A Different Kind of Caring
A Different Kind of Caring -- "Katniss, you don't know what this means."
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Katniss sat on the rock that had become hers and Gale's as she waited for him. She crouched low, but didn't sit, as the early winter month's held it cold, so she stayed on her feet, her boots doing a slightly better job than her cloths are keeping out the chill. She pulled her father's jacket more tightly around her, what was taking him so long? she thought as she waited. The shadows were growing long. They didn't have much time before it got dark.
She waited another ten minutes before deciding to head out on her own. Her curiosity mixed with irritation as she wondered about Gale's whereabouts. Did he get held after at school? That had happened once because of fighting. Katniss couldn't help but laugh when she saw his black eye the next day, which didn't help his sour mood. He muttered about how the other guy deserved it and how he'd still won in the end. He never did tell her what he was fighting about, no matter how much she asked. Or could he be ill?Gale was generally pretty healthy and even if it was sick, that didn't stop him from going out. He nearly collapsed one time with her the winter before, burning up with a fever. She had to help him walk home, and the only thing that stopped her from scolding him herself was the tongue-lashing his mother gave him. Or could he be with a girl? She knew how all the school girls were after him. Katniss shuddered as she thought of that, not that she cared what Gale did, but she did care if it interfered with their hunting schedule…
Her anger sharpened her shot, however, and after walking around and shivering for almost half an hour, she got three squirrels she found racing around a tree. They fell in quick succession. She ran over to snatch them, holding their small bodies for a second so their heat could seep into her hands before throwing them in her bag and heading back to the fence.
The frozen ground crunched beneath her feet as she walked and she tried to bury herself in her jacket to avoid the wind clawing at her with icy fingers. It was already dark by the time she got back to her house and she was considering whether she should drop some food off to Gale before or after stopping home. She decided she should probably skin them meat too, just in case Gale really was sick, which she hoped he wasn't, but she also realized that if he weren't, that meant he either got in trouble for fighting again or was with some girl, and she didn't want that either. She let out a deep sigh of confusion when her mom surprised her at the door.
"Katniss, thank goodness you're home. I was beginning to worry about you."
"Were you?" Katniss said indifferently as she dragged her bag into the kitchen. She held her hands over the fire for a moment before pulling out a knife and beginning to skin the animals. "Hey, Prim! Want to come help me?"
"She's not here," Katniss's mom interjected, "she's running medicine to the Callows'."
"You let her go out in this weather?"
"She volunteered, Katniss, and I was over at the Tophers'. I've still got to go to the Hawthornes' and the Millers' today…something bad's going around…"
"The Hawthornes'?" Katniss's voice caught.
"Yes, two of the boys are sick this time. It was the girl last week—"
"Which boys? Which two are sick?" There was an urgency in Katniss's voice that surprised her mother.
"One of the younger ones, I think, and I'm not sure which, and—"
"Gale." Katniss said it before her mother did. "I'll go to them. You…you go to the Millers'…." Katniss stumbled on her words as she grabbed the supplies her mother was preparing and threw them in her bag. As she headed out the door, her mother's voice get lost in the wind behind her.
The worry that clenched Katniss's heart was a completely different type of cold than the one that gnawed at her face. She could hardly imagine how sick Gale must be when she found herself at the Hawthorne's door, but she knew the answer was very. They only reason he wouldn't go out was if he couldn't. She didn't even remember knocking at the front door when she heard Mrs. Hawthorne calling from inside "Coming!" and clamor to come open it.
"Hello?" Katniss had never officially met Gale's mother before.
"Hi, I'm, um, I'm Anise's daughter…I brought—"
"Katniss, come in, I know who you are, you must be freezing," Hazelle said, ushering her in. "I know all about you—"
"You do?" Katniss was utterly perplexed.
"Of course," she said with a smile that seemed too warm considering the times, "Gale's told me all about you. You're practically all he talks about sometimes." There was a look on Hazelle's face Katniss couldn't quite place.
"Oh." It came out almost as a question. "I heard he's sick. I brought," she started pulling out the contents of her bag, sputtering as one of the squirrels fell onto the floor, "oh, sorry, I brought you that too, I figured you were hungry…and here," she said, finally finding the medicine, "this is from my mom," she gave the supplies to Gale's mom.
"Thank you, Katniss, you don't know what how much this means," Hazelle said as she walked into the kitchen to start preparing the broth.
"Don't mention it," Katniss said, bending down to get the squirrel and other items she'd dropped and tried to figure out how she was going to ask about Gale.
When she got up, Gale was looking right at her.
Katniss's mouth formed a zero that signaled her comprehension. "Uh, um. Gale, I thought you were…you're…you're okay?" By the time she found her voice, it came out accusatory.
"Yeah. Both my brothers are sick though. I'm sorry I couldn't make it out today, I had to help take care of—"
Before Gale could finish his sentence, Katniss dove in for a hug. She caught Gale off guard, this was the first time she'd hugged him. He quickly returned it and liked holding her in his strong arms. "Hey, I'm fine," he said softly into his hair. He felt bad, he didn't realize how much she cared.
"I thought you must have been dying!" She shoved him, breaking away from the hug and trying to hide her concern. She slapped him with the dead squirrel she held by the tail in her hand. "I thought…"
"I'm sorry I worried you. I tried to tell you at school, I just didn't get a chance."
"You tried," she scoffed with an expression somewhere in between a sneer and a pout.
Gale let one of his hand train slowly down her arm and squeezed her hand reassuringly when he got there. "Sorry," he mouthed again.
