AN: TV Trope of the Day…the hospital scene. I present an unlikely scenario. ;) This is a scene that I wrote for my current WIP And So We Run Redux. However, it doesn't fit with the ever-evolving plot. So, here it stands as a one-shot.
Madge/Gale. Ye be warned.
ETA! The first Madge/Gale artwork ever! The commission, based on this story, was done for me by the lovely apricotteacup over at DA. Check it out! http://apricotteacup(dot)deviantart(dot)com/art/First-EVER-Commish-157706855
Love was a Fire Escape
So far, my life in this new place has consisted of a series of orders, mostly basic: where to sleep; when to eat; how to fill the long hours from one indistinguishable day to the next. I spoke with Katniss on the hovercraft like Haymitch told me to. That was a few days ago. When I delivered my message, I left feeling shaken yet resolved. I will always have her friendship, I know that, but the rest of her belongs to Peeta.
Whether she knows it or not.
I knew it the moment on the screen when he dropped the pearl into her hand, when she accepted his gift, that I'd lost her. Or maybe that I'd never had her.
The realization feels like a wound. I deal with it like I would any other kind of injury. Bind it up and try to ignore the pain. My natural inclination is to move forward. To survive. And love…it's real or it isn't. There are some things that cannot be pantomimed or manipulated by the Capitol, and I know that she's made her choice. It's time for me to make my own.
While I'm figuring out what choice that will be, I let others make them for me. My mother has sent me to have my wounds checked over again (and maybe to get me out of her hair). Mrs. E. could do it, but all her supplies burned along with our district. So, I check in at the front desk. It takes me five minutes so sign my name with my left hand. The nurse wouldn't settle for a simple GH.
I wait for an hour on a hard bench inside the infirmary with other men and women in varying degrees of illness or injury. The sharp smells of disinfectant and bodily fluids singe the inside of my nose. The room is a constant stirring of bodies moving between the beds; rising from the beds; lying down on the beds; shuffling in and out of doorways. My skin begins to crawl with the press of people in constant motion.
I long for a quiet few hours in a deserted wood somewhere. Huh. Natural light wouldn't hurt, either.
That won't happen in this underground metropolis. Glorified sewer. Whatever.
I pass the time by staring at the blank white walls and row upon row of filled beds. Occasionally, my mind wanders to thinking about what lies ahead, before a young woman approaches the waiting area. Everyone looks up expectantly, hoping their wait is over. I guess my number is up because she stops in front of me. She's dressed in a simple smock, the color of homespun. It takes me a moment to recognize her dressed up like this.
"G. Hawthor…oh!" she says in a quiet voice, surprised to see me, I guess.
I am more than a little surprised, myself, to see her working, let alone working in an infirmary. I haven't seen Madge since our last night in District 12 when I dragged her from her home at my mother's request.
I didn't know they were acquainted.
I still need to get to the bottom of that.
In fact, I agreed only because Rory came with me to collect the Everdeens from the Victor's Village while my mother raced to the fence with the kids. Rory helped lead the Everdeens around the blazing district while I looped back through the town to the mayor's house. It's a matter of course that they'd live on opposite sides of town.
Anyway, Madge dropped off my radar as soon as we reached the fence at the end of the Meadow. The survivors massed there waiting for the fire to destroy the generator powering the fence. After that, everyone took to the woods and it was every man for himself.
"I didn't know you were a healer," I say, looking around. Surely there must be someone else coming? A man with some sort of rubber thing hanging around his neck walks by and I try to catch his eye. He walks past, obviously busy.
"Hello, Gale," she replies in a neutral tone. "I'm not. Please come with me."
Madge turns on her heel, not waiting for me to get up off the bench. I follow her through the bed rows feeling disoriented – which is becoming a familiar sensation. She walks quickly, and her shoulders look so stiff that I wonder if she's as uncomfortable as I am. Her long hair is tied back in a braid and I take to watching it sway back and forth like a gold pendulum, fixating on it instead of the myriad patients surrounding us.
