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Not Yet a Hurricane, 7/8

7

Gale stoically watches the broadcast the next morning with his family, suffering through the fuzzy feeling in his head and a sour stomach. He's determined not to hide from the awfulness. It's surreal in a way, like he's being forced to watch one of those unbearable melodramas his mother indulges in occasionally. Katniss and Peeta sure don't seem like people facing mortal danger: they're joking about their poor table manners and general griminess, flirting, kissing, and generally being complete jerks. At least Gale thinks they're jerks; the interviews with Capitol spectators reveal that the Capitol audiences can't get enough of the light-heartedness. Analysts are reporting that Katniss and Peeta have edged out the lead couple in a highly watched Capitol soap opera as the most popular pair on television.

Nothing interesting is happening with the remaining tributes: the red-haired girl's strategy is clearly just to outlast everyone else and Cato is still nursing his injuries. So the cameras stay on Katniss and Peeta, who decide to go hunting. Gale steels himself for an onslaught of memories of happier times when he and Katniss could hunt together. It's almost as if the Gamemakers know exactly how to target and torture him, Gale Hawthorne of District 12, specifically.

But once Katniss and Peeta leave their cave, Gale realizes what a disaster their trip is going to be. Peeta is a hunting nightmare - noisy, injured, and utterly lacking any useful skills. Gale actually laughs out loud when he sees how irritated Katniss is getting. She's terrible at hiding it, too, and makes condescending suggestions to Peeta, who amazingly doesn't take offense and just teases her in return. Ironically, Peeta actually seems to be more worried about her than his own vulnerability. Gale knows he's being petty to enjoy seeing Katniss scowling, but there's no threat to them at the moment - just the red-haired girl trailing them with the hope of stealing some food - so he allows himself the pettiness.

When it's clear that nothing interesting is going to happen beyond half of the happy couple being irritated (justifiably, in Gale's mind), Gale slips off to do some of his own hunting and foraging. The universe must feel like it owes him something for the previous day's torment, because his snares are full and he successfully shoots two pheasants.

The sun shines cheerfully, and Gale takes a moment to sit on a rock - not their rock - and rest. He feels off somehow, and finally identifies the sensation as loneliness. It seems more and more likely that Katniss will survive this ordeal, and if she does (please), she'll be living in the Victor's Village and won't need to hunt anymore. No matter what the outcome of the Games, she's gone. She'll either die or be so wealthy she won't need to hunt to feed her family. They won't have anything in common anymore, so maybe it's just as well that she's already forgotten about him. Fine. At least she'll probably survive.


School is canceled the next day and most of District 12 stops working in order to watch the Games broadcast. The red-haired girl died the previous night after eating nightlock berries Peeta picked in ignorance and the announcers have described the Gamemakers' plans to lure the final three contestants back to the Cornucopia for a final showdown. While Katniss and Peeta are hiking, Cato is attempting to set a trap for them by freeing the muttations that had been hidden in the area near Thresh's hideout. The Games will be over in a matter of hours.

Gale wishes he could take back every uncharitable thought he's had about Katniss and Peeta in the past few days. There's no way they can defeat Cato, who has body armor and mutts on his side. Katniss only has a few arrows left and Peeta's still seriously injured. Gale suspects the Gamemakers have purposefully rigged the showdown to ensure Cato wins; that way, the tragedy of the "love story" will be complete and only a single victor will emerge like usual. It makes no difference that Katniss and Peeta have an alliance - Cato has far superior defensive and offensive weapons at this point.

Once Gale does the calculations on their poor odds of survival, he walks straight to the Everdeen home to watch the end with Katniss' family. Katniss may not like him anymore, but Prim and Mrs. Everdeen still depend on him. He knows they won't be able to watch Katniss be torn apart by those monsters. He doesn't think he can handle it either, but wants to spare them whatever horrors he can.

None of them say anything about his conspicuous absence for the past few days. Gale rationalizes in his head that most of the time it didn't seem like Katniss was in danger so they didn't need the additional moral support and it just would have been uncomfortable for everyone to watch the cave scenes together. He doesn't like to think they might guess he was feeling sorry for himself and drinking himself into a stupor. Or sleeping it off on the mayor's porch swing.

