It's two days later, the last two days before Gale has to enter the mines and she's hardly seen him.

The prideful, stubborn—ugh! Dame you, Gale.

Katniss honestly didn't think that Gale's frustration with her would interfere with their hunting. It just seemed too important to be affected by Gale's petty feelings. And yet, here she sits alone in the woods without her hunting partner.

The day of the reaping, with so many Capitolites coming into the District, the electricity is turned on, which meant the fence is electrified and therefore, no hunting. The fence, while not as strongly electrified the next day is still on, so Gale and she typically don't bother going out to the woods. However, on Saturday, the day after the reaping, her mother had run out of some herbs that a patient of hers desperately needed. Luckily, the herbs she needed grow in the meadow near the fence. Prim had been obsessively watching the Games coverage so Katniss went out to gather them and that's when she spotted him. Gale, with a game bag slung over his shoulder, sneaking back into the District.

"Gale?"

Gale freezes, like a buck that knows it's been spotted. He didn't turn to look at her just stared ahead as if he could keep on walking and pretend he didn't hear her.

"Gale? What the hell?"

"Katniss," Gale finally says, his whole body sagging, "I can—"

"You went into the woods? Don't you realize how dangerous that is?"

"The fence was off. Besides, I don't need you lecturing me on what's dangerous or not." Gale spits out.

"Why'd you go by yourself? If you wanted to hunt, you could have just told me. It's safer out there with the two of us."

"Geez, Katniss, ever think that maybe I just wanted to be alone. Look, I don't have time for this, I have to trade. Here." He shoves a small bag in her direction.

"Keep it." Katniss refuses angrily, partly frustrated at Gale and his exclusion of her and partly because this feels eerily like a handout.

Gale groans, "Katniss…stop. Things can't keep being like this."

"What do you mean?" Does he mean their partnership? Would Gale truly risk their friendship and mutual help over an argument? Over something he knows nothing about?

"I mean…I'm going into the damn mines. I mean…you're angry that we didn't go hunt together when in two days time I'll be stuck underground for most my life. We won't be able to hunt anymore—"

"Yes, we will. Sundays. You'll have Sundays off."

"Katniss, I'll be dead tired on Sundays. I don't think I'll be able to meet you at our usual time."

"So we'll meet later. I don't see the—"

"No, Katniss. We can't meet later. Not if we want to avoid predators eating the snares. Look, you're not getting it…"

"So then, what? You want to call off our partnership?"

"No, would you just listen? I'm still going to be setting snares, and I'll still do some hunting on Sundays, it's just…" Gale trails off,

Katniss stays quiet, letting Gale gather his words. It's difficult, and his frustration is showing. Gale, like herself, isn't very good with words, but if anything, he looks more annoyed that she can't figure out what he's trying to say. Truthfully, it frustrates her too.

"Just…what, Gale?"

"Forget it…would you just take the damn bag already?"

"Not until you explain yourself. What the hell has gotten into you?"

"Me? You want me to explain myself? What's going on with me? How about you tell me what's going on with you, huh? If you can't—won't—I don't see why I have too."

"Is that what this is about? I told you, Gale, it's nothing…" She shouldn't have said that. Gale is right; she's keeping things from him like he's doing now but what's going on with her has nothing to do with Gale or their hunting, but whatever is bothering Gale is clearly about her and Katniss simply can't let that slide. "It has nothing to do with us. You being upset is clearly about me."

"It's not nothing! I mean, seriously, you don't see it? Answer me this, how do you know that I won't do this again tomorrow? Go hunting on my own and not tell you about it."

"…I don't…I don't know, that's why I want to clear this up. It's not helpful to either of us if we go at it alone."

"That's exactly it, Katniss. With me in the mines, it'll be just you going out into the woods. I…I expected you would check the snare lines and that you'd bring my share of the catch to my family—"

"I would, Gale. I will, of course."

"But now…"

Now?

"You won't even take the haul I brought you—not to mention the lack of trust."

Lack of trust? What does he mean? She's still confused by everything Gale is trying to tell her, but at the very least she can understand that he may feel insulted she didn't take the game bag. Regardless of how impolite the action may have seemed, Gale more than anyone should know that's it's reflexive to deny handouts. Not that the game bag is a handout, it's their partnership at work; of course, some habits are hard to break.

"Gale…" Katniss whispers, "I trust you more than anyone."

