As soon as Madina opens her eyes, they immediately squeeze shut again. She can feel the warmth from the lights beating down on her and the softness of fabric pressed up against her skin. Her first thought is to wonder where she is, but she doesn't even need to open her eyes again to take a guess. The arena. The bodies. The blood. She didn't think she would actually wake up ever again.
"Good morning. How are you feeling?" a cheerful voice asks. Madina squints her eyes open to see a young woman standing in the doorway dressed in a white coat. She smiles at Madina, but her eyes look cautious. Madina notices that her foot is barely over the threshold into the room.
Madina looks down at the tubes running every which way over her body. She doesn't understand what any of them do, but suddenly she wants to rip every single one off of her. She sits up slightly but her head spins with the effort, sending her back against the soft sheets. Even that tiny movement makes her muscles ache, particularly across her abdomen.
She remembers the blood coming from the wound on her stomach, but the white gown is spotless. Madina presses her hand gently against the area and winces in pain. She begins to lift up the fabric to inspect the wound when the same cheery voice stops her.
"The dressings are still there, so you won't be able to see," she says. "Your injuries were quite extensive, and it's only been a week. It'll take another month before they're fully healed."
"A week?" Madina asks softly. She's been in this strange place for a week but she can't remember a moment of it. What did they do to her?
"I'm afraid so," the woman says with a weak smile. "Good news, though. We let everyone know you'd be awake today. There's someone here to visit you."
Madina is about to ask who it is when she sees Aubin walk up behind the doctor. Her entire body tenses and she sits up straight, despite the throbbing in her head telling her to lie back down. She can feel her cheeks flush with anger at the sight of her mentor. The only person who she should have been able to trust, but who sat back and expected her to die.
"Get him out," Madina says through gritted teeth. The young doctor looks immediately confused, glancing back at Aubin with a questioning look. Aubin raises an eyebrow but keeps the same smile on his face. The same stupid smile that he used in the Capitol. Madina wants nothing more than to rip it off his face.
"I said get him out!" Madina screams. She tears her arm away from the bedrail, ignoring the pain that shoots up her arm.
"Madina, darling," Aubin begins but she doesn't even wait to let him finish. All of the betrayal came rushing back the second she saw his face, and Madina wants nothing to do with him. He deserves to die, just like he was ready to let her die.
"Get out!" She shrieks, tears slipping down her cheeks. Madina moves to get up and the room spins around her. She can feel a pull at her wrist and she yanks one of the tubes loose. Sharp pain rips up her arm and blood sprays the floor around her, but that doesn't stop her. She wants to reach Aubin. She wants to kill him for what he did to her.
The doctor pushes Aubin away from the door, calling down the hallway for someone to help her. Madina collapses to the ground a few feet from her, so dizzy that she throws up on the cool tile beneath her. Blood pools around her wrist until a strong hand presses more bandages to the wound. She can hear shouting around her, but none of the voices feel real as she slips again into unconsciousness. The next time Madina wakes up, her arms are handcuffed to her bed and Aubin is nowhere to be found.
They told her that she's been in the hospital for a month and a half now. She is just starting to feel the pain of her healing wounds slip away along with the on and off fevers she's been subjected to. When Madina lifts up her gown she can barely see the light scar running across her abdomen. The ones on her neck and arm have already disappeared. The four white walls of her hospital room are all she's seen since she first woke up here. Madina wonders if she will ever leave.
"Knock, knock." Madina looks up to the door to see Warren waiting for her. They never brought Aubin back to see her after the first time, but they thought she should still have someone while she's here. He said that he was the mentor of another district, though he refuses to tell her which one. It took two weeks of daily meetings before she could even begin to trust him, but he hasn't lied to her yet. Madina can almost bring herself to like the older man and has little intention to hurt him, but the staff isn't taking any chances. Her right wrist remains handcuffed to her bed 'for her safety'.
Warren takes a seat beside her, not worrying about getting to close like the rest of her visitors. Even the doctors seem unwilling to touch Madina except when necessary. They act as though she's fragile yet explosive at the same time. Perhaps she is. The woman who comes to talk with her about her emotional state is even worse. She's the one barring Madina from leaving the hospital. Madina overheard her telling another staff member that she was a 'loose cannon' and unprepared for life outside the hospital. Madina isn't confident that the doctor is wrong about that.
"How are you feeling today?" Warren asks. As usual, he waits patiently for her answer. Madina has had to hear this question almost hourly for her entire stay at the hospital. Madina doesn't see a point in lying to Warren, even if she knows he'll likely tell the doctors what she says.
"Tired," she says finally. "I don't want to stay anymore."
