|Tuesday Night in Town
Author: Solaryllis PM
The cold hard truth was that he had some kind of weird attraction to Madge Undersee. Madge encounters trouble when she's home alone one Tuesday night. Gale helps out. Set during CF while Katniss and Peeta are training for the Quarter Quell.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Romance - Madge U. & Gale H. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 12,725 - Reviews: 103 - Favs: 95 - Follows: 52 - Updated: 02-11-12 - Published: 01-24-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7772577
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Tuesday Night in Town
Rating: T (mild swearing)
Characters and Pairings: Gale, Madge, Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Mayor Undersee, Mrs. Undersee. GalexMadge, KatnissxPeeta, GalexKatniss.
Length: ~12,000 words in four parts
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: The cold hard truth was that he had some kind of weird attraction to Madge Undersee. Madge encounters trouble when she's home alone one Tuesday night. Gale helps out. Missing moment fic set during Catching Fire while Katniss and Peeta are training for the Quarter Quell. Builds on events in my story "Saturday Night in the Seam" (although it's not necessary to read that first).
Author's Note: I'm struggling with my longer story and had to take a break to write this little diversion. The title and the inspiration to write this were both supplied by Medea Smyke. Huge thanks to my critiquers for their helpful suggestions! Also, I decided to write this in past tense instead of present tense—I realize it's different than "Saturday Night in the Seam." Enjoy!
Madge's parents were taking their sweet time getting out the door. She didn't understand why it took so long for them to put their sweaters on and grab the bottle of wine on the table in the foyer.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with us to the Spurlocks' for dinner, sweetie?" Mrs. Undersee asked as she draped her sweater over her shoulders. "You've been so withdrawn lately. Maybe some visiting would help take your mind off… everything."
Her mother couldn't even bear to articulate it: take your mind off the fact that your only friend is going to endure a second Hunger Games and in all likelihood will actually die this time. No, her mother preferred to speak in euphemisms about such unpleasantness. Madge had learned that the hard way. Pushing her mother too far out of her comfort zone usually triggered a headache, whether real or an escape mechanism Madge wasn't sure.
"I have too much homework," Madge said with a tight smile. "End of the year assignments." She'd finished everything already, but thank goodness she could always count on the homework excuse when she wanted to get out of one of the Undersees' standing Tuesday night commitments. ("Social chores" as her father called them when Madge was his only audience.) The Tuesday gatherings of the merchant families were usually at the Undersees' house, but every once in a while social climbers like the Spurlocks insisted on hosting. Probably to make sure they would be the centers of attention, Madge thought.
"Well, remember to turn off the burner after you've heated the dinner Vera left for you," Mrs. Undersee said. "It's in the refrigerator—"
"Mom, I know how to use the stove. I make tea all the time." Madge tried not to sound too testy, but being treated like she was seven instead of seventeen was more than a little annoying.
"Come along, Marilyn," Mayor Undersee said as he gently put his hand on his wife's elbow and guided her to the front door. "Madge will be fine, but this wine isn't going to drink itself."
Mrs. Undersee shot him an exasperated look, but let herself be steered onto the porch with a parting smile at her daughter. Madge waved good-bye and then shut the door.
More than she wanted to let on, she was looking forward to having the house to herself. No parents, no household staff, no deputies of her father's reviewing reports at the dining room table late into the night. They all meant well, but someone was always asking her if she'd talked to Katniss lately and did Madge know if Katniss and Peeta were still planning to get married before the Quell, and how were the poor things coping? Most people had enough sense not to ask Katniss herself but considered Madge fair game, and Madge was glad she could serve as a buffer for her friend but she knew that merciless gossip Mr. Spurlock would have cornered her before dinner. And what could she say? She wasn't the one facing vicious, twice-her-size Hunger Games victors in a deadly arena. She wasn't the one who would either be killed or watch her fiancé be killed. Or both. No, Madge would just keep on going to school, playing piano, and trying to understand why life in Panem was so miserable.
After she watched her parents walk down the pathway to the street, Madge went upstairs to her father's study to see if anything new of interest had turned up in the locked drawer in his desk. But it was a bust; her father either took the key with him or started hiding it in a more secure location. To Madge's extreme disappointment, he'd been a lot more cautious about not leaving things out ever since Thread and the ruthless new Peacekeepers arrived. Nothing was the same in town anymore, and by extension, in the Undersee household. And yet her parents went out of their way to maintain the façade of normalcy, like with the silly Tuesday night gatherings.
