Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

There is nothing Gale Hawthorne enjoys more than the first breath of fresh air he takes once he's out of the mines. Or well, almost fresh. It's crisp, Fall has definitely arrived and the leaves are already changing colors. The air tastes sweet, it's reassuring after inhaling coal dust all day long. The sun has already started to set and Gale wills his eyes away from the scene. Once again he's hidden in the dark before the sun rises and doesn't make it out until it sets. It's painful to think of his time before he started working in the mines where he would spend the whole day hunting. He'd almost risk the Reaping if he could have the chance to be a teenager again.

But that was years ago, the memories are all that keep him holding on. While he hammers away in the depths of the District he clings to the sound of the wind dancing through the trees, the way light reflected off of the lake. Sure, he makes it into the woods every Sunday that he gets a chance, but it isn't the same. He checks the snares he set up at the beginning of the week and then gets home before it's too late. He doesn't have time to cherish the smell of autumn, doesn't have time to stare at the clouds.

Gale waves his goodbyes to his mining buddies; Thom pats him on the back and gives him a genuine smile. "I'm sure they'll be waiting for you," Thom says. "Try not to be angry, alright?"

"No promises," Gale grunts, while forcing a smile onto his face. Thom laughs at the obvious struggle and Gale turns down his street. The walk feels a bit lonely without Rory, but the younger brother somehow managed to slip out of work early. How he does it, Gale doesn't know. Something about the Hawthorne charm, he suspects. The two usually walk to and from work together, considering Rory's now old enough to work in the mines.

Today is Gale's birthday and he couldn't be dreading it any more than he already is. He slipped out this morning before his family awoke, much before he needed to get to the mines. He just doesn't like the celebration. What's the point in celebrating another year closer to eventual death? Gale hates his birthday. Hates. With all of his being. If it wasn't for his birthday he could still be a teenager, he could still have endless hours of what he deemed freedom out in the woods.

Sure, he doesn't personally have to worry about the Hunger Games anymore considering he's too old, but Posy? Vick? They're still able to be Reaped and now he's too old to volunteer. Gale's family is all he ever thinks about. He wonders if he does enough to keep them alive, healthy, happy. He does everything that he possibly can but still worries that it isn't enough. Hazelle assures him that it is enough, more than enough, but Gale has his doubts. In fact, Hazelle thinks it's too much. She urges him to go out and live what little life he has, to get a girlfriend, get married. Gale spends too much of his time thinking about other people that he doesn't have much time to think about himself anymore.

He reaches his house and takes a deep breath, throwing one last glance over his shoulder at the purples and blues that fade into blacks above him. Despite the painful memories the sunset arises, he can't help himself from the view. Gale opens the door slowly, bracing himself for what's on the other side. "Happy birthday, Gale!" Cheers cascade in all directions, the excited voices of his younger siblings brings a genuine smile to his face. Posy jumps up from the couch and wraps her arms around his neck.

"Now you're old," she tells him with a laugh. Gale spins around and captures her in his arms, lightly depositing her on the floor.

"Thanks, Pose. I appreciate it." She smirks, rushing forward and hugging him quickly. Gale lifts his eyes to scan the room around him; it's less people than last year. Thank God. Somehow Hazelle had convinced half the Seam to show up for his birthday; Gale marched straight to his room and didn't come out until work the next day. Today, however, is only those of utmost importance to him. His family as well as Katniss and Prim. That's good enough for Gale. All his friends from the mines had already given him congratulations on lasting another year, the people in front of him now were all he needed.

Katniss is next to rush forward, quickly hugging her long time friend. "My mom wanted to come," she tells him. "She sends her love." The rest of his family as well as Prim take their turns hugging him and giving their wishes. He tries his best to seem happy, he really does love his family and how much they care; Gale just can't stand his birthday. They take turns handing out their presents and Gale attempts to be enthusiastic.

Posy and Prim have worked together to knit him a scarf. Rory and Vick have managed to get him some coil to make some new snares. Hazelle has purchased his favorite tea. Katniss, however, steals the show with the cake she unveils. Oh, how difficult it is to not glare as she lowers it to the table. "Mmm," Vick drops himself into a seat in the kitchen. "Looks delicious."

"It was Peeta's idea," Prim offers lightly, watching as Gale's eyes narrow. "We were originally against it but he insisted."

