Crown of Thorns

July 26, 2011
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At the first signs of light, I was forced to open my heavy eyelids. My mouth tasted dry and gross for not drinking for god-knows-how-long. There was a crick in my neck and my leg was still aching from tripping, but all the discomforts vanished when I looked around.

I was staring up at lavish hangings in some sort of maroon color. Rich decorations were everywhere, in fact. I turned my head and there was an ornate oak desk, polished and carved into spectacular designs. Above the desk was a mirror that put my own bathroom mirror to shame (which was saying something). When I turned my head stiffly the other way, there was a huge—and I mean huge as in takes-up-the-entire-wall kind of huge—window, covered in thick maroon drapes that skimmed the floor and bunched around the top. In the very center of the widow there was an edgewise sliver of light peeking in.

For a second I contemplated getting up and finding out exactly where I was, but I just might fall over on my face, it felt like I had been drugged.

“Peeta?” I whispered through a sore throat and attempted to sit up on my elbows. It worked for the most part, but my situation dawned on me and I fell right back onto—pillows?

I seemed to be in a giant bed, surrounded by what seemed like twenty pillows, covered in yard designs and tassels and bits of silk. Heavy—and as equally luxurious decorated—blankets were draped over the bed as well, giant and thick enough to make a -40-degree night feel like springtime. But what was odd was that I was out of my torn trousers and tank-top and in a nightgown, this shimmery black one that was smooth and cool against my skin, but it covered less than my own pink nighty at home.

I touched my cheek where I had fallen on a sharp branch; it was still stinging and covered in dried blood. My hands were just as covered as filth as they had been, so I guessed that whoever dressed me in this gown hadn’t bothered to clean me off first and put a bandage on my cuts. Cuts that I had gotten while running for my life right before I watched Peeta get knocked out by a mysterious person in black, and right before I blacked out myself.

Taking a deep, frightened breath, I swallowed and sat up again. “Peeta?” He was nowhere in sight. “Peeta!”

I had to shake off the heaviness in my bones and swing my legs off the giant bed. The jump to the floor was two feet, which was easily made but got me ridden with vertigo for a second afterward.

“Peeta?” I called hoarsely, stumbling a few steps towards another door. It was unlocked and I opened it, practically tripping in. “Peeta?”

It was a bathroom. There were four glass bowls on a long marble counter, shining faucets hovering above them. The entire wall that the counter was up against curved into a half-moon shape, a huge mirror curving along with it. There was a shiny porcelain tub on one side, and a shower half the size of my own room at home, with sliding, blurred glass doors to enter it.

“Peeta?” I whispered, peering into the shower. Nope. That was when I began to get frantic, yelling instead of whispering. “Peeta!! PEETA!!”

As I ran out of the bathroom, my bare feet buried themselves into the thick carpet with every step I took running for another door in the room that could possibly lead me out. Sobbing with fear, I scrambled to get this one open, but when I did, I just tripped right into an enormous walk-in closet, already stocked. Everything looked my size.

“What the hell is going on here?!” I screamed, running out of the closet and throwing myself at the last door. “Peeta!!” It was locked. “Peeta!!” The screams grew into weaker sobs and I fell onto my knees, scratching at the wood until I felt my fingernails split and bleed. So I closed my fists and pounded on the mahogany wood feebly, sobbing. “Peeta, where are you?? Help me…”

He didn’t come.

O stayed there for another two minutes, and then crawled into the bathroom. In there I splashed my face off with cold water and drank some of it, though the metallic taste was not appetizing. I coughed and rubbed my forehead. What do I do?

A thought popped into my head and I frowned. Absentmindedly wiping the taste from my tongue, I shuffled back into the bedroom and over to the giant window. Taking the velvety material in my fingers, I drew the drapes.

Oh my god…

It was the ocean, grey-blue in the dim light of morning (or was it afternoon?). The sun was right above the horizon line and turned a strip down the middle of the water a golden orange. It was brilliant, but when I glanced down, it was obvious that escape out this way was not possible. I must have been at least a hundred feet up, and on a hill, no less. Surrounding what I had deduced to be the mansion was a forest stretching for as far as the eye could see. Evergreens—some as high as twenty-five feet high—swayed in the light breeze, unaccompanied by any leaf-bearing trees. Where was I?

