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Not Yet a Hurricane, 5/8

5

Soon everything changes: the Gamemakers announce the unprecedented rule revision allowing two people from one district to be victors.

Gale thinks about what Madge had been saying about the interviews with spectators… If the Gamemakers will alter the rules midway through a game in response to crowd reaction, maybe there's a chance to turn the audience against the Hunger Games. He has no idea how that could be accomplished, but the glimmer of hope gives him something to think about as he hunts the next day.

He also wonders about Katniss' reaction to the news. Hearing her shout Peeta's name from the tree struck something in his gut that he couldn't describe. When she finally found Peeta buried in the mud, Gale was surprised to hear how familiar they were with one another: joking, referencing past conversations. It's hard to understand how they could be friends if they thought they'd have to kill each other in the Games…

Gale feels disoriented to not know exactly what Katniss is thinking. Clearly she's happy about the alliance - despite Peeta being a liability rather than an asset at this point - and is doing her best to get him healed. Peeta's fever and infection leave him utterly uninhibited; when he's awake, he watches her like a lovesick fool and Gale can see it's no act, but he's not sure what Katniss thinks. She's always determinedly ignored the possibility of males being interested in her, focused only on the survival of her family. Peeta wasn't exaggerating when he said during his interview that there were lots of boys in District 12 with their eye on Katniss. Gale spends a lot of his energy glaring at them to be sure they stay away. And most do. Until they're summoned to the Capitol to die for the entertainment of the masses and have nothing left to lose…

When Katniss kisses Peeta to get him to stop talking about dying in the arena, Gale almost falls off his chair. Did she really just do that? Is she playing along for the game or…? Since when did Katniss know how to kiss? Who has she been kissing? He'd like to think he'd know if she'd been kissing anyone in District 12.

They get some broth from a sponsor, which Gale interprets as indicating that the Capitol really is rabid for this love story - there must be sponsors galore whose interest is contingent on this storyline. He suddenly feels like the District 12 collection is pitiful in comparison. Gale also feels decidedly disapproving of them sleeping in the same sleeping bag. Yes, there's only one and they need to keep warm - he just doesn't want to see it. But the Capitol crowds do, so the broadcast pretty much becomes the Katniss and Peeta Tragic Love Story in a Cave show, complete with the imminent death of one of the lovers.

The day after Katniss finds Peeta, even more interviewers descend on District 12. Some had already arrived for the interviews with the families of the final eight tributes, but the love story is increasing the interest level.

Gale discovers this on his way to school, when Madge grabs him before he enters the building.

"Hey, watch it!"

Madge keeps a firm grip on his sleeve and pulls him to a tree away from the entrance. "You're Katniss' cousin. When the reporters ask. We need to spread the word."

"I'm not her cousin," Gale says. "We're not related."

"I'm not kidding around, Gale," Madge says. He realizes it's the first time she's ever said his name and it catches his attention. "Everyone knows she spends all her time with you, and no one is going to buy for a second that you're a non-threatening 'only friends' type of friend. You could undermine the love story, which is the only thing keeping both of them alive."

"No, Katniss is what's keeping them alive," Gale corrects. But he knows it's true: they're just playthings of the Capitol when they're in that arena, and if the Capitol audience wants to see them play at being in love and that allows them to both survive, then that's really the end of the story. Katniss could survive and possibly even win on her own, but she'd be stronger with Mellark on her side - assuming he recovers - and besides, she clearly doesn't detest the guy. At a minimum they're friends (Gale won't allow himself to contemplate anything beyond simple friendship) and Katniss could never live with herself if she let him down at this point. He can see that already in her dedication to helping him recover from his injuries and get his strength back.

Madge watches Gale with narrowed eyes but doesn't say anything, waiting for him to reach the same conclusion on his own. "Fine," he concedes. "We're cousins."

"They might ask to interview you," Madge warns.

"No," Gale says, shaking his head. "I'm not doing any interviews."

"Well. That's actually probably a good idea. Low profile… And then I don't have to worry about you hitting one of the reporters." She smirks and he knows she's teasing, but he's not in the mood. Honestly, he probably would end up punching one of them. "Can you go talk to your aunt?" Madge asks. "And the rest of your family, so they know?" She offers to spread the word at school and in town, and Gale can't figure out if he should be grateful or not.


That afternoon, the Mellark and Everdeen families are interviewed again in the town square on a stage. The rule change is the official reason they're forced to participate in the interviews, but the love story is the real motivator.

Mrs. Everdeen doesn't say much other than that she loves her daughter and hopes to see her again soon. She claims to have no idea how Katniss became so skilled with a bow and arrow, and speculates that the Training Center in the Capitol must be really impressive. Prim tells a few stories about how Katniss always looks out for her, and answers questions about her goat.

