“Don’t let them starve!” Katniss cries out, clinging to Gale’s hand.
“I won’t! You know I won’t! Katniss, remember I -”
But the words fly away as soon as the door snaps shut. There are two peacekeepers at Gale’s arms, hanging off of him like Katniss had just moments ago.
The anger is sudden and white hot, filling Gale with immeasurable rage. As the pair drags him away, the heat mixes with cool reality: that may have been his last chance. And he blew it.
“Wait, wait!” He screams. It won’t do any good, he knows it won’t. But he can’t stop himself, either. “We have more time! Hey!”
The peacekeepers trudge on, oblivious to his pleas. They hold fast to him, unbothered by his thrashing. His kicking, scratching, clawing. They take it in stride, which only angers him more. “I wasn’t done in there! Do you hear me? I didn’t get to say -”
Synchronized, the peacekeepers stop, nearly dropping their human cargo. The one on Gale’s left throws back an arm, socks him in the stomach. For the second time that day, the words blow out of Gale’s mouth, unsaid.
The peacekeepers begin moving again, undisturbed by their own rash actions. Their pace is still clipped, but the air has changed. The one with the temper speaks. “We’ve heard it all, kid. Love her all you want, but rules are rules. Nothing is going to change that girl’s death sentence.”
Gale thrashes in their arms, harder this time. His rage is back again, full force.
He’s a smart guy, more intuitive than most. He knows right from wrong, east from west, and danger from innocence. He knows what he looks like to these peace keeping, irony-laden buffoons.
Through their visors, Gale is just another victim of Panem. He looks weak, scared, uncertain. He is like every other poor sap, even the first family member to lose a loved one to the Hunger Games all those decades ago. To these shining Capitol-productions, Gale is simply another boy whose girl has been reaped from him, just as surely Katniss has been reaped from her childhood, her life, and her future.
But Gale is not that boy- not a boy at all. He is a man, dammit! Has been since his father’s death, will be until his own body is buried beneath ashes, lit aflame by the dust that covers his existence.
The same black dust that hangs over everyone in District 12. For all Gale knows, it surrounds every other Panem citizen, too, aside from those in the Capital. Those actually protected by it, like the guards at his sides.
As if knowing their station in his thoughts, the peacekeepers stop again. They are just inches from the door now. Gale’s freedom from these pawns is near, but nearer still is the threat of Katniss’ demise.
It is the peacekeeper on the right who speaks. His voice is an unkind and eerie sneer. “You’re pathetic, kid. Should be glad it wasn’t you.”
Gale cannot muster a reply. The day has been atypical, a whirlwind of emotions. It has left him vulnerable and frightened. He puts on his toughest face instead.
In reward, the left peacekeeper laughs. “Too bad your time with the girl got cut short. Better luck next year.”
Anger heats Gale’s core, spurring him to act. But again, he is too late, the peackeepers faster. They grip his arms tight, tossing his body out the backdoor and into the gravel. His bare arms are peppered with pebbles, his best clothes covered in dirt, but he does not care. He can only feel the need to strike. To hit someone, something.
He scrambles up from the ground, starts towards the peacekeepers. They laugh again, slamming the door in his face. He charges forward anyway, pounds his fists on the cheap wood barrier.
He does not cry. Nor does he move. Instead, he thinks. Plans come to mind, ways out of this mess. But it is no use. He has two families to protect now, two more mouths to feed beside his already lengthy list. The best thing to do would be to hunt, to try and capture the meat that will keep both their families alive.
But he stays rooted in place. Every thought is fleeting, aside from one. A memory, relived a thousand times, though scarce few minutes have passed.
“Don’t let them starve!”
“I won’t! You know I won’t! Katniss, remember I -”
Gale turns now, throws his fist down again. He purposefully misses the wood, forgiving as it may be. Instead he strikes the stone building, knowing that it will hurt. Damage him, even.
He is already damaged, however. Already lost with no chance of being found. Any injuries he sustains will only add to the stain of his memory, the smear of what he was too slow to say.
It was not an ‘I love you’, Gale admits to himself. He is long convinced that he does not love Katniss, or at least that he incapable and inept. It will not work with his brutal personality in the way. Not with her emotions so tightly bottled.
He could have said a million other things instead; he hadn’t exactly had time to prepare. ‘I will take care of them’, or ‘I know how strong you are’. ‘I am here’ or maybe even ‘I know who you are’.
The thousand endings to that sentence haunt Gale. They remind him of his own weaknesses, his own insecurities. But more than that, they remind him of Katniss.
He is torn, as he always in when it comes to her. She is the strongest competitor there ever could be. She knows how to survive despite the odds.
But the odds have not been in her favor, as of late.
They have not been in Gale’s favor, either. If they had been, he may have been reaped instead. Or at the very least, he would have had time to finish his conversation with Katniss. To say the goodbye that he hadn’t before.
He stalks away from the building at last, his heart and mind in conflict. Head wise, he knows that he’ll never see Katniss again. Even if he does, things will be different. She will have seen things, done things that he cannot fathom. It will change her completely.
Heart wise, he hopes that he’ll get another chance with her. That in time, the words that he hadn’t said will come, and will mean more to Katniss than an ‘I love you’ ever could.