This goes out to Anla'Shok who gave me excellent suggestions as to how to proceed with this. Once again, apologies for the extremely late update. Life gets in the way of living.
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games and all the characters in this fic are the property of Suzanne Collins.
That was new.
New and decidedly, inconveniently annoying.
Gale had been out scavenging and setting snares with his father on more occasions than he could recollect since the age of four and he'd never encountered this particular situation. That meant that – because the universe appeared bent on punishing him for some, as of yet, unknown to him transgression – when for the first time ever in his lifetime, the fence surrounding his home district was electrified during the daytime… Of course, the phenomenon had to occur while he was trapped on the other side with the world's most infuriating thirteen-year-old cynic.
Said delightful company had nearly walked to her certain death, courtesy of the aforementioned barrier, too, had it not been for his yanking her arm – admittedly, probably harder than was called for and with schadenfreude satisfaction – once he noticed the odd humming at the last moment. Nevertheless, considering she'd be a melting corpse on chain link otherwise, he hardly felt she was justified in the litany of expletives she'd launched at him.
He didn't feel particularly deserving of the sneer or silent treatment he was being treated to at present either, as they sat on a sturdy, thick branch in an oak ten yards from the fence, waiting to see if the thing turned off so they could creep back home. They couldn't stay on the ground any closer, where they were easily visible to Peacekeepers passing by. Here, they had a relatively safe resting place to wait out the next power outage, camouflaged by the tree's thick foliage.
Finally, feeling his sanity growing too thin to successfully suppress the urge to shove her off her perch on the branch, the older teen chose to be the adult and try to make some sort of amends. "You know, you would've died if I hadn't grabbed you away from that fence, Catnip. The least you can do is talk to me."
The tiny girl blew a strand of hair that had strayed in front of her left eye away from her face, but otherwise did not change her ornery expression. "I'm not deaf. A simple "Look out" would've worked just as well as dislocating my shoulder. I have to shoot with that arm." She looked away toward the fence; rubbing absently at what the older teen suspected was a growing bruise on her shoulder.
When she continued, her voice had grown distant and the teenager got the distinct impression she was no longer speaking to him so much as to herself. She was all but murmuring. He had to strain to make out what she said. "We don't even have the right weather for snow for a compress. I could try to get some ice from Rooba, maybe…"
Dark brows furrowing in confusion, Gale didn't spare a second thought before blurting out, "Just have your mom make you something for it. If anyone can fix up a bruised should-" He found himself unable to continue as she snapped her head back to lock eyes with him, a broken lost look he couldn't understand in those eyes that were almost identical to his.
"Mom needs her remedies for her patients," came her simple response, voiced in a raspy, vulnerable intonation so unlike anything he'd heard from her in the six months they'd been partnered up in their mutual endeavor to feed their families. He could scarcely believe the obstinate girl he'd been coming out to the woods with was even capable of such a meek sound.
He found himself blinking at her dumbly until she furrowed her brows, obviously berating herself for inadvertently baring so much to him, before she tore her face away to look back toward the fence with a sniff and swift wipe at her nose with the back of her sleeve.
Realization struck him that she never spoke of her mother. Well, she barely spoke at all. But, what little she ever did say, always revolved around either their task at hand or something involving her sister. She never mentioned the healer.
He was certain the woman was alive. He'd seen her once or twice, the couple times he'd gone to Katniss' home to settle with her after a trip to the Hob after either he or she was unable to be present during the trading for some reason or another. The woman had looked gaunt and withdrawn, but decidedly extant, as she'd sat in a chair in the kitchen the entire time he'd been there. And, who didn't look emaciated and depressed in the Seam? However, as he continued to stare at the braid of the girl who adamantly tried to hide her flushed face from his view, there was something – a sixth sense maybe – that told him there was something very wrong in the Everdeen household, a burden Katniss was trying to shoulder on her own… something that either pride or fear wouldn't allow her to voice… something that caused her a lot of pain.
He found himself at a loss.
He wasn't good with words. He'd never found them particularly useful beyond haggling a fair deal in a trade. That didn't require much eloquence in either the Hob or at the back door of Merchants, most of whom wanted the deal sealed and him off their property before his presence became too conspicuous to their neighbors and they became the new hot topic of gossip.
In spite of this, however, he couldn't ignore the slow churn that started in his gut the moment he noted the broken look in the tiny girl's eyes, the unbidden sob in her voice. The sudden realization the he actually felt compassion for her was shock enough, but the fact that this empathy was somehow compelling him to vocalize his concern was impossibly even more dismaying.
"I miss my dad."
