Into the Woods

Chapter Fifteen

When we finish dressing our wounds (and I only say our because Gale fussed at me about the few scrapes I got on my hands while clawing at the earth until I let him dress them), we happily found our fishing lines full of food and worked on cleaning and gutting our dinner.

"We have to be careful with the flames," Gale cautioned me, "Haymitch said the Capitol will be searching hardest tonight. In a day or two, they should get the DNA confirmation from the bodies." I nod to show I understand. "It means we'll have to put it out at dark." Great, I think. Winter's on its way out, but the nights are still cold.

"Where did they get the bodies?" I can't help but wonder as I turn our fish over the coals.

"No idea," Gale admits, shaking his head. "I didn't want to ask. They were hidden in a compartment in the elevator floor."

"And the DNA?"

"Haymitch took some of my hair and blood. I don't know what they did about you." But I remember my prep team trimming me and cleaning my wounds just a few days before. Cinna had an abundant supply of Katniss DNA.

"Wow." I say, still trying to wrap my head around it all. "That's quite an elaborate plan."

"Yeah," Gale agrees. "I thought that it was some kind of drunken hallucination of Haymitch's when he first told me about it. He had to repeat it to me about four times before I'd believe him. Then I made him go through it one or two times more, just for fun." The grin on Gale's lips stirs one in mine. I can exactly imagine Haymitch, eyes narrowed in frustration, teetering slightly, scrounging all the patience he can muster to humor Gale in repeating himself again.

"How long did you know about the plan?" I'm not trying to place blame, I'm just curious.

"For two days."

"And you said yes that quickly? You didn't hesitate or have any reservations?"

"It had to happen, and it had to happen soon. Haymitch was quite certain that you were going to get yourself into a lot of trouble soon…" Our eyes lock and we smile. We both know it is true.

"I can't imagine making that decision so quickly."

"I know," he says between a mouthful of fish, "that's why we didn't ask you…"

"Ha ha," I know he's teasing. "Seriously, Gale, why did you do it?"

He looks at me like it's the most obvious answer in the world, but I'm still searching his eyes for a clue. "Jeez, Catnip, somebody had to take care of you out here. And your choices were pretty much either me or Haymitch. I'm not cruel enough to leave you with him…"

I laugh thinking of what it'd be like to be with Haymitch out here. "Oh yeah, I guess I owe you a favor for that one."

"I'll have to remember that…" He says, thinking of something distant.

"Did you…" I pause to consider my question, "did you get to say good bye to your family?"

"No," Gale shakes his head. I know this upsets him, but he's locked away his pain. "The Capitol will undoubtedly question them. They couldn't know the truth and lie for us. If the Capitol suspected them of lying…" He doesn't have to say the horrible things they'd do. My mother and Hazelle's grief will be very convincing because, to them, it's real. I can hardly bare to think of it.

"Will they ever tell them? Tell them it was all a lie?" I try not to let my voice break as I ask this.

"Of course they will," Gale leans towards me as he says this, "when it's safe." I look into his eyes and can see him willing this to be true, for my sake. But he doesn't really know for sure. I don't let him know I can sense his doubt.

I hesitate to ask him this, but I need to get all my questions out of the way. "Do you know…do you know what they'll do about Peeta?"

I see something flicker in Gale's eyes. He's still angry about the night he found me in the woods. For a moment I think about defending Peeta, but I know there's no use. "I think he believes we're dead too…"

"Yeah, but…but what about the next Games?" He said that only previous victors were headed in.

"Oh," Gale's voice drops, "I don't know. I'm sorry, I didn't think to ask."

I shrug to tell him it's okay. Not like knowing about it would make it any better.

"Katniss, I think the rebellion is coming pretty soon. Maybe even before the next Games…Peeta might not have to go in at all."

I look in Gale's eyes to see that shade of doubt, but I don't see it. He's telling me the truth. He honestly believes this could happen. "What makes you think that?"

"Because of the second part of the plan," he says in such a nonchalant way I want to smack him.

