It was not easy being a heroine's sister, it's even more difficult being a martyr's.
Prim feels guilty just because she is alive; every morning she opens her eyes and feels guilty. She is alive. She shouldn't be able to go on. She should be stunned by grief. Katniss had offered herself as tribute for Prim and yet now, after all that's happened since then, Prim is not able to mourn her appropriately. Meaning: the appropriate thing for Prim to do is die. Like heroes of old perhaps Katniss should have been buried with her family and loved ones. Buried with gifts, weapons, odes. Aren't you a good, proper rebel, Prim? Her refusal to go down with her sister marks Prim as weak, selfish, treacherous.
Not this numbness. Katniss would not be numb if it had happened the other way around. Katniss would scream, punch things, go mad. Go mad. That is what Prim believes other people would expect of her.
She avoids the screens where they are showing the great Katniss Everdeen Memorial Compilation on repeat.
Perhaps he is the only person who can understand because he doesn't fall apart when Katniss dies.
Peeta falls apart but Gale doesn't.
Even Haymitch falls apart while Gale doesn't.
She watches him eat breakfast every day and check the schedule printed on his arm, go out on missions, she watches him continue his training, she watches him come back every night. Peeta is the one who has cried with her and her mother, the one who let Prim run her fingers through his hair accepting comfort.
Gale hasn't looked at her ever since it happened.
`Is it really...? Do I look like her?´
She notices when he stops hunting. Like he's been preparing for it, training the people of his team to learn how to instead. They learn, after a while. Gale can stay behind and they bring game. They can take their time, now that it's not dangerous out there any more. Now that there's peace. Now that there's Reconstruction. Even District 13 is slowly changing; it keeps its schedules and its bunkered rooms, the gloominess of grey walls, but even here the sunlight is slowly being let inside.
`I can't stay here anymore,´ her mother tells Prim.
They both know, but they never talk about it, that it's probable President Coin ordered Katniss' death. Prim knows how her mother must feel about living here. Most Districts, though freed, lack in basic necessities, the doctors from the Capitol, many of them thrown in jail, are not enough for the whole of Panem. Prim knows why the country needs her mother right now, and she knows why her mother would be so eager to get away. There are not so many familiar faces remaining. Haymitch and Peeta have already left. Under other circumstances Haymitch would have been offered a place in the new government but instead of that both him and Peeta have been unofficially labelled as mild threats and flown to their old home District to help out with the reconstruction and stay out of sight. Peeta promised to write, a warm kiss on her cheek, the kiss of a could-have-been-brother.
For her mother there is no going back home. Nobody utters the word Seam anymore.
`I'm not leaving 13,´ Prim says.
`I can't let you stay here alone.´
`Yes, you can. You have work to do, and so have I.´
There's the issue of the cat. Can you take care of it alone? Prim nods because at least she can do that. It's her cat. Katniss was her sister. She should have been able to take care of her. She is not going to let anything happen to Buttercup now.
`Won't you be lonely?´ her mother catches a rebel strand from Prim's hair, caresses it for a moment, then sets it in place.
Prim thinking I'll be lonely with you. Thinking I'd rather be lonely here.
With her mother gone perhaps he feels the responsibility –a word natural to Gale, but a heavy word nonetheless– to talk to her again. Prim doesn't like the idea, she is not a burden, she refuses to be, but she can't turn down any form of kindness. She never did.
Or maybe he starts talking to her because with Katniss gone there's no one else he can talk to.
The word substitute and why is she so bothered by it. But it's the least she can do. If she can't go mad from her sister's death the least she can do is stay here and listen to Gale and his anti-government rants, pretending she is Katniss, pretending the hard floor of her room is the woods and meadows back home.
`I'm not an idiot. I know what Distric 13 is. I know this new government is not perfect. And I know President Coin probably did...´ He stops himself and Prim looks away so he can swallow the words he won't say with some privacy. `I know what I'm doing. I could run, I could try to make her pay. But I cannot protect Panem if I'm being chased by the government. This time it won't work like that.´
Is it penance, pride? Prim wonders. In his own way perhaps Gale is trying to make up for Katniss' death, working with her murderers, so that the world will never again have need for a Katniss Everdeen. The need for a Mockingjay. There is a certain coldness about that notion, this twisted atonement. Gale who was always hot-blooded and passionate and impatient. Always warm. He keeps his anger but it's a different colour now. She is disappointed, nostalgic. The reality is they have all changed, Prim understands this. Pretending only gets you so far. Maybe Gale is no more the boy who looked at her sister as if wondering how it was possible she existed than Prim is that little girl that trembled as she listen to her own name called out the morning of her first Reaping.
We all change, she thinks, and sees those changes as further betrayal to Katniss.
I am weak, I am selfish, I am treacherous.
