So it's been over a month and I'm very sorry for the delay. Hopefully, I'll never make you all wait like that again.
GlassHeart1993: Thank you so much for reading my story, and then going back later to post a long review. That was so sweet! I'm so glad you feel for the characters and think I have done a good job keeping them in character.
I like it: I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far, thanks for reading. As far as Gale and Maura go, she's really into him and so she's willing to tolerate behavior that perhaps she shouldn't. I think we've all seen that from girls when they really like a guy. I'm sorry you're finding parts of it repetitive, but I do think Gale would probably have had more than one girlfriend/relationship and Maura does have a role to play in the eventual Galeniss. And actually, the mining accident and sickness is all leading somewhere. Hopefully, you won't have the same issues with the rest of the story. We are eventually going to get into some drama with the Capitol and some romantic fluff, so there will be some new things.
I hope you all enjoy this chapter and thanks again for reading!
Katniss's first trip outside the Hawthornes' house is to a funeral. She wasn't aware Thom's mother had caught the fever, but apparently she had gotten sick around the same time Katniss did. She died two days after Katniss's fever broke. With his father and brother dead in the mining accident, Thom and his mother had gone through what meager savings they'd had, and there was no money for medicine. Like every family in the Seam, they could only afford to weather so much tragedy.
So Katniss and Prim join the Hawthorne's in District 12's graveyard. Thom says a few words about his mother and then piles dirt over what is left of her. Peacekeepers always remove the bodies of the dead for cremation and return the ashes in a small box to be buried with a generic marker. Gale once said that if the bodies weren't burned there wouldn't enough space in the graveyard for all of the district's dead.
At the funeral, Thom shakes hands with everyone and thanks them for coming. When he's not talking, his mouth is closed in an expressionless line and his eyes look profoundly tired. Katniss thinks he looks ten years older than he did a few months ago. When he shakes her hand, Katniss feels an immense guilt. She is alive, Prim is alive, and yet his mother is not. Would Gale have helped Thom and his mother more if he hadn't been so focused on Katniss? Once the question occurs to her, she can't bear to look at Thom. She drops his hand quickly and goes to stand behind Hazelle.
"Are you feeling alright, dear?" Hazelle asks.
"Just tired," Katniss lies.
"Of course, we should get you back now."
Hazelle and the children leave with Katniss, while Gale stays behind with Thom. He doesn't come home for hours. When he arrives, his shoulders are slumped and the smile he gives his siblings is so clearly forced that Vick says,
"Don't smile. We're not stupid, you know."
"I never said you were."
Gale leans against the wall and shuts his eyes.
"Well then don't smile. We know everyone is sad today."
Gale stays leaning against the wall and Katniss wishes they could go out to the woods because she thinks that might help. But she's too tired and it's getting late anyway. So when Gale opens his eyes, she suggests the next best thing by jerking her head towards the Hawthorne's back door.
Gale follows her outside into the open space between the Hawthorne's house and the front of the next house in the Seam. Lady greets them with a rather despondent sounding bleat and Buttercup hisses and darts out of their path. The cat doesn't seem to like Gale any better than he does Katniss.
Gale's father had built a bench underneath a tree, and Katniss leads Gale there. He doesn't say anything for awhile, just sits and stares vacantly at the rows of Seam houses.
"You know what's crazy?" he says finally. "I hated Thom for like a year. It was after my dad died and I hated him because he still had a dad. And he had a big brother too. So just I hated him because he didn't have to put food on the table."
Katniss knows that feeling well. She hated everyone with parents for a little while too.
"Now though," Gale shakes his head. "I'm sure he'd kill to have mouths to feed. I just-I mean his whole family gone in the space of a month. That shouldn't even be possible."
But it is possible, and it's not even all that surprising. Whole families die of starvation every winter. The only thing surprising is that it happened so quickly to a family that once had two able-bodied miners.
"He's going to have to live in the community home until he can start mining," Gale says. "He had asked if he could just keep his house for a few months, since that's all it is, but they can't even give him that."
"Of course not," Katniss snorts. "It wasn't terrible enough already, they had to throw in the community home."
