Chapter 32: Grudging empathy

Author: Carla, aka cali-chan
Rating: Most likely PG-13. Nothing worse than what's in the books.
Genre: Adventure/suspense/drama/romance... again, pretty much what's in the books.
Pairings: Peeta/Katniss, Rory/Prim... and probably others. You'll see soon.
Canon/timeline: Same-context AU- this fic still happens in the same world as THG, but the actual events in the books never happened. I'm adding about five years to the characters from the age they were at the beginning of The Hunger Games. Katniss is 21.
Disclaimer: Yeah, just let me go get my transfer laser and switch bodies with Suzanne Collins. Until I find it in the mess that is my room, anything you can recognize belongs to her.

Note: I've never really tried this before (and I'm sure it will eventually come back and bite me in the behind), but each chapter will be from the PoV of a different character. You should be able to tell whose PoV it is fairly easily, though.

Summary: "Primrose Everdeen." This can't be happening, Katniss thought. She desperately pushed through the crowd. I volunteer!, she wanted to scream. I volunteer as tribute! But she couldn't, because she wasn't eligible for the reaping anymore. There was nothing she could do.



"The road to the future leads us smack into the wall. We simply ricochet off the alternatives that destiny offers." —Jacques-Yves Cousteau.



"...It's the baby I'm worried about."

No sooner were the words out of Mellark's mouth, was Gale already springing up from his chair and stalking out of the room. He was in the dining hall, having lunch with his family for once, as training had not yet re-started since the Capitol's attack. He hadn't been expecting a propo to air while he was eating his porridge, let alone that Mellark would have a bomb of his own to drop.

His jaw clenched tightly. That interview was part of the rebellion's plans and by all means he shouldn't have any reason to disagree with it, but the familiar anger and frustration bubbled up in him instantly. He left the dining hall with long strides, not bothering to respond to his family's inquiries about where he was going.

That was becoming a trend recently, wasn't it? Him walking out in a fit of anger at Mellark and leaving his family absolutely confused as to his reasons? It only made him even angrier.

The baker wasn't particularly hard to find; Gale knew all military trainees were scheduled to take their lunch break in the same period, and he wasn't in the dining hall, so unless he had snuck into the kitchen or something (he hadn't- Gale checked), he had to be in his room. A quick second to browse to Thirteen's directory let him know which number he was looking for. Apparently Mellark's security clearance wasn't high enough for his compartment number to be private.

The room was in the mid-to-upper levels, closer to the back elevators, which was a section that had gone untouched by the Capitol bombings. He approached the door and didn't bother to press the button for the bell, he simply knocked sharply three times and waited. If Dough Boy didn't answer, he'd just knock harder.

Thankfully it didn't get to that point: a few seconds later the door opened and Mellark regarded him with a confused expression. "Gale?" he asked, clearly surprised to see him at his door. "Can I help you with anything?" he asked, politely but almost reluctantly, too. He stepped away from the door and back into the room, leaving the door open for Gale to come in if he wanted.

He noticed the blond man moved closer to one of the beds- there was something on top of it, he saw: a large, dark leather case, similar to those he'd seen some Town people carry musical instruments in. Did Mellark play an instrument or something? He hadn't had that case in his possession when he and Katniss left Twelve, so he wondered where it came from. The lid was down but the locks were open. "What's that?" he asked, taking a step into the room.

"That's..." he began to answer, but then he seemed to think better about it. "It's nothing," he finally said, with a shake of his head, as he made to close the locks on the case and lowered it carefully to the floor, under the double bed. "So, what did you want?"

Gale recognized an attempt at deflecting when he heard one, but he shrugged it off this time; he had more important things to deal with, so he wasn't going to beat around the bush. "You told the whole of Panem that Katniss is pregnant with your child." The words themselves were not an accusation, but Gale couldn't help but make them sound like one.

"I had to," Mellark responded, without even a second of hesitation.