Gale scoffs, "Well clearly you don't. Something is going on, and you don't trust me enough to tell me. You're the one that's upset that I'm harming our partnership when you're the one keeping secrets. Ugh, I don't have time for this. Bye, Katniss."

Gale brushes past her, his tall and lean frame pushing past her with ease. It doesn't escape her notice that he takes both game bags with him, not that it bothers Katniss all that much, she wasn't expecting fresh game today.

The following day Katniss finds herself alone in the woods. It's Sunday and Gale's last free day before he goes into the mines. It's like Gale said, she wasn't sure if he'd show. She hoped he'd put whatever negative feelings he had aside for the sake of hunting, but it seems Gale's hurt feelings run deep. So, here she sits, alone in the quiet and calmness of the woods feeling like a complete idiot.

She just doesn't get it.

Why is Gale so upset? They're close, but it's not like they share every thought or feeling they have with each other. Maybe he's upset because whatever secret he thinks she's harboring has to do with Rye. Gale never was fond of Townies. And what is with this lack of trust? She hasn't done anything to make him think he can't trust her, unlike he, who has interfered with their hunting two days in a row now.

Katniss never had a reason to doubt Gale, well not since those first few months after they began their tentative partnership, but even then with all her reservations about the older, brooding Gale their partnership had blossomed into something great, something familiar, comforting, and most importantly, efficient.

There is so much uncertainty in her world, and of all the things she has to worry about, she never thought her partnership with Gale would be one of them. She presumed Gale understood that their partnership was simply too important to ever be affected by what goes on inside the fence. Not even the mines would be able to interfere, or so she used to think.

Katniss hates the idea of him being down there, so much that she refused to talk about it for months leading up to his eighteenth birthday, partially because she was certain that Gale would be reaped. She hoped that wouldn't be the case, but the odds weren't in his favor.

Maybe she's insensitive. Gale understands how much she hates the mines, but unlike him, Katniss knew she would never have to face the reality of going down there herself. Everyone in the Seam at one point ends up working down there. Both men and women, if they're not pregnant, and then eventually the widows when their husbands pass.

Her overwhelming fear of the mines would never allow her to step foot inside, and fortunately, her mother agrees that there are other ways of surviving in District 12 without working in the mines. But Gale has too many siblings, and unlike Prim, none of them have a trade or skill to fall back on.

Perhaps that is the reason for Gale's anger. The mines. Maybe he's jealous that he won't be able to spend as much time in the woods as her anymore. Perhaps that was the reason behind his talk of running away; it wasn't just fear of the reaping, it was fear of being stuck in the mines, forever trapped by the circumstances of their lives.

Katniss ponders all this as she quietly makes her way through the forest. She's deep in thought when a skittish squirrel runs past her and up a tree, she's so distracted by thoughts of Gale and the mines, that she nearly misses it. She aims quickly and shoots only for her arrow to impale on the trunk of the tree.

"Dammit," She whispers, not wanting to scare off more game. She curses herself for her lack of focus and curses Gale for being her distraction. Although she's come to appreciate Gale's partnership over the years, she regrets now having become so dependent on it—on him. She should have anticipated something like this to happen. Everything is temporary—food, warmth, people. This is precisely why she hates getting close to people. The only person she can depend on is herself.

She still wants to fix her relationship with Gale, he is her best friend after all, and if she can keep their partnership from dissolving, then that would be great. But perhaps she should focus on sustaining herself and her family on her own for a while, at least until Gale cools off.

She doesn't want to hate Gale, but she'd never forgive him or herself if her family's well-being started to be affected by this. If she can't provide for her family as well as she did when she was with Gale, then she'd only have herself to blame. For relaying on him so much.

She takes a deep breath and aims, her arm straight and all thoughts of Gale abandoned. She points up, takes another breath, and releases. A bird falls down, dead, a few feet in front of her.

Who needs Gale anyway.


True to her word, she avoids Gale for a week, giving him space to cool off and get his head—and priorities—in check. It's easy to avoid him when he's down in the mines 12 hours a day. But even in the depths of darkness, no one can escape the Games. Mandatory viewing continues as do the Peacekeepers' rounds.

Katniss stands in her kitchen, skinning squirrels and separating their pelts from the meat. The pelts will come in handy when it starts to get cold out, and she can always sell the extra to the tanner. She salts the meat and puts some away with the rest. Katniss will never complain about having too much food, but as it is, some of the meat they have will start to go bad.

