Title: Saturday Night in the Seam
Summary: What do people do for fun in District 12 when the threat of immediate death isn't hanging over them? A very unlikely, different explanation for Gale's hostility toward Madge on reaping day. Set pre-HG. GalexMadge.
Length: Three parts, approximately 14,000 words total.
Warnings: Nothing worse than the books. Also, nothing like the books in that it dwells in the hinted-at lighter side of District 12.
A/N: This story is unrelated to my other GalexMadge stories. I wrote it to take a break from "On What Grounds" and because I missed writing about them in District 12. This is a mostly fluffy, two-chapter piece set the autumn before The Hunger Games starts (which also means it's before Gale realized he had feelings for Katniss). This story assumes that, at least occasionally, District 12 wasn't completely enveloped in despair.
"The best thing about the Capitol basically ignoring Twelve all these years is that you people still have a little spontaneity." – Plutarch to Katniss, in Mockingjay at Finnick and Annie's wedding
Happiness is a full stomach and the cheerful jingling of coins in his pocket, more coins than he expected for such a rotten start to the day. Gale would whistle, but he doesn't want draw attention to their good fortune. Instead, he settles for grinning at Katniss, who's similarly cheerful. Not smiling, of course—first, because she's Katniss and second, because they're back inside the fence—though he recognizes a certain lightness to her eyes that wasn't there when they met at their rock in the pouring rain this morning. But the rain had cleared, the animals came out afterward to forage, and he and Katniss had ended up with their best haul of the year. And now, after dropping their bounty off at their homes and having successfully negotiated some killer trades at the Hob, he feels downright flush with cash. Just in time, too—Vick's been complaining about his shoes pinching his toes and the hand-me-down pair from Rory and Gale have utterly disintegrated.
"I'm not staying cooped up tonight," he announces. It's a perfect autumn evening and there's no school tomorrow—the perfect time to slip away and do some exploring outside the fence without having to worry about checking the snares or coming home empty-handed. "How about it?"
"Can't," Katniss says. "I promised Prim I'd help her make a new bed for Lady." She scrunches her nose in a gesture he recognizes as guilt. "I haven't spent much time with her lately."
"I didn't know you cared so much about goat feelings," Gale observes solemnly.
"Prim, not Lady," Katniss says quickly, and then studies him for a second, face cracking into the hint of a smile. She got it, just not right away.
"Tomorrow, then?" He's already eyeing the fence, picturing himself sliding back under it and decidedly not volunteering to help with unnecessary goat chores. Lady's old bed was fine; Prim is determined to spoil her. And more to the point, he's not intruding on sisterly bonding.
"Usual time," Katniss agrees. "See you then." She abruptly turns and starts down the street that leads to her house, her long braid swishing gently back and forth. He frowns as one of the Brickley brats stops her to ask some undoubtedly inane question—she looks taller than he'd realized, towering at least a foot and a half over the brat. They've had a good few months in the forest—maybe the calories are finally catching up with her.
He walks back toward the fence, deciding he's in the mood to head northwest tonight. It's too bad Katniss can't come, but he's not wasting this opportunity. As he approaches the fence, though, a feeling of dread starts to build in his chest when he senses the slight hum of electricity pulsing through the thin wires.
Even though he knows without a doubt the fence is on, he shoves a large branch toward it anyway. When the predictable crackling erupts, he hurls the stick angrily to the side and curses whatever is happening in town tonight that triggered the electricity to be turned on. He remembers hearing in school yesterday about some big event, but he tuned it out like he does with a lot of the town gossip that doesn't affect him. He should have known this day had been going too well.
He goes out of his way to kick every loose rock he can find as he trudges back to his house. His mood doesn't improve when he arrives home and is nearly run over by a pack of half-size boys pouring through the front door.
"Gale!" Rory pauses in the doorway, letting Vick and the rest of the boy mob tumble onward down the street without him. He's still breathless from what has no doubt been an entire day of running around with the other neighborhood kids. Gale feels sorry for their mother if this little gang has been zooming in and out of the house as much as he suspects. That was certainly how he operated at Rory's age. "Gale, everyone's playing Find the Coal Lump tonight! In the Meadow! Let's go!"