I put my hand on the glass and it felt cold, as if the air outside wasn’t as warm as the air inside. Tentatively, I pounded on it lightly a few times. There was no way I’m getting out like this, and even if I did, I had no idea which direction home was.

I began to cry again, helpless, frightened tears. With a hand covering my mouth, I forced my legs to carry me back to the bed. Once I was there, I curled up into a little ball and pressed my face into the alien-smelling covers.

A tender hand—not mine—found my shoulder, scaring the living crap out of me. Letting out a tear-filled scream of rage, I swung my fist blindly and tried to hit whoever—whatever—touched me. It came in contact with nothing. Coughing and weeping, I shrank away and opened my eyes. The scene was blurry for a few seconds before it came into focus. Everything was still the same, except for a girl standing there. I froze in terror.

She looked about sixteen, with strawberry blond hair and freckles covering most of her pale face. She looked a little scared, but brave.

“What are you doing here??” I cried, balling up my fists. “What am I doing here?? Where’s Peeta?!!?”

The girl just stood there, looking sad.

All the rage and anger that was bubbling up inside of me came exploding out. I leapt off the bed and barreled toward the strange girl. MY hands slammed into the wall on either side of her head, and I was screaming again.

“Where’s Peeta?? What did you do to him?? Speak to me!!”

Tears started to trickle down the girl’s eyes and she began shaking her head. She looked so scared and torn up, I backed away…giving her enough space to touch her lips and shake her head again. I knew that signal.

I wasn’t sure what I was screaming, but I was. How is this possible?? What the hell is going on?? I need to find Peeta, how is this possible??

“Don’t you dare touch me!!” I yelled—voice already getting sore—when the girl tried to take a step closer to me. “You were supposed to be gone, you all are supposed to be gone. I need to get Peeta out of here I need to go home!! Where’s Peeta?!?”

There was no way I could be standing in s room with an Avox girl next to me. No possible way.

She tried to soothe my screaming with hand gestures, but all it did was make me cry worse. When I wouldn’t accept her hand, she scrabbled through her pockets and brought out a yellow notepad and a pen. After jotting something down, she thrust the pad into my hands without waiting. Is this some sort of cruel joke??

I scrubbed at my eyes and stared down at the paper, trying to see through the blur of tears. And when I finally could see, there were seven small words, written in neat handwriting.

We are not here to hurt you.

I glanced up at the Avox, panting nervously, still trembling with fear. “What do you mean by ‘we’?”

She didn’t take the notepad back, but gestured to the entire room, mansion.

“There are more?” I swallowed and began to shake again. “The entire Capitol?” The word burned in my throat like fire.

The girl looked even more scared, but of me. With shaking hands, she took the pad back and wrote:

All minus the ones who went with Snow.

I almost vomited. The taste of bile was in my mouth. “How?”

She shook her head. Ok, so I couldn’t ask that.

“But Snow’s dead. Have you been running it yourselves or…or… He’s not dead?” A heave shuddered my entire body as the realization came crashing over me.

The Avox girl shook her head furiously and scribbled:

He’s dead, but we have a new leader.

Oh, damn. “Who?”

She shook her head again.

“Why am I here then? Where’s Peeta? Where are we?” I was crying again.

We’re in what used to be the state of Alaska. I don’t know anything else.

“Well…” I am screwed. There’s really no point in resisting, either way I lose. “What are you doing here?”

The girl put on a slightly softer face.

To be your friend and to help you. I am to bring you to him.


She shook her head.

This was scaring the crap out of me. I didn’t know where I was, where Peeta was. An unwanted piece of my past just showed up, and it happened it be the worst part in my life with no competition whatsoever. A fate worth than death, if you ask me. I am so screwed. But I need to find Peeta first. To do that, I need to cooperate.

I hung my head weakly and gulped. “Do what you have to do. I just want Peeta back.”

