Disclaimer: I do not own the HG trilogy or any of the characters that Suzanne Collins so wonderfully created. I only own my original thoughts and characters; all else belongs to Suzanne Collins.

A/N: Okay, before we get to the good stuff, I wanted to get everyone up to speed on a few things about this sequel. First, it's going to be mostly non-canon. It will have some moments taken from Catching Fire but there are several things I will be changing from the work Suzanne Collins did with her book. My goal is to have longer chapters for this story as compared to my last story. Chapters will still be from either Madge or Gale's POV. If you didn't read my first story (shame on you), here's what you need to know in order to not be lost in this story: Katniss and Peeta were still reaped and both became victors of the games, Madge and Gale are hopelessly in love with one another, and Madge's mother signed a marriage contract promising Madge would marry Seneca Crane on her 18th birthday in exchange for never being put into the reaping. Seneca Crane was executed and now Madge and Gale think they're free to live happily ever after, but are they?

Chapter 1

The sweat trickles down the back of my neck, soaking my back and it makes me wish I was at the lake swimming instead of working down in the mines. It's hot as hell down here and there's no escaping it. The air is suffocatingly thick and with every breath I take my mouth and lungs fill with soot. My whole body is aching after being cramped in here all day. I've got another hour left on my shift before I can get up to the surface and finally breathe in some fresh air. I've only been working in the mines for a week and it's already more than I can stand. I knew I'd hate it but it was all I could see as an option. The work is exhausting and painstaking. The hours are long and the pay is terrible. And the danger risk is high. But for now, I can only do what I can do. With all the hooplah surrounding Katniss and Mellark 12's been crawling with Capitol goons and camera crews making it next to impossible to do any sort of illegal trading. I can't very well walk through town with a handful of squirrels and rabbits without everyone knowing what I've done and while most of 12 turns a blind eye to what I do, people from the Capitol won't be so forgiving. I'm still going out into the woods and hunting but only for what I can feed my family with and nothing more. And my hunting is really just a few snares that I set, collect and reset every other day now. Hopefully all the victor crazed paparazzi will go away soon and I can go back to hunting with trading.

As for Katniss and Mellark, things sure are different now that they're back. At first I was stoked to see Katniss standing there on the platform at the train station. I couldn't wait to hug her, almost like I needed to touch her in order for me to really believe she was here, that she was safe. I couldn't wait to tell her all about Madge and how I'd fallen head over heels in love with the Mayor's daughter of all people. Couldn't wait to tell her how Madge had rescued Rory and how I'd taught her to swim in the lake. I was dying to get out in the woods and have my old hunting partner back. And I really honestly wanted to know more about this new thing she had with Mellark. Wanted to know just how real and serious those two were about each other. But things just didn't work out the way I'd pictured them. Katniss was never alone for me to talk to her. And I mean never. It'd been a good two weeks before I finally was able to have a decent length conversation with her. I'd told her about Madge and I being together. She of course had already probably seen us holding hands or kissing, if she was paying any attention seeing as we weren't hiding it these days. When I told her we were together, that I was in love, she scoffed at me. Totally didn't believe me. She thinks Madge will just end up being another one of my here today, gone tomorrow girlfriends. I was so pissed off at her reaction that I just had to walk away from her as she sat there laughing at me. I couldn't even explain to her what Madge really meant to me. I'd been curious as to what she would think about my being with Madge, not sure how she'd feel about it, but I certainly never thought she'd doubt how serious I was about my feelings and intentions toward Madge. I realize I have a past reputation for being a love em and leave em kinda guy but Katniss has always known the real me and I think I just expected more from her. I mean, it isn't like I've ever come to her before and professed my love for a girl so I just figured she'd know I was being serious. Katniss knew I was pissed at her reaction and she'd tracked me down a few days later to offer an apology that in my opinion was less of an apology and more of an explanation. She told me she just never pictured me being serious about anyone and that's why she found it comical and difficult to fathom. I let it go but didn't offer to share any more about the topic with her. Madge told me Katniss had later approached her about it and that while she seemed mystified by our pairing, she seemed accepting of it.