She's already given some to Hazel. Not as much as she would have liked, but the older woman didn't want to take too much. Katniss tried telling her it was Gale's half, but the older woman gave her a knowing look. It seems Hazel is aware of her son's foul mood and probably already knows her and Gale aren't speaking at the moment. Normally, the extra squirrels would be sold to the Baker, but Katniss hasn't had the courage to knock on their back door since Rye was reaped.

Her mother sits at the table, making herbal remedies, and Prim sits in front of the projector, absentmindedly petting Buttercup. Since the actual games haven't started yet, the game coverage so far has been uninteresting. Mostly speculation about who will win, who looks interesting (which really means which tributes the Capitol finds the most attractive—disgusting), and reruns of the reaping. They also show past games and previous Victors, some of which are interviewed.

"Finnick, who is your favorite to win?"

Finnick Odair, a bronze Adonis, and darling of the Capitol. Youngest victor in history. Won the 65th games at the ripe old age of fourteen. His looks primarily helped him claim the title of victor. No other tribute has ever received a more lavish or expensive gift. A golden trident, which he used to spear his opponents to death.

Finnick is from district 4 and was introduced to the country as a young fisherman, but looking at him now, Katniss can't imagine him being anything other than a Capitolite. He appears comfortable among the strange-looking crowd; like he was meant to live among riches and be bathed in attention and glory.

Finnick laughs, " Isn't it obvious? It would be in poor taste to pick anyone other than my tributes."

Caesar laughs, showing his big artificial white teeth, " Of course! Of course! But if you had to pick someone else?"

Finnick gives him a coy smile and wags his finger, not wanting to betray his tributes. Caesar laughs along. The whole thing looks friendly and innocent, except for the sharp look in Finnick's sea green eyes. How incredibly rude to ask a visitor to pick someone other than his tributes to win. Even among his own tributes, only one can survive.

"Oh! How about someone that you think will give your tributes a run for their money, hm? Who do you think their competition is? Come on! Pick!"

Finnick's coy smile drops, as he contemplates the answer, "Well…if I had to choose, I guess it would be…"

"Who? Who?" Caesar jumps in his chair, making Finnick grin.

"I guess I'd chose…Ryean Mellark. The blond boy from 12."

That gets her attention. She sets down her knife and turns her full attention to the screen.

"Ryean Mellark? Well, that's a strange choice." Caesar comments. "What made you choose him?"

Finnick gives another coy smile, "I'm not supposed to be sharing this, but let's just say I've heard through the grapevine that Rye is a little bit too cheeky for his own good if you catch my drift."

Cheeky? What does that mean?

"Oh!" Caesar grins in understanding, "A man after your own heart, I presume?"

Finnick winks, "You know it."

"I don't get it," Prim says, turning around to face her with questioning eyes. "What does he mean?"

"I think he means that Rye is a flirt." Katniss answers. That makes the most sense. Finnick is a giant flirt himself. He's always seen in hand with a different person at every appearance he makes, laughing, dancing, hugging, kissing even. Gales said himself that Rye was a giant flirt. "That must be his strategy for winning sponsors or allies." It's a smart plan; it's how Finnick won his games.

"Oh," Prim scrunches up her nose. "Is that a good plan? I mean, I can't imagine anyone being romantically interested when they're about to head into the Games."

"It's not about romance, Prim. It's about charming the sponsors."

Prim nods and goes back to watching the games. More victors are interviewed, but Katniss shuts them out, going back to her task. At least someone in the Capitol is rooting for Rye. Even if Finnick wasn't sincere, his mention of the poor blond boy from an even poorer district will likely get sponsor's interest.

"We have enough meat." Her mother quietly states, her attention still on her herbs.

"We can never have enough meat. You could make a stew; it would last longer." Katniss fires back, careful to keep her voice low enough that Prim can't hear.

"You could try trading in town. Might want to start saving for winter. Bread would be nice also."

Katniss frowns. She tried trading in town earlier in the week, but it seems the people of town have developed an even worse distaste for the Seam. Katniss is usually the exception as even townies are desperate for fresh meat but this week had been odd, no one wanted fresh game. Besides the Hob, she had only been able to trade in town once, at the cobbler's and that was only because Delly had answered instead of her father.

Summer is her busiest time of year. The bounty of the woods allows her more fresh game to trade with, which allows her to stockpile the supplies and resources she'll need to get through the leaner months. With everyone suddenly turning her away, she's not sure how they'll survive winter.