"Right, and it's just a bonus that now everybody thinks you've slept with her." There was something about the certainty with which Mellark had replied, like Katniss's well-being had somehow become his responsibility, that irritated Gale to no end. So when he responded, this time it really was an accusation.

Mellark's brows drew together in a weird expression, like he wasn't sure if he wanted to frown or roll his eyes. "She's my wife. I'm pretty sure everybody already assumes we've slept together."

"She's not your wife!" he snapped back at the younger man, incensed.

"I know that," Mellark shot back, looking at Gale straight in the eye, his tone not wavering even for a moment. Once again he had to give it to the guy: he was not easy to intimidate. "I know that, and you know that, but they don't, and that might just be the one thing that can get her out of there alive."

"And what about everybody from Twelve, huh?" he expanded, "She lived there her whole life. There's people she went to school with, people she traded with, interacted with. Can you guess what they're going to think of her now, when they learned she got married in secret and is suddenly pregnant?" He saw Mellark finally settled on a frown- seemingly not angry, but confused- and figured his words were giving the baker pause for once. "Did you even stop to consider that before you made your little announcement?"

"I did what I had to do to keep her from getting tortured... or worse," Mellark retorted, finally having to raise his voice in order to match Gale's. The reminder of what the Capitol might be doing to Katniss was unnecessary; Gale had been thinking of nothing but that since her interview with Flickerman aired.

Mellark shook his head and continued speaking. "Look, for some... reason, people are actually invested in this romance thing, and according to Haymitch they're rooting for us, but that's not enough as long as her treason charges give them legitimate reason to punish her. But a baby- if that punishment involves hurting a baby, that might be what finally pushes them into public outrage." He let his breath out in one disgruntled exhalation. "Besides, if these people really know her, then... they'll know it's just pretend," he added with a dejected shrug.

Gale watched him carefully. He knew it had to have taken a lot for the baker to admit something like that to him, but he wasn't about to comfort the guy either. He wished things were that black-and-white, but they weren't. People were going to talk, and whether Mellark cared about it or not, it was going to affect Katniss somehow. So someone needed to think about how to deal with it, and he guessed it would have to be him. That suited him just fine. He wasn't about to let anyone talk ill of Katniss.

The most irksome thing about it was that Katniss probably wouldn't care either. She never really cared about what people thought of her- not unless it affected Prim somehow. And he knew why Mellark had done what he did. He saw the logic behind it, though he would never admit it out loud, and he recognized that everything Mellark did, he did to help Katniss; Gale could recognize it, because he himself would do anything to get her back.

But that didn't mean he had to like it. So when he heard Mellark say those words on the television, he immediately needed to lash out somehow, and that's the feeling that spurred him to come and find the blond man. He knew it sounded petty, like he was simply turning this into some kind of pissing contest because he'd been spurned. But there was more to it than that. The truth was he needed to yell at Mellark for something- anything- because he was helping Katniss where Gale only felt impotent, and he really wanted to hate him for it.

It was damn hard to hate the guy when standing right in front of him, though, particularly when everything he was saying made sense.

Mellark kept elaborating, and that's around the time Gale decided it had been a stupid idea to come here in the first place. Could this man not stop talking? "Listen, you would do anything to make sure she's alright, wouldn't you?" He asked, as if he knew what Gale had been thinking just a few seconds previous. The answer to that must've been obvious from his expression, because the blond went on without him ever giving a response. "Well, I feel the same way. I just want her to be safe."

He didn't need to say it; Gale knew. He knew, dammit. He wasn't an idiot. It was painfully obvious that every feeling Mellark publically claimed to have for Katniss was sincere. Nobody could be that good an actor, not with his obvious frustration and desperation, even when the cameras were not on him... Mellark wasn't just interested in her; he was in love with her. And Gale wished he couldn't see it, but he did.

