May 15th, 2012
A/N: This chapter may be a litte bit of filler, but there were a couple of key things that I had to sort of lay down before the fun stuff can continue. First off, I tried to make it as obvious as possible that there is a little bit of a time jump here. I didn't think anyone would enjoy two months of horrible winter weather, recovering Gale, and basically endless trips to the Hob. Secondly, I'm once again writing this in the midst of several exams and this one particular convo between Gale and Katniss just had to happen here. (They were adamant about this, so blame them! :D)
Also, a few reviewers seemed worried that Gale had gone off and done something rather rash when he bolted from Katniss' Seam home after the confrontation with Haymitch. No worries, I will put it to rest right now, that while I cannot tell you (yet) where he went, he most definitely did not cheat on Katniss or do anything to betray her in anyway. I promise.
As for the bugged houses, it is my belief that only the Victors mansions are wired/tapped. I have tried to write it so that Katniss and Gale and Peeta are unaware of this and so have conversations pretty freely anywhere, but Haymitch seems to suspect and/or know about the potential danger of someone listening in. He's the one always dragging everyone outside or to the Seam to have their chit-chats. Don't worry here either... it will come back to get them sooner rather than later (Read on).
As always, reviews are appreciated and thank you all to my wonderful reviewers. OVER 300? I'm so honored and flattered by all your comments.
Gale and his family continue to live with us, though my mother cleared him of his concussion a week ago. Which is more than fine by me. The place doesn't seem as foreign when there are so many people milling about. After my confession, Hazelle is a steady presence in the whirlwind of the younger kids running up and down the halls, the constant stream of my mother's patients in and out of the house. The increased capacity does make it harder for me to sneak in private moments with Gale, but we find ways to steal a kiss here, or surrender to a touch there.
Mainly though, we converse with our eyes, further developing an ability that used to ensure our efficiency in the forest. Where once it was a tool of survival, our silent way of speaking has now become a means of indulgence. One night, as we were all gathered around the dinner table, Gale started shooting me looks so full of desire and want, I choked on my tea and had to splutter through my mortification, gasping, "Swallowed wrong," by way of explanation, which only made Gale's grin turn wickedly naughty.
I got my retribution later that night.
Gale makes a routine of sneaking into my room once his brothers have fallen asleep. And with both of us being early risers, no one thinks to question us when we are already gone to the forest when they wake up.
We spend the next several weeks continuing to stockpile supplies for our escape. It seems even more immediate now that Haymitch is officially on board. I am actually relieved to have him in charge now. It takes some of the pressure off, and I am able to focus on the simpler things. Like keeping food down.
My morning sickness is as fierce as ever. Though I'd eaten better in the months since becoming a victor than I had my entire life, I was still on the thin side, so skipping essentially one meal a day did take its toll. I thought I had been doing a good job of hiding it, even from Gale. The sharp angle of my hips softened considerably under the low glow of moonlight, but the harsh light of day only deepened the shadows along my skin.
Recently, Gale's been disappearing to the woods long before the morning sun can throw those shadows into distinct relief. At least, that's where he's told me he's been going. Sometimes when he returns and I bury myself in his embrace by way of good morning, he smells less like pine and more like coal. The one time I tried to ask him, he silenced me effectively with a kiss.
At first, I'd been hurt that he'd leave without me, but as the weeks went by, I became more and more grateful for the extra few hours of sleep. Growing another person is exhausting.
I still can't believe how much I'm already beginning to show. Rotating from side to side, I study myself in the mirror, my hands instinctively coming to cradle the slight swell of my belly, my mind's eye painting an illusion I might have five months from now. Everyone smiles in my daydreams. Though, my heart still beats too rapidly when I consider actually holding this baby, the apprehension fades and their smiles tease out a tentative one of my own.
There's a knock at the door that effectively startles me back to the present fully. I smooth out my nightshirt even though I have nothing to hide from the person behind that voice.
"Katniss, can I come in?"
Gale cracks the door before I can answer. It doesn't matter. I was going to say yes anyway.
"The snow's all gone," he says, stepping into the bathroom and quietly closing the door behind him. "Practically feels like spring out there. See?"
Gale pulls his hand out from behind his back, revealing a small gathering of white posies and a few wild tiger lilies. He holds the flowers out to me slowly, his forehead scrunching the way it does when he's uncertain.