With nothing left to do upstairs, she wandered into the kitchen to reheat her meal and indulged in eating at the small kitchen table rather than the imposing formal dining table, which she hated on principle. How many dinners with shallow and condescending Capitol visitors had she had to endure at that table? Even one was too many.
As she ate, she kept hearing her mother's admonition to turn off the burner, which made her angrier the more she thought about it. It was just one more example of them coddling her and assuming she couldn't handle taking care of herself. It was the same kind of thinking that lay behind her father constantly shooing her out of his office and sugarcoating what was really happening in the district lately, as though she couldn't see what the Peacekeepers were doing to people right outside their front door. But she knew she could handle the kitchen. She could probably even make dessert.
Once the idea surfaced, she became convinced of its greatness. She could picture her mother's surprised reaction upon being presented with a beautiful cake when they came home later. Her mother would taste it and praise its deliciousness, surely on par with anything made by the Mellarks. And best of all: Madge would never have to endure another comment about remembering to turn off the burner. Her parents would have no choice but to start seeing her as independent and capable.
She couldn't find the recipe book though, and wasn't sure what exactly went into a cake, so after a few minutes of staring at the pantry she revised her plan and decided to make biscuits instead. "Easiest thing on the planet," their housekeeper Vera always said when she made them, and Madge had watched her do it often enough that she thought she would be all right. With some strawberry jam, biscuits would be nearly as good as cake.
They turned out to not be as easy as Madge thought. The bag of flour exploded when she tried to open it and she couldn't remember what Vera put in the bowl besides flour. Butter? Milk? She tried those but wasn't sure what amounts to use. Her batter was a lot thicker than Vera's so she added more milk until it seemed right, and then she scooped large blobs of dough onto the metal sheet and pushed it into the oven, making a guess at the right temperature. Even if biscuits weren't cake, her parents would return home to the warm, comforting aroma of baking. As long as Madge swept up the flour on the floor, they would be utterly impressed at how mature she was becoming. Maybe her father would even stop editing himself about town business when he knew she was nearby.
But first, she needed to change into a shirt that wasn't covered in flour and ran back upstairs. As she passed her father's study on the way to her bedroom, she noticed the red light blinking on the monitor that received bulletins directly from the Capitol. She hesitated for only a second while she worked out an excuse—If there was an emergency, I would have needed to come get you, Daddy—and then stepped into the room and typed into the keypad the code she'd seen her father use.
It was a broadcast detailing new security precautions. The mayors and Peacekeepers were instructed to prevent groups of larger than five persons from gathering without a permit and to halt all trade of berries, believed to be a symbol of terrorist groups intent on bringing destruction and anarchy to Panem.
Madge was transfixed and quickly connected the terrorists to the nightlock berries Katniss and Peeta had used to trick the Capitol into sparing their lives. It seemed preposterous for the Capitol to blame Katniss and Peeta for the actions of terrorists, but maybe that's exactly what was happening. From eavesdropping on her parents, she'd learned that President Snow was upset that there were two victors last year but she hadn't thought much about it until the Quarter Quell announcement—no, death sentence—came out. She'd started to suspect the Quell was rigged, and took to filching newspapers and whatever else she could get her hands on that might help Katniss and Peeta. But it felt like nothing at all. And if terrorists were using Katniss and Peeta as symbols, what hope could they possibly have of surviving?
When the message started repeating, Madge shut off the monitor and retreated to her room to put on a clean shirt, outraged at the unfairness of Katniss and Peeta being associated with violence they had nothing to do with. They shouldn't have been subjected to the violence of the Hunger Games to begin with, either. Nobody should! She tossed her flour-dusted shirt violently in the directly of the laundry basket and wished she hadn't already taken her shoes off so she could kick them at the wall just to hear the smack.
A shrill siren pierced the air.
For a horrifying second, Madge thought it was coming from her father's study, and that someone had figured out she had turned his monitor on. But then she realized that the siren was coming from downstairs.
The smoke alarm.
Madge flew down the stairs. As soon as she hit the first floor the acrid scent of burning assaulted her nostrils. She said a quick prayer for no fire, no fire, no fire as she waved away the thin haze filling the hallway. Ripping open the oven door, she coughed as a cloud of gray smoke rushed into her face. She fell backward onto the flour-covered floor, tried to catch her breath, and then struggled to her feet to turn the oven off. The biscuits had transformed into coal, but at least there were no flames. Disaster averted. District 12 and flames did not mix well.
