Gale Hawthorne padded silently through the misty, post dawn woods. The forests surrounding District 2 were not nearly as thick as District 12's, making it more difficult to sneak up on prey as it had been in the past. Not that Gale even needed to hunt anymore. His new job in 2, designing weapons for the army being created by Panem's new officials, paid him more money than even victors received after winning the Hunger Games. It was a definite change from coal mining. Not having to come home and scrub his clothes free of coal dust, only to return again in the morning after gaining little to no sleep. Nowadays, the prey Gale killed he gave away to the most starving souls existing within 2's expansive border.
Gale stiffened and whipped around silently, hearing with his sensitive hunter ears, a twig snap a few yards from behind. He released his bated breath after finding it was only a squirrel. The sight of a common brown squirrel, the kind Katniss used to shoot down more than anything else, twisted Gale's stomach into a tight knot. Not only did that remind him of Katniss, but more prominently, he missed her having his back, knowing that if anything were to attempt to sneak up on him, she would be there.
Gale clenched his teeth together, ignoring the bubbling feelings erupting inside of him. Guilt was a new one. It weighed on his conscience often. At times Gale felt as if he should've stayed with Katniss after the war ended. She couldn't help how it had affected her. But, Gale reminded himself, she could never have forgotten Peeta. At the mere passing thought of Peeta, both anger and admiration passed behind his eyes. Anger that a mere baker's son could take away his closest friend, but also a feeling of respect. It took more than a strong will to pull out of the clutches of torture. If Peeta was able to recover himself as fully as possible for Katniss... Then he might just deserve her. No amount of regard for Peeta would make Gale ever want to see him again though.
Resting under a tall pine, Gale gulped some water, contemplating these thoughts at his leisure. Leisure wasn't difficult to come by in his now mostly secluded life. Memories of battles and blood, missing limbs and failed plans haunted him in the night, while his harsh personality repelled many of the people he interacted with in the day. The war had made him over protective of both himself and the ones he loved. That was why when he had gotten the job, Gale had refused to allow his family to accompany him to District 2.
"It's too risky," Gale had gruffly whispered to his mother while his siblings were asleep. Firelight reflected off of his steel grey eyes, "There's still many there who don't support the rebels, even with President Snow dead."
Hazelle, Gale's mother, gazed up at her tall son. Her eyes were sad, and the lines in her face and streaks of newly gray hair on her head spoke of the troubles she'd witnessed over many years, "We've always stayed together," she implored weakly.
Gale reached and held his mother gently by the shoulders, "I know. I still love you guys so much. I'll send back money, make sure you have everything you need. But I don't want you and the family having to worry anymore. I can handle myself. Stay here. Comfort Mrs. Everdeen if you can," a shadow passed over Gale's face at the mention of the Everdeens and the loss of their youngest daughter.
Conflicting emotions passed over Hazelle's face. After a moment, however, she wrapped her arms around her son, "Stay safe, Gale."
Gale knew that if he hadn't been toughened by the war, he would've been on the verge of tears as he held his mother, his loving mother, close, "I will, Ma. I love you."
"I love you, too."
The moment Gale had stepped off of the hovercraft a week after convincing his mother to let him go alone, worn out bag filled with the few things that still belonged to him in hand, he knew it would be difficult to adjust. The battle-scarred citizens and thin, starving children stared at Gale as he strode to the head quarters to sign in for his job and become an official citizen of District 2. His face, while not as well known as Katniss's, was still easily recognized from rebel propaganda. He would always be known as Katniss's right hand man from now on. Gale didn't find it to be a bad thing, in fact he was quite proud of it, but it would make fitting into society more difficult that it had been before.
Gale gripped his water container tightly. That was a month ago. The poor people he aided, while still not completely sure about him, accepted his help with the fresh game. Food was food, no matter who it came from. Thanks to Gale and Katniss, hunting was no longer considered poaching, but many were not brave enough to venture into the expansive forests lining nearly every district. "Better safe than sorry," said many here. Gale found that quote to be a pathetic excuse to avoid putting themselves in danger, even when their children's hunger was on the line.
Rising from the grass, Gale brushed leaves damp with dew from his legs and readied his bow with an arrow. Just as he was notching it into the string, a rustling from bushes behind him
and a faint cough pervaded his ears. Slowly, silently, in a way only an experienced hunter can, Gale spun around and aimed his bow at the shrub the noise had come from. Another cough, dry and rough, sounded through the air. Still holding his bow, prepared to shoot, Gale tiptoed closer, curiosity taking over. When he was near enough to reach the bush, he used the tip of his arrowhead to push back the evergreen leaves. What Gale found would change his life forever.
Because lying beneath the large shrub was Madge Undersee, the supposedly dead daughter of the mayor of District 12, who was remarkably alive.