"And if we both want the same thing," Mellark continued, "wouldn't it be better if we worked together?" He took a breath, giving Gale a look he couldn't figure out- somewhere between resigned and determined, if that was even possible. "I know you don't like me, Gale. I get it. That's fine. But we're both on the same team here, okay?"

"Fine," he relented, through gritted teeth. He wasn't sure if he has really convinced working together would improve their chances of getting Katniss back, or if he just said it to shut the guy up. He was more inclined to believe the latter. "But next time you wanna pull something like this, you let me know first," he added, narrowing his eyes at the baker as if emphasizing how serious he was about this.

"I can do that," Mellark acquiesced, crossing his arms. They stared each other down in silence for a minute, until Gale decided he'd had enough of this conversation and turned to leave.

About a week later, he got pulled out of sharpshooter training at the shooting range by a call to Command. He quickly disassembled and stored his weapon, knowing whatever was going on had to be about Katniss if his presence was requested so urgently. He wasn't about to waste time.

When he got to Command, Mellark was already there. So were Abernathy and Odair, that aggravating Capitol man, Heavensbee, and a handful other higher-ups from the military. President Coin was sitting to the front of the room, and she didn't even glance in his direction as he tiptoed into the room, but Gale still felt like he was back in high school and caught sneaking back into class after playing hooky during fourth period.

Everybody was listening attentively to a slight man wearing oversized glasses- Beetee, he recalled, a former Victor from District Three- as he explained something they were about to see in a video. "...This hasn't aired anywhere. I don't think they were planning on airing it," he was saying, as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "We were able to hack into the Capitol's server and copy the clip."

Gale took in the man's slightly shaky intonation. This was the computer genius behind their so-called "airtime assault"? The one who had created the computer virus that allowed them to bring down the arena's force field? The one who kept communications between Thirteen and the rebels at the Capitol secret by keeping the government bouncing from signal to signal? He didn't look particularly imposing. But Gale didn't have time to keep pondering on it, as the man moved to the side so the video could play on the screen behind him.

He wasn't the only person in the room to tense up when the monitor came alive and the first thing they saw was Katniss.

This time, there was no fire dress, no fancy make-up, no bright lights. She was sitting on a gray floor, leaning back against a grey wall, no windows visible anywhere. She looked haggard, her olive complexion giving way to a sickly, yellowish pallor that reminded Gale of the first days of their friendship, when she seemed like she would starve to death any second. Her gray eyes were heavy-lidded, like she wasn't completely awake. She seemed to be physically unharmed, no sign of wounds or bruises anywhere, but even so, she looked like she wasn't quite there. She looked like the living dead.

The camera panned out and that's when they realized she wasn't alone: Caesar Flickerman was sitting in front of her. It seemed to Gale that they were trying to imitate the format of Mellark's propos, but Flickerman probably wasn't the type to stay off-camera. "Hello again, Katniss," the man intervened, sounding much more sobered down than his usual flamboyant approach.

"Hello, Caesar," Katniss replied, and it was obvious from just those two words alone that there was something wrong with her. Her tone was low, each syllable came out as a slur, and her head was lolling very slightly as she spoke. She was leaning sideways, like the wick of a candle that had its fire snuffed out. What had they done to her?

As if on cue, Flickerman turned to the camera to explain. "You may have noticed that Katniss here seems a little out of sorts today. But I'll lay your worries to rest: there is nothing wrong with her; it is simply the effect of a necessary medicine we administered to her. I assure you, the drowsiness is quite normal."

Someone toward the back of the room snorted, and Gale thought he might almost do the same. It didn't take a genius to know this "medicine" they had given her was nothing more than a sedative to keep her under control. She would never be this compliant when operating on full capacity.

The TV host turned to Katniss again. "So, Katniss. It seems you're looking alright."

"I'd look better if I had a stylist," she replied, and Gale could've chuckled if they were in any other situation. If it weren't for the slurring, the words might've had some bite to them- it was the first sign he could see that the Katniss he knew was still in there, although watered down.