Gale looks at Rory like he's crazy.
"We need big kids on our team! Come on!"
Nobody a day over 15 still plays in the all-neighborhood games. Well, nobody with any self respect.
"No, I'm busy." He picks Rory up under his arms and easily moves him out of the doorway.
"But our side could actually win this time if you—"
"Better catch up or you'll be picked last," Gale warns, and like he expected that's all it takes for Rory to get an alarmed look on his face and start sprinting down the street.
It turns out the situation is not much better inside the house. His mother and Mrs. Sawyer are sitting at the kitchen table, clearly gossiping up a storm, while Posy and the Sawyer kid are playing with the Hawthornes' worn set of wooden building blocks on the living room floor. Their father had made the set when Gale was little, and now the edges are so worn that the opportunities to build stable structures is suspect, although Posy and the Sawyer kid seem to be satisfied.
"Hey," he says to his mom and Mrs. Sawyer. There, bare minimum greeting satisfied and he won't have to hear about his rudeness later.
"We didn't expect you back so soon," his mother says, smiling up at him. "Everything all right?"
"Fine," he says, dropping the coins from the Hob into the jar on the top shelf of the cupboard. The numerous heavy plunks are satisfying to hear. "Vick needs shoes."
"We'll go to the cobbler's tomorrow. Would you like some tea, dear? Mrs. Sawyer was just telling me about poor Mr. Redding's back trouble."
"Uh, no thanks," Gale says, backing away from the table as quickly as he can.
His mother focuses on her guest again. "I'm so sorry for the interruption."
"Oh, no worries! But his back is only the beginning, Hazelle, you'd never believe what the poor man has to endure…"
Gale tries to escape before he inadvertently overhears something about foot fungus or worse, but he doesn't get very far because his leg has grown a three-year old girl. Posy. Leg-clinging is her latest gambit for attention.
"Pose, get off."
She looks up at him with wide eyes. "Don't you want to play with us?"
The Sawyer kid is also peering at him, but looks decidedly less set on having Gale join their game. The boy looks a little scared, actually.
Posy grips his leg even tighter and smiles up at him; this is how the game works. Now it's Gale's turn to moan and drag her around the house and pretend to kick her off, so he obliges. By the time he's shaking her off his leg onto the couch, she's squealing so loudly their mother looks over with an exasperated expression. That in itself makes him laugh, since for their mother to get annoyed at the game must mean it's beyond her usual high tolerance for noise. Or maybe Mrs. Sawyer's gossip is more interesting than foot fungus.
"Sorry," he says, peeling Posy off. "Posy, no screaming, remember?"
She giggles for a few seconds and then recovers and slides off the couch. And then she abruptly knocks the block tower over, causing the Sawyer kid to gasp in shock.
"We're starting over," she decrees, daring the Sawyer kid to contradict her. He seems like he's confused about whether to cry or not.
Gale shakes his head in annoyance; hopefully either the kid outgrows his timidity or Posy makes some higher quality friends. He's pleased to see that she's running the show, though, and is glad their mom is so occupied with gossiping that she didn't witness Posy's outburst. She tries to curb Posy's dictatorial tendencies, but Gale doesn't want some wilting flower for a sister. He wants her to be strong, like Katniss, and if that means knocking over a few block towers here and there then so be it.
He inspects the living room for entertainment options, but nothing presents itself. He's stuck on the wooden bear he's carving for Vick's collection, there are no pressing repairs demanding his attention, and he's not touching that homework until a half hour before class on Monday morning. Maybe he can find Nate or Kellen.
"Going out again," he announces to his mother.
This was not what he had in mind. He found Nate and Kellen and somehow got conned into coming to town. To the community center. To a play being put on by jerks who have enough spare time in their lives on a regular basis to do something other than try to keep their families fed. Adding to the insult, it's some ridiculous love story with singing and good God he honestly thinks he'd rather listen to his mom and Mrs. Sawyer gossip than keep sitting through this.
He glares at Nate and leans over. "You owe me."
