Gale is at the Everdeens' house the next day after school, where Mrs. Everdeen is showing him which herbs she needs replenished. They all feel slightly more relaxed: Katniss woke up from the tracker jacker haze and fixed herself up. The television is on in the background in case something happens, but for now Katniss looks like she's in relatively good shape.
Much better than the Careers and Mellark. Two of the Careers died in the tracker jacker attack, and Mellark - Peeta - isn't looking so hot. The camera shows him occasionally, but he isn't doing much. He dragged himself to a rocky area near a stream and eventually couldn't even stand upright anymore. He managed to camouflage himself in mud and leaves on the ground so at least he could die on his own rather than be murdered outright by one of the Careers.
Gale feels his hatred and suspicion of this boy start to fade; no one should have to die like this. And the kid did save Katniss from that monster from District 2. Gale thinks he wouldn't even mind if the sponsorship the Seam contributed to was used to partially alleviate Peeta's suffering. But then he reminds himself that there can be only one victor and that as long as Peeta is alive, he could still turn on Katniss and win at the end.
It seems unlikely, though.
Katniss is in the process making friends, and likely an alliance, with the little girl from District 11. When the camera shifts to other tributes, Gale tells Prim that Katniss will take care of the other girl.
"She seems nice. I'm glad they have each other."
Gale smiles at Prim, not wanting to ruin the comfort she's feeling with a reminder of the inevitable trauma of one of them dying (or worse, having to kill the other). The competitors need some moments of light amongst the darkness, even if it's only temporary.
Mrs. Everdeen returns to the main room with a book of sketches and flips to the page with the plant she'd been talking about earlier. She's trying to explain to Gale where it grows when there's a knock at the door.
Prim opens it, revealing the baker, Peeta's father. "Hello, Mr. Mellark," she says shyly.
Mrs. Everdeen rises. "Wheaton. Please come in." She holds out a chair.
The baker shakes his head. "I can't stay. I… wanted to drop this off." He sets a large loaf of nut bread on the table, and smiles softly as he pats Prim on the head.
"Thank you," Prim says, smiling in return. She slips away to the ice container and retrieves a small parcel that Gale knows contains some goat cheese from Lady.
Gale also knows from Prim that the baker has been bringing them bread since Katniss left - Prim gives Gale some to take home to his family in exchange for the game and herbs he brings over. But he didn't know the baker was delivering the bread personally.
The baker looks at Gale. "Caught any squirrels lately?"
Gale shifts uncomfortably, realizing he hasn't made any effort to trade directly with the baker since the Games started, partly because he hasn't had as much time between hunting for both families and keeping up with what's happening to Katniss in the arena, but mostly because he hasn't trusted himself to be civil to the baker in light of Peeta's apparent betrayal of Katniss. But now it seems like Peeta didn't betray Katniss and will die alone in the mud in a matter of days and this poor man shouldn't have to watch that. No one should.
"Katniss is the better squirrel catcher," Gale says. "There have been more rabbits lately. But I can keep my eyes open."
The baker nods. "Appreciate it."
He's starting to leave when the television screen flashes to Peeta lying in the mud. The announcer starts summarizing Peeta's last few days, interspersing footage of the opening ceremony and interviews, since his body is barely recognizable in the mud and leaves and not much to look at for the viewers. The narrators are really playing up Peeta as a lovesick, noble boy from a backwards district, and replay the scene of him yelling at Katniss to run away while he stays and fights Cato. Then there's a sequence of Peeta being wounded, passing out from the blood loss and tracker jacker venom, and then briefly coming to and dragging himself to his current resting place. Which may well be his final resting place.
Gale watches the baker watch the Peeta montage, and when the man's face looks like it's going to crumple Gale averts his eyes to give him privacy.
He's certain that the Capitol has engineered the most extreme form of torture imaginable: forcing people to watch their children kill or become killers or both. Now that Katniss is well-positioned, Gale has space in his heart to feel for the other people hurting because of these Games. The baker has been a model citizen, raising three boys, putting up with his unpleasant wife, and keeping District 12 fed on good bread. And he's rewarded for this by having to watch his youngest son suffer to death for the entertainment of the Capitol audiences.
Gale hears Katniss' name on the television and instinctively turns to see what's happened. But the screen is still showing Peeta, and Gale slowly realizes Peeta is the one saying Katniss' name. The announcer breaks in, explaining in a melodramatic tone that Peeta is clearly delirious and barely says anything anymore other than Katniss' name and that he's sorry. Gale stands up and turns off the volume on the television. None of them needs to hear this.
Mrs. Everdeen looks like she's about to start crying. She grasps Mr. Mellark's hands and thanks him again for the bread. She invites him to stay and sit with them, but he declines again and quickly exits.
