Author's Note: I'm not really sure what this is or convinced that I pulled it off, but as I tried to think of something to write for Gadge Day, this plot forced all others out of my head and demanded to be written. So here's the groundhog day au that literally nobody asked for.
Happy Gadge Day!
Please excuse any mistakes as this hasn't been beta'd and I didn't have time to do more than one edit of it.
Disclaimer: I'm not Suzanne Collins and am merely playing in her sandpit for fun and a stubborn determination to give both Gale and Madge a better ending than the ones they got in canon.
And the Day Goes On
Gale stared at the reddish glow from what had been District 12 just a few hours earlier. He had never been fond of the district, seeing it as nothing but a cage designed to wear those who resided in it down, but now it was nothing but smoke and death, and it cut into his soul.
He had always dreamed of running into the wilderness, of surviving off the land with no Capitol to tell him how to live, where to work, and how to die. However, in his fantasies it had always been on his terms. He would gather up his family and Katniss and go far away from the ever present shadow of the Hunger Games. Never once had he thought the Capitol would push him out.
Yet, that is what had happened tonight. The Capitol had burned his world down and now he had nowhere to go but the wilderness.
He turned to look at the weary ash covered survivors who sat in demoralised silence, huddled together for comfort more than warmth. It was so few out of a district of twelve thousand, but he was the only one who'd ever stepped foot in the forest and keeping just over eight hundred people alive was a daunting task. However, failure was not an option. No more people from District 12 would die on his watch.
Relaxing his taunt shoulders, Gale turned towards the lake. It was the best source of water for such a large group of people and far enough from the district that if the Capitol sent in any Peacekeepers tomorrow to finish off any survivors they would remain undetected.
With his family and those of his crewmates who had made it out, Gale got everyone up and moving. It was slow going, but just as the grey light of drawn began to fill the sky, everyone was at the lake. Resting his head against a tree, Gale closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
And woke up in his bed back in the Seam. He stared around him for a few moments, confused and sure that he should be out in the forest, grubby and smelling of smoke, along with eight hundred other people.
He gave a disbelieving laugh as he realised just how vivid his dream had been. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and felt gratitude that District 12 hadn't really been bombed.
Then he remembered about Katniss and the Games going black and he vaulted out of bed, running through into the living space and turning the TV on.
Please let there have just been some technical problem, he thought as he waited for the TV to warm up.
A picture came up and Gale smiled as he saw that Katniss was fine. That she'd somehow reunited with Peeta and the rest of her allies. There was hope still that she could come out of the arena alive.
He was striding back to the small room he shared with his brothers to get dressed for the mines, when he heard the male tribute from District 3 – Bee something – laying out a plan for taking out the remaining Careers, he stopped and frowned. The whole conversation sounded incredibly familiar and as he listened intently to the plan being outlined, he realised that it was the same one as yesterday morning.
But how could that be? Had the Capitol lost all contact with the arena and was relying on playing replays rather than let the screen remain blank?
His mother walked out of the room she shared with Posy and looked at him with raised eyebrows and said, "You're going to be late for the mines if you just stand there in your pyjamas."
"Ma, I think the Games is still down. They seem to be playing replays from yesterday."
"The Games are Down? What do you mean, Gale?"
"You know, when Katniss shot that arrow into the force field and the screen went blank."
Hazelle gave him a long concerned look. "Have you been dreaming again? Should I pop in and ask Pansy if there's a tea or something you should drink before sleeping."
"No," he snapped, irritated that his mother was still going on about some of the vivid dreams he'd been having ever since he'd been whipped and been given some of the morphling that Pansy Everdeen had managed to get her hands on. He still didn't understand how she'd had some in her house, but perhaps Katniss had ordered some in from the Capitol just in case. It seemed remarkably long sighted for Katniss, but he wasn't complaining.
"Well, yes," he corrected. "I did have some dreams last night, but not about the Games or Katniss. I dreamed the district was bombed."
"Oh Gale," Hazelle said, running her hand along his shoulder in comfort. "That sounds horrible."
"It was. Only eight hundred of us managed to get out, but that's beside the point, I'm confused as to why there is no new coverage of the Games today."
"Are you sure you didn't dreamed about that as well? Nothing happened with the force field yesterday, thank goodness. I'm still recovering from Peeta almost being killed by it on the first day."
The worst thing about Hazelle working up at Abernathy's house for the past couple of months had to be the rapport she seemed to have built with Mellark of all people. She was always going on about how he was such a nice boy and how sad it was that he had gone back into the arena with Katniss, which Gale didn't really appreciate.
"I didn't dream this," Gale said, frustration bleeding into his voice. "How can you not remember the plan from that District 3 tribute? They were going to use the lightning tree to take out of the remaining careers."
Hazelle peered closely into Gale's face. "I think you should stay at home today. I really don't think you're well enough to go down into the mines."
"I'm not crazy, Ma!"
She turned away from him and focused her attention onto the screen. Katniss and her group were still debating the plan. Hazelle listened intently and then turned confused eyes onto Gale.
"This is the first time I've heard about this plan," she said.
"But this happened yesterday on Day 3 of the Games. We're now on Day 4!"
"Gale, sweetheart, are you sure you're feeling okay?" Hazelle asked, putting her hand up to feel his forehead. "It's Day 3 of the Games today."
Stumped at his mother's words, Gale could do nothing but stare at her.
"That's it. You're definitely not going into work today."
"Ma, I can't just take a day off," he said, rolling his eyes.