"I'm sure it tastes just as good as it looks," Hazelle smiles. She's grown very enamored with the blonde baker over the past few years. "Give him our thanks." Of course it isn't like Hazelle to cast away a free cake, nor deem it as charity. That's what Gale sees it as though, charity. Something his family would never have been able to afford, a treat so sweet it makes their taste buds sing.

As Hazelle lights the candles Katniss quietly murmurs to Gale, "Don't get mad at me." Gale scrunches his nose as she continues, "He even wanted to come. You're lucky I talked him out of it." Peeta tries his best to be friendly with Gale; he knows how important Gale is to Katniss and wants to make a good impression. Gale just… isn't very fond of him. It isn't even the fact that Peeta won over Katniss, Gale had given up the pursuit of his braided friend years ago when he realized he didn't love her more than a friend after all, but more likely the fact that Gale has built up resentment for people from town. Plus, Mellark's just too damn nice.

Hazelle lights all 25 candles for Gale to blow out as everyone else settles around the table. Gale manages to get all the candles out in one breathe and his mother cuts small pieces for everyone, knowing if they eat too much it could get them sick. Plus they'd like to savor it for a few days as dessert. "So Posy," Gale says as his younger sister takes the seat next to him. "How was your first day of school this year?"

"Why don't you care about my first day?" Vick mutters, shoving his fork into the yellow cake and slowly lifting it to his mouth.

"Because you're 17 and no longer care about school," Gale responds enthusiastically. "Posy, on the other hand, is only 11 and likes school."

"How come you don't care about my day?" Rory teases Vick in a high pitched squeal as the latter chews on his cake with a scowl.

"Don't mock your brother," Prim nudges Rory, who instantly drops his manner. The schoolboy crush Rory had on Primrose Everdeen hadn't disappeared with age. In fact, just the opposite.

Gale gets slid a piece of cake and turns back to his sister. "Anyway," he nudges her side and receives a giggle. "How was it?"

"We have a new teacher," she tells him as her own piece of cake arrives. Posy's eyes widen as she shovels a bite into her mouth, taking a moment to sigh as she swallows. "Well, she's been a teacher for a few years, but she's new for me." Gale nods, loving to listen as Posy goes off on a topic that she actually likes. It also thrills him that it's school she likes, he hopes one day she can get hired at a place in town instead of having to work in the mines. "She's really nice."

"That so? What's his name?"

"Her name is…"

"Oh, come on," Hazelle frowns and slides into a seat at the table, cutting off her daughter's speech. "Do we really have to talk about that now? Why can't we discuss something else…" Gale doesn't notice his mother's sudden change of topic, nor does he question it. Everyone is temporarily distracted by the cake they eat. To Gale's displeasure, the cake is delicious. He might just have to thank Mellark himself.

Madge slides all of the papers of the day into a folder and then the folder into her bag. Today was unbearably long. It wasn't that the kids were too much; she just had a lot on her mind. Like the fact that her mother is falling more and more ill with each passing day, or maybe the fact that someone from her past has found their way to her present in the form of their little sister. She sighs as she pulls her hair out of the bun she placed it in and starts toward the door.

Madge waves her goodbyes to the janitor who will lock up the school when he's done cleaning, and then she makes her way out into town. Madge would usually leave the school earlier but considering it was the first day of the school year she had a lot to go over. She had to clean the classroom and hang up new posters and go over assignments and whatnot. The sun is just slipping under the horizon and purples and blues swirl into the darkness. The streetlights flicker on and Madge smiles, thinking back to her new students.

They all show such potential, none seemed to be a major problem as of right now, and she can usually tell early on. Madge pushes her way into the jewelry shop and dings the bell on the counter, leaning back on her heels and examining the new trinkets that have made their way onto the shelves since last time she had been here.

"Oh, Miss Undersee! Pick me, pick me!" Madge's long time friend Jace walks out of the back room, holding up his hand and mimicking a child. "Miss Undersee, call on me! On me!"

"You're not funny," she narrows her eyes before crossing her arms over her chest. "And I'll have you know that none of my students are that annoying." Jace rolls his eyes and leans over the counter. "I came for some adult conversation but considering you're acting like a 5 year old I might as well just go home."

