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Chapter 4

Somewhere between the beginning and the end of my story, Gale and I have curled up together on one end of the couch. His head rests on the armrest while I use his chest for a pillow. His arm hangs languidly over my shoulders, finally relaxed. A peaceful quiet settles over us and I feel gratified that Gale's mulling the story over thoughtfully.

And then I feel a rumble in his chest like he's laughing. I lift my head to look at him. "You did pay double for strawberries. That's why we always went to your house first." He grins like that's the funniest thing in the world.

That's what he got out of it? I wonder incredulously.

"It was like stealing from the rich to give to the poor," he says smugly.

"Ugh." I push off of him to sit up, straddling his hips. "I can't believe Katniss let you take advantage of me like that," I half-heartedly scold. "You should be ashamed."

Gale tucks his arms behind his head like a pillow and grins. "You think that it was all my idea?" he exclaims over the accusation. "Katniss suckered you just as much as I did. She's the one who took the money, remember?"

I bite down on the inside of my lip, trying not to smile. "You two were horrible." But we could obviously afford the strawberries, and Gale knows it. In fact, he's more likely to hug himself than apologize.

He tries to look contrite and fails, like he always does when he's secretly (and not so secretly) pleased with himself. "That's probably why your dad was okay with the idea of me as a son-in-law. He wanted a return on his money."

I smirk at him. "Maybe. Or maybe he fancied he'd finally get free strawberries. Family discount."

Gale does some quick calculating in his head, then looks pained. "With my pay right now, it would take me…at least twelve months to work off the extra amount you paid in strawberries over five years. Hell's teeth, you're expensive."

"I'm expensive?"

Gale looks horrified again. "I bet Cole could…"

I clasp Gale's face between my hands, forcing him to look up at me. "If you mention Cole one more time, I do have a rolling pin with your name on it," I threaten. "Did you not just listen to my Very Touching story? Or did you only hear the bit with the strawberries?"

Gale blinks at me, lips puckered like a goldfish between his cheeks. "Well, yeah, it's just that…," I think he says. It's a little jumbled.

"Well, what do you think?" I press.

Gale seizes my wrists to free his face from further squishing. The laughter's gone from his eyes, replaced by something more thoughtful. "You're dad was a little creepy." That makes me smile because it's true. "I mean, he knew all that about you and he was just okay with it," he tells me, looking stunned by all the things my father had figured out.

"Well, he wasn't okay with the newspapers bits," I remind him. "But he supported whatever he thought would make me happy. Even if it involved you – which was a long shot at that point, I know."

"Sorta wished I knew him better," Gale says. "And your mother."

"I wish you did too," I murmur. "They weren't perfect, but they loved me."

"Folks living in the Seam didn't get to see that side of him much. The egalitarian." Gale reaches for a strand of my blond hair and swallows hard. "It would have spared you and me from some misconceived notions."

"I don't think anyone really knew how much he cared about Twelve," I murmur. "His hands were tied by the Capitol."

"You should talk about him more, Madge," Gale says. "It'd be good for, well, both of us."

My throat tightens. "I know."

"I still think you deserve more than I can give you."

I shake my head. "I had everything I needed growing up, except maybe more friends and family. You give me that now." I squeeze his hand that still playing with my hair. "I don't have to feel lonely anymore."

Gale's eyebrows squinch together while he thinks about this. "I'm sorry about today—"

"You already apologized for that." Then I add, "Gale, you should tell me when something's upsetting you, in the future. Especially when you're feeling inadequate. We can fix it before it turns into a Galestrom."

"A what?"

"Before your ire explodes at dinner and frightens the children," I explain.

"Oh," he drawls. Then a lazy, fox-like grin spreads over his face. "It does give me an excuse to make things up to you."

"That does pose a problem." I consider a solution for about two seconds. "And there's that little matter of earning that strawberry money."

Gale's eyes flash, the way they always do when he suspects I'm dragging him into something like housework. He wouldn't think twice about cleaning out the gutters, but heaven forbid he learn to use the vacuum cleaner. "If this is a trick to get me to wash the dishes, Madge, I promise it won't work – "

That's not what I had in mind for payback. An intimate conversation like this deserves something better to cap it off. I bend over him, trying to look as enticing as I can with baby snot on my sleeve, then adjust the way I'm sitting until he gets the message and his eyes glaze over.

"So, no dishes?"

"No dishes."

His hands slide up my thighs. It doesn't matter if I've forgotten anything else I might have wanted to add because the conversation's officially over. He settles deeper into the sofa, pulling me down on top of him. My hair falls around us like a curtain, making it easy to forget that we're in the living room. Right now it's only the two of us.

I realize the danger of Gale not eating dinner. He's starving and taking it out on my lips, then my throat. I push myself against his warmth, closer, not close enough. We know each other better tonight than we have in a while, and lying with him like this is another way we're still learning, with our hands, legs and lips.

Gale stops suddenly, running his thumb along my chin. "Do you have a cold?" he asks. His voice sounds keep in his throat.

My brain's too muddled by all my other senses to figure out where that question came from. "No. Why?"

Gale shrugs, then his hand cups the back of my head, pulling me close again.




We've gotten better at our own version of the freeze dance since Rowan started to walk. Gale groans against my throat and I know what he's thinking. It's amazing we have two kids. It seems like there's always an interruption. He sits up, bringing me with him.

In the archway, Rowan's wiping his runny nose on his pajama sleeve and blinking in the lamplight.

"Why aren't you in bed, Ro?" Gale asks, brushing away strands of my hair still caught on his stubble.

"Bad dream." He toddles over to the couch and reaches for Gale to pick him up. He's sandwiched between us, but it's clear that he's here to talk to his papa, mano-a-mano.

"What was it this time, big guy?" Gale asks like he's talking to a comrade, rather than someone who's barely three.

Rowan climbs on Gale's lap and wraps his arms around his neck. "A monster wanted to eat mommy," he says with blue, soulful eyes. "You have to save her."

"Mom's right here, kiddo," Gale points out. The line between dreams and reality is pretty slim with children. "She's mostly safe."


Rowan sighs with relief. "Yeah." He lays his head on Gale's shoulder and falls asleep in a minute.

Gale blinks. "That was easy."

I stifle laugh. "See, you're his hero."

"Yours too, remember?" he says smugly. "I fixed that monster good."

"Thank you. I'd hate to be eaten," I reply wryly. For all we know, Rowan didn't have a bad dream, he just saw more than he should have of mommy and daddy and interpreted it in his own way. "But you were probably the monster, too."

Gale gets up off the couch holding Rowan and trying to stretch his back at the same time. "Guess I should tell him I'm sorry for yelling at him earlier," he murmurs thoughtfully.

"It wouldn't hurt," I say, curling up into the warm spot he left behind.

"You should go to bed."

I shake my head against the arm of the sofa. "I'll wait up," I say through a yawn. "You still owe me backpay on those strawberries."

Gale tucks Rowan into bed in record time.

Tada! The End!

I'm nominating myself as queen of the cock-blockage. Why is that never a fanfiction award category? :D Someday I'll be brave enough to write a romantic scene through without children or parents or acts of God or the dreaded fade to black interfering. But it is not this day – I couldn't scar little Rowan more. ;)