"There's a second part of the plan?" I almost jump on him.

"Oh, yeah, you never let me get to that part did you?" He's taunting me.

He thinks he's so cute sometimes. Too many girls from school have told him so over the years. I roll my eyes and sigh exasperatedly. "There's more?" I want to make sure I understand.

"Of course. You didn't think we were going to live out in the woods for the rest of our lives, did you?"

"Well, yeah…I guess."

"Really?" He says, more hopefully than dubious.

I don't let him have his moment. "Tell me!" I have to keep myself from screaming.

"Oh, well, we're going to District 13," he says as off handedly as if her were telling me the color of the sky.

"Thirteen! What? Really? Why? Where?" I sputter questions, my brain trying to absorb the information.

"Yes. Thirteen, yes again, to help the rebellion, and thirteen again." This doesn't make any sense until I realize he's answering each of my questions specifically, mocking me. I can't believe he's trying to be playful at a time like this. I toss a small stick at him.

"That's not funny," I narrow my eyes at him. He reclines against a rock, crossing his arms behind his head as if there's no more to say. "Gale!"

"Okay, okay," he chuckles and proceeds to tell me what I hope is everything. "There's been a rumor going around for a long time that Thirteen still exists. People believe that they moved underground after the Capitol bombed their city. That they are as strong today as they were before the Dark Days and that they are just waiting for their change to get revenge and take down the Capitol. Waiting for the next rebellion."

"So, what are we supposed to do?"

"We're going to tell them that the rebellion is here." Gale says this with a finality that frightens me. I'm not sure why. I wanted to help with the rebellion for some time, but I guess it was always theoretical. I seems so much more real now, now that there is a plan in motion. I think I liked it better as a plan in my head…when it was just me against Snow, not all of Panem.

"Us?" My head is spinning again. "Why us?"

"What better ambassador is there than the face of the new rebellion herself?"

"Me?" I think I should probably stop asking questions for today. My head can't take much more of this.

"It's definitely not me." Right. I'm a martyr now. I have to remember this.

"I just want to make sure I've got this right."

Gale grunts a sound of approval. "Go ahead. I had to ask Haymitch to explain it to me about a dozen times."

"My death was planned to 1, protect me, and 2, make me a martyr that would galvanize the rebel fractions and get a real war started against the Capitol."

"Yes."

Okay, I think, I can accept this. "And the people in charge of the rebellion are hoping that Thirteen, hungry for revenge, will join their, or I guess our, side."

"Correct."

"Because me, I, the symbol or whatever, will ask them to."

"Yep. That, and give hope to all the good people fighting."

"What?"

"Come on, Katniss, think about the effect it will have to see their hero come back from the dead."

"Hero? Me? I'm nobody's hero."

"Your lots of people's hero, Katniss, especially after today. They'll rally to you, when the time comes…"

"This is too much…" I say, feeling dizzy.

"This is why I was telling you in small doses."

"Is there anything else you need to tell me?" I want to get it all out of the way.

Gale pauses to think, looking up as if scanning some imaginary list. "We have to lay low for ten days, that's when the search parties will be called off for good. I have a map that will take us to some safe houses as we make our way to Thirteen."

"Safe houses?"

"Yeah, apparently there's a network, people who've made it out here in the woods who help people escaping Panem."

My eyes widen and I don't know why I'm so surprised to learn this. Gale and I can't be the only ones who'd ever considered running away. And surely some have made it out here, eking out some small life for themselves. "Anything else?"

Gale thinks for a moment, then shakes his head. "No, I think that's everything."

"That's a lot."

"You're telling me."

We finish our meal in silence. Gale watches me curiously as I process all the data. I can't believe that only twelve short hours ago, I was back home, filming entertainment segments for the Capitol. That world seems like it's been gone for days. My heart pangs when I think of my family, but the anger that filled me this morning is already gone. Out here, breathing the clean forest air, I feel like a new person…

"What's so funny?" Gale interrupts my thoughts.

