Title: Not Yet a Hurricane
Characters/Pairings: Gale, Madge, Everdeen family, Hawthorne family, Mayor Undersee, Mr. Mellark, etc. (Gale/Madge, Gale/Katniss, Katniss/Peeta)
Warnings: Same as the books
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing in the sandbox
Rating: PG / Teen
Spoilers: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire
Summary: It's harder than people realize to be the one left behind. Gale's story of Katniss and Peeta's Hunger Games. Gale POV, slight Gale/Madge.
Author Notes: I had to write this to fill in the gaps for my own curiosity about what was happening back in District 12 during the 74th Hunger Games. It's also my attempt to better understand Gale, as seen through a Gale/Madge filter.
Gale copes at first by hunting more frequently. After the shock of Prim being selected and Katniss volunteering in her place at the reaping, and then the hurried good-byes at the Justice Center, he has a hard time adjusting to even the idea of Katniss even being in the Capitol let alone the reality of probably dying there. He notices her absence most acutely in the forest and tries to pretend it's like when she had that tenacious cold last winter and couldn't leave the house for a week, but it doesn't work. Still, at least hunting keeps him busy.
His thoughts shift wildly between despair that she has only days left to live, and on the other end of the spectrum, cautious hopefulness that maybe, if the arena's conditions are just right and she can get a bow and arrow, just maybe she'll make it home. The Opening Ceremony gave him a brief shot of optimism because her costume attracted such a strong response from the Capitol spectators – that's got to be good for sponsorship prospects, isn't it?
He also spends more time hunting because he has more mouths to provide for, and frankly would rather be in the woods than in town or the Seam, where he gets nothing but pitying looks. Everyone knows he and Katniss are friends, and probably suspects they're more than friends or will get married at some point, but he can't endure the looks and prefers to spend his afternoons with animals and trees. The trees don't have eyes and if the animals look at him the wrong way, he can shoot them.
He's dropping off some game for the Everdeens when the Gamemakers' scores of the tributes are televised. Peeta gets an impressive score - in the range of what the Careers get and higher any previous District 12 tribute Gale can recall. Gale hadn't been legitimately concerned about Peeta as a threat until that moment, but he's distracted with second thoughts until Katniss' eleven flashes on the screen. Mrs. Everdeen gasps and Prim squeals.
"Eleven!" Prim looks at Gale, who's leaning uncomfortably against the front door. "She really might come home to us?" She looks so hopeful.
Gale feels elevated by Katniss' score, and nods abruptly. "She's Katniss," he says by way of explanation, and then leaves before the announcers can dissect all the scores. There's no hope of catching a glimpse of her today on the screen anyway, and the commentary always makes him want to throttle someone.
He walks to the Hob to do some trading, where he overhears some of the men modifying their bets on Katniss.
"Twenty that she'll outlast Mellark," Staro says, handing a man in a grey shirt a piece of paper.
"Thirty for me," another man says.
Before he's even aware of what he's doing, Gale slams the first two men into the wall with a snarl. "How dare you?"
Staro, who's much larger than Gale, roughly pushes back, sending Gale stumbling and his game bag onto the ground. "Mind your own business, Hawthorne."
Several of the other people who'd been waiting to adjust their odds or place bets watch Gale uncomfortably. If a real fight breaks out, the Peacekeepers will feel like they should shut down the Hob, which hurts everyone. They glare at him; Gale knows this as well as they do.
"You know her," he seethes. "You should be taking up a collection for sponsorship, not betting." He makes sure to look each person in the eye so they can feel the full effect of his rage. Once he sees some of the men avert their eyes and shift uncomfortably, he knows he's had an impact. He angrily picks up his bag and pushes his way out of the Hob, unwilling to do any trading. He stays up late that night smoking the leftover game that he should have traded, and if the smoke irritates his eyes a little, well, that's only to be expected isn't it?
The interviews are being aired the next day as mandatory viewing, and the government is requiring the Everdeens and Mellarks to watch on the large screen in the town square so Gale goes to watch there, too. The screen dominates the eastern side of the town square, and is surrounded by rows and rows of folding chairs. Gale consciously sits away from his family and his friends from school. The only people he could fathom sitting by for this experience are the Everdeens, but they're with the Mellarks in the reserved section in the front.
The mayor signals for the screen to be activated, then settles into his official seat with his staff. On screen, Gale sees Katniss and Peeta enter the stadium, standing out from the other tributes much like on the night of the opening ceremony. Katniss' skin has gold dust all over it so she looks like she's glowing. The effect is spectacular, but it makes Gale ill to think what they're doing to his Katniss: dressing her up for the slaughter. How can anyone see this as something to cheer? At least no one in District 12 is buying into the hype; people in the town square are watching as sullenly as if it were a funeral procession.
