Hey guys, here's the next chapter.

ILI: Glad you're enjoying it. And yeah, Katniss took some steps, but she's definitely not entirely aware of what she feels towards Gale. I'm not sure if Peeta will be in this much, but I figured he would be the one delivering sandwiches. This is just before the 74th Hunger Games. In a few chapters we'll get to that reaping.

Ellenka: Glad you enjoyed Haymitch and the lighter chapter. Don't ever apologize for reviewing, even if is night reviewing.I love all reviews :)

Bloodredfirefly: Thank you so much for that wonderful review! It was so long and it totally made my day. I re-read it like six times because it made me so happy. I'm glad you said that bit about how poverty makes things fall apart like dominoes because that's what I was going for when I was writing it. Thank you again, it was a lovely review.

To everyone wondering when Gale and Katniss will kiss/get together: Not for awhile. They'll progress in that direction and they'll kiss before they really get together, but it's going to take awhile. For one thing, Katniss is not really focused on that and is often totally oblivious to it, also they have a lot of other stuff to deal with. Besides, you need the build up for it to be any fun when they do get together.

Anyway, thank you all again for reading, reviewing, following, etc. I really do appreciate it, it makes writing so much more rewarding.


Over the next two weeks, life at the Hawthornes continues in a similar rhythm. Mrs. Everdeen remains closed off. Prim and Hazelle are working much harder to change that than Katniss is, but she quashes any guilt by remembering her mother's reaction to Prim's illness. Her time is better spent hunting with Gale and helping Hazelle, rather than dealing with a mother who abandons her children when they need her most.

So while Prim and Hazelle try to talk to her mother or convince her to go outside, Katniss leaves the room and entertains Posy or does some of the washing. When she's not helping around the house, Katniss continues to hunt with Gale, their cooperation as seamless as ever.

Of course life at the Hawthornes isn't perfect. Posy demands a lot of attention, and with three doting brother she's used to getting it. Gale gets bossy, causing arguments with Hazelle and Rory. And for reasons no one seems to understand, Vick is acting out. He gets caught hiding Posy's toys in his room, hiding Gale's hammer under his bed, and even attempting to steal a set of old jacks from a neighbor boy. Gale and Hazelle are livid and Vick spends the better part of a week scrubbing the house as a punishment.

Gale and Katniss continue to work on Haymitch's fence, but to their irritation he takes to sitting out on his porch, watching them work while he drinks. Sometimes he interrupts to tease them, usually provoking sarcasm or insults. But he doesn't seem to mind, he just guffaws loudly and stumbles back to his porch chair. Haymitch does still feed them lunch though, so neither Katniss nor Gale stays upset for long.

One Sunday afternoon, Katniss and Hazelle are working on washing in the living room when a knock sounds at the door. Hazelle leaves to answer it, and a few minutes later she's leading Maura into the house.

"I'll go out back and get Gale," Hazelle says. "He and Rory are fixing the back windows."

Maura nods and Hazelle turns to Katniss.

"Katniss, dear, can you go get the sheets from your mother and Prim's bed?"

Katniss agrees, eager for a reason to leave the room with Maura. She hasn't really seen her since Prim was ill. Katniss has the distinct impression Gale has been trying to keep them as far apart as possible and she's perfectly fine with that plan.

Hazelle shuts the door behind her and Katniss is about to walk away when Maura says,

"Hazelle's washing your family's sheets?"

"Yeah, we're washing all the sheets today."

Katniss thinks the question is rather idiotic and she's about to keep walking when Maura speaks again.

"Wait? You do the washing together?"

"Of course."

"You-you're still staying here?"

Katniss nods. She hears the door swing shut and feels some relief. Gale will be here in a moment. But before she can escape Maura narrows her eyes and asks,

"When are you leaving?"

"Uhm…we…"

Katniss isn't sure what to say. She doesn't know when they're leaving and it's beginning to occur to her that Maura was completely unaware of their living arrangement.

"She's not leaving."

Gale has walked inside with Hazelle close behind him.

"Not leaving?"

Maura is gaping at him and even Hazelle raises her eyebrows.

"The Everdeens are living with us for awhile."

"Awhile?"

"However long is necessary."

"Necessary for what?"

Gale presses his lips together, clearly not wanting to discuss Katniss's family problems.

"Until my mom is better," Katniss says.

"What's wrong with her?"

Katniss doesn't know how to answer that. She's not about to fill Maura Amesworth in on her mother's condition.

"That's private, Maura," Gale snaps.

