"you're not even close to alive," gale tells peeta. his voice catches both of them unawares; neither of them are supposed to say this, are supposed to acknowledge what is between them.
"fuck off," peeta says. "this is none of your goddamn business." there is a glass of something sharp-smelling in front of him; his hands are shaking.
they are in a bar. neither of them would have been caught dead in a bar, before.
"she loved you," gale sighs, tiredly, popping a handful of nuts into his mouth so that the taste explodes salty on his tongue, "that makes you my business."
peeta hits him; no grace, no intent behind it. his eyes are blue and empty, dark with sadness. his fist hands loose at his side; all the fight draining out of his shoulders.
gale takes a deep lung-scorching breath. "peeta." his cheek hurts, a little. not very much. peeta survived two games and a revolution; he meant to not hurt gale.
"don't," peeta says. "just fucking leave, gale." he slides back into his barstool, slight drag where his leg hits the ground, hands flat on the bar. his fingers are clean and lovely.
"i can't," he says. "you're not even pretending, peeta."
peeta's voice is dry and wrecked, cracking as he says, "i thought i wouldn't have to pretend, with you."
gale gets home late, and he smells like alcohol. he stops in the doorway for a moment, thinking about the way peeta'd looked when he poured him into bed.
"gale?" madge asks, sitting up a little. "you're home late. and you stink."
"ran into peeta at the bar today," he says, pulling his shirt over his head, tossing it on the ground.
she frowns at him. "gale--"
"i don't think you want to see me attempt to get it in the basket," he tells her, "i'm pretty drunk."
she sighs. there isn't a light on but he knows what the worry in her eyes looks like.
"i'm sorry," he says. "i'm just worried about him."
"i know," she says. "but i'm worried about you."
he sighs, stripping out of his pants and settling in beside her, "it's just you know. he didn't have anyone else. just her."
"and you did?" her voice is clear and crisp, slight edge of sadness underpinning it. "c'mon, hawthorne. you loved her. i loved her. it's okay to miss her."
"i love her," he says, very soft, words buzzing at the edges of his lips. "but i love you." and you're the one who lived, he thinks, but there is no way he is going to say it, not even drunk. not even wasted.
"thanks, darling," she murmurs, brushes a kiss to the side of his cheek, rolls over and away.
there isn't much of a market for fancy clothes in a post-capitol world, but cinna manages. his shop is a tiny place, nestled in between a sweet shop and a bookseller; he makes suits, mostly, and semi-fine dresses. he doesn't charge a lot: he doesn't have to. he kept most of the money he earned when he worked in the capitol, and everyone likes him; he's never short of work, or free food. and he gives out a lot of free clothes; presents for little girls and little boys and their mothers, who smile at him sweetly and ask him over for dinner.
gale knocks on his door and steps in; the bell jangles above his head. it's empty, which is unusual for cinna's place; cinna waves at him from the back, where he's bent over a delicate soft blue dress. "hello there, hawthorne," cinna smiles, left eye warm, right blank and glassy blue; there's a little sadness in the one good eye, but it's what all of them who were in the war have.
"hey, cinna," gale says. "what are you making today?"
"little suzie marchpane's birthday," cinna says, "she's going to be twelve."
(gale thinks about when twelve used to be the year he dreaded, the year that made him shiver, sick and sweaty and terrified. he thinks about the way he felt when his siblings skipped across that threshold; the way he felt when primrose everdeen put her name in the ball.)
"that's nice," gale says, running a hand through his hair. "she likes blue, then?"
"hates it," cinna laughs, "but she'll look fantastic and she'll start loving it right after."
"you charmer," gale says. he sits down opposite cinna, tracing a fingertip across a bolt of bright red-orange fabric. it makes him of fire, of a dress that spun and exploded into a rebellion; they all still have the scars. "this is beautiful." he thinks about peeta; what peeta would say, seeing this.
(peeta can't even bear to have a fire in winter; he has to sit in a room a wall away, where he can't see the flames. they've bought him a heater.)
"yeah," cinna says, "there's a dyer over the other side of town, friend of finn's. he's very good."
"it's really lovely," gale says. he can't let go of it; it makes him think of her, sticking beautiful in his mind, sharply sharply angry and so fucking gorgeous in her defiance.
"it makes you think of her," cinna says, softly. "stop looking."
"fuck," gale says. "i'm as bad as he is."
"you hide it better," cinna says. "hey, cheer up. she was fucking amazing and you know it. it's okay."