"You can and you will. We're okay for money right now, Gale. Haymitch pays me more than both of us were bringing in combined before. I've even got some savings for the first time ever. We can afford for you to have one day off. Besides, what are they going to do? Fire you?" she said with a flash of wit.
He reluctantly smiled at that and allowed his mother to usher him back into his bed. He wasn't sure how he'd managed to dream a whole day happening so vividly but apparently he had.
But how did you manage to dream up that tribute's plan? a little voice asked, but he quickly dismissed it. He was not crazy.
After his mother had gone up to the Victors' Village, Gale turned the Games back on. He hadn't been able to watch much of the coverage so far because he'd been down in the mines and he worried about how Katniss was coping under the mental strain of going back into the arena again. He ignored the little seed of doubt that remained in his stomach that he was reliving this day – he was just suffering from some kind of strange déjà vu where everything felt as if it had happened before, but hadn't.
Unfortunately, the Gamesmakers seemed to be focusing on the remaining two careers this time – two brutes from District 2 who were terrifying in both appearance and attitude. The cameras rarely rested on Katniss and her allies for long, but it was obvious even from those small flashes that they were planning something. The injured District 3 tribute was analysing the lightning tree as Katniss and Peeta messed about with the force field – using it to roast nuts and small chunks of meat.
Gale wished he didn't feel the wince of pain every time he saw Katniss and Peeta mucking about together, but he couldn't help it. It was highly unlikely that either of them would come out of the arena alive, which was not something he liked to dwell on, so he shouldn't be so petty as to grudge them they time they did have, but he did. It hurt to see them so at ease with each other, growing closer and closer. It represented just how much Katniss was drifting from him. Every day she spent as a victor was yet another day where he struggled to relate to her when Peeta didn't.
He tried not to think about the scene they'd shared on the beach the night before with all those long kisses, but it constantly floated into his mind. How Peeta continued to try and sacrifice himself for Katniss, how he always put her first. Gale couldn't do that, not when his family relied on him so much. Was that what Katniss wanted? Someone who would always have her interests as his main priority? He couldn't blame her if it was. Her life since her father had died had been focused solely on Prim, just as his had been focused solely on his own family. Maybe that was Peeta's big draw for her.
Shaking his head, Gale wanted nothing more than to drive his thoughts away, but he couldn't, not as he watched Katniss and Peeta on his screen continuously. He needed to get out. The woods would have been the obvious place for him to seek refuge, but the fence was on continuously now. It was a good job Abernathy had given Hazelle a better paid job, because food prices had soared as the district continued to suffer spoiled rations being transported in and he had no way of supplementing their diet with fresh produce from the forest.
The meadow would have to do. It was the closest he could get to the woods inside the fences of District 12.
School wasn't out yet so it should have been empty, but it wasn't. A solitary figure sat on the grass, her blonde hair glinting in the sun and contrasting with her drab school uniform.
He scowled to see her there. He didn't hate her per se, but the advantages she had irritated him and he'd come here to try and clear his head, not focus on something else that frustrated him about his life.
"Shouldn't you be at school?" he asked coming up behind her.
She startled at his words and he couldn't help but smirk. He knew he made her nervous, Katniss had told him several times with a plea for him to try and put her at ease a little. It wasn't as if he planned to take advantage of this fact, but he couldn't help it every time he saw her. Even when he didn't mean to, he ended up saying something that would make her eyes fly anxiously up to his and the colour mount in her cheeks.
"Miss Ricketts went home sick," she replied with a shrug.
Education wasn't considered important in Panem – at least not in the poorer districts. If a teacher was off then there was no substitute who could take over. The kids just got a day off. It had always been Gale's favourite thing about school.
"But why are you here?"
She looked up at him confused as if she didn't understand his question and he felt his annoyance grow.
"Don't you have a fancy garden you can sit in? Why come all the way down to the edge of the Seam and invade our only open space?"
There was a flash of anger in her eyes before she turned her gaze down to her hands, where she played with the grass. "I fancied somewhere different."
"Oh you fancied somewhere different. Must be nice to have so many choices."
She looked back up at him then, her face hard and she opened her mouth for a moment before closing it again. Standing up, she brushed down her skirts and walked away without saying anything to him. He tampered down the disappointment with a shrug– he could have done with arguing with someone today, but if she was just going to run away then it was no loss. At least he had the meadow to himself once more.
Gale stayed there until the sun began to sink towards the horizon. His mother was probably wondering where he'd got to as he'd heard the whistle at the mine give out an hour or so ago. He hoped the kids had saved him some dinner – they'd come over to bug him on their way home from school. The boys wanting to play ball and Posy wanting him to make her daisy chains. He'd sent them all home so no doubt they were irritated with him.
There was a bowl of stew waiting for him with a heel of bread. He tried not to think that he knew precisely what stew it was before even looking at it. Instead, he sat and ate it in silence as they all watched the Games. Then Katniss hit the force field with her arrow and the screen went blank and Hazelle shot him a horrified look.
It was then that he knew that it hadn't all be some weird dream or déjà vu – he had actually lived this day before.
"Ma, they're going to bomb the district," he said in an urgent undertone to her as the kids chattered about what could possibly be going on in the arena.
"You can't know that," she replied.
"Just like I couldn't have known that Katniss was going to hit the force field – but I did!"
She stared at him in silence and he put his hands on her shoulders. "I know it sounds crazy, Ma, but just pack some stuff okay. We need to be ready this time."