"So-so they're just staying here indefinitely? All of them? That—it-it's crazy! You can't! I mean you can't all fit!"

"It's three more people. We fit fine."

Katniss can sense Gale's growing irritation and she looks around nervously before Hazelle catches her eye. Hazelle gathers up some of the wet laundry and jerks her head towards the back door. Katniss scrambles to pick up the remaining laundry and starts to make for the door.

"So you're sharing a bedroom with another girl?"

"Of course not! Don't be stupid," Gale fights to keep his voice low. "This isn't a big deal."

"Really, Gale? It isn't a big deal? You didn't need to tell me? You didn't need to run it by me first?"

Hazelle's raises her brows again and Katniss actually cringes. Gale won't take well to the implication he should have run his household decisions by someone other than Hazelle.

"No. It's not your business. It's my family and my house."

Katniss shakes her head as she follows Hazelle down the hallway towards the back door.

"Go ahead and hang up the laundry." Hazelle says as she opens the door. "I'm going to make sure he remembers it's my house and I have certain expectations for how he speaks to any woman he brings into it."

Katniss swallows, takes the laundry, and bolts for the yard. She has no desire to be nearby when Hazelle checks Gale's temper and Maura continues to argue with him.

"Whoa there."

Katniss nearly crashes into Rory.

"In a hurry much?" he smiles.

"Yeah, actually. Gale and Maura are having a fight."

"Here?"

Katniss nods.

Rory lets out a low whistle.

"She must have really pushed his buttons. I know they fight a lot, but he's got to be pissed to do it here."

"They fight a lot?"

"Yep," Rory smirks. "They fight and they fuck, and that's pretty much it."

"Rory!"

He shrugs, completely unapologetic. Katniss tries to fight a blush as she imagines what Rory's just said.

"I can't figure it out," he shrugs again. "I mean she's hot and all, but they're terrible together. They were last time too."

"Why?" The questions is out before Katniss can think better of asking. Rory cocks his head to the side as he considers it.

"Well, with Gale you have to know when to stop and let him blow off steam. But I think she just keeps right on arguing, right on pushing. And it's always about asking him to do more. To see her more, to pay more attention to her. And Gale just doesn't have more, not of anything."

Katniss is rather impressed. She isn't sure when Rory got so wise about his brother's relationship, but he certainly has it more figured out than she does. But then Gale's relationships make her uncomfortable so she deliberately ignores them.

"Does he tell you all that?" Katniss asks, still impressed.

"Not in so many words, but I can read between the lines," Rory smiles. "I don't think we'll have to put up with her for much longer. She'll put him over the edge soon and he'll get so angry he won't care anymore."

"Yeah, but he gets over being angry."

"Not with most people."

Katniss considers this. She and Gale have never had an argument that lasted longer than a day or two. When she looks at Rory again he's scrutinizing her.

"He gets over things with you because you don't fight with him about stupid stuff," Rory says.

Katniss gapes at him for a moment, wondering yet again when little Rory Hawthorne got so perceptive.

"You guys understand each other, so even when he's mad at you, a part of him always gets where you're coming from. But Maura whines about him not spending enough time with her, or hunting too much-

"But he has to do that. He has to take care of you all."

Rory smirks.

"Like I said, you two understand each other."

Katniss doesn't think there is anything to understand. That ought to be straight forward enough. She's about to say as much, but Rory is walking away, chuckling to himself as he goes.

Katniss shakes her head and then begins hanging laundry, trying to take as much time as possible so she won't have to witness the argument inside. Unfortunately, that strategy backfires because Gale and Maura move their argument outside.

"You're unbelievable! You're just kicking me out of the house-

"Oh come on Maura, I said we should go outside and stop arguing in front of my mom!"

"Well, we wouldn't be arguing at all if you could be honest-

"I am honest! No one lied-

"Fine, you just omitted!"

"You never asked!"

Katniss hangs the last of the laundry and runs inside.

"Are they still arguing out there?" Hazelle asks when Katniss has shut the door behind her. Katniss nods and Hazelle scowls.

"Hopefully, the neighbors don't hear them," she shakes her head. "Let's get these sheets washed. Rory, I need you to sweep both bedroom floors."

Katniss joins Hazelle in front of the wash tub and Rory grumbles as he gets the broom. For a moment there is nothing but the sound of them working, then Katniss hears more shouting. She can't quite make out what's being said, but she can hear Gale and Maura going back and forth.

"Oh that's it," Hazelle tosses a sheet in the water. "The whole town is going to hear them. He is not going to carry on like this."