"but he's not," gale says. "i just don't know what to do."
cinna says, "no one ever does. it's okay. he isn't-- there are some things you can't fix, but it makes you a better person for trying."
peeta is sitting cross-legged on his roof, looking at the plants he grows. "hi," he says, staring at gale, hand cupped delicately around a leaf. "what are you doing here?"
"checking up on you, asshole," gale says. "you aren't a drinker. i am. how's the head?"
"shows what you know," peeta says. "goddamnit, gale, i'm fine. in the sense that i'm functioning, and i'm not about to shoot anyone in the head."
"i wonder what you'd do," gale says, dead calm, like the heart of a storm, "if you saw a mockingjay right now."
"shut up," peeta says. "fuck, gale. it's an open goddamn wound, you don't have to--"
"you can't live like this," gale says. "you can't, peeta. you're just-- this isn't what she would have wanted."
"you don't know what she would have wanted," peeta says, harsh, bitter. "you weren't with her, at the end."
gale wants to throw up. "peeta, you can't do this."
"they told me i couldn't survive the games," peeta says; his laugh is ugly, and his fist clenches around the leaf, which is after all only fragile. "guess i proved them wrong, didn't i. she was beautiful, gale, she was the most beautiful person in the world and i loved her and she is dead, gale. she's dead."
"you think i don't know that?" gale spits, "fuck, peeta. i loved her. i'd have gone to the games for her, if i could have. you think it didn't destroy me?"
"not like it did me," peeta says, quiet now, subdued, dark. "gale. please, just get out."
"son of a bitch," gale breathes. "i just want to help you. we both loved her."
"and you think that makes us friends?" peeta laughs, softer, less mocking. "and they called me soft."
gale thinks, what have you done and wishes the girl in the back of his head would come back and tell him what to do.
prim's sitting at his kitchen table when he gets home, sharing a pot of tea with madge. "hey," she says.
"hi, prim," he says. he is really glad she doesn't look like her sister, anywhere but the eyes. he can stare at her hands and not see the resemblance; it's starting to hurt a little less, as the time passes. "hey, madge."
"you want any?" madge asks. her voice is gentle, calm.
"no thank you," he says, thinking about peeta.
prim tilts her head, very carefully. "have some tea with us, gale. please."
it's primrose everdeen; no one can deny her anything, not even now she's grown and gorgeous. "all right," he says, half-smiling, "twist my arm."
"i was saying," prim says, delicately, watching him take his mug from the cabinet and pour his tea, steam rising in a fragrant cloud, "that everyone still looks at me funny."
"you're the mockingjay's baby sister," gale sighs, "you really didn't think anything else would happen."
madge winces. "gale."
"yeah," gale says. "sorry."
"it's not a lie," prim says, her mouth a thin neat line. "it just sucks. i miss her, gale, but she's not around anymore. and we have to live our lives."
madge sighs. "that's the problem with the end of a war, prim. we're all at loose ends."
"it's my fault she died," peeta's voice says, trembling, crackling down the phone line.
gale says, "peeta?" he realizes, a half-heartbeat after he says it, that it's the dumbest thing he's ever said. "shit, are you okay? where are you?"
"she wouldn't let me die for her," peeta says. "i loved her so goddamn much, gale. there's a hole where my heart should be. i fucking need her."
"you giant girl," gale says, because this is the only thing he knows how to do, "stop being such a wuss and tell me where you are."
peeta breathes, "the bridge." his voice is tear-choked, slow. "gale, i."
"i am coming to get you," gale says, shrugging into his coat, "don't you dare do anything stupid. just keep breathing and stay exactly where you are."
"i am fucking serious, peeta mellark, if you do anything stupid i will end you." (it's weird, to think he cares.)
[gale has never run so fast in his life, not even when there were guards after him, not even in the goddamn war, for fuck's sake.
in his head he thinks about the girl who was on fire, about the darkness of her hair and the sweetness of her smile. help me now, he thinks. you were the one who loved him; you were the one who knew what to do.
she doesn't say anything, because after all; she is just a memory of a half-smile, of a stolen kiss and the rushed heat of her fingertips running along his sides.]
the bridge is an ugly concrete structure, built in a hurry after the capitol fell. there is a tiny tower at the top of it. when gale squints, he can see the small dark shape of peeta, and its blond shock of hair.
his heart is pounding like a drumbeat in his chest; he takes the stairs three at a time and says, "don't you dare jump."
peeta's feet are dangling over the edge. he is sitting there, and he turns to look at gale. "hi," he says. "i wasn't going to."
"weren't going to my ass," gale breathes, panic letting go of his chest, "get away from that edge."