"Excuse me?" I'm confused.

"You were smiling," he explains.

"Oh, nothing funny." I hadn't realized I was smiling, "I guess, I'm just…." What's the word I'm looking for?

"I know exactly what you mean," he tells me before I can finish my thought. "It's getting dark, we should probably put out the fire."

I agree even thought I don't want to do it. The night air is already cooling down, and I've zipped up my jacket to my chin to try and keep in my warmth. Gale does he best to hide any trace of our little camp. He covers the fire pit with leaves and rocks, throws the fish guts back into the water, he eyes the little pile of medical waste, "we'll have to remember to burn this tomorrow," he says, carefully collecting every scrape and placing it in a tiny bag. "Getting chilly?" I nod. "Okay, let's set up the tent."

My eyes pop when I hear we have a tent. Even the smallest source of shelter will be of great comfort tonight. But where is it? Gale only brought the small pack with him. He goes over to it and pulls out a small bundle no bigger than an orange, and also the same color. I crook my head curiously and watch amazed as the pull of a small string causes the ball to jump to life and transform into a small triangular structure. It's barely big enough for us to both lay down in. In fact, I'm not sure Gale will be able to lay straight. "I hope you know how to repack that thing," I say getting up and sharing a smile. Gale's face flickers for just an instant, and I realize that he actually might not. "Well, I think that will keep us dry, but I'm so sure it will keep us hidden," I say, eyeing the garish color. "You didn't want to paint a target on top? That might be a little less noticeable."

"Yeah?" Gale teases, "why don't you check for me?" Gale quickly hooked his hand around my waist and pulled me to him. In less than a second, his hands are around my hips and he hoists me in the air. Gale is able to raise me a few feet of the air. I'm only up for a few seconds before the pain in his side causes his arms to trembles and he has to let me down. But while I'm up there, I see. Or rather, I don't see. I don't know what the tent is made out of, but it's some type of advanced camouflage material. From above, all I see are more leaves and rocks and boulders. This close, I can, of course, see the slight shimmer of the fabric, but I'm sure it would fool anyone more than a few yards away.

"Wow," I say, as Gale puts me down. "That should work nicely." I give him my nod of approval.

Gale next pulls out two very thin silver blankets. I eye them suspiciously. I'm already getting cold. Gale noticed my expression, "they reflect your body heat back at you," he offers.

"Got any pillows in there?" I ask, wondering what else he could have in that pack of his.

"I knew I was forgetting something!" Another smile has found my lips. I'm glad to see him at ease again. He seems younger, happier, more alive.

"You better be careful," I warn him, "you keep this up, and I'm going to think you're enjoying all this."

"Are you kidding, Catnip? Tomorrow's going to be the first day I get to sleep in in months." Gale dives in the tent, sliding as far as he can in the corner. I was right, it's just a little too short for him, but Gale doesn't mind. He's left plenty of room for me. I take off my shoes and enter our little encampment. Gale unfolds the first of the blankets. I'm surprised to realize they actually are very warm. I cover it over my body and curl up on my side of the tent, folding my arms under my head. "Comfortable?" Gales asks as our eyes meet.

"I've slept in worse places."

"Good night, Catnip," he says, eyes already closed.

"Good night," I whisper, but I think he's already asleep, and for the first time in a long time, I'm not afraid to follow.

Panic sets in as my eyes open. Where am I? Why am I not at home? I bolt up and focus on the small room around me. I'm in a tent, I realize, and I remember what happened yesterday. I place my hand on my chest, trying to calm my heart. My mother and sister are okay. They think I'm dead, but they are okay. I try not to think of the pain they are in, but at least I know they are okay. And I'm okay, I tell my heart, I'm okay, and my heart beat steadies. Gale! My heart is racing again. Where is he? I can't convince myself that something bad hasn't happened to him. I think of a million plausible things that he could safely be doing right now, but in my experience, it's always best to prepare for the worst. I stupidly look around the tent, as if maybe he could be hiding somewhere. But of course he's not there. Where could a man his size hide in a place like this? "Gale!" I dash out of the tent, eyes frantically searching the area. I run towards the lake, "Gale!"