She strides towards the front door, but before she can open it, Gale bursts inside. He's slightly short of breath and his whole body is tensed, but Katniss can't make out is expression because he takes one look at Hazelle then drops his eyes to the floor.

"There you are!" Hazelle plants herself in front of him, both hands on her hips. "You absolutely cannot behave like that. Shouting for everyone to hear! You just can't-

"It won't happen again."

"It most certainly won't, because if-

"Because she dumped me."

Hazelle's mouth drops opens, swallowing a breath.

"She dumped you?"

"That's what I said," Gale is still staring at the ground.

"Oh, Gale," Hazelle reaches up and hugs him.

"Don't worry," Rory says. "She'll try and get back together with you tomorrow, just like always."

"No," Gale shakes his head as he pulls out of Hazelle's embrace. "I don't think she will this time."

The room is silent for a moment before Gale adds,

"And even if she does, I won't say yes."

There's a finality in his tone and Katniss knows she's seen the last of Maura.

"Well if you don't want to be with her anyway, then why are you so upset?" Rory asks.

"I'm not."

"Seriously?"

Rory stops sweeping and leans against the broom, fixing Gale with a patronizing look.

"I just have to think about stuff," Gale grumbles. Without another word, he stalks across the room and into his bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind him.

"Well, that was…unexpected," Hazelle says as she eyes the bedroom door.

"Yeah, I didn't think he'd really care when it ended," Rory said.

"Hush," Hazelle glares at him. "See if you can't find it in you to be more sympathetic when he comes back out."

But Gale doesn't come back out of his room until dinner, and even then he doesn't seem to be really present. He doesn't talk much and stares at his food more than he eats it.

Katniss studies him, trying to catch his eye and get a read on him, but he seems to be purposefully avoiding her gaze. At first Katniss worries he's angry at her because her presence started the argument with Maura, but he's not exhibiting any of his usual signs of anger and Katniss certainly knows those well enough. Instead, he seems lost in thought, like something is weighing heavily on him.

He goes outside after dinner and Katniss looks out the window to find him sitting on the bench his father made and absently scuffing his foot in the grass. He stays outside long after the sun goes down. Hazelle glances out the window occasionally, but otherwise acts as though nothing is out of the ordinary.

All the younger children go to bed. Though Katniss feels like she ought to wait up for Gale, she eventually makes her bed on the couch as well. He comes in soon after she's settled under her blanket.

"Hey," he says softly to Hazelle. "Sorry I was…out."

"It's alright. You're allowed some time to yourself every now and then."

Katniss hears Gale scoff softly.

"You are," Hazelle scolds in a whisper. "Anyway, how are you?"

"Alright."

"You don't seem it."

Gale gives a low chuckle.

"I am though. I'm not even really sad about it, it was never going to last forever."

"Then why the brooding?"

"I'm not brooding. I'm…figuring some things out."

"Sounds an awful lot like brooding to me," Hazelle whispers. Katniss can practically hear her smirk. "If you're not upset, then what do you have to figure out?"

"Stuff," Gale grumbles. He pauses for a moment before he speaks again "When she ended it, Maura said a lot of stuff about me. Most of it was ridicules, but mixed in were some things that might be true."

"Like?"

Gale remains silent.

"Fine, don't talk to your mother."

"Ma, come on. I just want time to think it through myself."

"Alright, dear. Just…you're really okay?"

"I am. I promise."

"Okay, then I'm off to bed. Goodnight, dear."

"Goodnight."

Katniss hears rustling as they embrace and Hazelle walks toward the bedroom. The wall shifts as Gale leans against it. When the door is shut behind Hazelle, he sighs. Katniss hears him cross the room towards the couch and she rolls to face the cushions, tangling her blanket halfway down her back. Though the air is cold on her shoulders, she doesn't dare move for fear that Gale will realize she's been awake and eavesdropping.

She hears his feet come to a stop near the edge of the couch and feels him looking at her. Everything is perfectly still for a moment, and then Gale reaches out and lifts her blanket, tucking it gently over her shoulders. If she weren't trying so hard to feign sleep, she would have sighed at the feeling of warmth covering her cold back. But she keeps her breathing even and Gale steps back from the couch. He stands still for a moment, then sighs and walks towards his bedroom. Katniss stays completely still, fearing that if she moves she will lose the inexplicable warm, comfortable feeling that's settled over her.