"He'll be alright though. He's probably the biggest guy there."
Katniss nods. At least there are small comforts. She was about to say it wouldn't be very long until he got to work in the mines anyway, but that thought doesn't sit well with her. It means that in a few months Gale will be in the mines. He must be thinking something along those lines because he turns and locks eyes with her.
"I have a favor to ask you," he takes a deep breath and pushes the words out in rush. "I know I might die and my body might get trapped in the mines, but if-if they're able to get my body and cremate me, would you…would you take my ashes out and scatter them in the woods?"
Katniss feels the breath leave her body and she goes perfectly still.
"I don't want you to get into trouble, so you can bring the box back and have the regular ceremony. No one will know. I just…I don't want to be in that graveyard. And I-I don't want to be stuck beneath the earth in the mines, although there may be nothing anyone can do about that. But...try, will you?"
She wants to protest, tell him he's not going to die any time soon, because that's just crazy. She won't accept that, not even now, in light of all that's happened.
"Katniss, just-just will you? If something happens?"
He's determined and she knows better than to argue.
"It won't. But if it does, I will."
He nods and she thinks for a moment about what he's said. Her father is buried in that graveyard and Katniss would want to be with him. But the more she thinks about it, the more Katniss thinks her father is more in the woods than he is in that graveyard. He's really at the cabin by the lake. She realizes she'd want to be buried there. And even though she's never taken Gale, she has no doubt he could find it.
"Gale," she says. "I want my ashes in the woods too."
"You're not going to die. I won't let you."
"Gale!" she huffs. "You made me promise."
"Fine. I promise too."
"But, not just anywhere," Katniss forces her voice to remain steady. "My father used to take me to this place. It's about nine miles northwest of our rock. If you just head that way, you'll get to this little cave, then bear a little more north, and you'll get to it."
Gale is looking at her carefully. There's some surprise in his expression, perhaps because she's kept a secret about the woods from him.
"How will I know I've found it?"
"You will; it's beautiful. Someday maybe I'll show you."
"I'd like that, if you want to someday."
She looks up at Gale. She feels like she should apologize for not having taken him there earlier, or offering to do so now. But meeting his eyes, she instantly feels relief. Gale understands, of course he would. After a moment, he says,
"My dad had these old books. He was starting to read one of them with me, and I've read the rest since. I don't talk about them with anyone. I've been meaning to show them to Rory, but for some reason, I don't want to yet. I will though. Someday."
Katniss nods and then they sit on the bench, staring out at the run down houses and the woods behind them. Though many of the trees haven't sprouted new leaves, the pines keep the horizon mostly green. If she looks above the houses of the Seam, at the blue sky meeting the mountaintops, Katniss can almost see beauty. She's not sure how long they've been sitting there when Gale says,
"I have to get going. I promised Maura I'd stop by today."
Katniss suppresses a frown. She'd been wondering if they were still seeing each other, but now that question's answered. She supposes she has no business being upset; Gale can do what he wants.
So she just nods and Gale gets up from the bench. Just as they reach the Hawthorne's back door, he touches her elbow and says,
She shrugs her your welcome and he goes inside to change for Maura.
Katniss and her family remain with the Hawthornes as she continues to recover. She quickly finds that life at the Hawthornes can only be described as barely-contained chaos. Friends stream in and out of the house. Vick, Rory, and Gale wrestle around in the living room. Nearly every game Posy plays seems to require running, crashing into things, shrieking, and giggling. Gale and Rory can often be heard muttering and banging about as they make home repairs. Hazelle is constantly in motion, simultaneously working on washing, solving disputes between siblings, and minding stew simmering on the stove.
Katniss doesn't mind the commotion. In fact, she's enjoying the energy of it. As she gets her strength back, she helps Hazelle with the washing and entertains Posy. They both make excellent companions. Posy is easily excited and her sense of wonder is infectious. Hazelle sometimes makes pleasant conversation, but is often content to work in companionable silence.
When everyone comes home from school, they are all eager to tell Katniss about the day, though Hazelle insists that some studying get done. Gale leaves to hunt a bit before dusk, and Katniss helps him skin the meat when he returns. She likes that there is always something to do and someone to do it with at the Hawthornes.