"Understandable, Madina," Warren nods. "The psychiatrist says you've been doing well on the new medication she prescribed. How do you like it?"
"It makes me tired," Madina says simply. The doctor told her that the new pills would calm her, allow her to think past the memories of the arena, and live in the present. The memories aren't as venomous, but they haven't gone away either. She can still feel the bitter wind of the arena when the window's open and hear cannon fire when there is no one around. It feels like her mind is operating more slowly than it ever has but she doesn't feel as angry anymore. She can remind herself that the staff coming to check on her are not going to kill her, even if it takes a while sometimes.
"And the nightmares?" Warren asks with a sad smile.
"Never ending," Madina says softly. "They're not going to go away, are they?"
"You've been through a lot," Warren reminds her. "They'll get better with time."
"Are the others better?" Madina asks.
"The other Victors?"
"I've never met one," Warren admits and Madina is immediately disappointed. She can't explain the new way that her brain seems to operate, considering every new change a threat and every new person another tribute to be eliminated. Even a month later she still sometimes reaches for the gun that used to sit at her hip, even knowing that it's no longer there. Realistically, Madina knows that she isn't in danger here but that doesn't seem to matter. She still finds herself planning an escape when her eyes open in the morning and she still wakes up out of breath thinking she's still in the arena.
"They're going to send you home in two weeks if everything keeps going well," Warren tells her, reaching a hand up to rest on the side of her bed.
Madina tries to smile, but she can't force her lips to move. "I wouldn't say I'm doing well."
"It's all relative," Warren says, nodding sympathetically. "You need to be kind to yourself and let your mind heal. It takes longer than the body, unfortunately."
"I know," she says flatly, looking past Warren to stare out her small window. It's not real, of course, as she's been allowed to change the scene whenever she pleases. Right now it's set as the view from her school back in District 8 with factories blocking most of the sky. She wonders why she isn't more homesick than she is. When she first arrived in the Capitol, District 8 was all she could think about, but she's hardly given her homecoming a second thought since leaving the arena. Still, it's nice to know that she will be back there soon even if she no longer feels like the same person that left all those months ago.
Madina glances back at the Peacekeeper as she follows her off the train. It was one of the conditions of her discharge that someone would stay with her for at least a month in District 8. She has proven herself stable enough to return home with medication, even if Madina isn't certain that's true. She stands uncertainly on the platform for a few moments before her family runs over to her. Madina stiffens as they approach, their arms spread open and ready to envelop her in a hug. Her smile is unsure and her heart races in her chest as they get closer, but Madina is glad to see them again.
Her father wraps her in a hug, pulling her head to his shoulder without a word. Madina straightens for a moment before sinking into the embrace, resting her cheek on his shirt as tears leak down his face. He smells familiar, a bit like laundry detergent and a lot like grease. Madina didn't realize how much she had missed that scent.
"Thank you," he tells her when Madina finally pulls away. "For coming back to us."
Madina swallows hard, only nodding solemnly in response. The lump in her throat won't allow any words to pass, and even if it did she wouldn't know what to say to him. Ever since she'd woken up in the hospital, she's gone back and forth between wishing she'd never won and being grateful to still be alive. It all feels selfish now. He's clearly missed her.
"Madina," her older brother, Tyler, greets her with a tight hug. Madina doesn't know what to do with her hands, whether she should wrap them around him or not. In the end, she leaves them at her sides as Tyler squeezes her even tighter. It feels awkward but comforting. Madina didn't think she would ever see him again either. "I knew you could do it."
Madina wants to correct him, to tell him that no one ever believed she was going to make it out of the arena. On the final night in the Capitol, Madina had even found herself doubting that she could stay alive. Instead she just leans harder into her brother, feeling the roughness of his shirt as it brushes against her cheek. Her brother's wife, Cara, is next and gives Madina a quick hug. She's the only one who seems as lost in what to do as Madina does. Cara gives her a small smile, but Madina can't bring herself to even try to imitate it. As she stares at the three of them standing in front of her, Madina no longer feels like she belongs. As much as she loves them, too much has changed. She doesn't know how to talk to them again and she isn't sure she's even ready to try.
Madina's father nods at the Peacekeeper behind her as they set off for the family home. District 8 looks exactly as it did when she left, though more people in the streets stop to wave at her as she passes. Madina stares straight ahead, concentrating on putting one step in front of the other. For how uncomfortable she now feels here, she may as well be in a foreign country. How long will it take before this place feels like home again? Madina worries that it never will.
Four months after returning to District 8, Madina waits for the train to pick her up and whisk her away once again. Her family wanted to see her off, but Madina left early in the morning without waking them up. She didn't want to say goodbye again, even knowing that she would be returning in a couple of weeks. Madina would rather say nothing and wait alone for the Capitol train to arrive.