Perhaps the townies don't want to trade because Gale is no longer with her. It's no secret that townspeople are more conservative than people in the seam. In the Seam, everyone pulls their own weight, you do what you must to survive, and both men and women work down in the mines.

In town, where everyone's future is secure, and no one has to worry about food, different rules apply. The girls all wear dresses and are taught to be ladylike and homemakers, while the boys get taught the valuable business skills and are not reprimanded for going to the slag heap with seam girls. It's all very strict, and Katniss wouldn't be surprised if they don't take her seriously now that Gale isn't at her side.

"We can do without bread for a while; we have plenty of food. Be grateful." Katniss hisses at her mother.

Her mother, still focused on her task, nods her head, "Stew would be nice. Bread with the stew would be nicer…some fresh herbs and vegetables, too."

Katniss growls quietly, turning away from her mother. Without Gale, she hasn't had much time to gather while out in the woods. Hunting, setting and checking the snare lines takes up too much of her time. Still, the herbs and vegetables aren't her mother's primary concerns. They have their own small vegetable garden out back.

She understands what her mother is saying. Her mother is trying to pressure her oldest daughter to go to the bakery to trade, but Katniss can't believe they'd want to see her now. They're mourning; it would be rude to intrude on them. Not that the bakery is closed, unlike other homes or business who have their doors closed throughout the Games when their child is reaped, the bakery is the only one in District 12 that can't afford to close down. People need bread, after all.

Her family needs bread.

Katniss groans, frustrated that her mother is right. She needs to go to town. Her family can't live off squirrel forever. Her sister is twelve and still growing like a weed. She'll need new shoes soon and a new jacket for winter. That's still a few months away, though. Now, her family needs bread.

"I'll go tomorrow."


She had gone into town, without much success. The cobbler was the only one that traded with her, and even he didn't look nearly as amicable as he usually does. Katniss is sure that if Delly wasn't standing behind her father, he wouldn't have traded with her. Delly is about the friendliest girl in the District. A bit lumpy and plain-faced, but kind and able to hold a conversation with anyone, be them Town or Seam.

As Katniss heads towards the Bakery, her resolve weakens with every step. She usually doesn't hesitate when it comes to the well-being of her family, but in this case, it's not her sibling that's in immediate danger of death, it's Peeta's. She can't in good conscience go to the bakery now, expecting everything to be the same. She doesn't deserve the treatment the other townies have been giving her lately, but if the Mellarks were to treat her just as harsh, Katniss wouldn't blame them. She shouldn't have put her nose where it didn't belong, and now both Peeta and Rye have to pay the price.

She's close enough to the bakery that she can hear the pigs in the back pen sequel. She spots the apple tree and quickly looks away, no need to bring up bad memories when she's already feeling bad as it is. She makes it up the back step ready to knock when she hears a noise inside and Mrs. Mellark's distinct yelling. It seems the decision has been made for her. It's not a good time. Still, it seems wrong to leave without at least trying to make amends.

Food has always been the best offering in District 12, mainly because there's never enough of it and sharing food means someone goes without. With care Katniss pulls out one of the bigger and fatter squirrels and lays it under the door, hoping it will bring them some comfort at least, that someone is thinking of them and Rye—of Peeta.

She heads back to the Seam, one last stop in mind before she heads home.

It being Sunday, Katniss had gone to the woods with the high expectation of seeing Gale there. She had even gone a little later than usual, adjusting her schedule to hopefully accommodate the over-worked miner that wanted to sleep in. Gale never showed, and Katniss spent another Sunday cursing his name.

Walking around Town had given Katniss time to cool off. Maybe Gale didn't show because he was too tired. She had already reasoned that she was being insensitive about him going into the mines. Him not showing up to hunt may have nothing to do with her. Katniss is trying to be reasonable, understanding, but she knows Gale all too well. He is quick to anger and stubborn in letting things go, he's a lot like her in that way.

She's just reached the Hawthornes when the door opens, a tall figure walking out.

"Gale?"

"Katniss?" He questions, looking at her like he's been caught red-handed, which is appropriate given the fact he's holding an empty game bag in his hand. "Before you say…"

"What the hell, Gale? Again? I waited for you this morning you know. If you didn't want to be my hunting partner you should have just said so." Angry, Katniss storms away.

