AN: This will be a Katniss/Gale story without the Hunger Games. This first chapter is mostly to set the stage, develop the characters, etc. I'm not sure what, if any role, Peeta will have. So, if you're dying for Peeta stuff this probably isn't the best story for you. The rating may move to M in the future. I have it set at T because there's some implied sex going on, but really, I've heard way worse being said in middle schools, so this should be okay for most readers and I'll let you know if that changes.
Obviously, I don't own the Hunger Games and do not want to profit in any way from this work.


Katniss is finishing her old bread when the girl approaches the table she's sharing with Madge. She's a merchant girl, with long, golden hair and bright blue eyes. Even Katniss, who hardly pays attention to these things, has heard that Tia Hemlock is one of the prettiest girls at school. At the moment though, she just looks tense to Katniss.

"Hi," she sits down at their table.

Katniss just raises her eyebrows, but Madge says hello back. Tia stares at Katniss for a moment before she says,

"What's with you and Gale?"

"Gale Hawthorne?"

"Of course! Know any other Gales?"

Katniss considers this question for a moment. She and Gale are best friends and hunting buddies. That was "what was with" them. But she isn't sure if she ought to say that. The fact that they hunt and trade at the Hob is something of an open secret, but Katniss still isn't sure she ought to go discussing it with girls she doesn't know.

"We help each other take care of our families," she says at last.

"Right, I know about that, but I mean…I mean besides."

"What else is there besides that?" Katniss asks. She has no idea what Tia's talking about. She looks to Madge for help, but Madge seems to be biting back a smile.

The bell sounds and Katniss is absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to end this conversation. She stands up and leaves the table without a word to Tia. She walks quickly towards her classroom, for once eager to sit down at a desk and hear about coal. She glances behind her and sees that Tia is following her purposefully. Katniss can't fathom why this girl won't just leave her alone.

"Katniss-

"We have to go to class."

Katniss turns quickly into her classroom and sits down at her desk, relieved. But when school lets out for the day, Tia is waiting outside her classroom. Now Katniss is just irritated.

"I have to walk my sister home."

Tia glares at her and says,

"Are you always this rude?"

"Only to people who won't leave me alone."

Katniss brushes past the girl and makes her way to the edge of the schoolyard fence where she knows Prim will be waiting. Tia jerks her arm and pulls Katniss to a stop.

"Gale and I are an item-or at least we will be soon-so you need to back off."

Katniss' jaw drops open. So that's what all this was about? This stupid girl interrupted her lunch, asked her uncomfortable questions, and followed her around the halls because she has some stupid crush on Gale. If Katniss weren't so annoyed, she'd laugh.

But then the second part of her statement sinks in and Katniss doesn't feel like laughing anymore. "Back off?" What the hell was that supposed to mean? Spend less time with Gale? That just wasn't going to happen. They needed eachother. Katniss was not about to let her family's food supply dwindle so this girl could feel more comfortable in her stupid, pointless, romantic relationship. Besides, it wasn't as though it was going to last long anyway. Though they didn't really talk about it, Katniss has gathered that Gale never keeps the same girl around for long.

She doesn't have any interest in explaining any of this to Tia Hemlock. Instead, she glares down at the hand gripping her arm and says,

"Let go of me. I need to walk my sister home."

"You need to understand what I'm saying-

"Let go of her."

Katniss doesn't need to turn around to know that Gale is standing behind her. His voice has an edge to it that even Katniss hasn't heard very often. Tia drops her arm and Katniss steps to the side of Gale.

"Tia, what the hell are you doing?"

"What the hell am I doing? What about what you're doing? You can't go having two girlfriends, Gale!"

"Two? Last I checked, I didn't have any girlfriends."

A crowd starts to gather around them. Part of Katniss wants to leave, but another part of her remains rooted to the spot, curious to see what on earth Gale is doing with this clearly crazy girl.

"What? But we-

"Tia, I'm sorry. I thought we were both on the same page about what was going on. I-

Tia's hand connects with Gale's face in a loud slap. For reasons she can't quite explain, Katniss feels herself moving towards Tia to…well, she doesn't know what. So, it was probably a good thing that Gale has lowered his arm in front of her.

