This chapter was tough to write because it's less action and more setting the stage for some exciting stuff in the next couple chapters. I also had to write it in between moving, yuck. So, I realize it may not be super exciting, but I promise you can get excited for Chapter 7. I'm certainly having fun writing it.
Mooglez: Your comment cracked me up. Gale in general makes my 'ovaries giddy' ;) Gale also screamed protector way better to me too. Katniss is so strong herself that not just any guy could offer her much by way of protection, but I figured she might be a little vulnerable if she was outnumbered and without her bow.
Thank you again everyone for reading and reviewing, especially Ellenka and bohobo because you always both write such lovely, thoughtful reviews.
Two weeks later, Katniss and Gale are trying not to shiver as they wait for game to wander by a creek in the woods. It had snowed a few days earlier and Katniss is starting to wish the weather would hurry up and just transition to spring. She licks her lips and scolds herself for finishing off her water canteen half an hour earlier.
Noticing the gesture, Gale reaches into his hunting jacket and silently produces his own canteen. Katniss gives a smile of thanks, slips the lid off, and drinks gratefully.
As she's returning it to him, Gale jerks his head toward the creek. Not one, but two, large rabbits have approached the muddy banks. Gale grabs the canteen and sets it quietly on the ground, then he goes to ready his bow.
Katniss settles an arrow into her own bow, careful not let the wood of the arrow clank loudly against the bow. She stays still as she senses Gale ready himself to shoot. He'll take the rabbit on the left, since it's a bit clearer of a shot. He'll also shoot first, he always does. So Katniss waits, feeling his breath slow and his body become tensed and still.
Gale stops breathing and Katniss follows suit. A moment later, he shoots and she lets her own arrow fly just a split second after his. Both rabbits hit the banks with a thud.
They exchange smiles and make their way to the clearing around the creek. This is the last kill they need for the day and it was right in time. The sun is lowering in the sky and they'll have just enough time to check the snare line before it gets too dark.
Once they've retrieved their arrows, Katniss looks up at the sky and offers to start checking the southern end of the snare line. Most of Gale's simpler snares are in that area. He nods, throws the rabbits in his pack, and heads towards the other end of the line.
They meet in the middle and divide up the game. One of Gale's snares caught a raccoon, which they intend to give to Greasy Sae for one of her stews, so they make their way to the Hob and settle themselves on stools in front of her stall.
"What do you have for me today?" she asks them.
"Let's have a look."
She beckons them around behind the counter and Gale pulls out their kill.
"Not very big is it?"
"It's bigger than most, and you know it, Sae," he tells her.
"I don't know what size raccoons generally are, I just know how much stew it'll make. That won't give me more'n eight bowls."
"I bet you'll stretch it to ten," Katniss says. In fact, Sae will probably stretch the raccoon over twelve bowls, but Katniss knows she'd never admit to that.
"I'd like to, but there's just not enough meat."
They barter back and forth for a few minutes before Sae eventually agrees to pay them three coins and give them each a generous bowl of stew.
"How's your mother doing?" Sae asks Katniss, who nearly drops her spoon. What does Sae know about her mother?
Seeing her surprise, Sae continues,
"I heard a few people are coming down with coughs and fevers, and your sister was treatin 'em on account of your mother being ill herself."
"She's alright," Katniss shrugs. "Just worn down from the mining accident."
That's as close to the truth as Katniss feels like getting. Sae looks at her and nods. She probably knows that's only a half-truth, but Gale speaks up before she can ask anything else.
"People are getting sick? How many?"
"At least a dozen," Katniss says. "Three came to us for medicine just last night."
"From what I've heard, that's just the tip of the iceberg," Sae says. "The Collins and Harper kids got a cough, and I hear half the kids at the community home already got fevers."
"This is the last thing we need after a mining accident," Gale mutters.
"It's on account of the mining accident that it's happening," Sae tells him. "Less miners means more hungry families, which means more people whose bodies are too weak to fight illness. Live long enough and you'll notice these patterns."
"Great," Gale snorts.
As they finish their meal, Katniss forces herself to ignore the growing sense of foreboding she has at the idea of disease spreading around District 12. Her mother is still spending entire days lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, which leaves Prim to tend to the patients. And Katniss worries she might be getting overworked. But not matter what she says, Prim adamantly refuses to turn anyone away.
Gale's voice jars her out of her daze and she looks down at her empty bowl. She didn't even realize she'd finished. She nods at Gale and they say their goodbyes to Greasy Sae.