Gale went out into the Seam then, determined to save more people than previously. He knocked on doors, warned people about what was going to happen and to pack. Unsurprisingly, he was met with derision and when the bombs fell no more than just over eight hundred people made it out again.
Gale smelt the familiar scent of his blankets before he opened his eyes. Once more he was back in his bed in the Seam rather than out in the forest with a ragtag bunch of survivors. Jumping up, he hastily made his way into the living space and turned the TV on. The Games were back on, Katniss, Peeta and their allies sitting on the beach, discussing how to take out the remaining careers.
For some reason, he was stuck reliving the same day again. He definitely knew this now, but he couldn't figure out how or why.
His mother came out of her room then and told him he was going to be late for work once more. He could have the day off like he did yesterday, but maybe that was what had thrown off the balance of the world. There had to be some reason why he was still in this day, seemingly unable to move forward.
So, he decided to try and relive it as he had done the original time. He went to work, came home and ate the same food, and sat watching the Games as the plan to take out the remaining careers backfired and Katniss shot that arrow into the force field.
This time he didn't try and warn anyone about the inevitable bombing. It was hard for him not to do so, but it had made no difference last time. He also decided against making packs as his mother had done yesterday. Maybe he wasn't meant to be prepared.
Instead, he let it all play out as it had done originally, but he still woke the next morning back in the Seam.
This happened for a week. Gale stubbornly determined to try and beat whatever time loop he was in by reliving the day exactly as it should be. The only thing he did differently was to mark the days off with some chalk in a corner of his room.
But it was all to no avail. Each morning he awoke back in the same day until he thought he was going to lose his mind.
It was then that he decided that perhaps he was stuck in this day because he wasn't meant to survive. That no one from District 12 was meant to. People might have run to the meadow when the bombs started falling, but it had been Gale who had cut open the fence and ushered people through. Gale who had led them to the lake in the woods that would provide them with water and give them some shelter from Capitol forces.
He had now relived this day nine times and nothing had changed, so he came to the conclusion that today he would do nothing. He wouldn't get his family out, he wouldn't cut the fence open, and he would let the bombs do what they were designed to do. Take out District 12 in its entirety.
That night was undoubtedly the worst he'd ever experienced as he lay trapped in the rubble of his home, stuck facing the lifeless body of Vick and watching as Rory bled to death. He didn't last much longer, his life slowly draining away as Posy screamed in the other room for him to come and help her.
Gale awoke with a start the next morning, sweat beading his forehead and his heart pounding heavily in his chest. He stumbled over to where his brothers still lay sleeping, putting his head on their chests to make sure they were still breathing, a sigh escaping him as he realised they were.
He went into his mother's room, scaring her as she started to get out of bed. He grabbed her up in a fierce hug and then smoothed Posy's tangled hair back from her sleeping face and peppered kisses on her cheek.
"What's gotten into you?" Hazelle asked when they were both dressed and sitting at the battered kitchen table.
"Just a bad dream," he said.
"Must have been one hell of a bad dream," she remarked.
"You have no idea."
She watched him closely then. "Do you want me to pass by Pansy's today and see if she has something to help you with them?"
Maybe he was trapped in some hellish time loop because he kept rejecting any form of medicine to help him with the nightmares that had plagued him since he was lashed in the square. Perhaps he was even stuck in those nightmares. He wasn't sure that even made sense, but right now he was willing to try anything.
"Yeah, that sounds a good idea," he said and smiled as his mother stared at him in shock.
He made the herbal tea that Pansy Everdeen had prescribed for him and poured it into a little tin flask that he kept on him. That night he got his family out as the bombs began to fall and made sure he drank the tea before drifting off to sleep by the lake.
And awoke once more in his bed in the Seam.
Days merged into one long anamorphous chunk of time. Gale tried to rigidly stay to the same structure for a while, sure that he if did this then somehow something would change and he'd no longer be stuck in this time loop. Then he went through a phase of changing just one or two things, but it all resulted in the same thing; the same people getting out of the district and him waking up in his bed.
He wasn't even sure what day he was on anymore, he'd given up marking time a month or so in. There was no point when it appeared he was never moving forward. He'd also stopped going into work. Playing up on his 'dreams' so Hazelle would make him stay at home. It wasn't as if the loss of money from one day's work in the mines even mattered if he was only going to relive the same day over and over and over again.
Then he spent several days getting electrocuted on the fence, trying to get into the forest before he gave up on that idea. He wanted desperately to spend the day out there, but he had to remember that every time he died trying to find a way around the live fence that was a day his family had to think he'd been killed and then they themselves died in agony in the bombing. It was strange how guilty that made him feel even though he knew it wasn't real and that they'd wake up not remembering anything. It was enough that he knew how they died that in scenario.
Instead, he spent time roaming the district and spending time with people – friends that he knew wouldn't make it through the bombing. In time however, that became hard. He suffered the same conversations and the same speculation about Katniss all the while knowing that by the end of the day these people would be dead.
Gale withdrew into himself, preferring to remain on his own until just before the bombing when he'd return home and get his family out. He would spend hours in the meadow, just sitting and staring out past the fence and into the woods. He had forgotten that Madge had been in the meadow that time until one day she came up to him. He realised that he hadn't seen her again in here since he'd started spending so many hours here. It was probably because he arrived before she did and she didn't feel comfortable staying once she saw him.
But something about his demeanour this time made her approach him.
"Are you okay?" she asked softly.
He jumped, having been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn't heard her come up to him.