The Avox put her hand on my shoulder, obviously in sympathy. It was all I could do not to shrug it off. And so, we went on with what was originally planned for me. The girl guided me to the shower and helped me scrub off all the dirt and blood, and bandage up the wounds I had got. She dressed me in a girlish outfit (that I did not agree with)—a pleated skirt and a blouse—and dried my hair with this strange electrical tube. It was put into two braids. When the Avox was finishing up the second braid, I took a breath.

“Why so girlish?”

The Avox paused, and the turned back to her pad of paper.

You are less intimidating in pink.

I frowned down at the pastel skirt she had me in, that reached almost to my knees. I suppose that made sense… It was only until we reached the door I began to freak.

“This…leader.” I began, turning once more to the sixteen-year-old Avox girl. “Is he the new president?”

She pondered for a second, and then shook her head.

“But he wants to kill me. Obviously.” I bit my lip nervously. “That’s why I’m here.”

But this answer was automatic for her. She shook her head vigorously and took her notepad out again.

He is nothing like Snow. He treats us well and does not intend to do you harm.

I seriously doubted that, but in my case, I nodded my head. Normally when people say they aren’t intending to do harm, they mean “a lot of harm, but you can’t do anything about it”. But I wasn’t sure whether or not to doubt he treats them well. The Avox seemed well-groomed and neatly dressed, not to mention her pad of paper she carries around to communicate with. They were most definitely not allowed to do that before.

I paused for a long time after that, and then I glanced down at the girl. “What is your name?”

She smiled a little, dimples appearing that reminded me agonizingly of Prim.

Elizabeth Prentiss

I tried a smile back. This is for Peeta, I reminded myself. “Well, Elizabeth, take me to this leader of yours. I’m ready.”

With a comforting squeeze to my hand, the Avox girl, Elizabeth Prentiss, opened the door (I thought it was locked??) and led me out.

The mansion from outside of my room was even lusher than in. Velvet tapestries and carved angels hung from the twenty-foot-tall ceiling. There were huge crystal chandeliers every fifty feet or so, illuminating the giant hall with a earthy glow, and the carpet beneath my bare feet was too elaborate to describe. I could taste the antiqueness and wealth in the very air I breathed.

There were people in the corridor as well. I spotted two in white doctor’s robes, and there were guards at every door. But something I noticed was that the harshness in their faces that had always been there before was gone. Another thing I’d noticed were the normal people (normal meaning tattooed breasts and chin implants and green, spiked hair), or lack thereof.

“Elizabeth,” I whispered down to my Avox as she led me through the halls. “Where are all the people that lived around the Capitol building?”

She paused her walking for a moment to write something down.

It is not just this mansion. There is a town surrounding it where everyone is currently staying.

Those few words got my head reeling even more. So the entire Capitol made it. I shivered in fright, wanting to ask so many more questions but restraining myself. If this leader really was better than Snow, he would answer my questions.

We started walking again, and I found myself staring at people as we walked by. Eyes were latched onto me. Some were scared, some were angry, some just plain curious. None of these people I recognized, but I had to constantly remind myself that this was the Capitol: my enemy, not matter what the Avox girl said. Sure, I was quivering with fear and about ready to vomit, but mostly because the sheer improbability of all this. The Capitol?? The Capitol??

Elizabeth tugged my elbow, and I realized I had stopped. Clenching my jaw, I muttered an apology and kept going.

We walked down the main corridor for a while, passing many things as we went. More people, the occasional pet, a food cart being pushed by a posh-looking butler. There was even the occasional little kid running around with a toy, but I noticed a similarity in 99% of them; as they walked by, each of them had their eyes trained on me.

I felt the Avox girl tug on my elbow again, guiding me down another, smaller hallway. Tentatively, I followed. My heart was beating faster and faster, pumping the metallic taste of fear and nervousness into my mouth. And when we made a complete stop in front of a door, I tasted bile in the back of my throat.

“I can’t do this,” I told Elizabeth, backing away quickly. “I can’t do this. All I want is to find Peeta and go home, I want to go home…” I have to get home, I can’t be here… I need to get my child home. A hand automatically reached down to cradle the miniscule bump under my stomach, but that was a mistake.

The eyebrows of the Avox girl shot up straight into her hairline and she got this horrified look, staring down at where my hand was.