After they've walked a few yards from the Hob, Gale turns to her and says,
"How's your mom?"
Gale's been asking this every few days and Katniss has been giving the same answer. She's sick of thinking about it. If he wouldn't keep bringing it up, then she could forget about it for just a few hours while they hunt together.
"Do you think maybe if we-
"Stop it, Gale. There's nothing we can do."
"That herb has to be somewhere, if we could-
"Just leave it!"
"I'm only trying to help! I think that if-
Katniss and Gale both look away from eachother and stare at the girl on the path in front of them. It's Maura Amesworth, a Seam girl who is the same age as Katniss. But unlike Katniss, Maura's father has managed to survive the mines and her mother works as a housekeeper for the mayor. Maura eats well and can afford decent clothes, which doesn't win her any friends among the rest of the girls in the Seam. Girls in town don't associate with her either because she's still Seam, even if she's rich Seam.
But what Maura doesn't have in female friends she makes up for in boyfriends. Because she's pretty and well-fed enough to look like a woman, she has her pick of any guy in the Seam. Gale went out with her for a bit, if gossip can be believed. Katniss never asked him about it, so she's not sure what happened between the two of them.
But Maura is standing in front of them now, not having so much as acknowledged Katniss. Instead she's looking at Gale and smiling tentatively.
"Hey Maura," Gale isn't smiling back, but he's not scowling like he was at Katniss a moment earlier.
"How've you been?"
"Not bad," he says with a shrug. "Yourself?"
"Not bad," she parrots his words back to him with a smirk. "How's your family?"
"Always a man of many words. But really, Gale, how is everyone? Posy? The boys?"
"The boys are doing well in school. Posy's discovered hopscotch."
Maura laughs and Gale actually gives her a real smile. Katniss, who never had much of an opinion on Maura Amesworth before, suddenly finds her very irritating. Can't she find some other time to reconnect with him? Katniss would like to get home and she usually walks with Gale. She can't very well do that when he's in the middle of a conversation.
"My little brother still asks about you sometimes," Maura says. "He still has that wooden horse you whittled."
"Oren's a good kid. I hope he's doing well."
Gale smiles for a moment, but then the expression fades.
"I don't really know. We're not seeing eachother anymore."
"Interesting," Gale smirks. "Explains your sudden interest in Posy's welfare."
Maura's eyes flash.
"That's real nice Gale."
"Just telling it like it is."
Katniss bites back a smirk. Maybe Maura will get a hint and leave them alone now. Although, part of Katniss wouldn't mind if she stays now that the conversation has taken a more amusing turn.
"I like your family, Gale. Is that a crime? And I…I missed you."
Gale raises his eyebrows.
"You met my family once. And I don't know what exactly you missed about me. If I recall right, the last time we spoke you said I didn't make any time for you, and I wasn't good for anything except fu-
"Shut up," Maura hisses.
Katniss isn't exactly sure what he was going to say, but she could take a fairly good guess. It's not something she particularly wants to think about and she finds herself wanting Maura to leave again.
"I shouldn't have said that," Maura says. "And there's no point repeating it now."
"Fine," Gale shrugs. "What exactly is it you want here, Maura?"
"To talk to you."
Maura looks over at Katniss and scoffs.
"Gale, I want to have a personal conversation."
"Okay, so what do you want to talk about?"
Maura makes another exasperated noise, but when Gale doesn't budge she says,
"I wanted to talk about us, what we had."
"You didn't seem to particularly care for it."
"I did care for it."
"You had a funny way of showing it. You only wanted to do two things, yell at me and…" Gale trails off and shrugs.
Katniss is practically itching with discomfort. She definitely should not be witnessing this, but no one has asked her to leave and she finds a sort of perverse curiosity has rooted her to the spot.
"I liked you, but you always had one foot out the door, so I was upset."
"I told you from the beginning that I had responsibilities. That I didn't have time for some big, fairy-tale romance."
"I know that's the reason you gave. And I also know the reason you didn't give."
Maura jerks her head over at Katniss, who no longer feels like a spectator. Suddenly, she is aware of just how much she doesn't belong here, in this conversation, in this part of Gale's life. She ought to have just left without him. Rectifying her mistake, she turns and walks away without a word to either of them.
Behind her, she can hear Gale yelling at Maura, asking her "what the hell that was all about." Then Katniss hears his footsteps jogging towards her.
"Gale! Wait! I'm sorry!"
The footsteps stop.
"Can we just-just talk about this another time?" Suddenly, Maura's voice is sweet, sad and a little helpless. Katniss hears Gale sigh.
