A/N: So here's my take on the whole Madge/Gale relationship. I thought it high time Gale learned to be a bit more romantic, and that's how this story was inspired. It's kind of meant as one big inside joke for Medea Smyke, so if Gale seems a bit too petulant and whiny, that might explain it. It's not set in the same universe as her stories, but in a universe that is might close to it. Her universe is better, so check it out!
Hope you enjoy.
Peeta Mellark Ruined My Life
Strawberry Fields For-never
I watch Madge hug Katniss and Peeta as I rock back on my heels and dig my hands into my pockets. It's early spring and the sun's already gone down, so there's some bite to the air. It's refreshing after being cooped up in the Mellark abode for the past two hours.
"Thanks for having us over. We'll return the favor as soon as we get more settled into the new house," Madge says.
"Sounds like a plan," Peeta says as he wraps his arm around Katniss's shoulder. He's always so touchy-feely with her, and while Katniss never struck me as that type, it doesn't seem to bother her. Takes all kinds, I guess.
"See you soon," Katniss says.
As fascinating as watching my breath condense in the cold spring air is, I probably should contribute to this conversation. "Bye." There. Time to go.
The girls share one of their long-suffering smiles before the door is closed, and Madge and I make our way home. It's about a two mile trek through a forest that's barely held back to accommodate this main thoroughfare. If you can call it that. More like a dirt path. Still, I like it. Not many people have settled here yet, and there's plenty of wide open space. It's a welcome change, especially after living in a one room house with my family and then the underground bunkers of District 13. I have all the room in the world to just…be.
We're a few yards out when Madge accidentally bumps into me. "It's cold," she says.
A few weeks ago, maybe. But the snow's already melted. This? Downright balmy if you ask me. "Just rub your hands together. You'll feel better in no time."
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Madge using her hands to vigorously rub her arms. "Thanks."
"So, tonight was…fun." Madge is good at reading my sarcasm, but if she missed it, the snort I'm barely able to contain should clue her in.
She's stopped rubbing her arms and is now shaking her head. "To hear you talk about it, you'd think you'd undergone torture. We had a nice dinner, and you got to relax a little and catch up with Katniss."
"I like Peeta. What's wrong with Peeta?
There's nothing wrong with Peeta, and that's the problem. It'd be so much easier to get along with him if there was something about him to dislike. And, of course, with his missing leg and all that time spent being tortured by the Capitol, it makes me look like a jerk for feeling this way.
There is no way I'm going to win this, so I grumble back, "Nothing. Peeta's perfect."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were jealous."
I stop in my tracks. "Jealous of Mellark? No way."
"Well, he did end up with Katniss."
Is she joking? Yeah, I liked Katniss, maybe even loved her in my own immature eighteen-year old way. But that was years ago. I have Madge now, and there is no confusion about whether or not I love her.
She hooks her hand into the crux of my elbow and starts tugging me along. "I was just kidding. I never would have married you if I thought you weren't over her."
"Lucky thing I came to my senses, huh?"
"Got that right, but I had other options lined up just in case," she says. From the quirk of her mouth, I can tell she's trying to tease me. I don't like this joke. "Ha, ha, very funny, Mrs. Hawthorne."
I scowl down at her, but she's oblivious as she chews on her lower lip. "Well, really it was more like one option."
That's news to me. "I thought I was your first boyfriend."
"Then how was there another option besides me?"
"I worked in a restaurant. Sometimes I'd get asked out. It wasn't a big deal."
Is she nuts? "He could have been a psychopath."
Madge rolls her eyes. "Hardly. They were all very nice guys."
The hell? When did it switch to the plural? "Guys?"
Madge looks away guiltily. As she should. Clearing her throat, she says, "There were a few, but I only went on multiple dates with one."
"Who?" I demand. There's a fluttering above my head, and I look up to see some birds taking flight from the nearest tree.
Madge blinks, then laughs, and the sound goes out over the empty space, filling it.
"The freak with the green hair?"
"And the lip ring," she says with a sigh.
"You didn't kiss him or anything, did you?"
She doesn't say anything for a few seconds, but that's answer enough. I feel like someone's kicked me in the gut. "Madge?"
"I don't see what the big deal is. It was like one kiss. Four at the most."
At least she has the decency to blush, though for all I know, it could be because of the chill that seems to have settled in my lungs and made it impossible to breathe.
"What does it matter, Gale? It's not like I was your first kiss either."
True, but I had known Katniss for four years before I kissed her, and all I got was one kiss. Madge knew that…thing for four months. Twelve at most, since I asked her on a date after we'd been down in District 13 for about a year. In any case, my time-to-kiss ratio is much higher than hers ever was.
I must be walking faster, because Madge is tugging on my arm, trying to slow me down.
"Don't be mad."
"I'm not mad."
"Then why aren't you looking at me?"
I glance over to the side, see her big, blue eyes watching me. "If it makes you feel better, you have no reason to be jealous of Quintus."
Hmph. I'll be the judge of that. "Why not?"
Madge gets on her tiptoes, and since she's still a bit too short, I lean down to rest of the way so I can hear her whisper, "You're a much better kisser."