"Are you okay?" she repeated, her hands twisting nervously together as she eyed him curiously.
"Fine," he said curtly.
However, instead of retreating like he wished she would, she sat down near him. "You're not at work," she commented carefully.
"With observational skills like that, you're going to go far," he retorted sarcastically.
She flushed and a perverse side of him wondered just how far he could push her. He needed an outlet for his frustrations and she could prove to the perfect person.
"What's it to you anyway? Does Daddy get a ticking off from his friends in the Capitol every time someone doesn't make it down the mines?"
She cut him an annoyed glance. "I worried that maybe something was wrong."
He snorted at that. "Yeah, because my life is so peachy usually."
"You don't have to be so mean all the time," she said quietly. "I was only asking."
"Maybe you should mind your own business."
Madge pulled in a deep breath and he could almost see herself strengthening her resolve to say something. "I just wondered if you wanted to talk to someone, you know, because of Katniss and Peeta."
Any curiosity of just how far he could push quiet Madge Undersee faded as his temper rose. Who was she to talk about Katniss to him? She was a nobody who Katniss took pity on and sat next to at school because she was guaranteed not to annoy Katniss with any idle chitter-chatter. Her nerve at probing somewhere so personal to him had his nastiest streak rearing its ugly head.
"Because I'd want to talk to you about that. Unlike some people, I have friends," he sneered pointedly.
Madge visibly recoiled at his words before she rose to her feet jerkily. "You are such an ass, Gale Hawthorne," she said before she sprinted away.
Just before she turned, Gale saw her brush a tear angrily from her face, and instead of the elation that he'd wanted to feel at getting to take his bad mood out on someone, he felt nothing but wretched. Madge Undersee wasn't a bad person, she had come over to him to see if he was okay, had offered to talk, and all he'd done was snap and be a jackass.
Wanting to get rid of the shame that sat heavily in his stomach, he resolved to find her that night and apologise. It was the least he could for being a jerk.
However, that night, as he scanned the crowd of survivors, his chest hollowed out as he realised she wasn't there. She hadn't made it out of the district.
How had he not noticed that before? It was probably because he hadn't really focused on who had made it out of Town. He had known that it was a ridiculously small amount compared to the Seam and that Mellark's family wasn't one of them (he had spent one week warning the Mellarks in some sort of need to prove that he could be the bigger person to Katniss. Besides Mr Mellark had always traded well with him, but they had never turned up at the meadow so unless he was going to run into the burning town, there was not much more he could do), but he had just assumed that the Mayor and his family would've made it. He'd had to have some kind of warning about the bombings, right? Some kind of provision would have been made to get them out?
He asked Delly Cartright where Madge was and she stared at him for a long moment in confusion. Finally, she said that she thought the Mayor's house had been one of the first hit.
Regret flooded through him at his words from that afternoon. Why had been quite so horrible? For the first time since he'd been stuck in this time loop, he wished to wake up once more in his bed in the Seam so that he could make it up to her.
It was amazing how much having a purpose changed the complexion of his day. It had been so long since he'd had something to do other than just wait for the bombing so he could get his family and the other survivors out into the woods. He had no clue just how long he'd been reliving this day, it could have been three months or it could have been a year, everything had bled together that much. However, now he had something that he needed to do.
Find Madge - not to apologise because she wouldn't know what he was apologising for, but to at least be nice this time. She deserved that after all.
Gale left it a little later to go the meadow. Out of all the times he'd been there, Madge had only approached him once so the likelihood of her doing so the next time was slim. He was relieved to see that she was sitting there when he arrived.
Not wanting to startle her, Gale deliberately made some noise as he drew near. If he wasn't going to be an asshole then he might as well start correctly from the beginning.
She turned as she heard him, her eyes going wide when she saw it was him.
"Hey," he said casually, sitting down next to her.
"Hi," she replied in a subdued voice.
He hadn't given Madge much thought before. She wasn't someone you naturally noticed, being shy and quiet, so he was stumped with how to start a conversation with her that wasn't an antagonistic remark.
"Not at school?" he asked, finally settling for a question he already knew the answer to.
"No. Miss Ricketts went home sick."
"Those were my favourite days," he said with a grin.
She didn't say anything back, just looked at him appraisingly. When she finally opened her mouth, she was brutally honest. "Why are you being nice to me?"
A sharp reply sprung to his tongue but he made an effort to bite it back and instead he said, "I can be nice."
"Yeah, but you never are."
"That's not true. I-" Gale trailed off. He wracked his brain but he couldn't think of a single instance when he hadn't snapped something at her or stood in brooding silence whilst Katniss dealt with the trade. "No, you're right. I've been nothing but a jerk to you."
Madge cracked a smile at that. "So why now?" she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno. Seems pointless being angry at you for something you have no control over."
"Have you only just figured that out?"
"No, I knew it all along, but we've already established I'm an ass."
She laughed then and his own lips curled up at the sound. It sounded carefree and happy and he needed that right now.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked.
Not many people from the Town came to the meadow. It had a rough kind of beauty to it that must have sung more to the souls of the Seam.
"I like it here," she replied. "It's quiet at this time of day and it feels a little like the woods do."
Gale frowned at that. "What do you know about the woods?" he asked curiously and without heat.
Biting her lip, Madge gave him an apprehensive look. "Katniss took me out in the Fall."
She nodded and he found himself intrigued.
"Did you like it?"
A grin lit up her face then. "It was breath taking," she said.