He cringed. The words had left his lips autonomously, before he'd had a chance to consider the effect they might have. Considering the way she turned back to look at him with her brows furrowed in a befuddled scowl, he'd say the effect was her assuming he was a slow-witted freak. Then again, he doubted she thought much more highly of him prior to the outburst, so he figured he might as well elaborate. "I mean, I miss him all the time, Catnip. It sucks that I have to this all the time now." He gestured expansively around them to accentuate their predicament just that much more.
Then, his voice grew low and somber with a hint of sadness as he continued, "I worry about everyone. Posy has a cough. I'm hoping she'll get over it before it gets any cooler or we'll lose her this winter. Rory is getting into trouble in school- a lot. It's like his whole personality changed since Pa died or something. He used to be such a sweet kid, animate- innocent. Now he's just so…" he paused here to run a hand through his hair raggedly, "He's become so… withdrawn. I think he only hangs out with Vick anymore- and maybe Prim?" He couldn't help shaking his head sadly at the thought of his second youngest brother. The kid seemed lost in his own mind most of the time and he had no idea how to rescue him.
His eyes connected with those of the younger girl before him as he finished with a huff. "Then, there's Vick. Funny, charming, adorable, Vick. He's managed to stay him, as far as personalities go. But, I think he's hiding something from me, too. And I think Rory's helping him. It's as if I've lost control of everything and I can't, Katniss. I have to take care of them. I promised my mother I'd take care of them… I promised him. God! I miss him so much. Every day." By the time he was done speaking, he could feel the tears pricking at the back of his eyes, but he knew he wouldn't let them fall.
He was stronger than that. He was certainly strong enough to keep from tearing up in front of the likes of Katniss Everdeen. He was surprised he'd even told her as much as he had. He'd just needed to get all that off his chest and thought that she might appreciate it after she'd looked so downtrodden at her own lot. Then again, the more he analyzed it, the more he figured venting to her wasn't particularly compromising to his ego. She was the most introverted person he'd ever met. Who would she even tell? He'd never seen her exchange all of three words with anyone that didn't involve her family's subsistence in some way. If his moment of weakness was safe with anyone, it was definitely her.
He was wrenched out of his brief reverie by her response. His eyes roved to her face, but she was still adamantly keeping her eyes glued to the limb they shared. Her voice was hard with an edge of vindictiveness, the nature of which he could not fathom. "Mom just gave up on everything when dad died, Gale." Here, her eyes darted to lock with his in a glare so intense, he would describe it as feral. "She gave up on me and Prim. She let us starve to death. She forgot about us. She forgot about everything. Nothing mattered to her anymore and we were part of that nothing. She wanted to die and she didn't care if we went with her."
When the gasp registered, the fifteen-year-old hadn't even realized it had emerged from somewhere in his own throat. He'd known things were bad for the healer, but he'd never imagined…
Then, part of what she said fully registered, nagging at the back of his mind and he found himself inquiring, "Wait, but you didn't starve. You came out here. This is where I found you. Did your mom snap out of it and start taking care of you guys?"
Gale noticed a blush so furious, it registered even through the dark skin of Katniss' neck rush up from there to her cheeks before she swiftly turned her face away in the direction of the fence again. He didn't have time to delve into why his question would cause that kind of reaction before he heard her respond nonchalantly, her voice strained with the attempt to keep it level. "Mom has gotten better the last few months since I began hunting. She's cooking and cleaning again. She's taking care of Prim and taking patients again. That's why I forage for plants whenever I can. You know, to keep her stocked and all…"
The older teen thought that was all she had to say on the matter until he heard her add as an afterthought, once again sounding as if the information was meant more for her own benefit than his, "But, she's not the reason I came out here. She's not the reason I didn't starve…"
"…Only one person helped me back then."
The obvious follow-up question was on the tip of Gale's tongue when she suddenly turned, bright-eyed and excited- obviously eager to let the previous conversation ebb. "Listen! The buzzing stopped. The fence is down. Let's get down from here. I need to get home. Prim will be worried sick."
He would've pried more out of her, were it not for the fact that she was presently climbing over him on her way down the tree. Whether she stepped on his spleen on purpose or not as she made her way around him with amazing dexterity, he had a feeling he'd never know. Though, considering what he'd grown to recognize was quite the resentful nature in the diminutive teenager, he had a feeling he could consider that retribution for pulling on her arm a few hours before.
A smirk found its way to his august features as he watched her swinging braid, following close behind her through the meadow on their way to the Seam.
Yes. She had to be the most annoying, pain-in-the-butt he'd ever met in his life.
She was the strangest person he'd ever thought of as a friend.
A/N: I planned to make this longer, but I haven't updated in so long, I figured something short and sweet would be a little appreciated. Also, I have absolutely no compunction with Galeniss as it was established in canon. I think their friendship was sweet. I have an idea where I want to go with the next one, but suggestion are always more than appreciated… I'm looking at YOU Anla' If you liked this one…