The Everdeens and Gale watch Katniss and Peeta listlessly drink water from the lake and await their own slaughtering. When Katniss entices the mockingjays into singing Rue's song, Prim starts sobbing softly. The filmmakers intercut footage of Katniss singing with Cato's preparations donning the body armor and releasing the mutts. It's all very manufactured and melodramatic, leaving Gale once again pondering how the Gamemakers can keep coming up with new ways for him to hate them.

Unfortunately for Cato, the mutts have their own agenda and immediately attack him. When he leads them toward Katniss and Peeta, Prim screams and Mrs. Everdeen puts her head in her hands. Katniss and Peeta survive, though, and take refuge with Cato on the Cornucopia. After a close call with Cato threatening Peeta, Katniss shoots an arrow at Cato, sending him into the waiting jaws of the mutts.

"It's over," Gale whispers incredulously. Then he starts to believe it. "They've won!" He stands up and looks over at Mrs. Everdeen and Prim, who stare back numbly.

Only it's not over yet: Cato's body armor is protecting him so well the mutts can't actually kill him. And so begins an excruciating night. Gale turns off the volume on the television so they don't have to hear Cato's screams, and from the visual it's obvious that Katniss and Peeta wish they could do the same, but of course they're trapped, freezing and without medical supplies.

It's awful and cruel, especially since Peeta may technically die from blood loss before the mutts finish off Cato. As irritated as Gale is at Peeta's intrusion into Gale's own life, the kid cannot die NOW. Katniss looks like she'll pull through, and at least outlast the boys.

The Everdeens and Gale sit in the darkened room and try not to look at the silent screen, waiting for whatever will happen to happen. Finally, Katniss, wearing the stony expression Gale recognizes whenever they come across a mortally injured deer in the forest, ends the horror by shooting Cato in the face. She doesn't appear to be exuberant afterward, even as the cannons shoot, officially marking the moment of Cato's expiration and thus, Katniss and Peeta's joint victory.

But no hovercraft appears, and Gale can't actually say he's surprised when the Gamemakers announce a reversal of the previous rule change, meaning that now there can only be one winner. It's exactly the kind of sick, demented twist that only these sorry excuses for humanity could come up with. Mrs. Everdeen gasps in shock at the announcement, but Gale is focused on how quickly Katniss trains her bow and arrow on Peeta - that's the Katniss he knows. Peeta discards his weapon and starts asking Katniss to finish him off. Gale hates him a little bit for being a martyr and not fighting, but he's simultaneously grateful. Gale wonders what he would do in the same situation... He could never kill Katniss. Out of the question. So he guesses he would also die instead. Gale, however, would NOT make a soppy speech and would just do it himself before Katniss had a chance to try to stop him.

But Katniss is different. All of a sudden she's handing Peeta the nightlock berries and instructing him to take them at the same time she does. Gale can't believe it - they're going to commit suicide together! He instinctively yells in protest and stares numbly at the last few seconds of Katniss he'll ever see, feeling dizzy… How can both of them dying be better than one of them (as long as it's not her)? Isn't this worse? They were so close to coming home!

Suddenly the announcer's voice is breaking in, announcing that both Katniss and Peeta are victors. They instantly spit out the berries, try to rinse out their mouths, and fall into one another in relief. In that moment, Gale sees the brilliance of the nightlock plan. Whatever sense of betrayal he's felt lately from Katniss, he absolutely loves her in this second for saving herself, saving Peeta, and throwing it in the Capitol's face all at once. She's a hero; she's his hero, that's for sure. He lets out a huge whoop and picks up the shocked Prim to twirl her around. Then Mrs. Everdeen is hugging both of them and crying so hard she's not making any sounds.

Gale hears shouts of joy from the neighboring houses, and soon people are streaming into the streets of the Seam and bursting into the Everdeens' home to give them congratulatory hugs. He loses track of how many people say, "I knew if anyone from 12 could win, it would be Katniss Everdeen!" Gale glances back at the television screen as Katniss and Peeta are suctioned up into a hovercraft. It will be a few days before they appear in public again, so he flips off the TV and follows the crowd up to the town square where the celebration is forming.

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