Tributes are still filing into their seats on the stage when the mayor's daughter Madge slips into the empty seat next to Gale. He's annoyed she's breaking the unwritten rule to leave him the hell alone and doesn't acknowledge her. Just because she and Katniss eat lunch together and because he unwisely let her cut in on some of his good-bye time with Katniss after the reaping doesn't mean he needs to be nice to her.
Madge either doesn't pick up on or ignores his hostility. Watching the screen instead of Gale, she says during a lull in the broadcast, "We're all contributing money to sponsor Katniss and Peeta."
Good. It's the least the wealthy people in town can do. He doesn't feel the need to congratulate her on what is obviously self-satisfied righteousness by people who should be doing more all the time.
Madge continues. "My mother's been talking to Haymitch Abernathy and he thinks if we can raise 400 we could send them some bread. Or medicine. Or, I guess it depends on what they might need…" She trails off, evidently thinking of all the possible necessities their survival could depend on.
He isn't sure what kind of response she's expecting. He doesn't trust himself to say anything that won't sound too bitter or suggest that every one of these people in town should sell their homes and possessions so they can give Katniss the best advantages any tribute has ever received. Instead, he makes a noncommittal noise and keeps watching the screen. The female tribute from District 4 is answering the host's questions but all Gale can see is a mental image of this girl chasing Katniss with a spear. There were a lot of spears in the arena last year, so maybe the weapon of choice this year will be something even nastier…
"I was thinking," Madge says hesitantly later during the transition between the tributes from 6 and 7, "that people from the Seam might want to contribute, too. In whatever way they can - I know people love Katniss everywhere. The sponsorship should be on behalf of all of District 12."
Gale starts to say that people in the Seam can barely feed themselves so how could they squeeze any extra money out of their purses, but he knows Madge is aware of this as well and recognizes that she's making an overture about district unity. He looks at her for the first time. She's classic Town, with the same blond locks and softness evident in Peeta Mellark. But she's Katniss' friend and probably knows Peeta pretty well, too, so Gale begrudgingly appreciates her attempt to not let the Hunger Games create an even greater rift between town and the Seam. And he certainly understands the need to do something, no matter how small it may seem.
"That's a good idea," he finally says, and thinks that Madge seems relieved he didn't bite her head off.
"The idea made its way to me via the Hob last night…" she says, smiling slightly. Gale assumes she means to imply that she heard of his confrontation with the gamblers the previous evening, and wonders vaguely who she knows who frequents the Hob. She seems like the type to avoid even walking past it.
He shifts his full attention back to the screen, torn between wanting to know the possible tactics of the people who will start trying to kill Katniss tomorrow and thinking it doesn't matter what he does or doesn't know since he's stuck here watching the Games on a screen.
Some of the tributes leave little room for imagination that they will transform into killers in the arena, while others just seem like kids at school or around the Seam. Emphasis on "kids." The little girl from District 11, for example, barely seems old enough to have qualified for a reaping.
Then Katniss is on the screen. Despite all the decorations and trappings, she's still the same beautiful Katniss he knows. The Capitol stylists managed to make her extravagant but still herself, and Gale can barely breathe as she answers inane questions about the food in the Capitol and shows off her dress. Her strategy seems to be to play along with the farce of glorifying the tributes, and he can't fault her for that. He even smiles at the thought of her enjoying all the rich meals. Prisoners do get whatever they want as a last meal, don't they?
Katniss' time on the screen passes too quickly. Three minutes is all he'll see of her until she goes into the arena, and once she's there how much time she gets depends on… He can't think it.
"She looks beautiful," Madge says in a soft, sad tone.
Gale forgot she was still sitting next to him. "Yeah," he finally agrees in a whisper. Because it's true. Madge smiles sadly at Gale, but he just turns his attention back to the screen for Peeta's interview.
Never in a hundred years would Gale have speculated that Peeta Mellark could have such crowd-pleasing skills. Actually, Gale realizes he doesn't know much about Peeta in general; he's just the good-natured youngest son of the baker. In comparison to his older brothers, he always seemed gentler, although Gale vaguely remembers that all of the Mellark boys tended to do well in the school wrestling competitions. Gale thinks to himself that Peeta is probably giving Katniss a run for the sponsorship money with his charming demeanor and anecdotes, when the interviewer starts asking him about girls back in District 12 and he reveals having a crush. Gale wonders idly if Madge is the girl in question - they're the same age and surely know one another. Maybe that's another reason why she's so keen on organizing a collection.
But then Peeta drops the bomb: that he's been nursing an unrequited crush on Katniss. Gale feels his eyes widening in shock, and the District 12 audience, equally surprised, starts whispering. The interviewer is probing for more details and the camera shifts to Katniss, awkwardly staring at her lap and blushing fiercely. Peeta says Katniss didn't know until this very second, and Katniss' reaction seems to confirm that: she appears to be caught totally off guard and uncomfortable.