On the Mellark side, Peeta's brothers and mother do most of the talking. No matter the question, his brothers manage steer their answers back to talking about Peeta's fighting skills, which they take credit for as his childhood tormentors. They deflect any emotionally probing questions, and the baker just shrugs in response to most questions, so Mrs. Mellark jumps in frequently. Gale bristles when she acts like she's looking forward to spending more time with Katniss if they "should be so blessed" to have both Peeta and Katniss return to District 12. Gale's heard her refer to him and Katniss as Seam Scum too many times for him to even approach giving this woman the benefit of the doubt. Of course, Katniss will be a Victor if she returns, wealthier than even the Mellarks…

With the formal interviews over, reporters seeking the inside story from other townspeople start probing for more salacious news. Word has spread that Gale spends a lot of time with Katniss and several reporters try to get him to talk, but he refuses. Madge takes some of the heat off him by agreeing to be interviewed, but the reporters lose interest when she doesn't share any juicy stories. They don't leave District 12 yet, though.

Katniss and Peeta dominate the broadcasts. The other tributes are suffering from various degrees of starvation or exposure, and Katniss and Peeta are a cozy contrast, teasing, snuggling, and talking, all the while sustaining dramatic tension as Peeta's condition worsens and they discover that he has blood poisoning. At some point the broadcast becomes at least partially devoted to the ongoing reactions and analyses of the Capitol spectators.

That evening, a "feast" is announced and it becomes obvious that Katniss intends to attend despite Peeta's protests. As much as he hates to admit it, Gale agrees it's the right thing to do because Peeta clearly won't last much longer and Katniss could never live with herself if she didn't attempt to save him. It doesn't stop Gale from being bitter about the risk, though. He tries to get mad at Peeta, but can't manage it since he knows Peeta's injury was a direct result of rescuing Katniss after the tracker jacker attack and because Peeta is doing everything in his limited power to stop her from going.

Gale and the Everdeens stay up all night after the announcement, Katniss' trick with the sugar syrup, and her vigil at the Cornucopia. Mrs. Everdeen and Prim can't watch when Katniss makes her run for the mini-backpack at the Cornucopia, so Gale watches for them and tells them when it's OK to uncover their eyes, that Thresh has let Katniss go because of her kindness to Rue.

Prim starts crying and Mrs. Everdeen puts her to bed, returning long enough to watch Katniss stumble back into the cave, inject Peeta with the medicine, and then pass out.

Since both Katniss and Peeta are both unconscious, the broadcast moves to the other tributes. The redheaded girl from District 5 rejoices in the food and sleeping bag that were in her backpack, which isn't very interesting in comparison to Cato's pursuit of Thresh, who stole Cato's backpack.

Mrs. Everdeen and Gale stare blankly at the television's reports about the other tributes, waiting numbly for word that Katniss or Peeta have either died from their wounds or started to recover. They make no move to eat or even drink tea, and after a few hours Prim wakes up to join their vigil. One of the unauthorized reporters knocks on the door, but Gale sends her away saying it's family time and they don't want to be disturbed.

Finally Peeta wakes up, disoriented initially and then quickly focusing on cleaning Katniss' head wound and getting her warmed up. She makes some noises that indicate brain activity if not full consciousness, and only then do Gale and the Everdeens dare to take their eyes away from the television screens. Mrs. Everdeen makes some tea and Gale leaves to go check on his own family.


The next day is quiet initially as far as Katniss' appearances onscreen, since she's still sleeping. Gale goes to school because there are no other urgent demands on his time, and does some hunting and trading in the afternoon.

He hears from others that Katniss woke up briefly, seemed upset, and then fell back asleep. He decides to watch the recap of it, fairly confident they'll show the entirety of her waking time since there's so little else going on in the arena.

Gale is glad he elects to watch the recap at the end of the night from his own house, first because it upsets him to see Katniss having a hard time processing the deaths of Rue and describing Thresh releasing her. If she does survive - and that's looking more and more likely, especially now that she and Peeta are allied together and regaining their strength - then she's going to have a hard time adjusting back to normal life.

Second, even though a few minutes of the recap show Thresh and Cato stalking one another in the rain without much success, most of the rest of it is focused on Katniss and Peeta, both awake and finishing up their remaining food, and talking about the Games, doing too much snuggling and kissing for Gale's comfort.

If you didn't know they were fighting for their lives in a battle to the death, you might think you'd stumbled upon a movie about romances in a cave. Katniss still has a nasty gash on her forehead and Peeta hobbles when he moves around the cave to get Katniss food, but there's no question that they're healing. They certainly seem to be able to devote more energy than before to their sappy romance.

Sometimes when Gale is hunting, he'll corner an animal that doesn't realize the danger it faces from his approach and will just stare stupidly at him while he captures and kills it. He is that animal now, unable to turn away from the television despite the knowledge that he's torturing himself. It's different than when Katniss could die at any second; he can't bear to lose the last few seconds he may ever see of her alive. Now, she's in no immediate danger of losing her life, but it still feels like she's about to go missing.

It occurs to him that this is an act, that she's highly cognizant of the audience's interest in the love story and gamely playing along with it because it's the only way to ensure that she and Peeta both survive. But Gale can't tell for sure. (No question Mellark isn't acting at anything. His dying utterances were proof enough, and now it's clear that he thinks even if he dies he'll have enjoyed his last few days of living.)

Gale feels sick, both from what he sees on the screen and from the feeling that these scenes are a gross violation of privacy, which in turn is a joke because if you don't even have a right to live how can you claim any privacy privileges? His best hope is that the other remaining tributes will kill one another off, and that the Hunger Games will be over sooner rather than later.

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