He grinned back at her. It was breath taking. A whole world away from the restrictions and hardships of daily life in the district – even for those who didn't go to bed hungry like Madge.
"How do you cope not getting out there anymore?" she asked earnestly.
Up until the night of the bombing, he had missed going into the forest with an ache that physically pained him. It had been more than just hunting and putting fresh food on his family's table. The trees had always represented an escape for him – both physical and mental, but now, his relationship with it was complicated. Most of the time when he thought about the woods now, it was overlaid with leading a shell-shocked group of people out there. Listening to the frightened sobs of the young and worrying about the elderly. He wondered if it would ever regain the symbolism it once had – if he ever got out of this time loop that was.
However, he couldn't say all of this to Madge. She had no idea of what was coming or that he'd been reliving the same day for so long that he struggled sometimes to remember what it felt to be normal.
"I try not to think about it," he said instead.
She gave him a sympathetic look as she twirled a daisy in between her fingers, the sun glinting off her hair making it look as if it was spun from gold. She looked so full of life at the moment that the reality that she would be dead in a couple of hours crashed down on him and made it hard for him to breathe.
He stood then, his legs shaking a little and said, "I have to go. Enjoy your afternoon, Madge."
She nodded absently at him before her eyes turned once more to the fence and the trees beyond it. He stared at her for a little longer before he made his way back to his house in the Seam.
That night, after the bombs fell and he was leading the survivors through the woods, Gale avoided the small group of blonds who huddled together. There was probably five or six of them who had managed to make it out of Town, but he couldn't look at them without seeing Madge as she'd sat that afternoon in the meadow, her hair shining brightly under the sun.
Yet, the next day, he found himself making his way to the meadow at a time when he knew Madge would already be there. She hadn't been what he'd expected and he found himself wanting to know more about her.
"Hi," he said, flopping down next to her.
She looked at him with a puzzled expression. "Er…hello," she replied as if she was confused as to why he was talking to her.
"Teacher off sick or are you skipping?"
"Miss Rickitts went home ill." She hesitated a little as if she wanted to say something to him but was unsure. "What about you? Sick?"
He wrinkled his nose. "Ma didn't want me to go down the mines today."
"Why?" Madge asked curiously.
It was his turn to hesitate. Could he tell her about the dreams? They weren't friends but then again, he wanted to tell her. She had a peaceful air about her that made him think he could tell her anything. Besides, it wasn't as if she would remember anything tomorrow.
"I get these dreams," he said and she tilted her head inquiringly. "Ever since I had that morphling, I get really vivid dreams at night and Ma worries that there's something wrong me."
Something that looked suspiciously like sadness and guilt flashed across her face, but before he could try and place it, she had smoothed her face out. "I heard that can happened."
Gale remembered then that her mother was rumoured to be addicted to the stuff. "Does…does your mother suffer from dreams?" he asked.
He regretted his question as her eyes fell to the ground and she tugged at a strand of her hair as her mouth turned down.
"Yeah, she can get dreams – usually about my aunt – but she's been taking morphling for years."
"She was reaped into the Hunger Games with Haymitch Abernathy."
Wincing, he thought back to the words he'd flung at her on the last real Reaping Day. He hadn't known about her aunt, but that wasn't an excuse. He was wrong to have taken his bitterness out on her.
"I'm sorry," he said and meant it both for her aunt and his words.
"It kind of destroyed my mom and I think the morphling emphasises that. But you had, what, only one or two doses?"
"One. Mrs Everdeen didn't want to waste it on me," he said trying to make her smile.
She didn't smile though, just frowned as if that irritated her. "Oh! Wouldn't you need more after such a lashing?"
"It felt like it at the time, but Mrs E's the healer not me."
"Yeah," she said a little disapprovingly. "I guess. But your back is okay now?"
"Pretty much. I get days when it really hurts but that's probably more to do with the strain mining puts on it than anything else."
Her hand hesitantly came out and rested on his forearm. "It was wrong what happened to you. It's wrong what Thread is doing here in the district. It shouldn't be like this," she said.
Then, as if she'd realised just what she'd said, she quickly withdrew her hand and looked around her as if worried that someone else might have overheard.
He stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. He'd assumed that she didn't mind what happened here in the district. After all, she had a more comfortable life than anyone else here, but her words proved otherwise.
After that, Gale continued to seek her out. He wasn't sure why, but it was impossible to stay away. He would join her every afternoon in the meadow and they would talk until the school got out and the meadow was overrun with kids seeking to run off their classroom fidgets.
He continued to open up to her, too, which, from her point of view, was probably strange. However, he knew her now, felt comfortable with her, even if she only thought they were speaking for the first time. They even spoke about the situation with Katniss, which he hadn't been able to do with anyone else. She gave him things to think about and it made him wish he'd spoken to her about this before.
Then one day, Madge flipped the script on him.
"Miss Rickitts isn't really sick," she said, gazing at where her hands pulled up individual strands of grass. He wondered if her playing piano meant she found it hard to keep her hands still because she was always fiddling with something.
"No, I just had to get away. I couldn't be there anymore."
Gale studied her and, for the first time, noticed how heavy her eyes looked. There were pale purple smudges under each one, too, as if she was having trouble sleeping.
"Why not?" he asked curiously. Madge Undersee didn't skip school – she was one of the few who took it seriously.
Her eyes lifted to his then and she stared at him anxiously. "I have a bad feeling, Gale, I've had since they took Katniss and Peeta away without letting us say goodbye. It sits in my stomach as heavy as a stone and I can't shake it."