`I bet she would be disappointed with me,´ Gale says with a grim smirk. `That I didn't immediately take revenge. She would have expected me to. I know I'm letting her down, I know I am.´
She half lives inside the hospital these days.
It's hard to find a reason to want to go back to her room, apart from Buttercup.
The doctors tolerate her falling asleep in chairs and empty beds, because she is useful. A couple of years later she still gets the odd that's Katniss Everdeen's little sister here and there but she doesn't turn around to the sound anymore, it doesn't pierce her, if it bothers her she doesn't show.
When she kisses him she understands she is betraying not just her sister but him as well.
Gale has always belonged to Katniss, whether she wanted it or not. How can she do this to Katniss? How can she do this to Gale?
He sounds surprised but it's not the voice of the soldier, the voice of the Gale of right now she hears. He says her name like he used to when she was a child and he would come around their house to pick Katniss and go hunting. And suddenly Prim –the weak, selfish, treacherous sister of a martyr– hates that sound more than anything in the world.
`I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.´
She runs away, appalled at herself, and embarrassed.
`I found him wandering about the arsenal,´ Gale stands in her door, Buttercup scooped in his arms.
It's not the first time the stupid cat runs away and Prim refused to worry about it preemptively. Buttercup always comes back. Because that's how it has to be. Prim is not allowed to lose anything else. When Prim thinks stupid cat the voice in her head sounds so much like Katniss it hurts. She wonders if she is trying to turn into her. Gale smiles awkwardly (he didn't use to do that either) and drops the cat gently on Prim's bed. They both sit besides Buttercup an the cat gives Gale a suspicious look when he tries to pat him.
`I really am sorry,´ Prim says, looking at the floor.
Gale shakes his head, which is no answer at all. At all.
`Do I look like her?´
`Only if I look hard enough.´
Gale is crying. Prim runs her fingers through his hair.
Katniss, he mutters. It's the first time she's heard the name on his lips since she died.
He starts hunting again.
There is sadness in his eyes when he comes back, the first few times, like it's a very precise ritual. But at least something of the hardness around his edges has worn off, smoothed away. The calm and quiet bits of Gale are like the memories Prim still keeps of her father – a sense of safety and melancholy. Snatches of it and she can see the man Gale will become in ten, twenty years.
(part of Prim preferred the hard edges – as long as Gale didn't let go Prim didn't have to either)
She feels like she can look at his face again.
`You don't understand,´ he replies, though Prim hasn't asked. `You are little Prim, you are her little... I've known you all your life.´
He brushes his thumb across her wrist, tracing her pulse for a moment before letting go.
Prim wants to say you knew her all her life but she understands Gale means something different. Prim, on the other hand, is done apologizing. She can see many things in Gale's expression: some she doesn't understand. Surprise and self-hatred and a peculiar hopelessness. Prim carries her own part of hopelessness: she doesn't think Gale will touch her again.
There's no more war but that doesn't mean there's no death. There's death. There's illness. There are accidents. Three years after the peace treaty there are still rebel groups wanting to claim back Panem for the Capitol people. There are rebel groups on the other side of the spectrum, arguing Coin's right to govern. There is hunger and suffering. They still have a long way to go.
Prim has a lot of work to do.
`Maybe you should get changed.´
`I don't have time.´
There's blood smeared on the sleeve of her shirt but she doesn't mind. Gale smiles.
`You are going to get blood on the book,´ he says and gently lifts her hand from the pages.
He examines the book, a Capitol medical text. Prim knows more about healing than most of her superiors in the hospital. But that's not enough. She needs to learn everything, every little cluster of knowledge left to be discovered. She needs to know everything, be able to heal. She is going to fix this country. Panem might have Gale to protect it but she, Prim Everdeen, is going to fix it.
`What time do you finish here?´ he asks her.
`I have to assist in an operation in twenty minutes. I don't know how long that would take, one or two hours.´
Gale stares at her. He looks different. Not like old-Gale different, no. Not the tall, brave boy Prim knew from her childhood. But not the cold, troubled soldier he'd become in District 13. Not something in between, either. Something else, something new. The new Gale, weary but gentle. The Gale Katniss never got to know, the Gale Prim does know. She is starting to stop feeling guilty about that as well. She is not there yet but she will. She is in no hurry.
`Okay,´ Gale says. `I'll be here and then we can get something to eat when you're finished.´
`But it's late. I don't want to make you wait.´
`I don't mind.´
They have breakfast together at the cafeteria almost every morning. Before he rounds up his team and goes out on a mission, or hunting. Before she starts her shift at the hospital, after a night of studying old and new medical books. They both sleep few hours, have been getting used to the purposeful fatigue of their lives. This is their ritual. Some times one of them is too tired to even speak so they eat in silence with their eyes still unfocused from sleep.
The bad days –there are some but then they always knew there would be– one of them would reach a hand across the table and turn the silence into brush of fingers, warm skin.
`Do I look like her?´