I covered up quickly, moaning, “I don’t feel good…” to make her think it was just a stomachache.

The relief on Elizabeth’s face was obvious. She went over to me and began to groom me as my mother had a habit of doing. Straightening out the ruffles down my sleeveless white blouse, dusting imaginary dirt off my shoulders, adjusting my two braids. When she was done with that, the girl cleared her throat (which must have been hard since she had no tongue), turning to her notepad.

Don’t be afraid. You two have met before.

“What??” I said too loudly, backing up even more, calm air gone once again. “Who??”

She stretched up and gave me a small kiss on the cheek.

Good luck.

“No!! You’re not leaving!!” Panic rose even hotter in my chest and I shook my head violently, still backing away. “Don’t leave!! I’m afraid,” Those last two words slipped from my mouth without me even wanting them too, but they were true. Tears started pouring out of my eyes again. “Take me home.”

Elizabeth gently took my hand and shook her head, again turning to the notepad.

I promise, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

When she began leading me to the door again, I was too weak to refuse and fight back. But I kept telling her that I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t. I had no choice, though. She opened the door and ushered me in, closing it quickly after me so I couldn’t dash back out. I am so screwed.

The room was smaller and less fancy than the others, and reminded me of a study back home. There were a few bookshelves, an armchair shoved into the corner, and a writing table in the middle of the room. The table was cluttered, but well-lit by a small lamp on the edge. There was one of those tall-backed chairs behind it, but its back was turned to me. Of course.

My breath began coming out in short, scared pants. I needed to get out of here. Reaching behind me, my hand scrambled for the doorknob. It was locked.

The person in the chair didn’t so much as flinch at the sound of me trying to escape.

For a few minutes, in fact, neither of us moved. It was only until I actually thought the chair was unoccupied when I took a step closer. Two steps. Three. At five steps, the chair moved—startling me—making me step back one. The chair shifted again, and up, in one fluid, familiar motion stood—

My legs buckled under me and I collapsed onto the floor. The entire room swayed and lurched, black dots dancing in my line of vision. Bile filled my mouth, but I didn’t care—about that or the painful spot on my shoulder where I fell. It’s impossible… I was frozen where I lay. Tears ran in rivers down my cheeks. It was impossible. Impossible.

A gentle arm slid under my shoulder to prop me up, and a face stared down at me. Flawless, clean, tanned skin, dark eyes the exact color of the sky before it rains, raven black hair trimmed neater than I’ve ever seen it…

“Gale…” The word came gurgling out my mouth before I actually blacked out.

It was a feeling unlike any other I’ve ever had. Not blacking out, but having the pain of impossible recognition slam onto my chest like an anvil, knocking me breathless and attempting to make me sick all over the place. Part of my head was like, silly Katniss, this is just a dream. Of course he’s dead. Of COURSE. Silly. But the other part was being smarty-pants and pointing out all the stuff I’ve tried to block out. It isn’t impossible, if you think about it. All you did was kill a few soldiers and Snow. No one ever said anything about the entire Capitol blowing up. And besides, the coffin WAS empty when you looked into it. Maybe when they said you were hallucinating, they were trying to cover up the fact that he was actually alive.

The second voice scared me more than the actual reality. Because I knew this was no dream.

I came around soon after (not sure exactly how long, though), and I found myself slumped in the cushy armchair I’d noticed earlier. He was kneeling in front of me, one hand on my arm, one holding a cup of water. He tried putting it to my lips for a drink, but I struck out with my hand, sending it—and the water inside it—flying across the room, splattering on books.

“Katn—” Gale began, looking wary, but I didn’t let him finish.

With the same hand that I’d knocked the glass of water, I stood up and backhanded him on the face so hard he stumbled backwards, eyes flying open in shock.