What kind of game is Peeta playing? Gale never would have expected the baker's youngest son to develop a strategy like this… Like what, though? What is he trying to do? Peeta clearly "won" the interviews - the crowd in the Capitol went crazy after his announcement and he'll surely dominate the post-interview analysis. So that's good for sponsorship but what about in the arena…? Most importantly, how does whatever strategy this is affect Katniss? Is he trying to lull her into a false sense of security? She'd never fall for that; if that's the strategy it's bound to fail.
Gale belatedly realizes that many of the District 12 audience are turning around to gauge his own reaction to this news. He stares blankly at a few people in return and then feels the urgent need to get out of the town square as quickly as possible.
As soon as they're released from the viewing, Gale darts out to the street and cuts over to one of the alleys so he can think to himself. He doesn't even notice his name being called until he's a block away.
Madge is running behind him. "You're fast," she huffs as she stops a few feet from him.
"What do you want?" He snaps.
She doesn't seem phased in the slightest at his rudeness. "The collection? Can you talk to people in the Seam and see what kind of response we get?"
"'Response' and 'actual money' aren't necessarily related," he says, annoyed at her euphemism. "But, yeah, I'll ask people."
Madge nods approvingly. "Once we have the total amount, my mother can get in touch with Haymitch Abernathy about buying a sponsorship."
Gale suddenly feels a wave of nausea. The sponsorship just makes it seem even more real that Katniss really is going to be in the arena, fighting for her life, starting tomorrow morning. Who knows what conditions or monsters she'll be facing, or what tricks the other tributes have up their sleeves…
"Do you know Mellark very well?" He blurts out his question to Madge before having a chance to consider it. He doesn't want to be conversing with this girl, but maybe she does have some kind of insight into Peeta's crazy strategy. Not knowing is driving Gale crazy.
"Sort of," she says. "But I don't really spend much time with the other kids…" Gale realizes this is true; he's only ever seen her with Katniss at school and otherwise she seems to spend a lot of time in her family's large house. There must be so many rooms she can change her scenery by just walking a few feet.
"Do you know what his strategy might be?"
Madge thinks for a moment and then shakes her head. "Getting sponsors?"
"Clearly. But what angle is he going after with Katniss? Could he be trying to trick her somehow?"
Madge mulls the question for several moments, during which Gale, whose mind is bombarded with suspicious theories, starts wondering on his own how Katniss is reacting. If she's trying to figure out Mellark's strategy the same way Gale is. Or if she knows already… She and Mellark were friendly and, weirdly, holding hands during the Opening Ceremony - is this part of a bigger strategy? But she seemed surprised by Peeta's announcement. As well as Gale knows Katniss, he finds himself unable to predict how she might respond to news of a surprise crush. Even if it's a fake crush. She's always seemed so uncomfortable and disinterested in that type of thing. Unless it's something she's in on, chances are she'll be suspicious and disregard it as a secondary issue to her concerns of claiming supplies and avoiding death at the Cornucopia tomorrow morning.
"I guess there's always the possibility that he really does like her and is trying to help her," Madge offers. But she doesn't sound very confident in her theory and Gale dismisses it as well.
"They barely know each other and are supposed to start trying to kill each other tomorrow. I can't imagine he'd try to help her." Gale knows he would, but what good is he when he's in District 12 and Katniss has to go to the arena tomorrow?
"Well…" Madge says, searching for an explanation. "It sure was a hit with the Capitol crowds. It adds extra drama…"
Gale is silent for a few minutes, mulling the possible explanations. He doesn't know why he can't let this go; his analyzing of the potential strategic implications to Katniss has no actual effect on the Games. Like everyone except for the 24 tributes and the Gamemakers, he's nothing but a spectator. Nothing he says or thinks or theorizes about makes any difference at all in the outcome. He turns around and kicks the wall of the building he's standing next to, sending a cloud of soot particles into the air.
Madge clears her throat. "I'm sure Katniss won't fall for any tricks. If there are any. I can't say that I think Peeta would try anything underhanded."
Gale is less confident in that, not knowing Peeta very well. And even if he did, there's no predicting how someone will react when faced with imminent death in the arena. Peeta could be a deadly killing machine for all Gale knows, and maybe even for all Peeta himself knows. But Gale trusts Katniss won't let her guard down. It's the only buoyant thought in his head, flooded with worries.
He mumbles that he needs to get home to check on his family and leaves Madge in the alley.
Back in the Seam he mentions the collection to everyone he encounters and most people find at least a few coins. He knows that even a small amount means a skipped meal, but everyone he asks willingly gives for Katniss' sake. It all makes him angrier than ever that the Capitol keeps them so close to the edge of survival that a few coins matter as much as they do. The people in town will be able to give much more, but won't be as harmed to part with a few coins. On the other hand, as a percentage of their assets, the people in the Seam are giving hugely… He thanks everyone sincerely and reassures them that Katniss can make it home. He needs to keep saying it aloud to remind himself.