Nate nods vacantly, focused on that town girl he's been chasing for the past couple of months. She's onstage singing—terribly, in Gale's opinion—and Gale thinks this performance alone would be enough to put Nate off her. But his friend is firmly entranced, so Gale slumps into his chair a little further. At least they're sitting in the back so he can observe the rest of the audience as entertainment.
He'd been surprised to find that the attendees were a decent mix of town and Seam residents—Kellen had been right in pointing out that the "community center" meant the entire community, not just town dwellers. There are several people from Gale's class in school, including a few girls he'd rather not have to encounter again on weekends because of past… dealings. He smoothly pretends to be absorbed in the play after he notices Willow Falk trying to catch his eye. They'd only lasted a couple of weeks before she'd started to get too clingy. Now she's just another reminder of one of the (admittedly more trivial) reasons why District 12 feels so confining.
Nate's crush screeches her way through another few songs before the torturous show finally ends, sending Gale springing to his feet and not because he thinks the performance earned the enthusiastic clapping the other standing audience members are showering on them. He's anxious to get back to the Seam; it had occurred to him while the mayor's daughter was playing some mild, boring tune on the piano during the intermission that if they could find enough fiddlers, they could get a Seam dance going. It's barely even dark out, and the weather is nice enough and people would probably be up for it. Longer hours have been dictated in the mines recently, but the mines are closed tomorrow and when people have to work this hard, they're usually up for a rousing stomp.
But one look at Nate confirms that his friend has other plans. "I'll be back," Nate announces before disappearing into the throngs of people.
"We might not be here," Gale warns Nate's retreating back. But he's too late.
Kellen nudges him. "Check it out. I suspected…" Gale follows Kellen's eyeline, already irritated that one of his friends is pining for a town girl and not sure he can tolerate a second, but Kellen's watching the mayor's wife carry a tray of small paper cups toward a table. Gale inches forward and when he's close enough, sees that the cups are filled with an orange-colored liquid. And then the mayor's wife just leaves the cups on the table for anyone to take—people are taking them, too, and not being yelled at.
Gale notices a line forming, leading to the table with the paper cups, and immediately falls in behind the baker's sons. When he reaches the table, he selects the cup with the most liquid inside and downs it on the spot. The liquid is fizzy and so sugary his mouth puckers in surprise. It's like thinner and better-tasting sleep syrup with an orange twist. He turns around to scan the room and then looks back to the cups. He could take another one—there are clearly more cups than people and nobody is guarding them. Kellen seems to be thinking the same thing, so with a grin they each take a second paper cup. Gale crumples the first one into his pocket to hide it as he downs the second one, and then makes a show of tossing the second one into the trash.
As he's smugly leaving the table, he notices the mayor's daughter watching him from the side of the room. Judging him for having taken two cups. He meets her frown with narrowed eyes, daring her to make a fuss. He thinks he's safe, though—she's lunch buddies with Katniss, and he and Katniss sell her family berries so the Undersees are complicit with his and Katniss' poaching, which suggests some tolerance for bending the rules. She'd also look pretty shrewish to tattle on someone for taking two paper cups of whatever that delicious liquid was. She gazes back at him coolly but doesn't make a move to say anything to her mother, who's standing right next to her and is busy chatting with the Head Peacekeeper.
That sugary liquid nearly made up for having to sit through the terrible play, and Gale finds that he's able to wait for Nate a little more patiently now. He and Kellen migrate toward a group of classmates, mostly people he knows from the Seam, although there are a few town kids mixed in. The divisions between town and Seam have been growing more pronounced the older they get, and now in their final year of school he can practically feel the guilt from his town classmates that they have cushy apprenticeships and jobs in town waiting for them while everyone else has to hope they can survive the mines.
After a while, Nate returns, wearing a dopey expression and accompanied by the screeching blonde from the play. Nate pulls Gale and Kellen aside to introduce them.
"This is Georgia," he says proudly. "Wasn't she great?"
Gale grunts and holds out his hand to shake hers in greeting. "I've never seen anything like this before."