The next time Katniss and I had a moment to chat I took the opportunity to ask about her and Mellark. She just shrugged me off and didn't say much. I see something in her eyes that seems a little off when she and Mellark are together but I figure that's her business. If she wants me to know something, she'll tell me. She's good at not saying much, that's for sure. I guess that's one thing that hasn't changed about her. The games seemed to have changed everything else about her though. She's always dressed up now and looks like a very polished version of the Katniss that I remember. Her time is always taken, forever busy with this or that. She moved out of the Seam and into Victor Village with her family. I'm glad she has a decent house now but I see it as just another way she's different. The worst though was that she tried to offer me money for food since I can't do any trading safely right now. She of all people knows better than to offer me money or food. Charity. She said she owed me for looking after her family and that she had more money than she could ever need. I pretty much put my foot down on that though and she hasn't brought it up again. A part of me is kind of annoyed with myself for having thought she'd return and all of life would resume as if she never left. I mean, did I really think Katniss would come back, throw on her old hunting boots and sit in the woods with me all day? But, at least she's safe and at least she's back.

On the upside of things, Madge and I had the most amazing summer together. We spent so many days out at the lake, swimming and hiking in the woods. She's become an incredible swimmer, even faster than me now which wasn't easy on my ego but I'm so proud of her I just don't care. I swear she's practically a mermaid at this point. It's a shame it's so far to the lake. I'd love to be able to take a dip after spending all day in this sweltering hole in the ground. On her birthday, I'd promised her that we would go and spend the night out in the woods at the lake sometime but we never got a chance. At least not yet anyway. We've both been just so happy, enjoying just being together ever since we found out that was dead. I realize it's a terrible thing to be glad that someone else died but this was the only thing that could have happened that could make us both rest assured that she would be free to marry whomever she chooses. When she burst into my house that day and told me he died, that her contract was voided by default, I swear I felt a ton of bricks lift from my shoulders. The pressure and worry about her future, her fate, all dissolved by the death of one man. Madge and I can now be together without the fear of her being taken away forever next year.

One thing Madge isn't happy about is my working here in the mines. I know she understands that this is what I have to do and she's careful not to harp on me about it but I know it scares her. Hell, it scares me too. My own father died down here to the exact job that my hands now do. I hate that my new hours keep me from getting to spend as much time with her as we'd like. Being together every day this summer spoiled us in a way I guess. Most nights this week, when I've come out of the mines at the end of my shift I find her waiting for me. She walks with me all the way back to the Seam and then she usually heads back home, insisting I spend time with my family and then get some rest. I plan to steal her away to the woods with me on Sunday though. It's my only day off in the week and I intend to spend it with her. All of it with her. She'll fight me on it, insist I hang out with my family first but I don't care. I see them every night. It's her that I want, her that I need some time alone with. God, how I need some alone time with her.

The whistle sounds ending my shift for today. I pull a rag from the coveralls I'm wearing and wipe the coal dust and sweat from my face as I ride the lifts back up to the top. After spending 12 long hours underground the daylight is blinding, even though the sun is starting to set on the horizon. As soon as my eyes adjust to the light outside, I spot Madge. She's off to the side, sitting on a boulder with a basket in her lap. Just the sight of her revives the energy I'd thought was depleted after my long hours in the mines. No matter how many times I see her, I can't get over her beauty. Her blonde wavy hair pulled into a knot on top of her head and her blue eyes sparkling as they meet with mine. I smile like the guy in love that I am.

"Hi." I say as I lean in to kiss her, careful not to hug her and soil her clothes with the black, dusty remnants of my work.

"Hi yourself." She says as she kisses me back and flashes her smile at me. "I brought you vegetables from my garden." She adds as she holds up the basket.

I sigh because I already know she won't take no for an answer. I still hate taking food from her but I do like that she grows it rather than buys it and I know she gives because it makes her happy. She definitely doesn't think of it as charity in the least. "Thanks, my mother will appreciate that." I say as I reach over and take the basket from her.

"How was work?" She asks as we start walking towards the Seam.

"Ugh. I think I'm ready for retirement. How was your day?"

"Boring. But better now."

"Tell me about it." I know what she means by it being better now. I've been with her 2 minutes now and already I'm better than I have been all day. It's tempting to wrap my arms around her waist and pull her too me but I can't bare the thought of ruining her dress. She must read my mind because as I think it, I feel her arm snake around my waist and she pulls herself closer.

"Don't. You'll never get the stains out of your dress." I warn as I start to pull away.

She shoots me a look and tightens her grip on me. I give in, mostly because I selfishly want her arms around me.