But Katniss thinks it's Prim who is benefiting the most from their time with the Hawthornes. Hazelle teaches her to cook and Prim glows when she compliments her work. Posy adores Prim and constantly wants to sit on her lap or play dolls with her. Though Katniss worried that the teasing and roughhousing of three boys might be too much for Prim, it seems to have brought her sister more out of her shell. Rory teases her occasionally, and after some encouragement from Gale, Prim's now teasing back. She chases Vick around the house until she's breathless, with rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes. And Katniss can't bring herself to worry about her sister too much because Gale watches Prim like a hawk, stepping in if he thinks his siblings are bothering her too much and carefully scrutinizing the way Rory's friends behave around her.
Only Mrs. Everdeen seems unaffected by the energy at the Hawthorne's house. Two days after her fever broke, Katniss decided she ought to at least look in on her mother. She found her as catatonic as ever. Since then, Katniss continues to bring her mother breakfast and dinner, but otherwise avoids her room. She can't see any reason to go in there.
Eventually, Katniss returns to school and she and Gale recommence their hunting trips. It occurs to Katniss that her family should probably return home soon. It will be difficult to move the mattress through the Seam, so she decides to wait for the weekend. She doesn't mention her decision to anyone. Every time she thinks she ought to tell Prim, or Gale, or Hazelle, she finds a reason not to.
During dinner one Friday, she realizes she can't put it off any longer. Her stomach twists uncomfortably as Hazelle tells everyone that Prim seasoned the rabbit entirely herself.
"Ish dewishish!" Gale says through a mouthful of food. Rory snorts and Vick and Posy start giggling.
"No one will appreciate your compliments if they can't understand them, Gale," Hazelle rolls her eyes. "I did teach you not to chew with your mouth full."
Gale rolls his eyes and gulps loudly.
"It's delicious," he tells Prim.
"Thanks," she giggles.
Everyone is too busy chewing to talk at first, but eventually Hazelle asks about school. Various answers of "good," and "fine" float across the table, but Hazelle isn't that easily satisfied.
"Gale, how did your exam go today? You barely studied last night."
"It was alright," he shrugs. "It's not important, just history of Panem stuff. Nothing I'll ever need to know again."
"But you should still have studied harder," Hazelle gives a pointed look in the direction of Vick and Posy.
Gale takes a heavy breath.
"Yeah, I should study harder."
"Didn't you two also have a test a few days ago?" Hazelle turns to Rory and Prim. "Have you gotten your grades back yet?"
"Yeah," Rory swallows a bite of bread. "I got a 90 percent."
"Good," Hazelle smiles and looks over at Prim, who blushes, looks down at her plate, and says,
"It went well."
"She just doesn't want to brag," Rory says. "She got a 98 percent."
Gale whistles and Katniss squeezes Prim's shoulder. Her little sister was always the smart one.
"Good job," she says.
"That's quite a score," Hazelle beams at Prim. "We're all very proud of you."
Prim's cheeks redden and she smiles. Katniss feels her stomach twist again. It's been weeks since their mother asked Prim about school. Katniss had also been forgetting to ask. She'll be better about that from now on.
As the dinner progresses, Katniss finds herself unable to continue eating. Her stomach is in knots. Prim is doting on Posy, teasing Rory, and laughing at Vick's stories. Every time her sister smiles, Katniss feels herself tense because she knows they won't be having dinners like this anymore.
Eventually, some time after Prim teases Rory about talking to himself when he studies, Katniss can't take the feeling in her stomach any more.
"I think we'll go back home this weekend," she says. "I mean, I feel fine now, and so we shouldn't stay…"
The silence rings in her ears and Katniss can't bring herself to look up from her empty plate. It's Vick who finally speaks,
"You're leaving? This weekend?"
Katniss is about to reply when she is cut off by a load wail.
"I don't want them to go!"
