The train ride to what had been District 12 seemed to take for ever. Since the war, Gale had been repulsed by the hovercraft that transported most people and produce around the new Panem. They reminded him of travelling to the warfront with the other soldiers, knowing that he had left deadly weapons in the hands of Coin but with no idea what she was planning to do with them.
Although the train took far longer, it helped Gale reminisce about the past. He imagined how all the tributes must have felt, stepping on a train for the first time in their life and knowing that it would probably be the last time too.
I wonder where Catnip was going the last time she was on a train, thought Gale.
The service was jam-packed, filled with faces Gale had hoped never to see again. He had slipped in and sat in the very back row next to a pillar which held up the wall of what he always remembered as the Justice Building.
No one noticed him and even if they had, he doubted they would have identified him. At one point a grief-stricken Peeta had looked in Gale's direction but - even when their eyes met - no recognition graced his face.
Outside, hundreds of fans and news crews had gathered to pay tribute to the Mockingjay. Between them and the peacekeepers, the funerals guests - many of them ex-tributes who were all in amazing shape considering their age - had managed to keep them out.
Gale didn't cry during the ceremony. He simply sat in a grieving silence. Many people go up to talk, mentioning Katniss's great feats against President Snow and the capitol, how she tried desperately to save the lives of everyone she could. When Annie got up, for the first time since the war, when her beloved Finnick had perished, she spoke calmly, however dazed her eyes were.
"Katniss was a wonderful person, loved by so many. At first," she continued, "I was worried that she lonely, wherever she has gone. But then I realised that she would be with other friends. And if I know Finnick, he'll be waiting for her at the pearly gates and Rue and Prim, best friends, of course, would have planned a party for her. Everyone there will be celebrating that she has joined them. So don't worry, Peeta," Annie looked at him. "Katniss will have friends wherever she is."
Outside the mass of people gathered around a small opening in the earth. Slowly, they lowered in a pure white coffin - the last time she would ever be above the ground, out in the open air that she had always loved so much. That was when Peeta made his speech.
Afterwards, Gale claimed he could hardly remember what he had spoken about. He reminded everyone how loved she was and what she did for the entire country and her victory in not only one hunger games, but two. Of course he mentioned Snow's execution - failing to state anything about Coin's.
Honestly, although he would never have admitted it, Gale hadn't wanted to listen to the monologue. Not because Peeta spoken the words, but because he was speaking of the Katniss that everyone knew. Katniss the Mockingjay who led the rebellion and does interviews with the press and has hundreds of books written about her by fans.
Peeta didn't speak about Katniss Everdeen, loving daughter and sister and wife and mother from the slums of District Twelve who had been unfairly reaped into a vicious games. A girl who had to leave behind her entire life and saved him because she couldn't go home knowing she had killed him. A girl who would have had a completely different, a simpler life, if Peeta hadn't complicated it.
That wasn't the Katniss Gale knew. Not the Katniss he wanted to remember. Not the Katniss he loved. Not his Katniss. Never.
Slowly, the guests began to clear. Firstto go we're the people who had only known her since the war, those who knew her as, and would remember her as the Mockngjay. Then a family friend took Katniss's two children by the hand and led them back towards the car along with her mother who was being pushed along in a wheelchair.
Now there was only one group of people left - the victors. Johanna stood beside Peeta, holding her hand in his while Beetee and Haymitch looked on. It seems all the victors - those who had survived this long anyway - had been invited. Some even Gale didn't recognise.
Then, they all did something truly incredible. Seemingly on instinct, they began tospread themselves out to form a circle around the fresh grave. As if in a daze, one by one, they all held hands - transporting themselves (and Gale, the only onlooker) back to the last Hunger Games.
For a moment, Gale even thought he could hear Caeser Flickerman and Effie Trinket. "And welcome to the 75th Annual Hunger Games...May the odds be ever in your favour...Remember girl on fire, I'm still betting on you."
An hour later, the cemetery was empty. Peeta had been the last to leave, resting a single white rose on the headstone and whispering something before placing three of his fingers to his mouth and then outstretching his arm towards the grave.
No one did that anymore. In schools, in hundreds of years, children might watch films of the games in a history lesson. Once in a while, someone might raise their hand to ask what the gesture meant and the teacher would inform them it was a sign of respect. None of them, however would truly understand the enormity of it.
Finally, Gale had his chance. He stepped out from behind the tree and carefully, glancing around once or twice to ensure he really was alone, walked over to the grave.
Even though the blazing sun set was probably blinding him, Gale never shielded his face, wanting Katniss, wherever she was, to recognise him.
"Hello, Catnip." He paused. "It's me, Gale. I...I just wanted to say that...I'm sorry."
Tears, hidden for years, ever since he last saw her at the execution (or assassination as some named it) of President Coin.
"I know you can never forgive me for what I did and I can't excuse I either, but...I really am sorry, Catnip. It shouldn't have taken this for me to tell you."
He stood there, wanting to say more, so much more but finding that the words have left him. Eventually, he realised there was only one other thing he needed to say.
"Catnip, I...I love you."