“What the hell are you doing here??” I screamed, finding the strength to stand up. My spit fingernails were pressed in my palm from clenched fists. I was standing over him now, trembling with an uncontrollable gush of several emotions. “What are you doing here? Why the hell are you leader?? Where’s Peeta?? D—”

“Be quiet for a second, Katniss.” Gale winced, feeling the angry red welt I put on his cheek, already bruising. He stood up, but didn’t try to move closer to me or anything. “Please. You misunderstand wh—”

“I misunderstand??” I gasped, putting my hands on my hips, tears still pouring down my face. “I misunderstand?? Do you even know where we are?? The Capitol. Is this some sick joke you’re playing on me??” My words were being spit out, but I was in shock too much to do what I wanted. If I was completely…not in shock, I would be screaming a lot louder, stomping around and hitting him some more, causing much more damage.

He blinked, biting his lip, staring at the floor with an emotion I couldn’t pin very well.

“Tell me, Gale,” I began, words now getting higher pitched with tears. “Tell me why it is that people were disappearing all around Panem? Tell me why you are taking people, tell me why you’re ALIVE.”

Gale rubbed his forehead, sitting down in his nice little swivel chair again. “I know you have questions, but please speak so where I can understand and answer them one at a time.”

This was insane. I hoped I puke on his expensive new shoes. Shaking with fury, I dragged the armchair (it was so heavy…) in front of the desk and took a seat, sinking uncomfortably lower than him. Swallowing, I leaned forward on my hands on the desk. “Let’s start at the beginning.”

He nodded, and looked at me with a familiar, typical-Gale look that made my heart wrench.

“You died. I watched you die. What are y…” I sighed, trying to ease my trembling. “Tell me why you are still alive when I watched you die.”

Gale blinked at me, and then took a deep breath. “My heart stopped, but that didn’t mean I died. I was out of blood, my heart stopped. I remember feeling empty and in pain, and the last thing I remembered before I…went out, was you by my bed, holding my hand. I said your name, I blacked out. Well…” He pursed his lips, gaze averted. “The next time I opened my eyes, I was in a hovercraft, strapped to a table with new blood coursing through an IV in my arm.”

“Well, that’s all fine and dandy,” I spat. “But you were alive, you should have come back. To District 13. To me. You left me, Gale.” Now tears were coming quicker, and sobs were making my words even more garbled. “You left me. Why did you leave??” I was yelling, but I realized it wasn’t because what I had previously thought. “I thought you were dead, my best friend was DEAD. I went insane because of that. But you were alive, why didn’t you come back to me?!?”

He winced at my wounded cries, and I could see the wetness in his own eyes, which he blinked away quickly. “I was in the hands of the Capitol, it would never have been that easy.”

There was a pause, in which I gathered myself together for the most part. I would never forgive him, I decided. Never forgive him for leaving me. “Okay, well, now you’re their leader. How the hell did that happen?”

This was new to him, me cussing. Gale blinked a few times in surprise, but then scratched his head. “That’s quite a story.”

I crossed my arms and said coolly, “I’ve got time.”

A pause.

“Well, there were only two people in the hovercraft besides me. The driver and the doctor whose blood he was giving me. I didn’t know either of them, but they seemed pretty glad I was alive. When I asked them who they were and what they were doing, they told me that Snow had ordered them to kidnap me.”

I kept scowling, arms still crossed.

“But the catch was that both of them didn’t like following Snow’s orders and even though they captured me, they weren’t going to return to their base—here—and instead going to use me for their own advantage.” Gale furrowed his brows at the memory. “So we stayed up in the hovercraft for a while, and one day we were…well, we had landed off somewhere near District 13, because they were planning on breaking in to get some information…or something. But they never returned.”

I scoffed.

“I didn’t know how to fly a hovercraft.” Gale admitted, rubbing his jaw. “Still don’t. But I knew that Snow was planning an attack on D13 for quite some time, and I knew his plans exactly thanks to the two idiots that had capture me. And when I heard the explosion, I went to check it out. Ended up nearly crashing the hovercraft at their camp that had exploded, but managed to get it onto the ground in mostly one piece.”

“Was this before or after my body was retrieved?” I asked, genuinely curious.

His eyes dropped to the desk, in what might have been shame. “…I saw you, but I could do nothing. I thought you were dead.” Gale’s eyes sparkled again. “Probably one of the most terrifying moment of my life, but I knew there wasn’t anything to do. So I did what I could.”

I had begun to shake again. So Gale had…he was with me. I swallowed and licked my lips before speaking. “What was that?”