"Katniss! Wait!" Katniss walks away as fast as she can, but Gale's much longer legs catch up to her in no time. He grabs her arm, pulling her back to him. The sudden pull disorients her a bit, causing her to lose balance and bump into Gale's chest. Flustered, Katniss tries to pull away but Gale's grip is strong, keeping her close.

"Gale! Let go!" She pushes against his chest, but he remains silent and unmoving. She looks up, a scowl firmly on her face but is caught off guard by the strange, unfiltered look on his face. "Gale?"

He shakes his head, a blush spreading across his dark cheeks, "Sorry." He lets her go. "I didn't mean to pull you so hard."

Katniss steps back, rubbing her arm, putting as much distance between herself and Gale. He notices, and his face falls for a second before being replaced by his familiar scowl. "What do you want, Gale?"

"Can we talk?"

"Isn't that what we're doing?"

"No, I mean," Her groans in frustration, "I just want to talk to you for a second. Maybe in the woods? I promise I won't take long; I've got to check my snare line."

"Here." Katniss thrusts her game bag in his face, "I checked them this morning."

"You didn't have to do that."

"Isn't that what you want, Gale? Isn't that what partners do? Or maybe not since you seem so hell bent on going out on your own."

"It's not what it seems. I was planning on going out this morning, but, well…"

"Well what? You still mad at me?"

"No," he shakes his head, frustrated, and shifts his silver gaze from her to the floor, "I overslept."

"Oh," And just like that her anger is gone. She should have known it had something to do with the mines.

"I know, it's stupid. I don't ever oversleep, and it's not like I wanted to it just sort of…happened. I didn't mean to leave you out there alone this morning. I'm just…tired, really tired."

"Gale…I'm sorr—"

"Don't—I don't want to hear it. It's not like it's only me, everyone in the Seam goes through the same thing. It'll get better, once I get used to the new schedule."

Katniss nods, but she knows that isn't true. Her father worked for more than fifteen years down in the mines, and every day she saw what a horrible burden it was for him. The weight of the hours and awful conditions weighed down on his shoulder and made the wrinkles on his face deepen. Her father was the liveliest man she ever knew, and even he couldn't escape the effects of the mines. If it wasn't the explosion that took him, it would have been something else just as terrible, black lung, crippling injury, or the kind of darkness that affects her mother now at the realization that this would be his life and nothing he did would ever change that.

"You wanted to catch up on your hunting." She states, gesturing to the game bag in his hand. It hurts a bit that he didn't expect her to help him out, especially when he needed it the most. Not that it would have been easy to ask for help, Gale is very proud and very Seam; conditioned to weather the worst storms without asking for help. Still, Katniss didn't make it any easier for him. She's so used to relying on herself that she forgets not everyone can do the same.

"Yeah," Gale nods.

"You don't have to do that, Gale. That's why I'm here. We're partners; we help each other out."

Gale looks down at her, the same unfiltered expression as before. It's so unnerving; Katniss can't help but blush. She wonders what he's thinking about that's making him look so…pensive. She wants to ask but knows better than to push. He needs time to collect his thoughts and even longer to form them into words she can understand. So she waits.

"It didn't feel like we're partners, last time we met like this. Why should I accept this when you didn't do the same for me?" He asks, holding up the game bag filled with meat.

Katniss tugs on her braid, "Okay, fair enough. I shouldn't have done that. The reality is neither of us can afford to go at it alone." She hates to admit it, but this past week without him has been unsuccessful. Still, if she must survive on her own, without him, she's sure that she'd manage.

"My thoughts exactly," Gale says, only the way he says it makes her feel like he's referring to something else, something bigger. "Ugh…none of this would have happened if it wasn't for that damn reaping." He mutters under his breath.

"What does the reaping have to—"

"Um, if you don't mind? I'm going to set the snares. Not that I don't think you didn't set them, but, no offense, you're not very good at it."

Katniss huffs, "We can't all be as delicate fingered as you, Gale. Mind if I come along? I could use the time to gather." Might as well fulfill one of her mother's requests, now that she failed at getting bread.

Gale nods his head, and the two set off for the woods.

The quiet between the two is expected, but not the tension. Everything unspoken between the two hunting partners has made the air thick and uncomfortable. The irony is not lost on Katniss; the nature of their partnership makes verbal communication unnecessary but perhaps if the two were more used to talking then this tension would not exist. Still, Katniss is not one to talk things out, it's taxing, and she's terrible at it anyway. If she spoke now, she'd just make things worse.