His jaw is clenched and he's shaking his head.

"Alright, I think that's enough," he says.

"Hey! Don't hit my brother!"

When Katniss looks over she sees Vick Hawthorne barreling towards them with Rory trailing him. Gale shuts his eyes for a moment and then glares at Tia.

"Now look what you've started."

Turning towards Vick, he says,

"Hey little man, time to head home."

"Gale!" Tia looks on the verge of tears.

"I've had enough. This is done."

Katniss recognizes the note of finality in his voice, but Tia is trying to apologize. Gale ignores her, puts an arm around Vick and Rory, and says,

"We're going home. Now."

With the show clearly over, the crowd disperses and Katniss finds Prim linking her arm in her own.

"That didn't seem good," Prim says quietly.

"It wasn't."

"What happened?"

"That girl got upset with me because she likes Gale and thinks that I'm taking him from her. But Gale never liked her in the first place, and when he kind of told her that, she got mad at him."

"Oh." Prim purses her lips and looks down.

"Don't worry about it, Little Duck. It's over," Katniss says, giving Prim's arm a squeeze. "Now tell me about your day at school."


When Katniss arrives at their rock the next morning, Gale is holding a baker's roll at her like a peace offering.

"I'm sorry about all that," he says. "I had no idea Tia was going to start bothering you. I should have-I don't know. That whole thing was getting…complicated. I should have broken it off sooner, but I never thought it was going to affect anyone else."

Katniss accepts the roll.

"It's okay. Kind of amusing in retrospect."

She smirks and Gale shakes head.

"Maybe for you. My mother didn't find it too funny."

Katniss can see why Hazelle wouldn't like the idea of her son being part of a public spectacle in the schoolyard, but she doesn't see how it was Gale's fault.

"But you didn't do anything!"

"Want to come by and try telling her that? Apparently, I'm being 'too casual in my relationships' and not 'conducting myself like a gentleman.'"

Katniss snorts.

"You weren't able to convince her that one night stands in the slag heap were gentlemanly?"

Gale winces.

"Well when you put it that way it sounds much worse."

"Is there another way to put it?"

"You're killing me, Catnip. In fact, you sound an awful lot like my mother."

She shrugs, there are far worse people to sound like.

"How'd Hazelle know about all that anyway?"

"Once Rory and Vick told the story she put two and two together. She decided I'm not allowed out of the house, except for hunting and school, until I've had time to consider the consequences of my 'selfish, impulsive behavior.'"

Katniss starts to laugh. She's always appreciated Hazelle's firm discipline, not any mother could have kept Gale under control all those years.

"I'm not even allowed at the Hob. So you're going to have to make our trades for the next week or so. I'm sorry about that by the way. I tried arguing with her and got a few exceptions. If the game is too heavy for you or if you're going to make a trade with Cray, I'm allowed to come with you. But apparently, you then have to come by our house and vouch for me."

"You're on quite a leash."

Gale shrugs.

"I don't mind. Truthfully, I think I've had my fill of the slag heap for awhile."

"I suppose you're running out of girls."

"Hey!" Gale elbows her. "I'm not that bad. I swear. How would you know anyway?"

"Girls talk."

"I never thought you were one for gossip."

"Of course not, but they won't shut up. I can't help but overhear some of it."

"So what are they saying about me?"

Katniss blushes. Sometimes the things they say make her downright uncomfortable. They are so explicit that Katniss sometimes can't help but think about Gale in all kinds of ways that she shouldn't. And to have him sitting so close to her now, with their arms brushing-

"Sorry Catnip, I should have known better than to ask you of all people."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that all that stuff makes you completely uncomfortable."

Katniss is too flustered to argue the point. Instead, she just scowls at him.

"It's not an insult. It's kind of endearing actually."

Gale glances down at her with a warm smile. Katniss keeps staring at the ground and blushing.

"Come on, let's start hunting before your face catches on fire."

After the snare line yields two rabbits and they are able to shoot four squirrels, Katniss enlists Gale's help in looking for herbs. Her mother needed St. John's Wart for her depression, but Katniss hadn't been able to find much of it lately.