While I still don't like the idea of my wife's tongue in that sieve of a mouth, clearly no lasting damage was done. She's happily married to me, after all. And there's no way Madge could ever have settled down with Metal Mouth. She's way too good for him.
Madge is looking up at me now, her lips slightly parted in a smile. If that's not an invitation, I don't know what is. Leaning down, I cover her mouth with mine. Probably a bit too roughly if her tiny squeak is an indication, but she gets over it quickly. Her hands go straight to my hair, pulling me down so much I feel like I'm bent at the waist even though that would be impossible. I'll add this to my list of benefits of living in Thirteen Above. Madge would never have planted one on me like this in public back in the bunkers. Here, there's no one around, so public pretty much is private.
Eventually, her hands move to my face, and the shock of the cold makes me pull back. "Your hands are freezing."
Little puffs of air escape our mouths, intermingling in the few inches between our faces. "Told you I was cold," she says.
Guess it's my job to warm her up. Pretty soon I have her backed up against a tree, though I'm careful not to press too hard. The roughness would probably scratch her through her clothes, and she's got sensitive skin. Eventually I give up and swap places with her. My back's so messed up anyway, this won't make any difference. But bark digging into my skin isn't really my primary focus. Eradicating the Capitol tool and his lip ring from Madge's memory, though, is. But even that goal gets fuzzy after a while. In contrast, everything about Madge becomes sharper. The faint smell of verbena that clings to her skin, her fingers playing songs down the lengths of my arms, the sounds she makes when I thread my fingers through her hair, even the way she tastes.
When she pulls back, I almost groan, though I knew this would happen. Madge stumbles forward into my chest, gasping. I can feel the warmth of her breath through the fabric of my sweater. "We still have a mile before we're home."
I'm already leaning down again, but she puts a hand up between our faces. "Gale, it's really cold." She pulls up one of her sleeves. "See, I have goose bumps."
I gave those to her, not the cold. But I don't point this out. As I breathe in more oxygen, it occurs to me that the more I argue, the longer it will take to get home. If I thought Madge would let me, I'd run with her in my arms the entire way home.
I start walking toward our cabin, but she makes me stop so she can straighten her sweater. When she starts in on mine, I groan. "There's no one out here. It doesn't matter what we look like." She ignores me and wastes even more time by fixing my hair.
"There. All better."
"We're just going to mess it up later."
Madge smacks my hands away and we begin what I know will be the longest mile walk I will ever take in my life. "Now, what were we talking about again?" she asks.
"How I'm the best kisser in the world."
"Right. About Quintus, I just want you to know that he really wasn't my type."
The anger's gone, but it's been replaced with curiosity. "Then why'd you date him?"
"Well, you were in love with Katniss. I knew the thing with Quintus wasn't really going to go anywhere—"
I snort. "How could it?"
She ignores me. "I just wanted something to distract me from all the stuff that had happened back home, and while I wouldn't want to settle down with Quintus, he is a nice guy."
Those first few months in 13 are ones I'd rather forget. And I had all my family there with me. I'd hate to think what it was like for Madge. "I forgive you," I say, somehow managing a smile. But it goes completely unnoticed, because she's chewing on her lip again.
"What is it?" I ask.
"Promise not to get mad."
That conversation opener never foretells good things. "Madge…"
"I kind of forgot that there was someone else."
"Great. Another Capitol clown?"
"Actually, he was from the Seam."
For some reason, that makes it worse. "Who?"
Madge tries to take my hand, but I'm not having it. "It never got to be anything serious, just a few dates," she says, slightly flustered. Good.
I keep walking in silence, and Madge chases after me, throwing up her hands when she's caught up. "Gale, you don't need to be jealous."
"I'm not jealous."
"Now, you're lying."
Alright, maybe I am jealous, but who wouldn't be in my position?
"Did you kiss him too?" I ask.
I'd punch a tree, but don't want to break my hand. I learned that lesson the hard way.
"Tell me who it is," I say.
Madge ducks her head, as if hiding behind her hair will make this any better. "Cole Phillips," she says quietly.
The name is vaguely familiar. What's also becoming familiar? Red hot hatred for every man Madge has kissed that isn't me. I can barely speak, but somehow manage to say, "And why'd you stop dating him? Moved on to some other guy?"
"You could say that."
Hell's teeth. Is there anyone she hasn't dated?
Madge smacks me lightly on the arm. "It was you, silly. You asked me out on a date, and that was why I ended things with Cole."
That should be comforting but it's not. "And if I hadn't asked you out?"
Madge shrugs. "But you did."
"And if I hadn't?"
Madge expels a big huff, disturbing the yellow strands of hair around her face. "I don't know."
"Did you like him?"
She's chewing her bottom lip again. "He was alright," she mumbles.
My left eyebrow starts crawling up my forehead. "Just alright?"
"I think I liked spending time with him because he reminded me of home. It was nice having someone to talk to."
"If it was just that, why is this the first I ever heard of him?"