Katniss sets out on her own to gather while Gale sets the snares. They stay within earshot of each other, not veering too far in case someone finds themselves in need of help or cornered by an animal. Some time passes, and she's so focused on her task she doesn't hear Gale come up behind her.

"Not much luck this week, huh?"

"What do you mean?"

Gale holds up the game bag. Katniss frowns, "That's a good haul."

"Too good. Doesn't look like you traded any unless you're holding back on me." He means supplies, coins, the typical fare they trade their game for; only there is none because Gale is right, it has not been a good week.

"You know I wouldn't do that." She says the words, but as she's come to learn this week, she's not really sure she believes them. She loathes to think it, but perhaps there isn't much trust between the two. Not that she thinks she'd deny Gale his fair share, but maybe Gale doesn't trust her to do that.

She remembers how it was, those first few weeks after they met. Katniss was the better shot, but Gale was older and had more experience in the woods. Their partnership was logical for their survival, but that didn't mean they were happy about it. Gale was annoyed with her, seeing her more as a liability than an asset, and Katniss feared Gale would take more for himself. He was much larger than her and had more mouths to feed; she feared he would leave her with very little for herself and her small family of three.

"I know. So then what?" He looks at her expectantly.

"Nothing good to trade for." She shrugs, not wanting to admit failure.

"Nothing good? Or no one willing to trade."

"As I said, Gale, nothing good to trade. The supply trains don't run during the games, and who knows when that will end. Guess townsfolk decided to stockpile this year."

"Right. Like I believe that. This is the best time of year to eat fresh meat, and with no supply trains running, it's not like they have much choice other than us. Why don't you tell me what's really go on?"

Katniss' frown deepens upset with his forceful request. "You wanna know? Fine! The townies aren't trading. There. Happy?" She turns around in a huff, not wanting to see his reaction. A beat of silence passes then she feels him come up next to her.

"Not trading? Why?"

"I don't know. They keep turning me away. But if I had to guess, I'd say they don't want to trade with a girl. You know how proper townies are."

"Unlikely. Not like their dumb rules apply to you."

"Excuse me? What's that's suppose to mean?"

"I didn't mean it like that. It's just…that they don't see you as a girl, or as a person really; all were are to them is seam trash, so it's not like they'd see you differently as to not trading with you. If they're desperate for fresh meat, then their only source is us, so they'd have to trade with you regardless."

"You think they found a different source?" Katniss asks with a hint of worry. Being the only hunters in the district has allowed Katniss to live relatively comfortable, as comfortable as she could possibly be considering she lives in the poorest district, but still, that's not a leverage she can afford to lose, especially if there's another hunter.

"I don't think so. If they had, the trading would have trickled down, not stopped altogether. Something is going on."

"You know what it is? Don't you?"

Gale groans, "You won't like the answer. I think they're doing it on purpose."

Katniss scoffs, "Okay, I know you hate townies as much as they hate us, but really? No one is stubborn enough to refuse food."

Gale gives her a pointed look, reminding her that a week ago she did exactly that.

"I don't know. Then...maybe they're upset that one of their own got reaped. It's been years since that's happened."

"I guess. I hope it blows over. I need to start saving up come winter."

"It probably will. Once the bloodbath starts, we always lose our tributes then."

Katniss snaps her head around quick, facing Gale with a dreaded look on her face. Rye can't die. He can't. Gale seemed to have suspected her reaction as he stares at her now, an analytical look about him. The same look he has when he's tracking game or setting a snare.

"I hope so," she mumbles, not wanting to start another fight.

Gale frowns, and she can almost feel the argument on the tip of his tongue. "We could go back into town, try to trade again." He says instead.

Katniss shakes her head, "Not much good it will do. We could try again next week. Maybe the whole thing will be forgotten then. We could trade in the afternoon if you'd like? I'll come out here and gather everything."

"I'll be good. I'll be here." He frowns.

Katniss nods, accepting his promise, although not really believing it. It seems to be a pattern with them lately. Lack of trust. The realization is disturbing to Katniss, but as she contemplates the realization during their walk back, she understands why she feels the way she does.

Gale and her, both of them, aren't just hunters, aren't just stubborn and prideful, they're survivalist. They're friends, but their families come first, they're own survival comes first. The awful truth of survivalist is that for one to survive, someone else must die. If a friend isn't an asset, isn't an ally, then they're a liability. Nothing is worse to a survivalist than a liability.