Still, I am confused by her presence here. I think Katniss mentioned that she plays the piano. Other than that, I don't know anything about her. What's she's good at...what she does in her spare time. I'm fairly certain that setting arms and stitching gashes in people's skin wasn't part of her upbringing. And then a beautiful thought pops into my mind. Perhaps Madge is taking me to a healer. That must be it: she busses patients. Of course. As the mayor's daughter she must know all about hospitality and whatever. This idea brings me comfort and I relax.
She winds her way through the rows and we're nearly to the very back of the large room. I'm starting to wonder if she's going to escort me out the back exit when she stops by a small set of white screen partitions with a privacy curtain pulled open. Within, the exam table has stirrups and, again, I'm confused.
"Have a seat," she tells me, stepping out of the way.
"Um…how?" I hesitate, vaguely familiar with this contraption, and have a certain feeling that it has nothing to do with men.
Her cheeks flush. "Oh…sorry. This was the only open table left. Just sit on the edge."
I seat myself awkwardly, my long legs spilling over the edge. I avoid the stirrups. They make me uncomfortable.
When I've gotten as comfortable as I possibly can, ripping and crinkling the annoying white paper covering the table into shredded oblivion, I look up expecting her to announce her departure. But Madge doesn't leave; in fact, she begins shooting a long list of personal questions at me and writing my answers down on a clipboard. It's my turn to blush.
Madge looks up after jotting down the last of her notes and smiles. "I'll be back in a moment."
Before she turns away I grab her elbow with my good hand. "A doctor will be coming soon, right?"
She looks uncertain. "Well…they're all tied up at the moment. We're caring for many refugees." Her eyes look a little damp and I shift on the table, feeling completely out of my element. A lot of folks are in bad shape. And a lot of folks didn't make it out at all. Like her parents.
Her chest rises as she takes a deep breath. "Actually, I'll be taking care of you this morning."
This is disturbing news and I feel my stomach cramp. At least in District 12 I had Mrs. Everdeen – even if everything else about home was horrible, at least they didn't leave a body with a novice. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" I ask nervously.
She gives me a wan smile. "Not really."
Madge takes a look at the expression on my face and laughs. "Don't worry. The nurses showed me what to do. Besides, they only send me the minor cases."
"So, I already know you'll be fine."
I shrug, then stifle a groan when I accidentally jostle my right arm. "If you say so," I reply through gritted teeth.
"Careful," she murmurs before she leaves.
Going back to my last thought about choices, these are my options…fight, flight, or submission to potential torture and further bodily harm. I can't see that fighting Madge Undersee would be very valiant on my part. Flight is not my natural response to adversity. Submission to potential torture and further bodily harm seems to be my only course, at the moment.
The bright spot in all of this is that if she manages to make things worse, somehow causes my skin to fall off or the bones in my right arm to grow in the wrong direction, then real medical personnel will have to rescue me from her clutches.
The trick will be to get them to rescue me before the damage becomes excessive. I scan the room for a closet to lock her in.
Before I can formulate a plan, Madge is back with some jars of topical cream; dressings; a brown bottle; a pile of gauze; and a basin of water balanced on a tray with wheels.
While she sorts out her workspace I'm thinking of something to say. As much as I would prefer she didn't treat me, I guess she's still someone from home. I stifle the part of myself that is naturally surly. If I'm going to shut her in a closet, I may as well act politely beforehand.
"So." I clear my throat. "Do you enjoy working here?"
Madge looks up and I can tell that she's surprised that I am initiating conversation. "Um…yes?"
Well, I am.
"I like having something useful to do." Her voice grows quiet as she fixates on organizing the already neat pile of gauze. "It gives me something else to think about."
Besides District 12, besides her family, I add secretly. I know what she means.
"You'll need to take your shirt off," she tells me, trying to sound confident and professional, though her voice wavers toward the end.
