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Choices

By carolyncrantz

Romance / Drama

Choices

A/N: This is a one-shot taking place post Mockingjay.  I'm trying hard to stay true to the characters and events of the story and make a bit more sense about what happened between Gale and Katniss.  You're reviews and thoughts about why I've wrote would be greatly appreciated.  ______________________________________________

It's Monday. And that means I go to the market to buy produce like Peeta tells me to do on Mondays. Because Dr. Aurelius says it's good to have a routine. And it's good to have a reason to get out of bed in the mornings. And it's good to have fresh produce too, I suppose. As I look over the colorful boxes of fruit and vegetables, empty basket dangling from my hand, I'm not really sure this reason is good enough.

I never knew there was so much variety before. I pass rows of strange vegetables I don't even know the names of. Funny fruits I can't imagine how to eat. As I walk down the aisles, my fingers linger over a bucket of bright blackberries. I turn a ripe orange over in my hands. I can't help but think they might have meant something to me. I lift it to my nose, taking in the sweet fragrance that was once such a rare delight. I twirl one of the berries in my hand. Toss it in the air. Nothing. I put the fruit down and begin to walk away. This place has nothing I need.

But, hey, an A for effort, right?

I wind down the city streets which are comfortingly familiar and disturbingly foreign at the same time. If I close my eyes, I can trace every path, follow every turn. But when I open them, I no longer know where I am. They are all newly built and freshly painted and nothing like I remember. I hate it and think I would prefer they were left in ruins.

But life has to go on. Or so they tell me.

I find my way over to the Hob, the only part of district 12 I can stand. It's also newly built, but somehow, feels the same. Probably because it's filled with so many familiar faces. And I try to think not much has changed. Ripper's back in business. Haymitch is still her most loyal customer. Greasy Sae still makes the best food, though her menu is quite expanded. Some continue to haggle and trade despite the fact that we all have money now. Many faces are missing, but I try not to think of them as I slide into a booth at Greasy Sae's. A booth that seems too big for just me.

"What can I do you for?" She asks with a bright smile that's traced with sadness.

"What do you have today, Sae?" I ask, mostly out of habit.

She chuckles and wipes her hand on a dish towel. "Just about anything you want," and slides a menu over to me.

Of course, I think to myself. I liked it better when there weren't so many options. "I'll have a bowl of soup."

"What type?"

She has more than one type of soup now? "Any wild dog?" I'm sincere, but try to pull it off as a joke. I hope though, that maybe one thing can stay the same.

Greasy Sae must see it in my eyes. She frowns slightly as she shakes her head. "I've got some good beef stew though. With garlic in it and everything. Or fresh lobster bisque. The lobster's real fresh," she tells me like it's supposed to mean something.

"Whatever you think is best," I consent.

She turns away and starts to ladle. "Oh, Katniss," she sighs, "How can you never know what you want?"

Want? The word means nothing to me.

"You know, one of these days you're going to have to learn to make choices yourself," she says sliding a bowl and its steaming contents in front of me.

I nod my head as I swirl my spoon through the liquid and slowly begin to eat. It tasted good, though I don't remember which I had.

"Did you hear who's coming into town today?"

I can't imagine why I'd care and don't look up from my soup. But I feel her eyes on me and remember I'm supposed to talk to people. At least, that's what Dr. Aurelius said, though I can't remember why. I'll try and remember to ask Peeta.

"No," I finally manage to get out.

Greasy Sae's expression shifts, but I can't follow the change. She is silent for a moment, and I turn my head back to my soup hoping that can count as my conversation for the day, especially since I failed with the vegetables. But I hear her exhale and she continues.

"Got some inspections going on. All to do with the new police force."

Is she warning me because she thinks I have something to fear from the law? I don' think I've been breaking any laws recently.

"And some training, I think. New equipment from District 2." She looks at me expectantly, as if I'm supposed to respond. But she didn't ask me a question, and I don't know what I'm supposed to say.

"Gale's the guy in charge of it." She finally spits out. "He arrived this morning."

And my spoon drops to my bowl. There's a clank. And maybe a splash. And I'm half way across the Hob before Greasy Sae's voice registers in my mind.

I don't know what she's saying. And I don't know why I'm running. But I know I've got to get away. I suddenly wonder if I've forgotten to pay. Or made a mess. But I don't go back. I can't go back. Even though I think Peeta would call this rude. I slip out the back and take the long way around the edge of town to Victor's Village. I walk along the fence, avoiding the streets. Avoiding everything. It's a long walk, but I like the fresh air and try my best not to think.

I can't even process the emotions stirring inside of me. And even if I could, I'm not sure there's a name for them. Fear? Shame? Regret? Sadness? Hope? Nothing seems right. I spent so many days curled up on our spot, waiting for him to reappear. And now, all I know is I cannot face him.