Over the next few days, Gale acts slightly strangely. It's nothing dramatic. In fact, Katniss would say it's almost imperceptible, but she's used to noticing even the subtlest shifts in Gale's mood. So she notices that he's a bit quieter than usual, is lost in thought more often, and is slightly unfocused in his hunting. Most unsettling, at least for her, is that she often catches him looking at her and then looking away again.

For a few days, she lets it go. She's never had a relationship, let alone been dumped, so she figures she doesn't really know how a person ought to behave afterwards. But soon his reaction starts to grate on her because it just doesn't make any sense. She would understand if he were angry, everyone at school is talking about him and speculating about why Maura dumped him. She would even understand if he seemed sad, though she wouldn't really have said Maura was worth a whole lot of sadness. But he doesn't seem to be particularly emotional at all, just contemplative. And it's driving her close to crazy because she can't figure out what he's contemplating and she's never had this much trouble reading Gale.

"Will you just stop it!"

Her voice comes out harsher than she meant for it to, but he's done it again. They were walking towards the fence after a morning of hunting, and he'd looked at her, and then looked away again, and this time she can't take it any more.

Gale stops walking and raises his eyebrows.

"Stop what?"

"Looking at me, and then not looking at me, and-and having your head in the clouds. And being so damn quiet."

"Uhm..."Gale's mouth is slightly open and his eyes are wider than usual. Katniss starts to feel guilty.

"Look, I'm sorry about Maura, really I am," she stops talking and thinks for a moment. "Or-well-I'm sorry if you're upset about it. But I really don't know why you have to be so weird. She isn't worth this much emotion."

That thought gives Katniss another idea.

"Is that it? Do you want me to reassure you she's not worth it? Tell you how she was crazy for ending it, and you'll do better than her, and all that other stuff people say when their friends get dumped. Is that what you want?"

Gale throws his head back and starts laughing. Katniss glares at him because she doesn't see what's so amusing.

"What?" she snaps.

Gale chuckles for another minute before he replies.

"Good to know you're here for me," he snickers. "If I want some forced sympathy, I'll be sure to let you know."

"It's not forced! I mean it! She's annoying and you can do better."

"Is that so?"

"Of course," Katniss rolls her eyes at him. "All the girls at school are going crazy because you're available again. You can probably have any girl you want."

"Any girl, huh?"

Gale turns and looks her straight in the eye and Katniss can't decipher his expression. His face seems playful and he's smiling, but there's something guarded behind his eyes. And he's looking at her so intently she feels heat creeping up her chest.

"Well, I mean-you know-I...you know what I mean."

She finishes in a huff and looks away from him, but she can feel him watching her. He stays silent for a moment and she gets the feeling he's studying her again.

"I'm not sure I do know what you mean," he says at last. "Do you just mean I can do better than Maura, or do you really think I'm a catch?"

"Both," she says, before she's fully considered the implications of what she's saying. Her entire face heats up as she realizes how that one word could be construed. "I mean-well, everyone thinks that you're a 'catch' or whatever."

Gale's raises his eyebrows so high they're threatening to disappear under his hair.

"I didn't know you paid attention to any of that," he says finally.

"I don't," she snaps. "I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. I'm just saying people think it."

He looks at her carefully again and she glares back at him.

"Stop staring at me."

"Okay, sorry," he waves his hands up in submission. "I was just thinking."

"Well, you've been doing a lot of it lately, and I don't see why it has to involve looking at me."

"It doesn't," he snaps. "I'm just not paying attention. Sorry. I didn't realize looking at you was so damn offensive."

"It's not offensive! It's just…different. And I don't-I don't know. I just want you to go back to normal."

Gale lets out an exasperated sigh and she watches him shake his head out of the corner of her eye.

"Fine. I'm sorry," he says at last. "I'll pull it together, okay?"

"Okay."

An uncomfortable guilt twists in her stomach and she looks at the ground. They keep walking in silence and it occurs to Katniss that she may be the worst friend in all of Panem.

"I'm not trying to say you can't be upset about it," she says to the dirt. "I guess we can talk about her or something, if you want."

"I don't," he says. "I'm fine. Just forget about it, okay Catnip?"

She looks up at him and he's giving her an easy smile. She can see the hint of something else brewing beneath it, but she knows he doesn't actually want her to see that part. So she gives him a small smile and says,

"Okay."

"Good, so, I'm thinking we need to do some shopping today," he says. "We're running low on some things. I know we need matches and salt, have you noticed anything else?"

Katniss accepts his redirection and they finish the walk out of the woods talking easily about what they need and how best to trade for it.