Brilliant. I'll need help with that, but I don't want to ask for it. Madge must know that, too. What with a broken arm practically dangling in front of her. We both sit in silence while she waits for me to ask.
"Do you mind?" I finally say.
She blinks. "Mind what?"
I grit my teeth. "I can't pull my shirt over my head."
"Oh," she says, all innocent and wide-eyed. "You want help?"
Dammit, why can't she make this easier for me? "Yes," I grouse.
Madge helps me remove the canvas sling tied around my neck. I grapple with the back of my shirt with my left hand, but then her own cool hands brush my sides as she grabs the hem and pulls it up, gently maneuvering the fabric over my injured arm.
I am marveling over her gentleness with my arm when Madge does something so completely foul that if I wasn't cramped between the stirrups I would have jumped on her.
She had the nerve to throw my only shirt away.
Right in front of me.
"What the hell are you doing?" I shout. "That's my shirt!"
She looks at me with surprise, her nose wrinkling like I'm the one acting like a fool.
Her arms fold over her chest. "I know it's your shirt, because it looks exactly like every other mining shirt you wore before we fled from District 12. Judging by the smell you haven't washed it once since then. It's filthy and you're going to be on your way to a first rate infection soon. In fact, I'm surprised you aren't prostrate with disease, yet."
My nostrils flare. "I'll wash it," I say as I start to get up, but her small hand braces against my good shoulder.
"Sit down, Gale," she orders in a stern voice that rivals my mother's. To my consternation I'm actually obeying, seeing as I tower over her by nearly a foot. And if it wasn't for the fact that I'm burned and broken, could easily toss her over my shoulder. "We'll find you a clean one later," she adds.
I should have locked her up while I still had a shirt on. "I don't see what's wrong with the old one—"
Another attendant in an off-white smock peeks around the screen. His eyes swivel between us. "Everything all right here, Miss Undersee?"
He looks at me with disapproval written all over his pinched face. I sneer at him and feel pleased when he takes a step back. Lousy guttersnipe.
"Yes, thank you," Madge replies in a clipped tone.
The attendant nods, although he doesn't look like he believes her, and we're left alone again.
Madge's eyebrow quirks up as she returns her attention to me, challenging me to continue ranting. I slump back and she takes that as a sign of surrender. I bite back the urge to tell her that it's only temporary while she steps over to a small sink and rolls up the sleeves of her smock. As she begins to wash her hands I notice a track of fine, red bumps that start a little above her wrists, spreading upward toward her elbows. They disappear into her smock and I wonder how far the rash has spread along her body.
"What's that from?" I ask, gesturing toward her arm.
She glances down at herself. "From the woods. Don't worry. It's not contagious now that the oil's washed off."
From the woods? Don't tell me she fell asleep in a patch of poison oak. Is she that clueless about wild plants? She must be.
"You don't recognize poison oak?" I ask with an edge of disapproval in my voice.
"Of course, I do. I'm not an idiot," she snaps. "Katniss showed me once. I rolled in it on purpose."
"Explain to me how that isn't idiotic?"
Madge doesn't explain. Her face closes off and there's a hunted look in her eyes, so I back down.
As she dries her hands with a towel, she says, "Actually, that's how I started working here. The people in charge of organizing the refugees brought me to the infirmary right away and I haven't really left."
She shrugs. "I don't really know what else to do with myself."
Suddenly, I'm feeling something for Madge that I've never experienced before: Pity. She doesn't have anyone looking after her or waiting for her. I know Katniss told me once that she thought Madge was kind of lonely, but I barely listened, like I usually do when she starts talking about the merchant crowd. It's hard to ignore now when I see it written so plainly across her face.
Madge returns to my side. "Now, try to hold still while I remove the dressings. They might stick around the wounded skin, and I'll try to be careful. Ready?"
She leans close as she slowly peels the soiled bandages away. It hurts, so I try to distract myself by observing her. The rope of golden hair has slipped over her shoulder while she works. She's close enough that I can recognize the smell of verbena on her skin. Funny. Her eyes are deep blue like verbena, too. They stand out in contrast to her fair skin, which is healthy and lucent the way I imagine the luster of a pearl might look. And I've never noticed how freckles lightly dust her nose and cheekbones.