Madina remembers watching the Victory Tours of the previous Hunger Games, every one except the very first. The day that the Victors would arrive in District 8, Madina would again put on her reaping dress and gather in the square with the rest of the district people. She remembers the speeches they would give about the dead tributes and the fancy clothing they would wear as they stood on stage. Today, Madina begins her own Victor Tour in districts 12 and 11, yet even knowing what to expect doesn't make this easier.
Warren stands in front of Madina as Diogo, her stylist, gently weaves various gels through her curls. The dress she wears is lovely, but Madina feels like her body is covered in mud instead of soft fabric. She will be going into the districts to remind the people there of the lives they lost six months ago. Madina does not think she deserves to feel beautiful, so she doesn't.
"Everything you need to say will come up on the teleprompt," Warren reminds her. "You don't have to look at anyone, in fact try not to. It'll be over fast, I promise."
"Okay," Madina says softly. She's spoken to Warren weekly since she left the Capitol, another condition of her leaving the hospital. He told her all that will be expected of her during the Victory Tour. Madina has fought with him the entire time, begging him to get her out of attending, but it didn't get her anywhere. She is too tired to complain again, especially with her temporarily increased dose of medication.
As she begins her speech in District 12, Madina makes the mistake of looking out at towards crowd. Behind the teleprompt scrolling through what she's supposed to say are two large holograms of the District 12 tributes. As soon as she sees their faces, Madina bursts into tears and pulls herself away from the podium. Diogo finds her crouched behind the door to the Justice Building, sobbing into her knees so hard that she is barely able to breathe. Warren gives the remainder of her speech as she is carried back to the train. Madina can still see the District 12 girl, her hair drenched from the slush, as Milan slits her throat. She clutches her own throat, feeling the bite of metal into her skin all over again.
"I didn't know they would be there," Warren says, hugging her gently to his chest when he boards the train a while later. Madina sobs into his shirt, but he doesn't pull away. "Holograms are new this year, but now we know."
Madina gets through the next districts by forcing her eyes to only look at the teleprompt. She can see the faces biting at the edge of her vision but she tries to only focus on the words in front of her. Her heart races through each sentence, and her palms become so slippery that she cannot grip the podium in front of her, but Warren is right. They're over fast and she is back on the train again.
In District 9, Madina can't help but think of Milan throughout the speech. Her eyes flit to his hologram several times, causing a sick feeling to wash over her each time. She can still feel the warm wind blowing in her face as she waited outside the cave for him to die. Not for the first time, Madina wonders if she did the right thing by him. He suffered for hours before dying from the injuries inflicted by the bird mutt. She could have ended that for him, but she chose not to. It's still hard not to think of herself as a coward for that. She doesn't remember a word of her speech, but she gets through it.
In District 5, the speech is changed to pay tribute to Emrys, the last person that Madina killed. She chokes over each word about him, pausing often to blink back the tears that still spill over her cheeks. She wonders if his family is staring up at her as she talks about Emrys, a boy that she never got to know and didn't hesitate to kill. She wonders if they hate her. Madina knows that if it would have been Emrys standing in front of District 8 to talk about her that her family would hate him. Warren is quiet as they leave the station, giving her a silent nod to tell her that she's done well before he retires to his room to rest as they travel to District 4.
In District 3, Madina can't stop herself from looking at the two holograms hovering over the crowd. She stands in front of the tributes' home, feeling the hatred that steams from the crowd and not blaming them for a moment. She killed both of their tributes, though Madina didn't know it until after she left the arena. The girl that she shot and the boy whose bomb she set off in his face. She doesn't even know their names. When she boards the train again, she asks Warren what they were. Koda and Orienne. As soon as she hears the names, she has the immediate desire to wash them from her mind again.
In District 2, her speech talks about Airla. It felt like the right thing to do in the arena, to team up on the girl who was clearly so much more fit to win than Madina was. As she stares at her hologram, a pit of guilt opens up in her stomach. In the arena, Madina was terrified of the girl who was ranked to be Victor and maybe just a little bit jealous as well. As she reads through the speech, Madina thinks that Airla's image looks just as tired as she feels. She wonders if she did the right thing after all.
As the train pulls into District 8, Madina once again bursts into tears at the thought of facing Harland again. She doesn't know how to feel about her district partner, often going back and forth between wanting to kill him all over again and wishing he were still alive. Madina is told she can go home for the morning as preparations for the celebrations are made, but she stays on the train until the sun begins to dip in the sky and Warren comes for her.
