A/N: Hello to my lovely readers! This is my first (published) fanfiction and I really hope you enjoy it :)
English is not my first language, so if you notice any spelling/grammar mistakes it's probably not because I was too to lazy proofread, but simply because I don't know better - so feel free to point any typos etc. out so I can correct them!
Disclaimer: I own the Hunger Games Trilogy. It's right over there in my bookcase... (okay, seriously, I don't own anything, all credit goes to the fantastic Suzanne Collins!).
He's only fourteen but he's still older than most of the children standing in line in the Justice Building. A dozen or so Seam kids whose childhood ended oh-too-soon that day last week when the sirens sounded and hell broke loose.
They haven't even retrieved the bodies yet. Completely extinguishing the fires and ridding the collapsed shaft of the rubble would be far too dangerous, the Capitol surveyor had said. "It's far too expensive" is what he actually meant. The Capitol doesn't care about a few dead miners, eternally buried in the darkness of a collapsed shaft, as long as the other mines still produce their coal quotas.
So the grave of Gale's father keeps smoking.
When Mayor Undersee steps in front of him and pins a medal on his chest, talking of valour, and honour and all those other traits that sound like they don't fit into District 12, the small badge on Gale's chest feels as if it weighed the world. It might as well.
"Now you will have to be the man of the house, son." The mayor tells him with a fatherly pat on the shoulder and a sad smile. It's this moment that Gale decides that Mayor Undersee is a decent man. A kind man even, and that's a rarity in the harsh reality called Panem.
But the solace the mayor's warm, understanding look gave him only lasts for a second; because this is the time it takes Gale to realize that neither decency nor kindness will keep his younger brothers' plates filled.
A few nights after the ceremony Gale is ripped out of a nightmare by his mother's piercing screams. Seconds later he's by her side, ordering his eight-year-old brother Rory to fetch the midwife.
There is blood on Hazelle's sheets. Gale's panicking mind is racing and he's asking himself how he could possibly stand losing another parent so soon. The terrifying and very obvious answer is: he couldn't. His mother is the heart and soul of this family. There is no way Gale could get his siblings through this merciless, bitingly cold winter without her.
Thinking about his dependence makes him feel unbelievably weak and helpless. He hates the feeling.
Gale stays with his mother, holds her hand until the cold February air that's creeping through numerous cracks in the walls and roof makes his fingers numb. Someone ought to fix that, he thinks while he uses the last few pieces of wood from their stack to light up a small fire. And then he realizes that he is the only someone available to fix it.
His father is gone. His mother will be busy caring for a newborn child. His brothers are far too small. Anyone else will demand payment. It's either Gale or no one. If he won't do it, his family will be freezing for the rest of the winter. And that's how it'll always be from now on.
Mayor Undersee was right – Gale is the man of the house now. As he makes his way back to his mother's room he wants nothing more than to curl up beside her and be a little boy again.
Hazelle is going through a long and complicated birth. Gale paces up and down his mother's bedroom like a caged animal until the midwife – a scrawny old Seam woman with a voice like sandpaper rubbing on stone – resolutely orders him out.
He spends the rest of the night telling Rory and Vick stories of heroes with special powers who were admired by everyone and could save the world single-handedly, no matter how strong their enemy.
If he can't get his brothers to sleep, he can at least try to distract them from the unbearable pain their mother is enduring in the other room. It doesn't work. Gale can almost feel his heart breaking when Vick looks at him with big, scared eyes and asks: "When will mommy stop hurting?"
Of course he reassures the young boy; tells him not to worry, that everything will be fine and all the other pretty little lies that adults tend to tell children when they think the kids can't handle the truth.
Vick is a Hawthorne. He probably could handle the truth – but he shouldn't have to; not at this young age.
So Gale keeps telling his fairytales and his lies and starts wondering if there's actually a difference between the two of them.
And while his brothers are looking forward to hearing the high pitched cry of a baby that indicates that their brand new brother or sister has finally arrived, Gale is secretly glad for every single one of Hazelle's screams because they are proving that she's still fighting, still holding on to her life.
Posy Hawthorne is born at the break of dawn. She's the sweetest little girl Gale has ever seen; with a shock of dark hair, grey Seam eyes and a cute little button nose – and Gale knows from the second he lays his eyes on her that he won't ever allow anyone to hurt his baby sister; that he'll always protect her, no matter what it takes.
He's relieved beyond believe as he's standing there in the doorway and watches his mother, weak, pale and sweaty, but alive and radiating happiness. She hasn't looked so young since the day her husband died – and there's a glimpse of her former beauty that the hard life in the Seam had taken away from her far too early showing on her face, despite her exhaustion.
Rory and Vick are peeking out from behind their brother's legs, trying to get a good look at the baby.
Hazelle smiles warmly as she tells her sons to come closer and then silently motions for Gale to hold Posy. She's warm and soft and innocent and Gale's throat tightens when he realizes that he is the closest thing to a father the little girl in his arms will ever have.
He's not planning on letting her down.
A/N 2: Thanks for reading! I basically have this story planned out until the end of Mockingjay, so please let me know if you are interested in reading more and if I should contiune :)