Moving on with Chapter 1.
In the first book, The Hunger Games, Gale has suggested to Katniss that they could have ran away (was it in an indirect way saying that he loves her and wants to spend his life with her? Was it for the safety of their families? Or both?) and in Catching Fire vice versa (Snow was not convinced of the romance and Katniss could not think of anything else better than running away) which did not help in any way possible. In both situations they would end up dead or being turned into Avoxes. They are brave hunters and survivors but choosing to avoid the big theme was in no way guarantees their safety.
The story would be much shorter and Panem would always be oppressed by the Snow’s regime. Gale cannot provide the spark though he has the full strength of the wind to blow it.
Strangely, Peeta, the boy with the bread, (who is a whiz with fire. He coaxed fire out of damp branch and even Katniss can’t do that although she is the Girl on Fire) the one that had no knowledge of hunting or killing, started the ball rolling by confessing his tragic love story on national television which resulted to a chain of very strange consequences, uprisings included. He didn’t even expect to live in The Hunger Games, didn’t expect to win the girl in Catching Fire and went crazy in Mockingjay. This is the price he paid for being in love.
I know Gale too, is in love with Katniss. It would be unfair to compare the levels of love professed by the two men since we know so little of Gale. Glimpses of this and that (stolen kiss, whipping, hunting flashbacks) doesn’t provide us with the full detailed story. I know they had a lot of happy moments and she remembered it fondly.
Both men are strong and smart in very different ways. Gale knows how to hunt, kill, good with traps and snares and a fine soldier, very much like Katniss herself. Peeta on the other hand is very domesticated but he’s kind, warm, has the ability to think straight in the midst of chaos and understood the big picture.
The kids issue came up early and Katniss clearly stated that she doesn’t want any. Her constant reasoning was the Games. She reinforced the idea in Catching Fire while considering Gale. She even said that it was ‘a mistake’ if she and Gale had children but convinced that Peeta would definitely be better parent. Since Peeta cannot procreate alone, it’s quite safe to assume his choice had always been Katniss. Peeta, on the other hand thought Katniss would be a great mother seeing her fierce love with her sibling and how she protects her anyway she could. In a way they both see the full potential the other could grow into. Her little imagination in Catching Fire brought the reality in the Epilogue. I think she never subconsciously considered Gale as her romantic partner.
In the first book, The Hunger Games, Katniss made it clear that she doesn’t have anything romantic between her and Gale. But towards the end she was not very consistent with her affirmation in the first chapter. Not that I don’t trust her but she’s very slow in processing feelings or meanings. I think she was not ready to like Peeta or to feel something towards him but she did anyway despite all of her reminding herself not to.
Since the triangle theme came up only after she met Peeta (not Darius, though we can safely say that he liked her), I think she tried to set her mind against him. The topic might not come up if Effie reaped someone else. She might go hunting merrily for years later until confronted by the love topic when she’s older. Marrying Gale or ending up with him is the right thing to do (everybody expected her to do that, it’s the norm) but she was caught by surprised when she couldn’t after Peeta declared his love. Since debt is Katniss’s favourite subject I think this is one of her reasons to choose Gale. They’re best friends and had been through a lot. Both have experienced lost, both born rebels, survivors, main family breadwinners though not having enough food. Their family knew each other and they’re used to each other’s rhythm until she volunteered for Prim. Although many people would claimed that she fell in love with Peeta in Catching Fire or by the end of the Quarter Quell, I think she had set her eyes on him since they were eleven, when he tossed her that burned bread.
As a person who treats any relationship as a transaction (Gale and her has a symbiotic kind of relationship, both benefit from the other) she cannot comprehend kindness and that focused her attention to him, subconsciously. She had wondered why since then. If we examine her relationship with Gale, she actually didn’t trust him immediately. It took her months to return a smile. They weren’t even in a life and death situation, not even in a competition and there were plenty of preys abound in the woods. What took her so long to trust Gale? Was it because he’s a stranger? But the funny thing with Peeta was that he was also a stranger and a very treacherous one at it, too. They’re in a game to fight to the death and she has to remind herself to not trust him again and again.
Many times that she caught herself surprised with her actions towards Peeta. The obvious one is the kind warning before the private session, other times how she subconsciously look at Peeta though regretting in almost immediately. Note that they were actually joking when they met in the train at Haymitch’s expense. She smiled. She warmed up to him a lot faster when she knew very well that he can spin a very convincing lie, planning a strategy and this is before Haymitch ordered them to be friends. She told him about the Avox and counted her debts owed to the boy with the bread. I don’t think she ever meant debts. That was the moments that pulled her heart towards him.
I think she has a special spot for him since they were young, that day when she was sprawled under the apple tree waiting to die and that was what she meant by ‘it would have happened anyway.’ It has always been him.
It has always been Peeta.