Unfortunately, the almost-disaster did not bode well for her night. She needed to cover up the mess. Getting rid of the smoke was the first step; she opened the back door to air out the kitchen. Then she tipped the blackened non-biscuits into the garbage bin and wondered if scrubbing the metal sheet for the next hour would be enough to get rid of the charring…
With an angry sigh, Madge set to work. When her mother tried to teach her how to make the old Donner family recipe for caramel, Madge had burned that too. Her mother had tactfully explained that caramel was very tricky. But biscuits, the easiest thing on the planet? Madge saw a future filled with more reminders about remembering to turn off the burner.
She was scrubbing steadily in the kitchen sink when she felt a wisp of air disturb her hair. A glance at the door confirmed that it was still open. She hadn't noticed much of a breeze earlier that day and thought maybe the weather was changing.
But when she felt it again, she turned around. And screamed.
Gale stood in the shadows outside Peeta Mellark's house in the Victor's Village, debating whether to knock. He heard the animated voices of Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch arguing inside. They were holding a Quarter Quell strategy session, just like Mrs. Everdeen had told him when he'd stopped by to pick up the vial of pills to treat Vick's lingering cough. Rory was supposed to have brought the pills home with him since he was at the Everdeen house after school nearly every day, but the little punk forgot.
Other than hassling Rory about his Primrose-inspired memory lapse, Gale had kept his griping to a minimum because he was glad for the excuse to see Katniss on a weekday and to take a walk outdoors on a pleasant spring evening after yet another grueling shift. The sun had only just set and there was enough light remaining that he could almost remember what it was like to spend more time outdoors than underground.
Mrs. E had seemed embarrassed to have to tell Gale that Katniss was at Peeta's house, and her discomfort alone was almost enough to make Gale regret making the unexpected trip; he hated how transparent their dysfunctional little triangle was. Because there wouldn't be a triangle if the Capitol and Peeta hadn't wormed their way in between Gale and Katniss. And to his continued disbelief, Gale was the one left out—the complication that refused to back away politely. He didn't have much use for politeness.
Gale didn't know if he was up for what he endured on the Sunday training sessions he helped with: watching Katniss's eyes follow Peeta everywhere, Peeta trying to hide his longing and concern for Katniss, and Haymitch overseeing everything like an angry hawk. But Mrs. E would mention to Katniss he'd stopped by, so his not visiting would seem like a slight and he didn't want to be the source of one more thing for Katniss to worry about. He knocked with three firm raps on the door.
Peeta answered and wasn't quite fast enough at hiding his displeasure at seeing Gale, but nevertheless welcomed him inside the house politely. Even facing death, Peeta Mellark apparently did still have the energy to be polite.
"Gale! Is something wrong?" Katniss jumped up from her chair.
He held up the vial of pills. "Just picking up medicine for Vick from your mom. She said you were over here."
"Oh wonderful, the charming cousin," Haymitch said as he reached for one of the newspapers strewn across the table. He kicked out the chair next to him without looking at Gale. "Have a seat, Cuz."
"Be nice," Katniss snapped in Haymitch's direction. He didn't respond other than to turn the page of the newspaper, but Gale could practically hear the guy's eyes rolling behind the newsprint pages. Gale stayed glued to the doorway so it would be clear he didn't want to commit to entering Peeta's house or spending time with Haymitch. His one consolation was that Peeta looked uncomfortable, checking his watch as though even a few seconds of Gale was too much. Gale thought the principle applied equally well in reverse and made sure to glare in Peeta's direction.
"Vick's not better yet?" Katniss asked Gale.
Her question reminded him of all the planning they used to do together about which sibling needed what, what they could trade to get it, what they should hunt or gather in order to make the trade… That feeling that they were both in it together.
"This will help," he said, rattling the vial once before pocketing it. His eyes took in the messy table covered with charts, maps, newspapers, and notebooks. They were apparently in the middle of a very different type of strategy session from the ones Gale participated in, which were usually outside and involved ropes and wires as he taught them useful snares. "What's going on here?"
Haymitch tossed his newspaper aside and tilted onto the back two legs of his chair as he gazed at Gale. "Studying the other victors. Your favorite mayoral offspring brought over some more Capitol newspapers."
One soft kick to the chair would throw Haymitch off balance and send him toppling backwards. Gale resisted only because Haymitch would retaliate and the resulting scuffle would cut into his time with Katniss and probably upset her. But he couldn't stand Haymitch. Besides being a lazy drunk, for unfathomable reasons he had taken to sprinkling references to Madge Undersee into loaded comments to Gale. Goading him. The only thing Gale could think of was that Haymitch had heard about the Seam dance last year where Gale had so stupidly danced with Madge. They'd made a bit of a spectacle of themselves and she was the mayor's daughter, so people had probably talked. It was inevitable that Haymitch would hear the gossip—the guy was everywhere. But it's not like Madge was even an ex-girlfriend—she was an ex-nothing. People just liked to hear themselves talk.