"Does this make me your girlfriend now?" I tease, putting him at ease when I accept the gift. It is an old tradition in District 12 for a boy to present a token – usually flowers or a simple bracelet—to a girl when he wants to ask her to be his significant other. If she accepts, they are officially a couple. If not, well, at least he has his pride.
"You mean you didn't get that from this?" Gale sinks to his knees and lightly rests his hands over my stomach. His eyes shine impishly as he looks up at me.
I can't help the smile that creeps across my face though I try to make my tone serious. "I don't think that getting someone pregnant counts as a gift."
"Ah, and here I thought I was being original," Gale quips back. We share a laugh before the moment sobers.
"Would you like to see?" I whisper, already starting to pull my nightshirt up.
Gale gapes slightly, his eyebrows raised in wonder, as his hands find the curve of my skin. They are just big enough to completely cover the bump, but it won't be long before that becomes impossible. My hands cover his, gently squeezing his fingers when Gale suddenly frowns.
"We have to tell them, Katniss," he says, standing and locking our hands, so I can't turn away. This is not the first time we've had this discussion in recent weeks and I know that my time of hiding under loose shirts is dwindling with every passing day. "They should hear it from us first."
I know what he means. That our mothers should hear about their grandchild from Gale and me, before the entire nation hears a lie from Peeta.
And Gale's right. But I had asked Peeta to announce my condition at the Quell for precisely the same reason I had asked Gale to let me put off telling our mothers for a few more weeks. Just the thought of their reactions terrifies me. What will they say? What will they think? I am just seventeen, Gale, nineteen, and while plenty of people in the Seam are married with children at our ages, it still seems too young.
I nod, my tongue already feeling swollen in my mouth. Gale sees my rising apprehension and folds me into his arms. His closeness helps me find my strength.
"We'll have to tell them everything," I say.
"Yeah, I know," Gale says. He tries unsuccessfully to hide the waver in his voice and I wonder who he's more worried about. His mother. Or mine.
That afternoon, Peeta comes by to collect Gale and me per Haymitch's request. Gale frowns as we head over, and I feel my chest constrict at the thought of another stand-off between the two. Peeta leads us through the front door into a side room where we've been stocking our overflow. Haymitch turns from surveying the piles of supplies and nods a greeting. He and Gale exchange a surreptitious look, but when I question Gale with my eyes, he just shakes his head.
Later? I ask silently.
Gale doesn't answer me.
Something hot flashes through me at his refusal to answer. Gale and I have never kept secrets. Not from each other anyway. My nose burns with the phantom smell of coal and I cannot help the glare I aim his direction. He flinches when he catches the heat out of the corner of his eye and I feel some satisfaction at the acknowledgment.
It takes them an hour to finalize the last minute items we need to acquire. The entire time my eyes never leave Gale. I don't really know what he's been up to, and though I have no reason to believe his random outings have anything to do with Haymitch, the coincidental look has me seeing red and I'm determined to find out.
"What was that?" I demand, the second Gale and I are back.
"What?" he asks, too innocently.
Gale still won't look at me, as he shrugs out of his jacket and hooks it on the coat rack. I'm hot on his heels when he heads for the kitchen, no doubt trying to head off my anger by surrounding me with family. I don't like losing my temper in front of Prim. No one knows that more than Gale. But my rage is practically nuclear at this point and I'm not backing down.
"I saw the look you gave Haymitch!" I say. "And just where are you going so early in the morning? What aren't you telling me? What's going on?"
Gale stops walking right as we enter the kitchen and turns to face me. Before he can answer, my mother cuts in.
"Yes, Katniss," she says, slowly. "What is going on?"
Gale and I turn simultaneously toward her. Hazelle stands by her side, though her expression does not seem so surprised as my mother's. When I finally drop my gaze to her hand, I see the tiny basket she holds in her hands.
"This came for you. Just now."
I don't even have to ask who it's from. The white wicker basket wrapped in clear cellophane tied with an elaborate yellow bow and a card adorned with the seal of Panem is a dead giveaway. Gold script jubilantly exclaims Congratulations! As I break the seal on the card, I peek inside the basket and instantly see the cause of my mother's shock. Tucked among the tissue paper is a baby's rattle.