Her response seemed to catch Flickerman slightly off-guard. "I meant because of your... condition," he added, clearly meaning her "pregnancy." Gale held no illusions that Snow had bought Mellark's reveal. They had tests for that sort of thing; they would've checked already. The fact that Flickerman was not immediately refuting the claim meant they thought going with the story might help them somehow- or more like attempting to convince everybody that baby had never existed to begin with would be counterproductive for them.

Well, he'll be damned. Mellark's plan had worked after all.

Katniss simply stared quietly at him, saying nothing. Initially Gale thought she might simply refusing to respond in protest, but the blank look in her eyes made him think she was either too out of it to understand what he said, or she simply didn't know anything about the baby she was supposedly expecting.

Flickerman tried again. "Have you been comfortable?" he asked her. Gale wasn't sure what they were going for with those types of questions. Did the Capitol really expect everyone watching to think they were treating Katniss well? It's not like they put her in a lush hotel room, he thought with derision. She's in a freaking cell.

"I've had worse," she eventually replied, after a little too long a pause, like it took her extra time to process the man's question.

"That's good. That's... that's good," Flickerman let out, slightly unprepared for her response. It was strange to see him so hesitant, but he guessed there were only so many ways to spin Katniss's out-of-it responses into something that painted the Capitol in a positive light. Perhaps that was part of the reason why this interview never made it to air.

"Now, Katniss, we were talking about your previous interview a few minutes ago, and you said you had something you needed to tell everyone. A mistake you made in what you said last time." Once again he was prodding her in a specific direction, Gale could discern. The Capitol wanted her to say something very specific... deny everything she'd said the last time, perhaps? There was no point to that; she had already warned Thirteen of the upcoming attack, and the district was still standing. That, she couldn't take back.

Once again it took her a while to respond, but when she did, she shifted her cloudy gray eyes toward the camera instead of Flickerman. "They want me to tell you that I was lying, that Thirteen isn't real." She shook her head, sending it lolling from side to side like it was a little too heavy to hold it upright. "But I won't," she finished, a hint of her usual stubbornness to her voice.

Flickerman let out a pained sigh, and grimaced. "Just cut," he told the cameraman with a dismissive wave of his hand, and that was the end of the clip.

Heavensbee's assistant, predictably, was the first to react, sounding more excited about this recent development than any normal person with a heart should be. "With some quick editing, we can get this on air by tomorrow morning," she said.

Gale immediately switched his attention toward her and her boss. "You can't put this on TV," he let out, a dark scowl marring his features. As he spoke, everybody in the room turned to look in his direction, though he hadn't intended to be so snappish. "What could we possibly gain from people seeing her like this?" he insisted, refusing to be shaken. He didn't want people to see Katniss, fiery Katniss who was the strongest person he knew, this weak, this vulnerable. It was wrong.

"On the contrary. Their medicine excuse is obviously flimsy," it was President Coin herself who responded to his objection, in her usual grave, inflectionless tone. "If audiences have grown to care for this girl, seeing her mistreated in such a way while she's pregnant is going to give them another reason to be angry at the Capitol. We need as many of those as we can."

"Oh, come now, lady," Haymitch intervened, and not for the first time Gale wondered how the abrasive drunk could get away with such blatant disrespect. He may not agree with Coin's strategic decisions, but he'd have to be pushed far if he ever talked back to the President of the district that sheltered them after their own was destroyed. Apparently, Haymitch felt no such obligations to the woman. "The only thing people are going to think when they see this is that we left her in their clutches. They'll think we failed."

"We did fail her," Mellark interjected. Gale turned to look at him; he was now sitting down, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, and looking down at the ground. Once again Gale found himself grudgingly empathizing: even seeing with their own eyes that Katniss was still alive, that didn't help the rotten feeling of knowing how much she had to have suffered over the past couple of weeks, simply because Coin wouldn't let them take action.