"I can't meet you tomorrow after you get off work. My Capitol Stylist is coming to prep me for the new school year and she'll be here all day long. And then we'll have a dinner with my father afterwards."

"You have a stylist that preps you? What does she prep?" I can't imagine Madge needing anyone to help make her prettier.

"She comes every year. Head to toe touch ups. Haircut, facial, body polishing, anything she sees fit. Just a bunch of silly girl stuff I'm forced to endure as daughter of a Mayor." She says with a roll of her eyes and lacking the enthusiasm most girls in her position would hold.

"Sounds just plain awful. Wanna trade and go to the mines for me?" I tease with a grin though I know I'd be miserable with someone picking at me all day.

"Ha ha. Just shoot me now. At least it's only once a year. I've heard that some girls have stylists who come as often as once a month in the other districts."

"Want me to come by and see you after work? I'll go home and clean up first obviously." I offer thinking about how much it's gonna suck not having her smiling face greet me outside the mines tomorrow.

"Do I want you too? Yes, of course. Are you going too? Nope. You need to go home and rest. I can see you Saturday when you get off work."

"You're worse than my mother, you know that?"

"But you love me anyways." She gloats as she rises up on her tip toes to kiss me goodbye.

I drop the basket of vegetables, grip her hips on either side and pull her against me as we kiss. If this is the only kiss I'm getting until Saturday, I'm making it count. She sighs and arches into me as we kiss and I can tell she's as anxious for some alone time together as I am. We finally, reluctantly, pull from the kiss and I see black smudges all over her face and when we pull back further I see the same black all over her dress.

"You cannot go home like this." I say shaking my head. I take her hand, pull her around the side of the house to the rain barrel and dip my work rag in it before I wipe away the black from her face. "I don't think I can do anything about the dress though."

"Well, maybe I'll just make this my new meet Gale after work dress." She laughs.

I shake my head with a smile and watch as she heads back towards town. The first night she met me after work I tried insisting on walking her back home but she wouldn't have it. She's surprisingly stubborn that girl. And I love it. Love her. Everything about her. I smile to myself thinking about her and the kiss we just had as I wash up at the rain barrel. A shower is what I really need but you don't get those kinds of luxuries in the Seam. Nope, just cold water from a barrel out behind my house.

Inside my house I find my family just sitting down for dinner and give my mother the basket from Madge. She takes it and hands me my bowl of squirrel stew in return. I eat it in about 30 seconds flat, not even bothering to sit down at the table, before going to the bedroom and falling face down onto the bed. It's unbelievable how tired I am. I don't think I was this worn out when Madge and I were sneaking out into the woods all night. Something about being down in the mines just drains you completely. I'm snoring in no time.

The morning is here long before I'm ready to welcome it and I can hardly pull myself from bed. My mother makes me a cup of strong, black coffee and I pull on my coveralls and boots while choking it down. I'm not a huge fan of coffee but my mother says it'll wake me up and give me the energy I need. Says my father used to have it whenever we could afford it. I figure if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me too. Plus I think my mother likes the nostalgia it brings her to have the smell of it filling the house.

Outside, the sun is barely rising as I begin the walk into town. Now would be a perfect time to go hunt in the woods. I'd give anything to be heading there instead of back into the mine. I'm halfway to town when I see Katniss heading this way.

"Hey. What are you doing out so early Catnip?" I question.

"Just taking a couple loaves of bread to Greasy Sae. Peeta bakes more than he can give out so I'm taking her the extras. You heading to work?"

"Yeah, I've gotta run actually. If I'm late, I lose the whole day's shift."

"Sure, but hey, will you come over for dinner tonight?"

"I don't know, maybe. I'm usually pretty beat after work though."

"See you at 7 Gale." She says ignoring the fact that I haven't agreed to come. And with that she turns and continues on her way not waiting for a response from me.

I sigh and begin walking into town again. It isn't that I don't want to see Katniss, I actually would love to get to hang out with her if she could be her real self again. This new Victor version of Katniss is just too weird for me. But, if Madge isn't free tonight I may as well go.

Work sucks as usual. It's hot and miserable and two of the guys from my crew failed to show up today so we're behind on our progress quota for the week now which means tomorrow's gonna suck even more. The Capitol estimates how much progress each crew should make based off what section they're mining in and if any crew fails to meet their progress quota for the week then our already meager pay gets docked. They claim it's a result of crews getting lazy but I think it's just another way for the Capitol to torment us. Another way they can keep us downtrodden and poor. After work, I head home and wash up, get changed and head over to Katniss's new house. I'm actually starving so having dinner actually sounds good.