"I don't understand what's going on," she says when Gale comes back with just a few sprigs. "Has the herb just stopped growing?"

"Don't know. It's still early spring though, more might come."

Katniss hopes so, her mother's stores are running low. Gale studies her.

"She keeps some saved for winter, right?"

Katniss nods.

"But it's running low?"

She nods again.

"Alright, then here's what we'll do. Tomorrow, I'll do the hunting and you just look for that damn herb. I'm sure you'll find more if you have more time to look."

"But you won't be able to catch as much and-

"It's one day, Catnip. It'll be fine."

His logic is sound enough, so she nods her consent. They make their way back through the forest towards the electric fence. When it emits no hum, they climb through the hole and head towards town.

"How about we each keep a rabbit and a squirrel and I take the other two to the baker?" Katniss suggests.

"Sure."

"Well then," she smirks. "I guess I'll be seeing you at home soon to give you your cut."

Gale rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, I won't be going anywhere."

And he's right. When Katniss finishes her trade and arrives back at the Hawthorne house, she can hear the sound of wood being chopped in the back of the house. Hazelle answers the door and smiles warmly at her.

"It's lovely to see you Katniss," she says, waving her in. "One benefit of punishing Gale is that I'll get to see more of you now."

Katniss thinks that Hazelle is probably one of a handful of people in the whole district who actually looks forward to seeing her. It's not as though she has too many friends. Certainly not Tia Hemlock.

"It wasn't all his fault."

"Well, you're a good friend for saying so, but he has a few lessons he needs to learn. Speaking of the boy, I don't know why it's taking him so long to chop that firewood. I should have a good-sized stack in here by now."

"Gale!"

Hazelle marches out towards the yard, but comes back a minute later with Gale in toe. His arms are full of wood and he's scowling. His face softens when he sees Katniss and he offers her a grimace.

"Fancy seeing you here," he says. "Probably because you had to waste your time delivering money I could have collected myself."

"And you owe her quite an apology for that," Hazelle says. "If you could keep your pants on, none of this would be necessary."

"Mom!"

Gale scowls and Katniss can see the beginning of a blush forming on his cheeks. She's too amused at his expense to be as embarrassed as she might have been.

Hazelle props her hand on her hips and says,

"What? I may be older, but I remember what teenagers are like. There's only a few ways to upset a girl like you did when she's not even your girlfriend, and they all involve sex. So you're not going to be having any of it."

Katniss can't help but laugh at him now and she wonders what all the girls at school would think if they could see the dreamy Gale Hawthorne getting scolded like a child.

"Is this really necessary in front of Katniss?" Gale asks, gritting his teeth as he goes to set the firewood down.

"It's not as though she doesn't know about it, seeing as how she had to bear the brunt of that girl's anger yesterday. You need to think about the ramifications of your behavior, Gale. If you find it embarrassing, you have only yourself to blame."

Hazelle walks into the other bedroom and Katniss hears her telling Vick to share toys with Posy. She thinks that she ought to be embarrassed by the whole situation, but the warm feeling of being part of a real family, with a real mother, outweighs any other feeling. She's always liked that Hazelle doesn't treat her like an outsider.

"I would apologize, but I think you enjoyed watching her embarrass me," Gale says. "So what did you get from the baker?"

"Just a few rolls," Katniss pulls them out of the sack and divides them up.

"They'll go well with rabbit stew," Gale says.

For a moment, Katniss doesn't move from the table even though she knows she has nothing else that needs doing at the Hawthorne's. But she feels strangely at home. Gale's rummaging around for a place to put the rolls, she can hear Vic and Posy playing, and Hazelle is humming. She knows her own house will either be quiet or filled with sounds of sickness, and neither appeals to her.

When she looks up, Gale is studying her. She gets the feeling that he can detect some trace of wistfulness in her. Before he gets some strange notion about her being lonely or something, Katniss says,

"I've got to get back. I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you then."

She lets herself out and treads back to her own house.


AN: Alright, I hope you enjoyed reading. Please feel free to give me feedback and let me know if there's anything you'd like to see. I can't promise I'll use your suggestions, but I will read them and give them serious thought, promise :)