"Aw, Madge," he snorts. "Come on, Peeta and I are going out for a drink tonight, you should come!"

She scrunches her nose, "I sort of work tomorrow."

"One drink isn't going to make you incapable of teaching," he responds. "You haven't gone out with us in ages!" Again, Madge scrunches her nose. She's not particularly a fan of drinking, but it's true she hasn't been out with her friends in awhile. It's her mother, the fact that she's getting closer and closer to death with each passing day. Plus she's been having to prepare for the school year. "Don't give me some lame excuse either," Jace frowns.

"Maybe next time," she waves it off. "I really should be getting home. My…"

"Mom, I know, I know," Jace groans. "You're no fun anymore. This weekend, alright?" Madge tips her head into a nod before waving goodbye and exiting the shop. It's not that she doesn't want to hang out with her friends, she just feels like she should be doing something more productive instead of drinking. In fact, she never really caught on to the trend. Madge's footsteps carry her to the mayor's house, her house, and she makes her way inside quickly.

The maid takes her coat and the butler rushes a cup of tea to her. Madge frowns, having told them thousands of times to stop treating her like she's a Capitol citizen, but doesn't say anything. She quickly makes her way up the stairs and into her mother's room, taking a seat next to the edge of the bed. "Madge? Is that you?"

"Hi Mommy," Madge says lightly, dropping her bag on the floor and letting her hand find her mother's after placing the cup of tea on the bedside table. "How are you?"

Her mother sighs, "I just wish I was dead already."

Madge frowns, "Don't speak like that."

"You don't understand, dear," the elder's voice is weak. "I can no longer get out of bed on my own, no longer see, feed myself, bathe myself. I'm useless, and on top of that I'm in pain." Madge squeezes her mother's hand a bit tighter and wills the tears out of her eyes. "Sometimes I'll wake up and think Maysilee is still here, sometimes I'll forget who your father is." There's a pause as the woman readjusts herself to her side. "How was your first day back at work?" Mrs. Undersee is an expert at changing the subject, but she doesn't get off that easily. Madge's eyes are still filled with tears from the blunt words of her mother, her thoughts linger on what was just spoken.

"It was alright," Madge forces out, trying to keep her voice from cracking. "I, I have a student in my class that's the sister of someone I dislike."

A smile stretches across Mrs. Undersee's face as she says, "You? Dislike someone?" Madge rolls her eyes to stop the tears and lets out a watery laugh. "Treat her just as you would treat any other student."

"Oh, yes," Madge nods. "That won't be the problem. She's an angel, that one. Nothing like her brother." Madge doesn't discriminate no matter what. Not by gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, wealth, and certainly not bloodline.

"Then what's the problem, dear?"

Madge sighs, "Something's off with her. I'll have to do a few tests to make sure I'm right because I don't want to jump the gun or anything, but there's just something…" Her eyebrows furrow as Madge thinks back to earlier in the day, the way the small girl had trouble reading from the textbook and writing her own name. "We'll see, I suppose."

Eventually her mother says, "You have some papers to look over, don't you?" Madge is hesitant to leave her mother but eventually does so, slipping away into her own room to go over the tests she gave her students to see their level of knowledge so she knew what to teach and review. She lingers on one paper, the way the name at the top is written upside down and backwards. Madge chews on her lip, knowing there's no way an 11 year old girl wouldn't know how to write her name properly by now. With a deafening sigh, Madge slides the paper of Posy Hawthorne back into her folder, determined to make sure the small girl is able to receive the education she deserves.

A/N: I've been wanting to write this forever! Obviously this first chapter doesn't have much of anything in it but I needed to set the scene. This story will tell how Gale and Madge manage to fall in love despite the rebellion never happening. Then it will continue on to their life in the Seam. I'm quite excited to be writing it!

A bit of a timeline just for your time sake: Everything in Catching Fire happened up Gale's whipping. The 75th Hunger Games/3rd Quarter Quell did not include Victors, it was something entirely different. The rebellion that had been starting ended up being crushed before it got too out of hand. This leaves District 12 intact as well as Prim and (obviously) Madge to still be alive. As years went by the harsh overrule of the District died down, the fence was no longer electrified, and things went back to normal. If you have any questions, please PM me! I'll answer them as best as I can.