I knock on her door and Prim answers, welcoming me inside. The smell of something, I'm not sure what, has my mouth already watering and my stomach growls audibly. Prim giggles and says "Come on, you're just in time." Leading me into the formal dining room.

"So glad you could join us Gale." Mellark says as he seats himself at the table. I had no clue he was joining us too.

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." I mumble as I slide into an empty chair. I still don't know how I feel about him but I guess there isn't much else I can do at the moment other than sit down and endure dinner.

Dinner is awkward but Prim helps ease the discomfort in the room. Katniss is her usual quiet self, only interjecting into conversation occasionally. Mellark does his best to talk to me, obviously trying to get to know me but I kind of make chatting difficult by giving him short answers whenever he asks anything. He acts like he doesn't notice though and eventually dinner is finished. Prim says goodnight, heading up to bed and Peeta excuses himself and returns to his own house for the night leaving just me, Mrs. Everdeen and Katniss.

"C'mon, I'll walk with you back to the Seam. I need to get some air anyway." She says heading for the door.

As we walk, we're quiet at first but I start talking when I realize this is a good time to try and ask her about Mellark. She still hasn't given me any hint as to what's going on between them.

"So, I didn't realize Mellark would be eating with us tonight. Are you ever gonna fill me in on what's going on with you two?"

"It's a little complicated. I don't really know what we are. I would like to know why you hate him though."

"I don't hate him Catnip. I just don't understand him or his motives. More so, I don't understand the two of you. You and a townie? Never thought I'd see that happen."

"You're one to talk. How is the Mayor's daughter doing these days Gale?" She shoots back at me defensively.

"Not the same and you know it. Madge is different."

"And how do you know Peeta isn't?"

"Fair enough." I say. She's right, I haven't given the kid a chance yet. And for no good reason. I'm just too protective of her and I don't know if I can trust him because I don't know him.

"Let's just say, I'm still trying to figure out what it is that I want with him and leave it at that?" She offers up.

I nod, not feeling the need to press her on it anymore for now. 'Thanks for dinner. It was really pretty good." I say, complimenting her cooking.

"Sure. Peeta will be glad to know you enjoyed it."

"He cooked, huh?"

"Yep. That's kind of his thing, baking, cooking. Kitchen stuff."

"Well, it was good." I say as we stop out in front of my house. "Just make sure you don't forget your own thing. You can still be you and be a Victor too." I mean hunting and she knows it.

She sighs and I see a glint of sadness in her eyes before she shakes her head ever so slightly and practically whispers "If only it were that easy."

Before I can ask her to elaborate on that whispered statement, she turns and darts off into the night, back towards her new house. I don't get it at all. I knew the games would change her but she's so different. I can't figure out what's going on in that head of hers. I shrug to myself and head inside. It's late and all I want to do right now is crash.

I strip off my clothes down to my shorts and fall onto my bed. I'm startled when I feel paper under my face though and sit back up. I strike a match from my dresser and hold it up to read the note.

Gale,

Came by to surprise you after my stylist left. Sorry I missed you, see you tomorrow after work.

Love you,

Madge

Aww crap. I missed Madge! I can't believe I didn't see her all damn day and then I'm not even freaking here when she stops by to surprise me. I suddenly feel the urge to see her more than ever. I check the time. It's after 10. I'm exhausted and need to go to bed but I need her more. I collect my clothing from the floor and slip back out of my house, dressing as I exit.

I walk as fast as my tired feet will take me and reach her house pretty quickly. Her whole house is dark so I know they're all asleep and I don't want to risk waking her father up so I grab a handful of pebbles from the ground and toss a few at her window. It only takes a moment before her light flickers on and she appears, nightgown clad with bedraggled hair on her balcony. I'd forgotten how wonderful she looked in the glow of moonlight. She smiles and holds up a finger to let me know she'll be down in a minute. I head around to the backyard and make my way down to the shed. We'll be out of sight back here and she'll know where to find me. I sit in the grass and lean back on the wall of the shed. Madge appears and falls into my lap, our lips seeking each other before words even leave our mouths.

"Sorry I woke you. Just couldn't go another minute without seeing you, without kissing you." I whisper into her ear as I trail my lips along her jaw.