And that's just what Haymitch was doing: trying to exert more pressure on Coin, try to get her to at least lift a finger to get Katniss out of there. And it seemed like he had scored some points with his last remark, because Coin remained contemplative for a few seconds, as if weighing the former Victor's words in her head.

Finally, she spoke up again. "Alright. We'll organize a search party for her." Heads turned in her direction, mouths dropping. Abernathy looked fairly pleased with himself. Mellark stood up abruptly, eyes wide. Gale almost let out an exclamation of triumph. Nobody had actually expected her to relent, but nobody was about to argue, either. This was what they all wanted: to get Katniss back.

But there was not much time for rejoicing as she continued issuing orders almost immediately. "Beetee, keep trying to hack into their system for any source information on the video. Soldier Mellark, as she's your wife, I want you to work with Beetee, too, inspecting the clip itself. There might be slight indications in the video as to where they're keeping her."

"Uh, I think Gale should handle that one," Mellark intervened in a low tone, finally coming out of the shock to put his hands in his pockets. Gale turned to look at him again, surprised he would pass on an opportunity to help Katniss. It was bad enough it was only because of him that Gale had been allowed in Command; he didn't need to do Gale any more favors. He'd get involved in his own way. But then he understood, when the blond bashfully added: "He's known her longer."

And what he meant was: he knows her better than I do. Which Gale did.

If anyone thought that was suspicious, nobody showed it. "Very well then," President Coin agreed, with a nod. "Soldier Hawthorne, you have your orders. We'll reconvene when we have a lead." She stood up, picked up the data folders and planner book she always carried with her, and exited Command, most of the people from Thirteen trailing behind her.

As Gale made his way out of the room, he saw Mellark and Odair conversing in hushed tones in the hallway. Odair seemed very adamant about something, and Mellark kept nodding, as if trying to placate him. Gale didn't know what that was about, but he didn't care to find out either. He didn't want to be around either of them anymore than he needed to. He knew Mellark only did any of this because of Katniss, but for some reason it still felt like he owed the baker gratitude for something. And he wasn't about to thank the guy. Never.

He made his way to the dining hall; he didn't have to make his way back to training for a while, as the meeting had extended into his lunch hour. As he was walking down the narrow hallways, he caught sight of Madge, walking out of a doorway he presumed led to the scheduling office, where she worked. She usually had lunch at the same time he did, he would see her sometimes, sitting mostly on her own. Figuring they were both heading in the same direction anyway, he walked up to her.

She noticed him approaching and gave him a small wave. "Late for lunch, too?" she asked, with a light smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. No one he knew was really up to smiling ever since Twelve was destroyed, but she always seemed to want to give it a try.

"Got held up in Command," he mumbled with a shrug. He didn't really want to talk about the meeting at all; however, he was in a mood because of Mellark. Sometimes the irritation bubbled up in him, and it was hard not to go into a rant. Now that they were in Thirteen, and he didn't have to hold back for fear a Peacekeeper might hear him and arrest him for treason, it was a lot easier just to let his mouth run without a care on which topic he was touching upon. So the next phrase was out of his mouth without him even giving them a thought. "Really, what is it with you townies?" he asked.

It was more of a rhetorical question, but the girl walking beside him didn't seem to get that. "What do you mean?"

If she'd taken his inquiry as some kind of personal affront, she didn't show it, and maybe that's why he didn't bother filtering the rest of his words. "You'd think all you people would be self-centered and clueless about anything around you, but then you open your mouths and you have the gall to actually be right about things. What the hell?"

By that point, she actually seemed more amused than anything else. "I take it you think that's a bad thing," she said, looking like she could be about to chuckle. Her eyes, though tired from what he guessed was a short night of sleep and a hard morning at work, shone with mirth.

He snorted. "I don't know if it's bad... but it's damn annoying, that's for sure," he finished with a shake of his head. He could recall Madge herself being right about a few things when it came to him and Katniss, and he wasn't any more willing to admit it to her than he was to be in the same vicinity as Mellark.