"Thank you," she gushes to the non-compliment, and then greets Kellen, too. She starts talking about how nervous she'd been, but how nice it was to see the whole community coming together to support the hard work of the actors… Gale tunes out her chatter, biting back his urge to set her straight that he only came to the play because Nate dragged him and that the mystery orange liquid was by far the highlight of the evening.
When Kellen asks Georgia how long they had to rehearse, Nate pulls Gale aside. "There's a party after this," he says quietly. "At Georgia's house."
"You're invited?" He'd always assumed town kids had their own parties; Seam kids certainly did.
Nate nods anxiously. "She says her parents are open-minded…"
Gale doubts that, but he'll let the girl's parents be the ones to crush Nate's delusional hopes. "Well, good luck." He knocks Nate's shoulder, intending to give his friend an injection of fortitude to deal with a townie party and townie parents. "I'm going to try to find Orey and the others to see if we can get something going at the Clearing. See you Monday."
"No," Nate says urgently, grabbing Gale's arm. "You have to come."
"Not a chance." Gale shrugs off Nate. Even if he can't find the musicians, he'd rather take his chances with the gossip fest back home. Posy and her little friend will have to go to bed at some point; the moms can't keep going forever.
"Georgia told me to make sure you came, too," Nate admits. "I think one of her friends likes you."
Georgia drops even lower in Gale's estimation at this news, and he pauses to glare at her, which she doesn't notice because she's busy re-enacting a scene for a captive audience. "She should want to see you for you," Gale says sternly. "It shouldn't matter what I'm doing."
"She does," Nate defends. "If you came it would be a… bonus."
Gale keeps glowering in Georgia's direction. There's a reason he avoids town girls: in addition to being snobs they also invariably engage in these types of tactics. "I'm not leading on some town girl so you can win points."
"Just make an appearance, then leave," Nate says. "I cover for you all the time," he reminds Gale.
"I never ask you to," Gale snaps. He prides himself on dealing with his unwanted admirers directly. Just because Nate takes it upon himself to unnecessarily console them doesn't mean Gale owes him anything.
But Nate's wearing the same expression Vick does when he wants Gale to teach him card tricks. He can't say no to such pitiful desperation. "Fine. But I'm leaving as soon as humanly possible." Nate doesn't respond because he's already eagerly reporting back to Georgia.
Eventually the group migrates over to the basement of the doctor's house, where Gale's pleased to find a variety of snacks and drinks sitting out on tables on the side of a large room, making him almost reconsider what a bad idea this was. The fact that people in town have enough extra food to share at large parties is galling, and he does his part to help equalize the disparity. He's considering whether he could slide a few cookies into his pocket for Rory, Vick, and Posy when he notices a town boy, also helping himself to the cookies, watching him suspiciously.
Gale glares at the kid, who probably suspects Gale wanted to smuggle extra cookies away, until the kid backs off and pretends to casually walk over to a small group of town kids. But it's too late: Gale's already seething at the implied accusation that people from Seam steal and don't belong at parties like this. It wouldn't have been stealing—the stupid cookies are just sitting out and that snotty kid already shoved at least three into his fat mouth.
The allure of the cookies soured, Gale turns his attention—but not his body, he won't give the town kid the satisfaction of yielding the snack table territory—to the rest of the room. He's mildly surprised to observe how many of his Seam friends ended up coming to this party, and presumably not through manipulation and coercion. Maybe they were similarly enticed by the possibility of free food; nearly everyone is nibbling on something. When he notices that the town kids are also taking seconds and thirds of the cookies, too, he relaxes slightly.
One of Georgia's friends keeps tossing her hair and looking over her shoulder in his direction, but he carefully avoids eye contact. Besides being from town (strike one), she's not actually that pretty (strike two) and he heard her bragging to someone else about how much money her parents make at their furniture store (surely even the town kids can agree that's tacky: strike three). Instead he entertains himself by watching Katniss' lunch friend, the mayor's daughter, who's clearly on an awkward date and doesn't appear to have Gale's skill at eluding uninteresting people. Her date keeps inching closer to her and leaning in to whisper things to her and she keeps backing away, possibly without realizing it. Maybe the kid has bad breath. When the guy tries to rest his hand on the small of her back, the mayor's daughter stumbles backward and mumbles something about getting them drinks.