He jumps out from behind a tree and scares me half to death. "Katniss, what's wrong?"

"Don't you dare do that to me!" I scold him as I pull him into my arms.

"Hey, hey, I'm sorry," he says holding me, "what's wrong?"

"You can't just leave me like that, Gale!" I yell at him, "I didn't know where you were!"

I see comprehension click in his eyes. I still don't think he entirely understands how horrible the Games left me. How I always expect the worst from the world. "I'm sorry." I look away, trying to keep tears from falling. "Hey," he gently takes my chin and turns it up to him, "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking, I just went to get breakfast," he says.

But no answer is good enough. I have learned never to cling to the smallest hope that something good will happen. Always assume the worst. I can't shake the fear that was building in my chest. Even though I see Gale before me now, just minutes before, I was almost certain he was gone. "You're the only thing I have in the world right now!" I yell at him, "I can't lose you!"

"I'm sorry," he says, seeing how terrified I actually was.

"You're the only thing I have in this world, Gale!" I repeat, looking into his eyes. I see he genuinely feels bad about frightening me. I want to apologize too, for being so sensitive, but as I think about how I could possibly explain all of it, I hear a strange rumbling sound in the distance. My first thought is thunder, but my brain knows this isn't right before I even look up to check the sky, which is clean and blue. Thunder, my brain finds that word again, only to reject it as I hear that sound. Why does it seem so familiar to me? I realize what it is only seconds before I see it.

It's one of the Capitol's hovercrafts.

I grab Gale and pull him tightly to me against the nearest tree. Gale's body tenses as he sees the danger. We hear the voice of men calling in the distance. Several yards away, we see the white uniforms, large weapons in hand, slowly coming into view.

Gale's eyes change, and I know he's ready to kill if these men get too close. He covers me with his body. Gale's over a head taller than me, and I never realized how broad his shoulders were until they are pressed tightly against me right now. He is completely shielding me, and I cannot see beyond him. I gaze up at him, hoping he will somehow feel the pull of my eyes, pleading him. He's carefully watching the men. He's wearing the same face he does when he's following prey. Marking every move, trying to guess the next. I grab his arms and try to pull him closer to me, and his eyes finally fall down to meet mine. There is anger in them, anger because I would stop him. I know him well enough to know this anger isn't directed at me. But it's a primal rage, something that taps into the old, animal part of the brain. I recognize it well as I have felt it many times myself when someone I loved was threatened. However pure his fury, I know that action now would be folly. Gale knows this too, and I think it only makes him all the angrier to know he could not stop these men if he had to. He'd die trying, we both know this, and I hope I can find a way for to prevent this from happening. Because if these men get too close, there is no telling what he might do. As he presses me tighter against the tree, and I realize how strong he is. I also realize that I could not stop him if I had to. I shake my head, desperately saying, "no," and Gale nods. He understands, even if he doesn't like it.

We are silent for untold minutes, holding our breaths and watching the men scour the land in the distance. By some miracle, they never get too close. Instead of moving closer to us, they continue in a forward direction, slowly disappearing in the distance. We collectively sigh in relief, and wait, tensed, for a few minutes just to make sure, but when the coast seems clear, we dart back to the tent. Gale pulls it next to a fallen tree deeper in the woods, wedging it as close as he can to its one side. He pulls a fallen branch to its other side, to disguise it as much as possible. The nature of the material itself keeps it hidden to any distant viewer, but it would be detectable if someone got too close. He pulls all our supplies inside and closes us in.

Gale can barely sit up the ceiling is so low, and he has to incline his head some to fit.