"You mean Peeta's annoying," she stated, figuring out in just a few seconds just which townie he was specifically thinking of. It didn't take a genius; she had been around during quite a few of his confrontations with the baker. "Was the meeting about Katniss, then? Are there any news about her?"

He shook his head. "Can't say." She wasn't military and he didn't want to risk his already tentative clearance at Command by telling her more than she was allowed to know.

"Oh, come on," she said, apparently understanding that he didn't feel at liberty to discuss the topic with her. She probably knew how security clearance and confidentiality agreements worked, with her father's job and all. "Who am I going to tell? The only people I routinely hang out with are your family."

He threw her an annoyed look over his shoulder. In any other person the words might've sounded like sarcasm, but in her case it was mostly just the truth. Having no relatives left, Madge got placed in a compartment that was meant to be shared by two people, except there was no one really left to share it with her. Upon learning this, Gale's mother had sort of unofficially adopted her, and now Madge was sitting with his family during dinner every day. ("It'll be like old times," Vick commented, meaning the four or so days she brought them food while Gale was out of the district). Most days the kids managed to coerce into spending her "reflection" period in their compartment with them, too.

The one time he even pretended to object, his mother gave him one of those mother glares. So like it or not, he was getting used to her presence- and had witnessed first-hand that she really didn't have that many friends. "You hang out with that Cartwright girl, though," he pointed out, remembering he had seen the pasty-faced girl chattering animatedly in Madge's direction a few times during lunch.

She shook her head. "Delly doesn't count," she said, and it sounded almost uncharacteristically dismissive of her until she continued speaking, and then it made sense. "Even if I told her anything, she wouldn't listen. All she does is talk about her secret boyfriend." She sighed, moving a hand to press against the bridge of her nose. "I can't believe Delly actually found a boyfriend during a bombing and all I can manage is an imaginary one," she muttered under her breath, like the words were meant to be thought instead of spoken, but Gale could still piece it together.

He didn't know what, exactly, but something about that remark was funny to him. He stopped, grabbing her arm lightly to get her to do the same, and looked at her, one eyebrow raised. "You're lookin' for a summer fling in an underground bunker?" he asked, the idea so ludicrous that it was simply hilarious, and he couldn't not tease her about it. He was chuckling by the time he finished the question. Genuinely chuckling. It felt like an eternity since he'd last done so.

Her eyes widened, and her cheeks immediately turned a deep, rosy color. "I can't believe I said that out loud!" she admitted, confirming Gale's thoughts just a minute previous. "No, that's not what I meant, really." She was initially eager to stop the teasing but a couple of seconds later she realized the hilarity of the situation on her own and began to laugh. Honest-to-goodness laughter, the likes of which he hadn't heard in ages. It drew a grin from him. "It's just," she tried to explain, but she kept having to pause to take a break, she was laughing so hard. "It's just something funny that happened with my... mom..."

The mention of her deceased mother sobered her up pretty quickly, and he followed, the amusement gone just as fast as it came. They continued walking. "Never mind," she interjected, switching topics a little awkwardly. "We were talking about Katniss, though. Really, Gale, I won't say anything to anyone. I just want to know if she's okay."

He cringed. Seriously, was it a townie thing? Did they have some kind of magic with the blonde hair and blue eyes? Because again, he could understand the feeling. He didn't want to, but he did. It was the only reason he hadn't thrown Mellark's "favors" back in his face: because he needed to be in the loop when it came to Katniss, he couldn't not be, and an opportunity for that was something he couldn't turn down, no matter who it came from. He would swallow his pride if he had to, for Katniss.

Madge didn't have someone offering her a spot in Command, and likely wouldn't. She wasn't even in the military. There was no reasonable way for her to find anything about Katniss on her own, unless he told her. He could just give her the gist of it, without any confidential details, right?

Dammit. He was going soft.