Posy has gone straight past pouting, whimpering and sniffling, and seems to be gearing up for a full-scale tantrum. Katniss hears the scraping of a chair as Hazelle gets up and lifts Posy into her arms. Katniss feels her face heating up. She hadn't anticipated this. Posy is sobbing and the rest of the table is completely silent for a moment before Gale speaks.
"Katniss, let's go outside."
She doesn't need to look at his face to know he's upset, but she does need to look up to follow him out. As she gets up, her eyes briefly scan the table and she immediately wishes she hadn't. Vick looks like he wants to follow Posy's lead and dissolve into tears, Rory has his arms crossed and is staring at the ground, but worst of all is Prim's face. Her sister looks stunned, like someone pulled the ground out from under her.
Katniss looks away, grateful that Gale is demanding her attention. She doubts she's headed to a pleasant conversation, but anything is better than seeing Prim's face right now.
Gale barely waits for the door to shut behind her before he says,
"Thanks for the head's up! It's really great being informed."
"You were informed," she snaps. Perhaps it didn't go very well, but she did tell him.
"Are you kidding me? That was informing me? Informing my mom?"
"I didn't think it required a formal announcement. We're just going back home, it's not a big deal."
"Tell that to Posy! Or Vick, or even Rory! In fact, why don't you tell Prim that, because she didn't look-
"Don't! Don't you dare-
"Dare what? Point out that you made a complete mess of this! Point out that Prim's devastated because you just dropped that on her out of fucking nowhere!"
Katniss goes completely still. Gale's gotten angry at her before, and he's sworn in front of her plenty, but he's never spoken to her quite like this. It slams all her thoughts to a halt for a moment, and then they come tumbling back in a disorganized rush. She's vaguely aware that Gale is still talking, something about kids getting attached and sensitivity, but her thoughts are whirling around too quickly for her to sort it all out. Instead they come out in a jumbled rush, and she barely registers that she's completely interrupting him.
"It's not any of your business how I talk to Prim-and-and it's not out of nowhere. We had to go home some time. No one was gong to like this-it-it didn't matter how I did it!"
"Of course it mattered! You should have given us warning, time to let the kids adjust to what they're losing-
"Losing! We're just going back home, not to another district!"
Katniss forces her self to say the words because she wants them to be true. She doesn't want to admit it be might be bigger than that.
Gale scoffs, wrinkling his nose and letting one corner of his mouth turn upwards with disdain.
"It's not just that. They all got attached to each other. Posy got to have big sisters, and she loved it. Vick and Rory did too. And you're just taking that away from them without-
"I was always going to have to leave, Gale!"
She isn't going to let him put this on her. She didn't disappoint his family. She won't let that be true.
"It had to happen! We all knew it was temporary. It's not my fault they got attached. I didn't ask for this. I didn't even ask to be brought here!"
Katniss stops and gulps. She wants to take the words back the moment they're out of her mouth, but her throat just closes up. Gale stares at her in disbelief for a moment, then he turns and takes long strides around the house towards the front yard.
"I'm taking a walk."
Katniss desperately wants to chase after him, tell him she didn't mean it, but she knows him better than that. He's in no state to listen to her now.
Instead, she stands in the yard, hugging her arms to her chest and taking deep breaths. She shouldn't have said that, not after everything Gale and his family did. The shame of saying something so stupid, and yet so mean, is practically burning her. She doesn't want to go back inside, where they probably heard everything. She cringes just thinking about it.
If she could run away without saying goodbye to Hawthornes she probably would, but Prim and her mother are still inside. So Katniss eventually steals herself for the inevitable and walks back in the door.
The house is surprisingly silent. Hazelle is doing dishes and Vick is asleep on the mattress in the living room. Katniss doesn't see Posy, Prim or Rory. She decides she should probably start by apologizing to Hazelle, but before she can say anything, Hazelle turns and asks,
"Y-you didn't hear?"
"Oh, uhm, he's taking a walk."
Hazelle lets out a dry chuckle.
"It went that badly then?"
"Yeah," Katniss mumbles. She stands at the edge of the kitchen, fiddling with the bottom of her shirt. "I'm surprised you didn't hear us."
"Posy just stopped crying a few minutes ago."
