johanna’s comment about hearing each other’s screams and thinking how he can’t allow anyone to bear that again, not even someone he hated and he doesn’t even hate Peeta.  In the end, handing over the pill is easy.  Not because he wants the guy to die, but because he wants him to have some peace.  The look they share says it all.  When Peeta asks him what he will do, Gale finds it easy to smile and say he’ll be fine.  He means it, he realises.  He will have Katniss with him, after all, while Peeta will only have himself to rely on.  The thought sobers him.

‘Listen,’ she says.  ‘Don’t do anything foolish.’  All her fear for him is in her voice.  She is trying very hard to remain controlled and calm but there is a telltale trembling in her hands as she looks at him.  ‘No.  It’s last-resort stuff,’ he says.  He looks at her and seems to weigh up her concern.  His eyes change and he adds, ‘completely.’  She engulfs him in her arms and her eyes flutter closed.  It’s there in her face.  Home.  She’s home, for the first time in a long time.  His arms surround her too and all those moments in the arena come into focus.  She may have thought they were fake, but this looks the same from the outside – and it looks real.  She takes a deep breath as she steps back from him, and the knowledge that they may never see each other again shows on their faces.  It’s hard to see, even for those who aren’t invested in her.

Gale swallows and looks away.  He doesn’t need another reminder of her choice, doesn’t need to see those feelings stark on her face again.  His only hope, and he admits it’s a selfish one, is that somehow Peeta doesn’t make it through.  Gale’s mouth twists at the thought.  Could he live with being the second choice, the one she didn’t really want?  He’s not sure.  How would it be to live with someone in constant mourning for another?  He shakes himself out of the melancholy.  He has a role in Katniss’s life; his job is to keep her family safe.  If he can do that, maybe … maybe if (he swallows the selfish thought before it can form) … no.  He will protect Katniss and her family because it’s the right thing to do, because she would do it for him if required.  He will start right now by keeping her alive to get to City Circle and Snow.  There will be time to worry about Peeta afterwards.

Right now it’s going to take everything Gale has to keep Katniss going.  That she has chosen another doesn’t matter; what matters is bringing the Capitol down.  Gale clings to that knowledge as they all silently leave the building and start their final mission.  Everything else can wait til later.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-09 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mollywheezy.livejournal.com
Awesome title! Love it! :) (I apparently didn't notice it before . . . oops)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-09 05:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rumpelsnorcack.livejournal.com
Thank you. It's one of the few titles that ever just hit me and seemed right. Normally, titles are the hardest :D

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-09 02:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flyingcarpet.livejournal.com
This is fantastic! Oh, Gale. *snuggles him*

Would you be willing to post this on your Tumblr, so I can reblog it there?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-09 05:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rumpelsnorcack.livejournal.com
Thank you :)

I think I linked to my AO3 version on tumblr. It's my first attempt at linking, so I'm hoping it worked :)

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