"i'd deserve it though," peeta says, conversational, and that's another goodbye to gale's airwaves. "i'm the reason she's dead."
"okay, no," gale says, brusquely, because he cannot breathe. "peeta, there is no universe where president fucking snow ordering his goons to shoot her in the chest on national television is your fault. and you shot him, right after, once they didn't have leverage over you anymore. peeta, there isn't anything that you could've done. you did exactly what you were supposed to do."
the wind whips through peeta's hair, rising colour out of his pale cheeks. "they told her if she killed me on t.v. they wouldn't hurt her. that she could just. be what she was. be safe."
gale thinks he might throw up. he sucks in a breath and takes a step forward, hand on peeta's shoulder. "that's bullshit," he says, though he is thinking about her, about her smile and her mouth and he is thinking you should have goddamn done it, catnip; but she didn't, and all he has left of her is peeta. "they wouldn't have, peeta. and she wouldn't have wanted that. you think she'd want to live knowing she'd killed you? they were grasping at straws and then you ended it, peeta. you did what she wanted to. she was proud of you."
he can't do anything but tug peeta into a hug, that slight slender body, shaking with grief, all sadness and the promise of a dead girl burning through his veins. he kisses peeta's forehead and says, she loved you so much, don't you get it?
and peeta sobs, great and wracking, of course i do, that's why it hurts so much.
he takes peeta to finnick's house; because finnick has most of haymitch's alcohol and beds and if nothing else they both need a drink. he probably looks weird, peeta slung over his shoulder, his arm tight around peeta; probably no responsible bar would serve them, anyway. thankfully, finnick is not a responsible bar.
cinna opens the door, hair mussed, eye bright. "fuck," he says, "what train ran you two over?"
peeta laughs, broken like a skipping record, and says, "her name was katniss." his voice is raw and exposed, like open-heart surgery, like a bullet wound.
"can we come in?" gale asks. "he's-- not okay."
cinna steps forward and slips an arm around peeta. "of course," he says. "finn!"
finnick's shirt is half-unbuttoned; "hey, gale," he says, "get your ass inside."
peeta puts away a lot of alcohol. like, a lot. he doesn't say anything, just drinks, leaning against cinna and finnick and gale by turns, until finally he passes out, folding neatly like an paper crane.
finnick picks him up like he's nothing, says, "he can have the guest bed, you don't mind the couch, do you?"
peeta's head rests against his chest, pale hair sharply delineated against the yellow of finnick's shirt.
gale shakes his head. "that's fine." he swallows something amber-bright that burns on its way down. "i don't know what to do," he tells cinna, softly. "he's so fucked up."
"just for the record," cinna says, very gently, "we won the war. that's something."
"look at peeta," gale says, heart slamming against his ribcage, "and tell me he came out of anything victorious."
cinna sighs, bone-deep. "we can't fix him, gale. all we can do is be here. you're doing a good job."
gale laughs, hollow; he thinks he sounds like peeta, for a moment. "he almost threw himself off a bridge, just before. i'm doing a fantastic job."
"he's a tough kid," finnick says, carefully. "i know this isn't going to sound like it means anything, but-- my girl died too. and i was a mess. it took a long time to do anything resembling functioning, but. i did. and i loved her, more than-- like, even now there's a part of me missing. but you learn how to heal over. it just hasn't been long enough. and she died in his arms, gale. it's pretty fucking brutal." he is obscenely beautiful, finnick; the lines of his hips are like cut glass; his eyes are piercing and lovely.
cinna says, "he didn't let himself grieve, gale-- he didn't think he could trust anyone. he knows he can trust you."
gale says, "and that is a fucking miracle."
finnick sits down next to cinna, drapes an arm across his shoulder. "got it in one, kiddo."
peeta rolls over, into gale's shoulder. "i think i'm going to be sick," he groans, and gale grabs the bucket and puts it under his chin. peeta throws up into it, making little unhappy noises, like a kicked puppy.
"morning, peeta," gale says, gently. "new day."
"there are fireworks exploding inside my head," peeta says. "holy fuck."
gale ruffles his hair. "yeah," he says, "but you're alive. and that's something, isn't it?"
"oh my god," peeta says, "we had sex." there is nothing but absolute horror in his eyes, something out of a cartoon, though: not something out of a war.
gale laughs, light. "really no. you think you were in any shape to fuck?"
"okay, well--" peeta's eyes are bright, despite the hangover. "hey," he says. "we're alive."
(somewhere, gale thinks; somewhere a dark-eyed girl is smiling at both of them, and she is happy.)