He sighed. "She's still alive." Her eyes lit up immediately. "But she's not okay," he continued. He didn't want to burst her little hopeful bubble, but he was going to give her the truth, even if it wasn't pretty. "They're keeping her under some kind of sedation. They tried to interview her like that, but it didn't go well."

Madge's expression fell, worry clearly settling on her brow. "Do you think they're going to kill her?" she asked, in a very small voice. He remembered that tone from the forest, after the bombing and the death of her parents. She was genuinely distressed for Katniss. She was truly her friend.

"Not yet," he responded. And he wasn't lying; after seeing that poor attempt at an interview, there was no doubt in his mind that Mellark's trick truly changed the game. "People think she's pregnant, and if she suddenly winds up dead, they won't be happy. Even the Capitol people. Snow won't risk it." She still looked upset, and he couldn't blame her: it may seem like this turn of events gave them the upper hand, but until they managed to get her out of there, there were no guarantees.

"President Coin finally agreed to send in a retrieval team," he added, and that seemed to bring a little of that hope back to her expression. "We're looking for her now. Once we find her, we can get her back." He looked ahead, to where people were filing into the dining hall, a short distance down the hallway. "We will get her back."

He kept reminding himself of that, and there was renewed energy in his steps as they finally made it to the doors. He muttered a "see you at dinner" as he was about to split off from her, to have lunch with his usual group of fellow trainees. But before he could take a step he felt her touch his forearm to call his attention. "Gale?" He turned back to look at her, his eyebrows raised as if in question. She gave him a small smile. "You'll get Katniss back."

That's exactly what he had just said, so he was not quite sure what she meant with the reiteration. Did she think he would be a part of Katniss's rescue mission himself? He certainly intended to be, but he didn't know if he would be, not yet. Probably not until they found where the Capitol was keeping her.

He veered right and looked back at Madge over his shoulder one last time, her attempt at a smile still fixed in his direction. He imagined she was hoping, just as he was, that Thirteen intelligence would find Katniss soon.



Author's notes!—

-Cringe- Please don't kill me? -puppy face-

I know it's been forever since I last updated, and really I have no excuse. Between new fandoms and nosy relatives and just wanting to rest from life in general, I have not been in a writing frame of mind for the most part of my vacation. I haven't even started writing chapter 37 yet (keep your fingers crossed that my muse decides to return to me soon!). Still, I don't want to leave you guys hanging so I decided to post 32 anyway. (And then my computer died, and I thought I was going to lose all my files. Yep, that's just my karma. Thank goodness I managed to get them back- I was on the verge of throwing myself off a cliff, let me tell you).

I'm so grateful to anyone who took the time to give me a poke and ask about the status of the next update for this fanfic. Guilt tripping actually helps, haha! ;) I have to say that publishing this chapter is a gamble, though, because now I'm only 4 chapters ahead rather than 5, which means I have to plan every upcoming chapter a LOT more carefully. So it's likely that from now on chapters will trickle out slowly even if I do get back in the writing mood. That's what I get for coming up with such a darn complicated plot. -rolls eyes- I hope you guys can understand that. Sorry. I love you? -Crawls off into a corner and curls into a ball-

Now, about the chapter itself... "We're both on the same team here"- LOLOLOL see what i did there? xD I do hope Gale's point in that scene came across well. Before anyone jumps at me telling me how big a chauvinistic asshole Gale is, keep in mind that it wasn't really about Peeta's baby bomb at all (or the public implication that Peeta and Katniss had had sex), it was really about the fact that Peeta is in a position to help Katniss while Gale can't. What can I say, these feelings of impotence are a big theme in this story, and not just for Gale.

Anyway, I don't expect to get any reviews for this chapter because I know y'all hate me now (really, don't bother trying to soften the blow, lol), but I feel obligated to mention that I'm on Twitter (girls_are_weird) and Tumblr (girls-are-weird), and sometimes I post snippets of future chapters there. Next up is Madge, which will hopefully- HOPEFULLY- happen soon. Thanks for reading! :)