Another distraction would be a good idea. I check to see how the healing has progressed on my arm. The blisters have started to go down, but the skin is still red, shiny and raw. It's odd to see my bicep and forearm with the hair singed off.
"Oh, Gale," she breathes as she inspects the damage. "I'm so sorry."
I don't reply.
Madge brings the basin with cool water. She begins to dab at the tender flesh with moistened gauze. It doesn't feel so bad, definitely not like it did when doctors first cleaned my burns the day we were picked up by the hovercraft. The pain had been constant and almost beyond anything I'd felt before. Almost.
Inches of raw, fetid-smelling flesh covered my arm and chest, caused when part of the Justice Building fell over the place where Madge and I were running. I managed to block her and the fiery debris fell on me, breaking my arm and singeing my skin.
I'm still thinking about this when she picks up the brown bottle and dabs a clear liquid onto a fresh square of gauze. The smell of it clears my sinuses. When it makes contact with my skin it stings so badly that I jump out of my seat with a yelp and almost fall over a stirrup.
Madge jumps and drops the gauze.
"You might have warned me," I snarl, pulling my damaged arm out of her reach with my good one. "That hurt."
She retrieves the gauze she dropped on the floor and throws it out in a nearby bin. Then she faces me with her hands on her hips. "I didn't think that after all you've been through a little disinfectant would make you scream," she chides.
I scowl. "I didn't scream."
She cocks an eyebrow. "No?"
"Just get it over with," I hiss, and scoot back on the table.
"Yes, sir," she mumbles.
And now I grit my teeth and watch her every move. I know exactly when another round of disinfectant is administered and brace myself. She finishes my arm and moves to clean my chest. Even though I still flinch, it's barely noticeable.
"Sorry," she murmurs. The skin between her eyebrows creases as she concentrates on not hurting me. And again I am surprised when Madge blows gently over the wound like my mother used to do for us when she disinfected our cuts and scrapes.
It burns for a second. Then it feels good.
Still. I'm a very happy man when I see her put the brown bottle away. She opens a jar of burn ointment and begins to apply it to my arm. The duel sensation of cool cream and fingers on my arm, gliding gently over the burns, is both painful and soothing at the same time.
"Lucky for you everything seems to be healing nicely with no sign of infection," she tells me. "You need to bathe the burned areas at least once a day with soap and lukewarm water. I'll send you home with some clean dressings that you can apply yourself. It's important to keep the wound from being exposed to the air too long. Otherwise, I don't think you'll need to come in again unless you stop wearing clean garments and infection does set in."
I have no idea if that is true, but I choose to believe her and ignore the slight on my hygiene.
"Do you think you can manage that?" Madge asks.
"I would do if all my clothing hadn't burned up or gotten thrown away," I reply with verve. "Not much laundry these days." I reach out and finger the soft sleeve of her smock. "Maybe I could borrow one of these?"
She blinks at me like she's trying to decide if I'm serious. "There's no need for sarcasm, Mr. Hawthorne," she mutters eventually.
Now she's moving on to the burn on my chest. She begins to apply the medicine with her fingers in slow, even strokes, careful of the damaged flesh. I'm holding my breath and don't realize it until I start to feel a little dizzy. I release it slowly through my nose and she looks up. Our eyes are almost level and for a moment neither of us speaks or looks away.
Madge blinks once slowly. She does that so often. "Am I hurting you?"
The noise in the room seems to fade as I concentrate on her lips, which are just shy of close to mine. "No."
I can hear her swallow, but she does not move and neither do I.
Somewhere in the infirmary a tray clatters on the floor and the infirmary buzzes back to life around us. She blinks again and looks down. I see her take a deep breath and begin to work again. "Let me know if it becomes painful."
All I can do is nod.