"I guess Haymitch was right," I whisper, and Gale only nods. Having abandoned the food he found in the woods, Gale pulls some dried fruit from his pack and we split it for breakfast. It's not long before we hear another hovercraft pass. We spend nearly the whole day in silence, hearing at least one ship an hour. With nothing else to do, I give up worrying and take a nap. Gale, however, does not stop his vigil. When I wake up, groggily, rolling over and looking around, Gale is still sitting as rigid and as alert as ever, looking absolutely ridiculous.

"Gale," I say, slightly smiling. I tug playfully at his arm. "Gale," I whisper again. He looks down at me, concerned. "Come on," I tug his arm again. He gives me a confused glance, but he lies down next to me. "There's no use worrying so much, there is nothing we can do, we might as well relax," I tell him, looking into his eyes, which are softer now, but still uncertain. As if he's afraid to let his guard down for one moment. I know this feeling too well. I've often held it on my shoulders. I wouldn't listen to someone if they told me this when I was worked up, but it pains me to see Gale this way. He takes on so much responsibility, for his family, for mine, for me, I wish he'd learn to share some of his worries with me, share some of his pain. That's what friends are for, after all, right?

"Just relax, okay?" I repeat.

"How can I do that?" There is an edge in his voice.

"One thing I learned in the Games, not to waste your energy on needless worry. When you have a chance to take a break, take it…." I see Gale process this thought; he cannot find a reason to disagree with me, even though it feels wrong to him. "The Careers had me pinned up in a tree once…did you see that part?" I know Gale avoided watching the Games when he could. He shakes his head. "Well, they chased me up a tree, but they couldn't climb as well as I could, so I went up as high as I could, tied myself to a branch, and went to sleep…"

"You've never told me anything about the Games before," he says. And I realize for the first time that he's right. I've spent so much time avoiding any questions people asked me about the Games, terrified at the topic of even thinking about it, but now, here with Gale, talking about it because I want to, not because someone has asked me to, it somehow feels natural. "Do you want to tell me more?" perhaps he senses my newfound willingness to speak.

I search my head for a something that is not too painful. "They made me wear a corset," I finally offer.

"In the arena?" he asks incredulously.

I try not to laugh too hard at the image of me running around in one of Cinna's gowns. "No, no, during the interviews. With my fire dress. You didn't see that part?"

"No," he admits, almost sheepishly, "I'm sorry I missed it," he says with a look I can't quite read.

"Yeah," I scoff, "well, you'll never get me into one of those things again..."

The next day is more of the same. I nearly go crazy confined in such a small place. My legs jitter and my fingers desperately look for something to do. I can't stay in one position for more than a minute. I cross my legs, uncross them, fold my arms, unfold them, inspect my fingers, sigh, lay down, get up, pull my knees to my chin. Gale looks exhausted just watching me.

"If I'm not allowed to worry," he says with a superior grin, "I don't think you're allowed to fidget."

"That's different!" I snap at him, and shift my position again. "How can you stand to be closed in here?" I ask him desperately.

"It's not all bad," he says, looking at me, "also, I have a lot of practice. This isn't nearly as bad as the mines." I suddenly feel horrible for complaining, when Gale spent most of the past year cramped in dark tunnels working like a slave. I make a mental note to keep my complaining to a minimum.

The third day, we only hear them once every few hours. The fourth day, only twice. Gale swears he heard one the fifth day, but I disagree. He tells me I'm just looking for an excuse to get out. We hear nothing on the sixth, neither on the seventh, and Gale tries to insist we wait one more day, but I tell him I'll kill him if I have to spend one more hour in this tent. He smiles and reaches over me, bringing his body very close to mine, and grabs the zipper on the entrance on the tent, and opens it, "there you go, Catnip, the world is waiting for you."

I nearly trip over him, I'm so eager to get out. I fly past him, eager to breath in the fresh air and look at a world that has no walls. I welcome the endless rows of trees, the tickle of the soft wind, the ability to stand. "Come on, Gale!" I call to him eagerly.

He climbs out after me, probably more excited that I am to be able to stretch to his full height.

"Race you to the other side of the pond," I say with a mischievous smile.

Gale returns it and doesn't even wait until I say go before he's running.



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