Gale blinked almost matter-of-factly. “Steal Snow’s body of course. And set the GPS on the hovercraft straight to its docking station back here. It was actually simpler than you might think, flying a hovercraft, especially when it already knows where to go.”

The story seemed so ludicrous and maybe even simple, but that made it even harder to believe.

“So I came here, was greeted by a hoard of soldiers. They demanded to know where the army had gone, but the strangest thing…” Gale’s brows furrowed again and he chewed on the inside of his lip, contemplating. “I showed them Snow’s body, and some of the soldiers—grown men—began crying.”

HA. As if. Crying why?

“They were all against him, killing children and ruining their lives, their families. They were all afraid of him, too afraid to do anything. But I told them what happened and gave up the mangled body of their leader, and then everyone began treating me differently. Avox’s fed me rich food, gave me all the clothes and freedom I could want, and people began going to me for advice or directions, and here I am now.” Gale swept his arms out around us. “In the heart of the Capitol.”

I wasn’t sure what to do. It was insane, obviously, and I didn’t want to believe it, but how else? How else would he possibly be able to become the leader of the legendary post-apocalyptic country of Panem?

“And you never had the sense to come and tell me that you were alive.” I said quietly, aching inside.

A pained look crossed Gale’s face, and he was silent for a while. I could see a muscle in his cheek clench and unclench slowly, several times before he opened his mouth. “…I-I came. I came to your house in District 12. I came, wanting to do exactly that. I wanted to see you more than anything, but…” He licked his lips and I saw a translucent tear slide down the curve of his nose. “I saw you, in there…with…with a-a baby. Holding it and laughing. And then Peeta came up behind you, laughing too.” All of a sudden, Gale’s face burned with hatred. “I knew I couldn’t come with him there. And I couldn’t go back to my family. I just stood there watching you two through the window. …I have never hated Peeta Mellark more in my life.”

“Don’t hate him!!” I shouted, standing up, fists clenched into tight balls. “Don’t say a single bad word about Peeta. We were happy!!”

He was still fuming, gritting his teeth and refusing to look me in the eyes.

“And for the record,” I hissed, “the kid isn’t ours. He’s Finnick’s and Annie’s. They come over a lot. B—” I had to stop myself telling Gale that I was pregnant. That would be the worst thing to do right then.

The relief on Gale’s face covered the hatred, but only for a moment. “Well… Anyhow, I couldn’t see you. And obviously I didn’t have a chance seeing you in the future by just waltzing up to your doorstep. So I came up with a different tactic.”

“What?” I pounded a hand on the desk, breathing heavily. “Kidnapping my husband so I had no choice but to be with you?”

“I was determined, Katniss, to have you as my own.” Gale’s once-loved, pretty grey eyes were now narrowed menacingly. “I loved you—and still love you—more than anything. I was willing to do anything, and I knew the best way to have you is to make you come to me.”

“And that’s exactly what I did,” I said sarcastically. “Not at all knocked out by a ninja wearing black in the middle of the woods while running for my life with Peeta and Annie with her baby. Of course not, that was purely my own choice.”

He shook his head slowly. “No. I knew that you’d figure out what was happening. Hunger Games victors disappearing, your friend vanishing from their own homes. I knew you cared for them and you’d go looking for them. And if not, you’d risk your life—and the lives of your remaining friends—to get yourself and them to safety. It was easy once you were out in the woods.”

“That’s evil, Gale.” I said, a lump forming in my throat. “That’s evil. What are you gaining kidnapping all those innocent people and bringing me here to your throne?”

His face softened, but only slightly. “I’m going to let them go, Katniss. I promise. I’m not evil, like Snow. I’m not doing this to hurt people. Everyone will be let go. I was only getting them to prove a point, and to get to you.”

“And now you have me,” I said, really wanting to vomit. He was sick. What happened to the Gale I once knew and loved? This man—he’s a monster. “You have me, you have everyone I love. You have complete control over me. I can’t win this fight. What are you going to do, huh?”

“What I’ve always tried to do:” He shrugged, as if it was nothing. “Change your mind.”