Hazelle looked back from the kitchen smiling at her son and the girl.
"Well, I brought you squirrel for dinner," she said. He knew this was the closest he was going to get to being forgiven.
"So this is for eating not throwing?" he joked.
She glared at him. He wasn't sure if she was actually angry, or blushing. "Be nice or I won't give you the second one."
Gale laughed, "Thanks," he said with an honest smile, "I mean it." She smiled back quickly, before looking away.
"Well, you take care of yourself, okay? I don't want to have to go finding another hunting partner. It took me long enough to train you."
"Don't you worry about it, Catnip, I'm not going anywhere."
Gale smiled. He looked over to his mom and caught her eye before turning back to Katniss. "Hey, do you want to stay for dinner?"
Katniss looked for a second like she didn't understand the question. "Oh, um, I don't want to impose."
Gale had to stop himself from laughing. He wasn't sure Katniss had ever used the word imposed before in her life. "Katniss, you caught the squirrels."
He did have a point, she realized, and her mother and sister were probably still out. But while she'd seen his brothers at school, she didn't know his family and it felt weird for some reason. Gale could sense her discomfort and didn't press the matter, but he held his breath as he waited for her answer.
"You're sure it's not a problem?"
"It's the opposite of a problem."
"Okay then," she looked down and traced a curve on the ground as she said it, missing Gale beam.
"Gale, honey," his mother called, spooning the broth into two bowls, "would you start dinner while I give this to your brothers?"
"Of course," he jumped immediately at his mother's request. Katniss didn't know why, but she smiled watching them. Hazelle touched him sweetly as she took a try into the bedroom.
"Do you need any help?" Katniss said, coming over.
"Sure. Do you want to skin the squirrels? Or cut the potatoes?" Katniss looked at him as if the answer were obvious. Gale smiled and took out a a few potatoes and handed a knife to Katniss. "I think we've got some salt down there," he gestured as he began working on the meat.
"Oh, now, Posy, what are you doing in her? Leave your brothers alone, they need to rest. Oh, I don't know," Hazelle responded to her daughter's quite voice, "go help your brother in the kitchen."
Gale looked at Katniss and rolled his eyes, as if signaling trouble upon hearing this. His toddler sister immediately came lumbering into the room. "Hey, who are you?" She demanded, trying to pull herself up on a stool. Gale wordlessly went over to help her and put a few crackers in front of her.
"Oh," Posy considered for a moment, "who's that?"
Katniss laughed and looked at the tough little girl. She thought she might like her.
"I'm Gale's friend," she said, looking at the little girl.
"Which one?" Posy asked.
Katniss shifted a bit uncomfortably at hearing that, remembering how popular Gale was.
"She's my best friend, Posy, you know the one I go hunting with."
"Oh, the one you say is pretty-"
"The one I say is pretty good at what?" Gale immediately jumped in, nervously looking at his friend. Katniss didn't seem to notice.
"Come on, Posy, I've told you about Katniss. What is she good at?"
"She's good at...arrows?" Posy's voice was unconvincing.
Katniss laughed and Gale exhaled the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. "Right," he said. "She's good at a lot more than that." Both Posy and Katniss looked at him with questioning eyes this time. Gale laughed and starting talking about all the things Katniss could do.
"Did you teach her all that, Gale?" Posy said in the voice of a child who believed her big brother could do anything. If it hadn't been for that voice, Katniss wouldn't have told her no, but she just kept quiet instead.
"I haven't taught her that much," Gale conceded.
"Not how to fight," Katniss said almost as a cough.
Gale rolled his eyes and nudged her, looking in the direction of his mother. He did not want Katniss bringing this up now. Ever since he'd gotten that black eye, she'd kept asking him to teach her how to fight.
"Who says I know how to fight? I do have a black eye," he'd tried to dissuade her every time she'd asked.
"Only everyone at school!"
"Come on, Catnip."
"Please! You never know when I might need to punch someone."
Gale couldn't help but laugh at that. She did have a point. "Fine," eventually conceded, "I'll teach you a few things. But this doesn't mean you get to go asking for trouble."
She'd given him a "who, me?" look that he knew was beginning to have too much of an effect on him. Similar to the look she was giving him now.
He took a deep breath. "Finished?" he asked looking at the potatoes.
Gale grabbed them and put them in a big pot of boiling water and added the squirrel meat and a few other items to make a stew. Once it was cooking, he grabbed his tiny sister and carried her to the floor to play. Katniss took a seat on one of the stools watching as Posy squealed with laughter and ran about him. They both seemed so happy. She didn't understand it.
"How's dinner coming?" his mom asked as she came out.
"It's cooking," Gale said as if that was a sufficient answer. Hazelle gave her son a look he didn't see and went over to check the pot. "How're the boys?" Gale asked with a more serious tone.
"They're both sleeping now. Their fevers are down. Katniss tell your mother thank you so much."
Katniss shrugged, uncomfortable thinking about her mother, especially now that she saw how Gale's family interacted. "I'll tell her."
"Are you joining us for dinner?"
"Yeah," Gale quickly said, "that's okay, right?"
"Oh, of course," Hazelle sounded as if she honestly couldn't have been happier, "we're happy to have you. You're mother's not going to worry about you, though?" Katniss was surprised Hazelle asked this, surprised because that meant she thought about it.
"She never worries about much of anything," she said offhandedly and didn't notice the look Hazelle gave her son.
"Well, I'm so glad you're here," Hazelle said with a warm smile that seemed effortless as she began pulling out dishes. Gale got up and began to set the table without even being asked. "I want to hear all about you."