"You think they won't make it back?" he asked.
"I know they aren't coming back, but it's more than that. President Snow will want to make an example. It isn't enough just killing Katniss and Peeta. He needs to do more than that and it scares me."
Gale's heart pounded in his chest at her words. Was there a way he could tell her what was happening and she would believe him?
"You think he might take out the district?"
Her cheeks paled at his words, before she plastered on a fake smile and shook her head. "That would be silly, right? He's not going to take out a whole district again."
"Yeah, that would be silly," he echoed quietly.
Except that was precisely what President Snow would do.
The next day, Madge didn't say anything, but Gale noticed that her eyes were heavy and that her hands trembled as she picked flowers and tore the petals off. How had he not noticed this about her before?
He didn't try and get her to open up, though. He knew that her feeling was right but what was he to do? Come straight out and tell her that District 12 was going to be bombed and that she wouldn't make it out alive? Even if he wanted to, he didn't know how to tell her that.
So, they had a really superficial conversation and he returned home a lot earlier that day that usual. It actually ached to be around her when he knew she was going to die.
Despite how much he wanted to stay away, he found it impossible and continued to meet out with her at the meadow to instigate conversation. However, his heart grew heavier and heavier each time she failed to make it out into the woods after the bombing.
Gale had thought Madge had lost the ability to shock him. She had turned his assumptions about her on their head, but now he knew that she was smart and funny and thoughtful rather than just shy and quiet. However, she had more surprises in store for him as he found out.
"Would you take me to the slag heap?" Madge asked almost inaudibly.
"The slag heap?!" he exclaimed incredulously, turning his head so fast to look at her that he got a crick in the neck. She was obviously trying to appear as nonchalant as possible, but she was nervous. He could see in the way that her eyes couldn't quite meet his, and how her fingers shredded a buttercup.
He wished he could have played his reaction a little cooler, but instead he all but shouted, "What? No!"
She recoiled away from him and held shaking hands up to her cheeks that were now bright red. "Of course you don't want to take me," she muttered, and he was pretty sure that he wasn't meant to hear her before she said louder with a fake brightness, "Sorry. That was really inappropriate. Please accept my apology, Gale."
She continued to refuse to look at him as she unsteadily got to her feet and said, "I've got to go. Maybe see you around."
"Wait!" he called, jumping up and grabbing her wrist before she could disappear across the grass and back into Town. "It's not that I don't want to go with you, Madge, but why?"
"It doesn't matter," she said, trying to shake her wrist out of his hand.
"No," he said, stubbornly clinging on to her. "You can't just ask that and then run away. I want to know why you'd want me of all people to take you there."
For the first time since she'd propositioned him, she met his gaze and he could read the intense embarrassment in their depths. "It's just…I've never been kissed," she rushed out before she shook her head. "Wait, no, I have been kissed, but it was for a dare and it was gross and I…I just wanted to be kissed properly."
Involuntarily, his eyes dropped to her lips, which were full and inviting. Now, he couldn't stop wondering what it would be like to kiss them, but he didn't want to kiss her at the slag heap, which was sordid and not somewhere he wanted to kiss her for the first – only – time.
Gale stepped closer to her, his hand leaving her wrist to slide around waist and she gasped as he pulled her against him.
"What…what are you doing?" she asked, stumbling over her words.
"I want to kiss you, too," he said honestly. "But not at the slag heap. Do you not want me to?"
"No! I mean, yes, but-" she trailed off and looked adorably confused, but he noticed how her breath hitched in anticipation and her pupils were dilated.
He bent his head then and brushed his lips slowly and softly against hers until she released a breathy sigh. Her arms came up to twine around his neck and she melted against him, her mouth softening and opening slightly against increasing the pressure of his lips.
Then, as if a switch had been hit, all of sudden it was hot and heavy. His tongue licked into her mouth and she made a sound that went straight to his groin. Gale gathered her close to him, his hands wandering down her back and over her hips to grab her ass. Madge's breathy moans had him hitching her up against him and she squirmed, as if trying to get even closer. He tumbled her back onto the grass, coming to rest in between her thighs and tried his hardest not to grind into her.
They lost themselves in heated kisses and searching hands until the unmistakeable sound of kids approaching had Gale lifting his head. Madge lay below him her lips swollen from his kisses and he struggled not to just ignore the oncoming crowds and keep kissing her.
Pushing himself off her, he pulled her up and attempted to straighten her hair a little bit. His was probably wrecked, too, so he attempted to pat it down. He couldn't help but smirk at her dazed expression.
"So, hopefully that wasn't gross," he teased and she reached out a fist and punched him in the arm.
"Now I know why all the girls speak about you."
"It wasn't like that with them," he said and when she shot him a sceptical look he added, "It was nice, but that was pretty spectacular."
Her cheeks stained with colour and she gave him a shy smile. "I wasn't terrible then. I worried that I was an awful kisser after my last experience."
Gale laughed. "Nope, I will happily give you a reference."
The next day, Gale leaned down and dropped a light kiss on Madge's lips as he greeted her. It took him a moment to realise why she pushed him away so violently and screeched, "What the hell, Gale Hawthorne!"
She was gone in a huff of righteous anger before he could even apologise and he threw a stone angrily across the grass at how stupid he was. Of course, she hadn't remembered their kisses. He was the only one stuck in this crappy time loop. He could kiss her every afternoon and he would be the only one who'd know.
Hopelessness overtook him and he avoided the meadow and Madge for a while.