It takes a good hour to make it around, and I feel relief when my house is finally in view. I sigh as I loll up the path to my front porch, letting the tension run from my body, trying to pour out all my worry and concern. When I'm a few yards away, I look up. And Gale's there, sitting by my door, waiting for me.

I'm not sure of what's happening in the conscious part of my brain, but I burst into tears.

He gets up and walks towards me. "And here I thought you'd be happy to see me," he says with that easy smile. I run into his outstretched arms.

I cry until I can't cry anymore. We're stilling on the steps, and Gale's got me in his arms. My face is pressed to his chest, which is now soaked, and I'm staring at our knees and my empty vegetable basket.

I say, "I should have bought some fruit," because it's the only thing I can think of and then invite Gale inside.

Gale sits at my old kitchen table and I make him some tea. The silence is uncomfortable, and even though I've had my conversation for the day, I try and think of something to say.

"How's life in District 2?" I ask, "I've heard you've got a pretty nice job."

"Yeah." He agrees, "It's not bad. I'm working to build a new police force. It's difficult. Some of the richer districts have had quite a lot of looting. And people are pretty suspicions of any law enforcement because of the peacekeepers. We're trying to get volunteers from each district to form their own groups, but then that brings in problems of regulations and protocol. We can't have things too different between the different districts; at least, that's not what the Capitol wants…"

I let Gale continue, listening to his voice more than his words. When he seems to have finished I finally say, "That sounds really good. I hope you're happy."

"I have a good life," he says. And we both know that's not the same thing.

The silence becomes uncomfortable again. I look at him, trying to understand. "I'm sorry I didn't shoot you," I say. Of all the things I need to apologize for, I don't know why I choose this.

Gale laughs, but he understands exactly what I mean. He always understands exactly what I mean. I'm sorry I didn't keep my promise to him. I'm sorry I let the Capitol capture him. I'm sorry I got him into the whole mess to begin with. I'm sorry. "I didn't have my weapon on me." My eye brow shoots up to form a question. "The day of the assassination." I'd begged Gale to shoot me, after. I frantically called his name. In a strange way, it's nice to know that he would have.

"At least one of us had their priorities right," I say with a smile.

"Katniss," he rebukes, and I'm not sure I understand. "The war's over." I never thought Gale would be the one to let go of his anger before I did.

I take a moment to think. "I'm glad you didn't shoot me." It comes out sounding rehearsed.

"Do you really believe that?" He asks. I can't get anything by him.

"I'm trying to." I concede. And he accepts.

And there's that silence again. We used to be able to sit in it for hours, and now I'm afraid it will swallow us whole.

"Do you still hunt?" I ask him, trying to change the subject to something nicer. "You were always so alive in the woods." And I remember how his body relaxed out there, his face brightened, his lips smiled…

"No," he says, "too many painful memories. And there's no need."

"But, you always did love being out in the woods."

"It wasn't the woods I loved." He says in that same flat voice.

Confusion crosses my face and then it occurs to me, for the first time in my life, that perhaps it wasn't the woods Gale loved so much. Perhaps it was me. And I hope to god it wasn't me. But I look in his eyes, and I know I'm wrong.

"I thought about visiting you." I say, perhaps lamely.

"But you didn't." There is only a hint of accusation.

He's right. But I didn't. I could try to tell him all the reasons I had not to. Surly, I must have had them, though I can't remember any now. "By the time I was able," I finally manage, "I thought it was too late."

He looks at me in a way that's so familiar I feel like it should mean something. "Katniss," he leans closer to me, "for you, it'd never be too late." And he places his hand on the table like he does in my memory. He must catch the look in my eye. "Don't worry," he says, "I promise this time I won't cry." And he leans back in his chair, recovering the distance.

"Why didn't you come back?" I ask. "Till now?" I quickly add, trying to make the question not about me. But Gale knows what I'm getting at.

"There was still a lot of work to be done. That's what I tell myself…" And he looks up at me with those eyes. Those beautiful eyes the color of the summer sky before a storm and just as clouded. What is it I see in them? Kindness? Clarity? Hope? "But you and I both know that someone had to make a choice."

Oh. It's resignation. It's the look of utter defeat.

And Greasy Sae's words come rushing back at me from this morning; something about want and choices. And how I can't do either. It was so hard on me when Gale didn't come back. I never stopped to think how much harder it would have been if he had.

Like always, he knows exactly what I'm thinking. "And we both know that Peeta is always coming after you."

I nod. Of course he is. Where else would Peeta go? And what would I have done if both Peeta and Gale had followed me back to 12? I still can't answer that question.

"Someone had to make a choice." I repeat, almost in a whisper.

And he gets up and takes my face in his hands and kisses me. It's not romantic, though it lingers a moment longer than it should. And then he leaves, just as he always did.

I think about calling after him, begging him not to go. Telling him how much I've missed him. How much he meant to me. Telling him I need him. But we both know that Gale never wanted me to need him. He wanted me to want him, and it's like Greasy Sae said, that's just not something I know how to do.

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