Gale doesn't know what to do with himself when the baker leaves. Mrs. Everdeen sits at the table and starts crying in earnest. Prim rushes to hug her and Gale stands there awkwardly watching for a few minutes and then says he'll bring the herbs tomorrow and leaves. At his own house he watches the broadcast until Katniss and Rue go to sleep in the tree and only then does he let himself fall off too.
The next two days of the Games are dramatic, with Katniss and Rue going on the offensive by eliminating the Careers' supplies. Gale is energized watching Katniss think strategically about how to win and making it happen. Now that she has the bow and arrow and has weakened her enemies, she looks stronger than ever. He doesn't even get that anxious when she's hurt by the explosion - once he figures out she's coherent enough to take care of herself by hiding adequately. He starts to feel like she'll really come back to him.
And then Rue is killed. Katniss' fierce elimination of Rue's killer doesn't surprise Gale, although it's hard to watch. She'll be harder and more damaged when she comes back… but he still thinks she'll come back. Katniss can handle the pressure, and with her bow and arrow she can eliminate all the rest of the tributes without getting close enough to endanger herself. He keeps telling himself: she can make it.
Gale makes a point of catching a couple of squirrels for the baker. Peeta is still alive, although Gale doesn't see how… He's not eating or drinking anything, just lying in the mud slowly dying. A couple of squirrels are the least Gale can do. The baker appreciates the gesture and gives him a cheese bread in return.
As Gale is exiting the bakery, he sees Madge across the town square. He calls out to her and walks over, unsure of exactly what he wants to say. He grudgingly appreciates her dedication to the notion of fairness with the collection they took up: it was for both of the District 12 tributes, not one over the other. The people in town know Peeta better - have watched him grow up - but also admire Katniss. And the people from the Seam couldn't give as much quantitatively as the people from Town, but they gave at such proportions in comparison to their assets that their gifts were probably even more generous.
"Hey," she says when he's closer. "Haymitch hasn't used our money yet."
"OK." They're standing in the town square, in part of the area not occupied by the huge screen and chairs. Madge is eyeing Gale suspiciously - he supposes he was a little volatile during their last conversation. "Look. You were right. The money was from all of District 12. You stuck with the principle…"
Madge raises her eyebrows but stays silent.
Gale continues. "I just… She needs to come back." He's so quiet he wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't hear him.
She does, though, and nods sympathetically. "I want her to come back, too. And Peeta. Neither of them should be put through this." She's speaking quietly because these are dangerous sentiments to be expressing, but she seems to have no doubts that Gale shares them.
It occurs to Gale that Madge may feel about Peeta the way he feels about Katniss. Or at least similarly… He doesn't know much about either of them, having written them both off as privileged townies.
"I'm sorry if I haven't been very understanding of you also wanting to save him… It's just, well, he seemed like he wanted to kill her." And now Gale knows that Peeta has been authentic with everyone except the Careers. The delirious utterances of the dying don't lie. And Gale understands - too easily - how Peeta could have been taken with Katniss. The level of his devotion is a bit surprising, but maybe fighting for your life amplifies everything.
"We were playmates growing up," Madge says. "Not as much friends anymore so I wouldn't say I even know him very well. Or that I'll get a chance in the future." She looks up at Gale. "But Katniss is my only real friend... It's awful that it can only be one of them who returns, and that's only if we're lucky."
Gale nods, leaving unspoken that it's not a tough choice for him. He suspects Madge would choose Katniss as well but doesn't want to say it aloud. It's sick to even have to think these types of things.
"Have you been watching the interviews with the spectators?" Madge asks.
Gale is surprised by the question; does she honestly think he cares about anything other than whatever Katniss is doing? He watches the bare minimum of the Games to see what's happening to Katniss. Seeing how the bloodthirsty crowds in the Capitol are reacting to each death and development is the last thing Gale could tolerate.
"Not if I can help it."
"They're getting interesting," Madge says. A little cryptically, Gale thinks. He looks quizzically at her so she continues, still in a lowered voice. "The crowds are eating up the tragic love story. It's new and different: no tribute has ever declared his love and sacrificed himself to save another tribute before. They can't get enough of it."
Gale hadn't realized the crowds were so rabid for Peeta's storyline; he thought the Gamemakers kept showing flashbacks of his interview because it was more interesting than Peeta lying in the mud. "Great. They get some cracking new entertainment. I'm so glad for them."
"No, that's not my point," Madge corrects. "The spectators seem upset about it. They don't like to see Peeta dying by himself in the mud. You can feel the anger when you watch the interviews."
Madge's eyes are bright and Gale finally understands what she's trying to say: that the Capitol spectators may actually turn against the Games because of this. That there may be some hope or some good to come out of the awfulness of Peeta's imminent death. He looks back at Madge in a new light; he never would have guessed that she had this rebellious streak in her. Good little daughter of the mayor…
"I'll be sure to watch some myself," he says. But before he can ask anything else, one of his classmates ambles over and asks if he's walking back to the Seam. Gale says good night to Madge and heads back to his family to share the cheese bread.