However, Gale couldn't stay away for long. He was intrigued by her and knew that he was in deeper than anyone should be with a girl who died every single time. So, he went back to the meadow, back to starting a conversation with her. Sometimes, he would make a move and they would end up kissing for ages until the arrival of others would force them apart. It was pleasurable torture knowing that only he remembered those moments.
He tried to watch Katniss in the Games and remind himself that he was in love with her, but it was no use. At some point, he had stopped thinking about Katniss and fallen for Madge instead.
Yet, it gave him no joy because he was in love with a girl living on borrowed time. Even if he ever got out of this time loop, it wasn't as if Madge would be any more feasible. She would be dead – killed by Capitol bombs.
He started trying to work out ways he could get her out. He studied the way the bombs fell and who exactly had made it from Town. One memorable night, he had directed his family to the meadow and then dashed into Town to see if he could get her out. He didn't make it far, the bombs fell thickly and with no mercy. He was flattened before he had even made it across the square.
So decided to just tell her. If it didn't work out then she would never remember anyway.
"I'm stuck in a time loop," he said, as they sat in the meadow.
She turned to him with an adorably confused expression. "What?"
"I'm stuck in a time loop. I've relived this day so many times now that I've lost count."
She rolled her eyes and said, "Sure, Gale."
"No, really. Did you know that we've made out at least twenty times?"
She stuck her tongue out at him. "If you're trying to get me to kiss you then I'm not sure this approach will really work."
Gale laughed at that. Her humour had been his favourite discovery of her personality. Initially she came across as so shy and quiet that when she revealed her humour for the first time it had taken him aback. However, because he was so comfortable with her from the beginning, outright apologising for being so mean over the years, she showed this side of her more and more quickly each time.
"No, it's true! I'm not just saying that because I want to kiss you – although I do, by the way, I always want to kiss you. Our kisses are hot."
Madge blushed at that and he wrapped a casual arm around her waist, pulling her into him until her head rested on his shoulder. "See, we fit each other perfectly."
"Yes, this is concrete proof that we kiss unbelievably well."
"I would prove my point, but I'm trying to bare my soul here."
"Sorry, please do go on about this time loop," she said sarcastically.
"I can prove that to you, too," he said, resting his head on hers and proceeded to tell her things that she'd revealed to him over the countless times he'd sat with her on this day and talked.
She pulled out from under his chin and stared at him in shock. "You really are telling the truth."
"Told you," he said smugly.
"But how is that even possible?"
Gale shrugged. "I don't know. I've tried reliving the day the same way, I've tried changing certain things, I've even tried not getting out when the bombs begin to fall?"
He swore to himself. He hadn't meant to let that drop just yet, but it was too late. "Yeah, your gut feeling about President Snow is right. He does plan on taking us out."
"How do you know about that?"
"You told me."
"We're bombed today?"
"Yeah," he said sadly and then he looked at her. "Listen, Madge, I'm going to tell you something and you have to try and not freak out."
She nodded at him, but her eyes were wide and her breathing was uneven and jerky.
"Not many people make it out-" he trailed off, hesitant to tell her the next part but knowing that he had to if he was going to convince her to stay with him. "You don't make it out."
He tried to break it to her as easily as he could, but how do you tell someone that in a few hours' time they'll be dead? She took it about as well as anybody – which was to say not well at all, but her panic attack finally abated and he took her face between his hands and said, "Stay with me tonight. Don't go back into Town, Madge, stay with me and I'll get you out."
Temptation flashed across her face and he thought for one moment that she would accept, but then she shook her head.
"How can I leave my parents to die? How can I leave Rose and Myrtle?"
"Try and get them to leave the house early then. Suggest a walk in the meadow. Just please get out of your house by nine tonight, Madge. I've tried to make it to you, but I died."
She stared at him with round eyes. "You've come for me?"
"Of course I have. I love you, Madge, and I know this must be freaking you out, but I've spent hours and hours with you and I love you."
Surging forward, she pressed her lips against his and they kissed frantically, panic tinging their movements.
However, for the first time since he had gotten to know her, he had hope that she would be in the woods later. That she would have made it out for the first time.
That night, he combed the survivors desperately for her, but she wasn't there. Even with knowledge of what was going to happen, she didn't make it out. His heart broke then and he cried with disappointment on his mother's shoulder.
Gale sunk into depression for a week or two after that. He couldn't bear to see Madge, to interact with her and fall even more in love with her only to know that she wouldn't make it anyway. So he skunked on the fringes of the meadow, watching her from afar. He wasn't sure if it was any less torturous than actually talking to her.
His siblings found him one evening and Rory laughed at him and called him creepy.
However, Posy, using the logic that only a four year old could have, looked at him and said, "She's pretty. Is she your girlfriend? Why have you never brought her home for dinner?"
Gale stared down at his little sister for a long moment before he smiled at her and said, "That's a really good plan, Pose. I should invite her for dinner one night."
For the first time in a long time, he smiled and laughed with his family that night. He could live with the time loop a little more easily if he managed to get Madge out every time.
The next day, Gale was back by her side, talking with her. He had missed hearing her voice and listening to her opinions even more than he thought possible. Even though they often repeated conversations, he found them interesting every time. He wondered how he could have ever thought she was insipid and dull, and he cursed himself for failing to see beyond her exterior and spending more time with her earlier, when he wasn't stuck in a stupid time loop and both of them could remember their interactions.