Out of boredom, Gale walks over to the drink table at the same time and stands behind her to wait until she's finished. He'll have one more cup of punch for the road and then ditch this place; that will have to be good enough for Nate. As the mayor's daughter is using the ladle to fill two glasses with punch, he studies how her wavy blonde hair is actually made up of strands of multiple colors—some are so light they could be white, others are yellow, and some could be brown. It's strange to see the variety up close.
But her hair is ultimately not that interesting and he begins to suspect she's taking her sweet time with the punch because she's trying to avoid Mr. Gropey. Before he can stop himself, he's offering unsolicited advice to her.
"Just tell him to back off if you don't like him."
The mayor's daughter flinches and drops one of the cups into the punch bowl. She looks over her shoulder to glare at Gale before she starts delicately fishing out the submerged cup.
"You scared me," she says unnecessarily, successfully extracting the cup and attempting to dry it off with one of the napkins.
He steps up to the table and hands her another napkin, which she accepts wordlessly and then starts re-filling the cup. Gale realizes he's never spoken directly to her before, despite seeing her several times a week when he has to confer with Katniss at lunch time about their hunting schedule ("Today?" "Yes." "Bring the new wire." "Fine.") or when they sell things to the mayor's family. He lets Katniss handle the negotiations with the Undersees since she's more invested. Plus that way she can pull her weight while he interacts with some of their more unsavory customers. He prefers to minimize Katniss' contact with the particularly skeezy Peackeepers.
The mayor's daughter must be thinking of Katniss, too, because she says, "I didn't see Katniss tonight. She wasn't enticed by the free juice and cookies?"
He doesn't deny her implication that the primary attraction of both the play and the after-party was the free nourishment. He sat through that play and he's enduring this party; he's earned whatever he's consumed. Plus, he'd rather people think his motivation in attending these events was mercenary rather than because he wanted to, because he definitely did not want to.
"She's with Prim tonight," he says. That sounds better than saying Katniss was more inclined to hang out with a goat than spend an evening in the forest with Gale. "More free juice and cookies for the rest of us."
"More for some than for others," the mayor's daughter says, raising her eyebrows at him. He knows she saw him take the extra juice; maybe she also saw him helping himself to the snacks at this party. Well, so what—everything was sitting out for the taking and he'd have been a fool not to take advantage of it. Then she picks up her two glasses filled with punch. "And I didn't ask for your advice on manners."
"It's not manners," he corrects, a little disgusted that she has any confusion on this issue. "If you don't like someone, tell them to back the hell off."
She looks confused and then smiles sweetly at him. "In that case, please back the hell off."
He's so shocked he doesn't process the insult right away, but when it sinks in as she walks away he starts to get annoyed. She shouldn't like that jerk town kid who's all over her; Gale's never done anything to earn her annoyance. He's always either been perfectly civil or ignored her, which counts as civil in his book.
He slumps back against the wall to focus his energy on glaring at the mayor's daughter. That kid she's with probably only likes her because she's rich, and the fact that she's putting up with him despite clearly loathing him just illustrates her own poor character. He wonders if Katniss knows her lunch buddy is like this. They don't seem to talk much at lunch; it's possible the mayor's daughter has been hiding her true nature from Katniss this whole time. He'd better keep an eye on her so he can warn Katniss.
The mayor's daughter returns to her date and hands him the cup of punch, and sure enough, after a few minutes the creep tries to snake his spindly little arm around her waist. Surprisingly, though, the mayor's daughter responds by smoothly stepping back and pulling him aside. Gale watches as she hands him her punch glass, touches her head briefly with a wince, and then starts to walk away. It's obvious she's making excuses about having a headache and leaving the party. Maybe not being as forthright as she should, but it's possible she's not as lame as he suspected. And then to Gale's shock, she looks straight at him and very subtly shrugs as she winds through the other guests on her way to the door.
He smirks at her. Maybe he won't have to give Katniss a hard time about her choice in lunch buddies after all.
A/N: Next chapter is from Madge's perspective and involves a trip to the Seam.