Their friendship is built on a rocky and desperate foundation. Anything could easily topple their partnership, destroy their foundation. Now that Katniss realizes this she's isn't surprised that there is tension and distrust between the two. If Katniss has secrets from Gale, then he must have some of his own. And really, it's like she's always said. The only person she can rely on is herself.


She tries again. Katniss tries to trade in town. Her mother had seemed even more distant when she had arrived home yesterday without bread. She didn't speak at all, and the slightest touch produced strong reactions.

Prim says that with the Games their mother is under more stress than usual. The deviation from routine has only made the stress worse, causing her to relapse slightly. Katniss thought the whole thing was absurd. The only deviation from routine affected Katniss. Without Gale and without trade. That only had to do with her. At the very least Katniss was still able to keep her family fed. And the Games are distressing for everyone. The nerve of her mother to act as if she's the only one that suffers. Still, to appease Prim, who is more affected by their mother's ailment, Katniss decided to give it another try.

She heads back into town, bypassing all stores and making her way to the Bakery. Her mother wants bread and bread she shall have. Her sure steps become meeker as she approaches the bakery. She's about to knock on the door when the sequel of the pigs distract her. They seem more energized today, eating their slop with vigor. One rather large pig eats with so much intensity that he spills slop over the pigpen, land right on her hunting boots.

"Dammit." She groans with disgust. She wipes away her boot on the dirt, not wanting to trade with the baker in soiled shoes. A big chunk is stuck on the lace of her shoe; she goes to remove it when she realizes what it is. A slop covered, furry piece of squirrel tail. She looks over the pigpen to find various pieces of squirrel meat mixed in the slop.

She can't believe what she sees. To refuse food is one thing, but to let it goes to waste. The audacity. She kicks at the pig pen in anger, in humiliation, and storms away. Moving forward as to seem that her original destination was not the Baker but someplace further ahead. She's about 3 feet away when she spots him.

Peeta.

Slumped under the apple tree. Black and Blue and patches of red covering his hands and neck. He doesn't even see her, with one eye swollen shut and head turned down. His chest wheezes lightly, and she just knows that he's struggling to breathe.

Peeta's mother is as prideful as she is hateful. If she beat her son for giving bread to a Seam girl, then she must have tried to kill him for getting a handout from the same Seam girl.

"Peeta!"


Author's Note

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

And to those that don't celebrate Christmas—HAPPY HOLIDAYS! This is my gift to all of you. I hope you enjoyed it! I did not want to finish off the year without updating my active fics at least one last time.

I want to thank all the people that favorited, followed, and reviewed this story. I'm gonna start responding/ commenting on reviews because it's the least I can do for your kind words. First, I want to thank the following for hitting that favorite/follow button: blooherring, laurita5811, In0203, BrokenHeartsMend, Tork17, Yirsy, lanney737, ILoveLAmpWayMoreThanYouDo, WhitneyTrey, bieresdelameuse, thebruners, KpopiLiz, NerdySecrets, babbs098, IvyGReese, SangEtOr, lanney737, oakfarmer, Cat of prey, samanthaD12, Mystars559, LT14, quatra88, Imaginative Me, Pally The Second, Ever Better Days, x suck my blood x luv ya x, RicardianScholar Clark-Weasley, ZialllloveOTP, thebruners, R5 Live

Reviewer Acknowledgments

:Thank you! Not soon enough, but at least I updated, right?

deltagirl74: Thank you! I feel you. I always felt he was one dimensional, so I'm hoping to add some depth with seeming too OC.

Ineedaname: Thank you! I'll try to update sooner in the future!

stjohn27: Your welcome! As promised, Peeta made a guest appearance. Short and bittersweet. Next chapter probably won't be good for him next chapter either.

MaidenAlice: Haha! I'm not laughing at your theory, and I'm glad you shared, but given what I know it's sort of ironic. You'll get it when we get to the interviews between the tributes and Caesar.

leoslady4ever: THANK YOU SO MUCH! That means a lot to me, especially since there are so many talented writers in the Hunger Games fandom. Truly, humbled and honored by this. I hope you enjoyed this chapter!

oakfarmer: THANK YOU! There are so many talented writers in this fandom so it's amazing to hear that you think I'm a contender. I'm glad you're enjoying it. It's really hard to stay in character when the plot is different so thank you for the reassurance.

Alright guys! Until next time! Happy New Years! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!