“Keep me prisoner all you want, a**h****, but that won’t change my love for Peeta, and my newfound hatred for you.” Cold tears were dribbling down my face.

“Not prisoner, Katniss,” Gale looked almost sad that I had suggested it. “I just know that living here with me will teach you not to hate me. I’ve missed you.” He gazed at me, as if considering something. “And I’m sure a little time together isn’t too much to ask for.”

“Time together. Right.” I rolled my eyes, standing up from my chair. “With Peeta in prison. How relaxing. Peaceful.”

“I’ll let him go.” Gale said quietly, looking away. “If you agree to stay with me.”

I swept a hand out over his desk, knocking several things off with an angry cry. “Like hell you will,” And I was screaming again, for the millionth time today. “You’re evil, Gale. I don’t know where the boy I once knew is, I don’t know him anymore. You capture my husband, you keep me prisoner here, you lead my worst enemy and act as if I will actually agree to it.”

He stood up, too, and came over to me, ignoring how I backed away. “I’ll let them go, I promise, Katniss. I may have took them in the first place, but it was just to get you. It’s always been you.” He was now on the verge of crying, and I didn’t know if it was just acting. “All I’ve ever wanted is you. I’ll let them go, all of them. Peeta, Finnick, Haymitch. I’ll let all of them go back home. I just want you, Katniss. Stay with me. Please stay with me. I want my best friend back.”

“Just don’t, Gale,” I had started crying, too, but only because he was. I’d barely ever seen him cry. It was one of the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen. And I almost believed him. “Please don’t. I-I can’t…” He took a step closer to me, and I covered a sob from my mouth with a hand.

“I miss you, Katniss, I miss my best friend.” He was now pulling that move on me, with his arms open and his face glistening. “Please stay, I miss you. I promise, you’re not my prisoner. I promise, I’ll let them go, I promise. I miss you, Katniss.”

And when he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me, I couldn’t fight back. I just couldn’t. I buried my face in his chest and sobbed. What the hell was I doing…? This was stupid, I couldn’t. But the feeling of Gale’s arms around me again, I realized I had missed it, too. More than I should have. And before I knew it, I was hugging him back, telling him I missed him too.

There was a long moment where we just held each other and cried, but when we finally pulled away, Gale held my face in his hands.

“So you’ll stay with me?” He whispered, eyes red and wet.

Damn it all.

“Y-You know I can’t, Gale.” I kept hiccupping. “You know I can’t. But c-come home w-with me. You’ll get to b-be with your family again, and we can hunt like-like the old times. Back home. Just let Peeta go.”

He suddenly let go, backing away. And he looked upset. For a moment he stood there, motionless, but then he lifted his eyes up back to me. “I have a city to look after. And I want you here. I can’t go back, you know I can’t. I promised I’ll let Peeta go, and my word is good. But this has to be your choice. Your decision.”

“It’s not much of a decision,” I whimpered, crossed my arms over my chest in pain all over again. “There seems to be no choice at all. Refuse and stay here as a prisoner, or accept and stay here as a prisoner.”

“No, not a prisoner. I told you.” Gale once again looked upset that I had suggested it. “You will never be my prisoner. The difference is your friends being released, and you know that it’s easier to live with it if you accept it yourself and do exactly what you’d do if you didn’t.”

I was trembling as another wave of tears passed. “So you’ll continue to hold my friends hostage if I don’t agree.”

“That’s a harsh way of wording it, but yes.”

I didn’t answer. My back was halfway turned to him and my jaw was clenched. Damn Gale, damn the way he was manipulating me, damn him being the new leader of the Capitol, damn him and his choices-that-aren’t-really-choices.

“We’ll have a life together, Katniss.” Gale said softly, making me open my eyes. “It won’t be as miserable as you think.”

I still remained silent for another ten minutes. But finally, I uncrossed my arms and turned to face him. My eyes stung and my face was wet and I was still hiccupping, but with what little dignity I had left, I swallowed and said, “Promise to let him go. To let all of them go.”

Gale looked me square in the eye. “I promise.”

Those two words rang through my head, and sounded like the end of the world. My life at least. With shaking legs, I walked back over to the arm chair, sat in it, put my head in my hands and cried.

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