"Prim and Rory are in with her. They finally got her to calm down."
Katniss supposes that's better than everyone having heard her, but not by much. She swallows and tries to find something to say-an apology, an explanation, just something. But Hazelle sets down the dish she's working on and turns toward Katniss.
"I wish you had discussed this with me first. Or at least with Gale."
"I-I know. I should have. I meant to. It was just…"
"I knew Prim wouldn't want to go back home. That none of your kids would want us to leave."
"All the more reason we needed to discuss how best to break the news."
"I know. I…I'm sorry."
"It's okay, dear."
Hazelle folds Katniss up in a hug and suddenly Katniss feels the urge to cry. She squeezes her eyes shut and tries to make the urge go away. As Hazelle shushes her and rubs her back, Katniss finally realizes why this has been so difficult.
"I don't want to leave," she whispers. She feels Hazelle sigh.
"I know, dear. I know."
They're still standing like that when the front door opens. Katniss senses more than she hears Gale come to a stop a few feet away from them. She doesn't look up from Hazelle's shoulder because she isn't sure what she'll see in his face. He's probably still furious at her and the prospect is intimidating.
"Gale, go say goodnight to your sister. And tell Rory and Prim to go to bed. Then come back in here because I need to speak with you."
After the bedroom door shuts behind Gale, Hazelle lets Katniss go.
"I'm sorry," Katniss whispers again.
"It's okay, it is. We all make mistakes," Hazelle says. She smiles gently at Katniss and squeezes her hand. "Now get some sleep dear.
Katniss walks back to the bedroom, only slightly comforted by Hazelle's forgiveness. She still has to face Prim and Gale and she thinks they'll both be more difficult. Stepping inside the bedroom only compounds her guilt, because she's sleeping on Gale's bed and he's sleeping on a couch that's a few inches too short for him.
Katniss lies down and squeezes her eyes shut. After a few minutes she hears the softs sounds of Hazelle's voice mixing with Gale's low tone. She can't hear what they're saying, but Gale sounds frustrated and Hazelle sounds soothing. Part of Katniss wants to creep to the edge of the door and see if she can hear them better, but she knows Gale would notice her presence. Instead, she closes her eyes and tries to sleep. She's almost succeeded when she hears Hazelle's voice rise slightly.
"Prim, why you are still up, dear?"
Prim's answer is so soft that Katniss can't hear it, but it must satisfy Hazelle and Gale because Katniss doesn't hear anything else until Prim's footsteps sound outside her door.
"Katniss?" Prim whispers as she shuts the door quietly.
"Can I sleep with you tonight?"
Katniss scoots to the far edge of Gale's mattress and lifts the blanket up for Prim to crawl in with her. She knows what she needs to say to her sister, but the words stay caught in her throat until Prim has climbed into bed and curled up with her back against Katniss.
"Hey Little Duck," Katniss whispers. "I'm really sorry. I should have talked to you about leaving first. It just came out all wrong. And I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Prim's voice catches. "I just don't want to leave."
"I don't either."
Prim turns and looks at her.
"Of course not," Katniss sighs. "But we can't just expect the Hawthornes to take us in forever."
"I know. I just-it's…happier here. I mean, not all the time, they fight and stuff. But it feels like a home."
Katniss swallows. She really hadn't thought about giving her sister a home. She had thought about putting food on the table, trying to get her mother back to normal, keeping the roof from leaking, getting good shoes for everyone-she had thought about all kinds of things, but making a house into a home just wasn't one of them. And she wishes she was the sort of person who knew how to do that.
"I'm sorry," she whispers.
Prim crinkles her brows.
"For not making our house like this."
Prim shakes her head.
"Kat, it's not your fault. I don't see how you could do any better than your doing."
Katniss isn't entirely sure that's true. But Prim has closed her eyes and snuggled into the blankets, so Katniss doesn't argue. Instead, she closes her eyes and tries to remember what it was like when her father was alive, when she had a real family. It takes her awhile to conjure up his image, it's getting blurrier in her mind. But she pictures it eventually, and when she does finally sleep, she dreams of him coming home from work and having family dinners.