My face comes next. She leans in closer, her hip brushing against my knees. I'm clutching the edge of the table with my left hand, stabilizing myself against the close proximity of her body. She's a little bit shorter than Katniss and her body curves in all the right places.
Since she hasn't been starving her whole life, I tell myself, which hardly merits approval.
Still. A guy could get used to it…having something to hold onto.
Stop. She's from town. She's from town. She's from town.
Except there is no town or District 12. And neither of us has anything. So, we're pretty equal.
Although, I am down a shirt and she has a brand new smock.
I wonder where she got a hold of verbena-scented soap.
Madge is concentrating on her work, oblivious to my train of thought. "The burn on your face isn't so bad. Eventually the dead skin will peel away without leaving a scar. Like a sunburn."
Great, I think, since I don't have enough scars.
Then Madge is treating the reddened skin on my back and neck. Like my face, it's only slightly damaged from the being so close to the fires. Unlike my arm and chest which actually caught on fire.
Because I had to drag her kicking and screaming through the inferno of market square since she refused to leave her parents to die. If she'd come willingly then we probably would have made it out before the Justice Building collapsed and the debris hit me. This thought sobers me more than a bucket of ice water could do, but to my amazement, there isn't any venom in it.
Nothing would have induced me to leave my family behind. Ever. I'm just bigger and stronger than she is.
My body tenses as she comes around to work on my back. I've avoided letting anyone see the scars Thread gave me, except for the times Mrs. Everdeen checks on how the skin is healing. Madge's light fingers barely brush the ugly ridges and I begin to relax. She uses a different jar with a gentler medicine. It's a transparent green gel and has a cool, wholesome scent. Aloe?
"I'm sorry about these, too," Madge whispers. She means the scars. I can't see her face but the pity in her voice is easy to recognize. I don't like it.
"I can't," she mumbles, and there's a shiver in her voice. "It one of the worst things I've ever seen done to a person. In real life."
"You were there?" I gasp, taken aback. "You watched it?"
Her breath is warm on my back as she sighs. "I stayed until Katniss came."
Hmm. I don't like it – the idea that Madge witnessed my back being torn to shreds. Not because of my pride, for once, but because I hate the thought that her innocence has been tarnished by human cruelty. I doubt she's experienced half of what I have. Maybe I resent that she's grown up sheltered and privileged, but when it comes down to it, I guess I'd prefer that for her – or anyone – in comparison to the harsh conditions I was raised under.
And then I think about what her privileged life has actually given her. Nothing, really. It didn't save her parents, or keep her safe from the machinations of the Capitol. I think of the half-healed rash on her arm and I know it didn't help her in the woods and whatever it is that she isn't telling me.
She leaves for a moment to dispose of the foul bandages and collect fresh ones. When she comes back, I watch her neatly binds the wounds with new dressings.
"A doctor will come take a look at your arm soon and make sure the bone is healing correctly." She smiles. "I'm sure that will be a relief to you."
Before she turns to leave I clumsily take her hand with my left one. "Thank you," I say.
"You're welcome, Gale," she replies.
I am oddly pleased to see her smile at me again and the words simply come. "What do you do when your shift is over?"
She mouth drops open a little and she doesn't even blink. "Um…I usually find something to eat and then go sleep in the back."
That's all? It's odd how different are lives are, mine so full of people I care about and Madge's so…well…lacking in human companionship. The words are out of my mouth before I really think things through.
"Come eat with my family tonight."
We're both taken aback and I have to school my features to hide my look of surprise.
She shifts uncomfortably, like she doesn't know if my invitation is genuine. I guess I can't blame her. We're not exactly friends and I've been kind of caustic toward her in the past.
"I'll come back and get you…if you like."
Madge nods and her lips turn up softly. "I would like that."
AN: Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this ficlet. Some of the things that I vaguely alluded to in this fic, like Hazelle's relationship to Madge and the history behind Madge's rash, etc. will be fully explained in And So We Run Redux.