Always remember the pact that we made
You kick the bucket and I'll swing my legs
-Kings of Leon, The Bucket
It was something they'd never talked about.
Katniss wasn't sure why, exactly. It felt like something they should have talked about, should have planned for, but maybe it was such a nightmare, such an unfathomable thing, that neither of them could bear the thought.
And yet, here they were.
From across the room, she watched Gale stare out the window, his jaw tense, his brow furrowed in some deep thought. She wanted to walk over to him, to reach out and touch him and break the tension, but an intense fear gripped her and wouldn't let her go. What was she so afraid of? Not of death, surely. When you were a kid growing up in District 12, broke and hungry, death seemed inevitable. It wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when. A matter of how. No, she was not afraid of death. What she was afraid of, however, was killing.
Killing any of the others—the curly-haired girl from eleven, the foxlike girl from five, even the smug tributes from one and two—but especially of killing Gale. If it came down to it, she would have to, but it wasn't something she liked to think about.
A horrible, selfish part of her wished she hadn't volunteered. At least Gale would have protected Prim as long as he could and Prim wouldn't have lived long enough anyway to have it come down to this. She could have died knowing she was safe and protected by Gale, by the boy her sister loved. But Katniss didn't have a selfish bone in her body, not really—it was always her family first, then Gale, then herself—and it had never been a possibility, no matter how hard she'd wished it away when they drew Gale's name.
Watching him she felt the pang of pain and longing she'd come to associate with love, and she almost stood up, almost left the room rather than deal with it, but Gale beat her to the punch, rising to his feet and sitting across from her, his legs folded up. “Catnip,” he said, picking up a vase and studying it, “I have a plan.”
He told it to her in calm, measured tones, never setting the vase down, voice as devoid of emotion as though he was talking to her about the weather. It was a simple idea, almost deceptively so, and Katniss cursed herself for not thinking of it sooner. She should have thought of it. They should have discussed it. But it probably had never occurred to Gale either until he sat there in their lavish suite in the Capitol, his jaw tense and his brow furrowed, because it was the kind of thing neither one of them wanted to have to think about. Katniss still didn't want to have to think about it, but she knew there wasn't really another choice.
“Okay,” she said, and kissed him on the mouth.
They spent that night, the last before the Games began, curled up in each other's arms in Katniss's bed. Effie had to know, she was sure of it, and so she lay awake long after Gale had fallen asleep (snoring softly), paranoid that at any moment, Effie would walk in and start yelling at them about how this must look on camera. What they were about to do, Katniss thought, would look a whole hell of a lot worse. And besides, the feeling of pain and longing had been replaced by a feeling like her heart might burst out of her chest, a feeling of calm and peace and contentment. Whatever the other feeling had been, it sure hadn't been love. She knew that now.
They didn't speak again in the morning, although Gale snuck a kiss on her cheek before they went their separate ways, and every few seconds she would touch that cheek, running through the plan in her head. She wished she had some way of telling Prim how sorry she was, how much she loved her, how she hoped that somebody would step in and take care of her, how this was just the way it had to work, a cruel truth of the Games.
They met in the woods (thank god, Katniss thought, that it was woods), after the bloodbath was over, after the cannons had fired, after the anthem had played and the pictures had run. She watched him sprint over to her and she couldn't help smiling. The calm, contented feeling had returned. She felt in her pocket, counting out the berries. Two, three, four...good.
Gale stood in front of her, kissed her forehead. She felt around for the berries, withdrawing them from her pocket. “Ready?” Gale asked, taking two, meeting her eyes with his own, his serious, steely-grey Seam eyes. She matched his eyes with her own and nodded, putting the berries in her mouth and swallowing. The last thing she registered before everything went dark was Gale's hand clasped tightly in her own. They had hunted together, trained together, lived together, and now they would die together, and if she was going to have to die, Katniss could think of no way she would rather do it.