And Gale had gone out of his way to avoid Madge since that night. He hadn't even talked to her since reaping day, when he'd said "fine, go on" when she popped up out of nowhere in the Justice Building insisting that she needed to see Katniss but it would only take a second and could she please, please, please just zip in before Gale did? Then it turned out he needed that second, that precious moment Madge had ruined, catapulting Katniss straight into Peeta Mellark's arms. Making matters worse: when Katniss first came back from the Hunger Games she'd had plenty of time in her schedule for her sort-of friend Madge, but not her best friend Gale. It didn't matter that Katniss later explained why that was because for Gale it still translated into more reasons to push Madge Undersee even further down the list of people he could tolerate.
But why would Haymitch know or care about any of that? Maybe it was his own way of harping on the mayor, who Haymitch never had anything pleasant to say about. Neither did Gale.
"I don't see how newspapers help," Gale said coolly. "We already know the Capitol audiences are bloodthirsty sickos." He kept his eyes on Haymitch, daring him to say something rude that would justify a violent response. Unfortunately, being crafty like a true Hunger Games victor, Haymitch usually seemed to know how to skirt just around the edge of provocation.
"There are articles about the other victors," Peeta said impatiently. "We want to learn what their skills are and how they think."
Gale saw the sense in that—learning to think like your enemy was crucial—but he wasn't about to compliment something Peeta and Madge were involved with. His primary concern was the fact that he could sense Katniss growing uncomfortable at the tense atmosphere Gale seemed to have brought with him.
"You have time for a walk?" he asked, turning toward her. Maybe once she got out of this house and away from Haymitch and Peeta, she could relax and be herself again, even if for just a few minutes.
Her eyes lit up for a few glorious seconds before she paused and glanced at Peeta, who shifted uneasily between his good leg and his bad one.
"Peeta's brothers put something together for us tonight in town… All the former wrestling team members, a tutorial or tournament or something…" Katniss trailed off awkwardly. "But, we were about to leave… We could all walk in to town together."
As much as the "all" in her sentence set him on edge, Gale figured he should take what he could get so he nodded and slumped against the doorframe to wait as the others shoved papers into folders and exited the house.
Thankfully, Peeta and Haymitch walked together a few paces ahead of him and Katniss, which gave them at least a semblance of privacy. Gale even got her to crack a smile when he said he didn't understand what Rory did at the Everdeen house all those afternoons. "He says they're doing homework, but you'd never guess it from his report card."
Katniss adopted his mock disapproving tone. "They're training Buttercup to fetch. It's very important work, Gale. If they didn't do it, I don't think it would get done."
Gale chuckled lightly, aware that Katniss was as grateful as he was that silliness with Rory and Buttercup could at least temporarily distract Prim from everything else. But Katniss grew quiet again and he suspected her thoughts were careening into melancholy so he changed the subject to recount a joke he'd heard at work. He made it halfway through before realizing the joke was too dirty and that Katniss either wouldn't get it or would be uncomfortable. He made up a lame ending that she didn't laugh at and swiftly shifted to sharing the latest news on Greasy Sae's attempts to woo Old Hank.
When they reached the edge of town, Gale said good-bye and started to split off down the alley that paralleled the main square. It was the same route he and Katniss used to take when they sold forest forage together at the back doors of the merchants' homes, and it was the only route he ever took through town lately. He preferred dark shadows and garbage bins to the town square's stocks or gallows… or whipping post.
"Making back alley sales calls?" Haymitch called. When Gale turned to look back, he saw Haymitch's eyebrows raised suggestively. "The mayor make a special request for something sweet?"
Enough with these veiled comments! "Do you have something to say?" Gale snarled, taking a threatening step toward Haymitch. "Say it."
Haymitch didn't flinch, gazing calmly at Gale, but Katniss took a symbolic step forward in between the two. "We're late," she said sharply to Haymitch. But what Gale heard was: shut up, Haymitch. At least Katniss was still on his side when it came to Haymitch.
Haymitch shot Gale a snide smile, turned without another word, and continued walking into town. After annoyingly confirming with a glance that Katniss was indeed fine, Peeta followed, no doubt eager to forget Gale existed.
Katniss lingered and watched Gale cautiously. "We'll see you Sunday?"
He nodded, wishing it could just be the two of them. Hunting. Outside the fence. Without fake fiancés or crankily sober mentors constantly hovering and intruding.
Without a Quarter Quell aimed at Katniss like a cocked gun.