"I don't want to see him," Madina says softly as they walk towards the district square. Warren squeezes her shoulder and gives her a sympathetic nod but says nothing. There isn't anything that he can do about the Victory Tour and she knows that.
Her speech begins, but Harland's hologram is all that Madina can look at. She misses the prompts almost as soon as they start coming, her eyes unwilling to leave his. Tears drip from her chin and Madina turns to run off stage again, but Warren catches her arm just before she enters the Justice Building.
"You have to do this," Warren tells her, his expression more serious than she's ever seen it.
"I can't," Madina sobs, covering her face with both hands. Warren pulls her arms to her sides and wipes her tears away with his thumbs. Without another word, he brings her back to the stage, squeezing her shoulder until she begins to speak again.
Four years after Madina won the 6th Hunger Games, she is summoned back to the Capitol as a mentor. The President offers her a home in a new part of District 8 along with a yearly stipend for agreeing to mentor, but Madina rips up the letter as soon as she reads it. Another shows up days later, this one printed on rubber that she is unable to tear apart. Weeks later, a moving crew comes to take her family into the newly built Victor's Village. A cheque is waiting on the desk of her new room. Madina tells everyone that she will not go back to the Capitol.
During her weekly meeting with Warren, he tells her that she must come. He knows the people that have been requesting her and the other Victors to mentor, and he is certain that they will not stop at bribery to get her agreement. He is correct, a month before Madina has been asked to leave for the Capitol a Peacekeeper squad appears on her doorstep. They tell her that they believe her brother, Tyler, to be involved in a rebel organization. The squadron leader hands her a letter, sealed with the Capitol emblem and containing another written request for her presence at the 10th Hunger Games. Madina signs the contract and they leave without Tyler, stating that there must have been a mistake in the charges.
One week after the start of the 10th Hunger Games, Madina is once again sitting on the couch of her new home. She was allowed to leave the Capitol two days after the Bloodbath, where both of District 8's tributes were killed. Madina smooths out the medical patch on the back of her neck, feeling the familiar numbness spread across her body as the medication takes effect.
"It's a shame, those two kids."
Madina turns to see her father standing at the threshold to the living room. Over the years, she has found a way to grow close to him again even though their relationship will never be the same as it was when she left. They don't hug like they used to anymore and hardly talk about what is happening with either of them. Madina knows that the months away were difficult for him, but she still isn't ready to hear about it. She has enough hardship without taking on anyone else's. Her father has learned to accept this.
"It was inevitable," Madina says flatly. The second the two tributes were reaped, Madina knew that they wouldn't make it out alive. They were both young, one thirteen and the other fifteen, not to mention that their personalities were far too mild for survival in the arena. It's easier this way so they didn't have to suffer. A quick Bloodbath death on the first day was the best either of them could hope for.
"You know," her father says carefully, stepping in and sitting on a nearby chair. "I don't like to get involved in this stuff since you know it better than I ever could, but I think no matter who was chosen you would have thought that."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't take this the wrong way," he says, pausing to consider what he is about to say." But you thought those kids were dead before you even met them."
Madina turns away from her father, signalling to him that this is the end of the conversation. He lingers a moment longer before taking a deep breath and returning to the kitchen. She can smell his cooking, but she's no longer hungry. She wants to call him back in, to tell him that he is wrong, but she knows that he isn't. Madina didn't want to get to know the tributes because she knew that in all likelihood they would be dead in a couple days. She didn't help them. She didn't give them the advice that might have been able to save their lives. She shut them out the way that Aubin did to her all those years ago, albeit for a different reason, and it worked. They're dead. Madina buries her hands in her face expecting tears to fall, but none come. It's not sadness that overwhelmes her, but disappointment.
A/N: forevergreen . blogspot . com [Epilogues are now live]
Wow look at that, an update! I know that this came a little later than probably expected, but I wanted to make sure that it turned out exactly the way that I wanted it. Epilogues are some of my favourite chapters and I felt like Madina deserved a lot of thought put in hers. She has been on quite a journey and I'm excited to continue writing her later in this SYOT series. I hope that I did her justice, Katie!
In addition to this, I have posted short epilogues for all of the fallen tributes' families/friends/etc. on the blog under the heading 'Thinking of You' (link is on my profile). They're not necessary to read, but I feel like it's important to write them. If you feel like it, check them out! Otherwise, don't worry about them.
I've enjoyed this story more than I can put into words and it's been an excellent re-introduction to FF for me. I have learned a lot and fallen in love with writing all over again in a way that I haven't felt for some time. I want to thank each and every one of you that joined me in this journey and helped to make it all worth it. This chapter marks the end of this story and I hope that everyone loved it as much as I did.
I guess this is goodbye to For Evergreen!