"Tomorrow at lunch."
"Okay," he sighs again.
Katniss quickens her pace, her anger growing with each step. She tries to suppress the emotion, because there isn't anything she should be angry about. It doesn't matter if Maura was a little rude, and it certainly doesn't matter what she thinks about Katniss and Gale. As far as Katniss can tell, there is just no real reason to care about this conversation at all.
But no matter what she tells herself, Katniss is horribly uncomfortable and inexplicably furious. Why did they have to rehash an old romance in front of her? She shouldn't have to hear about Gale screwing some girl. That was just infuriating-or awkward-just awkward. Nothing else, definitely nothing else.
"Catnip!" Gale is beside her, taking quick, long strides to match her pace. "Hey, what's wrong?"
Katniss keeps walking. She's trying to sort that out. She ought to be mildly annoyed, not furious.
"I'm sick of this Gale!"
"Sick of what?"
"Being thrown in the middle of your relationships with these stupid girls!"
"I know. You're absolutely right."
Katniss stops walking. Is she right? Even if she is, is that why she's upset? Gale steps in front of her and meets her eyes.
"You're absolutely right," he says again. "And I'm sorry. That's part of why I agreed to talk to her tomorrow. To set her straight about us and make sure she knows to leave you the hell out of things."
"And what's the other part?" The words are out of her mouth before she can think them through.
"No, what? The other part of what?"
Gale is all repentance and earnest curiosity and Katniss can't meet his eyes. It's not any of her business why he's going to talk to this girl at lunch tomorrow. She doesn't even really care. She's not sure why she even asked. She's certainly not going to repeat the question.
"Do you mean the other part of why I'm meeting her for lunch tomorrow?"
Katniss thinks that maybe Gale can read her too well.
"It doesn't matter, forget it," she says.
"No," he sighs and looks up at the sky for a moment. "Maura was my first real girlfriend…or the closest I ever had to one. She at least tried to have a relationship with me. Anyway, it ended in one big blowup and I probably owe her a real conversation about it."
He trails off and frowns at the sun setting low in the sky. Katniss is torn between wanting to hear more and wishing she had never asked. She definitely doesn't want to hear Gale talk about Maura like she might actually mean something, but there are so many unanswered questions. What does he mean by "real relationship?" It hadn't sounded like much of a relationship. And what went wrong? And does he want to get back together with her? Is that really why's he going to talk to her?
Katniss bites on her lip and swallows her questions. She's too nervous to ask any of them, but Gale must see her apprehension.
"Catnip, I'm not going to let her bother you. Tomorrow, I'll make it very clear that she's got no business giving you trouble. There's not going to be another Tia Hemlock incident. I promise."
Katniss knows she's supposed to be satisfied and forces a smile.
They walk the rest of the way towards the Seam in silence. Normally, she'd welcome the silence they share, but now she's agitated. Gale offers no distraction from her thoughts, as he's clearly wrapped up in his own. Instead, Katniss tries to figure out why the thought of Gale talking to Maura Amesworth makes her stomach drop and why she's suddenly so curious about Gale's past relationships.
She doesn't have any answers when Gale gives her a wave and turns off towards his house. The whole situation nags at her mind the rest of the evening and she sleeps fitfully.
Worse still, she finds herself stealing glances at Gale and Maura during lunch the next day. At first, she's somewhat satisfied with what she sees. Gale is as stern as she's ever seen him and Maura just sits with her arms crossed, glaring at him. But somehow things shift. Maura starts speaking, and she sees Gale relax his shoulders and let the tension leave his body. And soon Maura's giving him a small smile, and then he's smiling too, and they end up walking back from lunch together.
It takes all Katniss' self control not to ask about it during their next few hunting trips. But the thought of Gale realizing just how strange she's being is enough to keep Katniss quiet.
A few days later, her questions are answered, or at least as much as she wants them to be. On Monday, the school is abuzz with talk about Gale and Maura messing around at the slag heap on Saturday night.
'So much for having his fill of it,' Katniss thinks as she goes to collect Prim after school. 'He didn't even make it two months without screwing around.'
She taps her foot outside Prim's classroom, hoping her sister will hurry up and collect her things so Katniss won't have to hear any more speculation about the status of Gale and Maura's relationship.
Everyone except Prim seems to have left the classroom and finally Katniss shoves the door open to hurry her sister along. But when she gets into the classroom, all thoughts of Gale at the slag heap vanish from her mind. Prim is still sitting at her desk, clutching the edge of it for support, as she succumbs to a violent coughing fit.