"Hey, did Katniss ever invite you back to hers for dinner? You know, before she moved up to her fancy new digs?" he asked casually, his arm slung around her shoulders as she leaned against him and his lips pleasantly tingling from where they'd been lazily kissing.
"No," she replied.
"So you've never experience a Seam meal?"
"Is it much different to a meal elsewhere?" she asked.
"If the food I've had at Katniss' mansion is anything to go by, then yes! C'mon, Madge, live a little. Come and slum it in the Seam with me."
She smiled at him and rolled her eyes. "You make it sound so appealing, Hawthorne."
"Is that a yes?"
"Ugh, you drive a hard bargain! Let me go home and ask my dad if it's okay."
"No!" he said quickly. He wasn't letting Madge out of his sight tonight. She was not even going to be allowed to travel back into Town for a moment. "You probably won't find my place if you go home and come back."
"How hard could it be?"
"You haven't spent much time in the Seam have you?"
She shook her head and he nodded. "Yeah, it's going to be impossible for you."
The pout that she gave him was so adorable that he couldn't do anything other than kiss her. It had the added benefit of silencing any more objections she had to coming back with him straight away.
Hazelle's eyebrows rose when Gale came home with Madge in tow.
"Ma, I brought a friend home for dinner," he said casually, ignoring how Rory and Vick snickered.
However, his mother was all smiles, welcoming Madge into her home and asking after her parents. The anxiousness that he'd felt from Madge dissipated somewhat at Hazelle's friendly demeanour and soon she was ensconced on the sofa answering the questions that Posy fired at her.
"A friend?" Hazelle asked him quietly as she stirred the stew on the hob.
He made a face at her, which had her patting his shoulder. "Don't worry, I approve, even if her father probably won't. It's good to see you not moping over Katniss."
It was strange to think that for his mother, he was still in love with Katniss. It had been so long since he'd felt that way about her, but, of course, it was only a long time for him. No one else was stuck in this time loop.
To make sure Madge didn't go home straight away after food, Gale subtly manipulated Posy into calling for a snakes and ladders competition. It was one of his little sister's favourite past-times, mainly because she was demon with the dice and nearly always threw the correct number to go up a ladder.
Hawthorne snakes and ladders competitions were a time consuming thing as they were all fiercely competitive and would demand rematches at the slightest suspicion of foul play – which was normal in the household that included Rory so by the time the first bomb fell, Madge was still with the Hawthornes.
Everyone stopped and stared as the first bomb dropped and boomed across the district.
"What was that?" Madge asked, terrified and shaking as Posy screamed in fright.
"Get out!" Gale ordered. "Get out! We need to head for the meadow!"
In the many times he'd relived this moment, he had become competent at ushering his family out to the clearing in record time before he sped up to the Victors' Village to grab the Everdeens. He knew exactly where the bombs fell first and how long he had before they began to hit the Seam.
Tonight however, he had Madge with him for the first time. She screamed and strained against his arms as she tried to run back into Town to her parents.
"Madge," he said patiently as she hit out at him and begged him to let her go. "You can't go back there. You won't make it if you try to get to your house."
"But my parents," she cried, tears streaming down her face. "I need to get to my parents."
He held her close, wrapping his arms tightly around her as she sobbed into his chest. Guilt lurked around the edges of his relief that he had managed to save her this time. Was he wrong to have done so? Was it cruel to expect her to carry on when the rest of her family died?
The fight had gone out of her by the time they made it to the meadow. He consigned Madge into his mother's care, while making sure Rory knew not to let her leave, as he went to get the Everdeens. He worried the whole way up to the Victor's Village that she had somehow run back into Town and would die anyway, but she was still there when he returned, silent and white faced as she sat listlessly next to Hazelle.
Gale kept an eye on her as he supervised the cutting of the fence and ushered the survivors through and towards the lake. Madge was the first person he had managed to save – out of everyone he had tried to warn, he had finally managed to add to the original survivors even if it was only by one.
He held her close as the grey light of early dawn filtered over the silent and scared people of District 12. This was the moment where he was always unable to keep his eyes open and would wake once more in his bed in the Seam.
However, this time as bright sunshine played across his face, his eyes open to the green canopy of trees above him and the murmurs of people too afraid to speak louder than a whisper. He sat up abruptly, shock causing his heartbeat to spike.
A whimper from his side made him look down, Madge was curled up close to him, her face grubby and stained from ash and tears. His mother lay on the other side, Posy and the boys tucked up close to her. He grinned as he realised it was another day. Time had actually moved forward.
His eyes fell on Madge again. She was the one difference to every other night he had relived over and over again. Had she been the reason he was stuck in the time loop? Had he been stopped from moving forward until he worked out a way to save her? His mind rebelled at the prospect, but he couldn't think of any other reason why the time loop had ended right now.
Bending down, he brushed a soft kiss across her forehead, keen not to wake her up and scare her with his actions. She had gone through enough trauma last night and he did not wish to add to her worries. She was going to need support and care, which he could give her. He had wanted nothing more than to get a proper chance with her and he now had that opportunity.
Standing up, Gale looked out over the huddles of people; a few were up and about, washing in the lake or poking around the closest trees and bushes, but most slumbered or sat unstaring before them. There were a lot of damaged people out there. While he'd had plenty of time to get used to what the Capitol had done to his home, for the others around him this was all devastatingly new.
The enormity of the task facing him hit him. He was also the only one here with the experience of being out in the woods. Somehow, he had to find a way for the eight hundred remnants of District 12 to survive out here.