"He got upset with me after I told him I wanted to see someone else. And then I was too busy being with you to really think about him. Sometimes I feel kind of bad for hurting him, though."
My jaw starts to hurt, and I have to force myself to unclench it.
"I don't mean that I regret my decision," she blurts out. "It's just…he was such a good guy, I wish I didn't have to disappoint him."
"Neither do I, really. But there were so few people who made it out of Twelve, and he really was a great guy. Honestly, he is a lot like you. That's probably why I was so attracted to him in the first place."
Flattery does not work with me. "You are not helping your case."
"I chose you, didn't I?"
"You said he was a great guy. How great?"
She opens her mouth to speak, but quickly closes it. Then she says, "Maybe we shouldn't talk about this anymore."
"Cat's already out of the bag," I say through gritted teeth.
"Gale, obviously he's really not important if I forgot about him until now."
"I can handle it."
"Fine, but you don't get to be angry about this."
"Fine." I ball the hand that isn't holding Madge's into a fist, preparing myself for the worst.
"He'd drop by unexpectedly at work with my favorite candy or flowers. Things like that." Madge pauses, then continues, "One time, he even found me piano music. Of course, without a piano it didn't do me much good, but it was a really thoughtful gesture…I hope he managed to find someone else."
Sounds like a stalker and a schmuck. And piano music for a non-existent piano? What a complete waste of money. Glad I had nothing to worry about. The weight from my chest is immediately lifted. "Surprised he didn't write you a little love poem like Lover Boy did for Katniss."
Madge looks over, her eyes scolding. "You know you weren't supposed to see that."
"Kind of hard not to when it's left out in the kitchen."
Madge lets go of my hand. "And you didn't have to call attention to it either by reading it out loud."
Yes, I did, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The sheepish look on Mellark's face was priceless. Just thinking about it again makes me laugh. "Oh, come on, Madge. He's so incredibly whipped over her, it's ridiculous. Admit it, it was funny."
But Madge doesn't admit it. All she does is frown and point out, "Katniss didn't think so."
"Can you blame her? I'd be embarrassed if Mellark wrote something like that for me too."
"I think it was sweet."
"So sweet I got a toothache."
"And Katniss wasn't embarrassed because he wrote it. Just that you saw something that was meant to be private and then teased them both about it." Madge follows this up by poking me in the chest. Perhaps she's trying to bully me into behaving, but it's about as effective as a pup yipping at my heels. It's more cute than intimidating, and I'm tempted to pat her on the head. I know it's wrong, but I like making her angry. Her cheeks flush, her eyes flash, and she purses her lips. It's hot, and doesn't really give me an incentive to make peace with her.
I try to find the perfect amount of condescension when I let her know, "Katniss and I were best friends for years, so believe me when I say she isn't the type of girl to like that kind of thing. Mellark would have been better off giving her a set of arrows. Even a dead squirrel would be more useful than that flowery ditty about her hair and eyes."
Madge doesn't look convinced. "You might have been best friends with her, but I'm a girl."
"So?!" She takes a second to breathe in deeply, and when she starts speaking again, it's really slow, like she's talking to a small child. "This may come as a surprise to you, but every once in a while a girl likes to be romanced, to feel appreciated. And Katniss is my best friend now, so you can believe me when I tell you that she likes that kind of thing."
"Do you honestly believe that if Mellark came to our place and found a poem like that, he wouldn't tease us about it?"
"I really couldn't say."
"You know he would."
"Does it really matter? It's not like Peeta would find anything in the first place, since you've never done anything like that for me."
"And don't expect me to either," I say, still laughing at how Peeta compared Katniss's eyes to a pre-dawn mist he loved being lost in.
"I won't. Trust me."
Something about the way Madge said that seems a bit off. I look over at her to find her with her arms folded across her chest. Maybe I went a bit far, but she can't really be upset with me for making fun of Mellark, can she? I mean, he and I will never be best friends, but I do li—tolerate him. I just tolerate making fun of him more.
Whatever it is, I'll make it up to her very soon. Right now, in fact.
We're at the door of our home, and I open it, ushering her inside and towards the bedroom. Kicking off my boots and changing into my pajamas, I wait while Madge gets ready for bed. She's taking forever.
As soon as she's on the mattress, I reach over for her, but she's reaching for the lights, and then we're shrouded in darkness.
Well, I suppose having the lights off won't affect things too much.
I stare at her back for a second, then tug gently on one of the curls lying against her neck. "Madge?"
She flips over on her other side so I can see her face. "Yeah?"
I bring my fingers up to her face, running my thumb along her cheek. Her eyes drift shut, though they briefly flicker open when my hand drops to her collarbone. I knew she couldn't stay angry with me for long.
My lips are twisted into a smirk, but it quickly turns into a frown at the next words that come out of her mouth. "Not tonight, Gale. I'm tired."
She leans over and gives me a quick peck on the cheek, then settles down in her usual spot, head resting on my shoulder, feet tucked under my legs. "G'night."
What just happened here?!
Just like under the tree, all my senses are full of her. Even with her in my arms, I want her closer. For a few minutes, I stare up at the ceiling as I calm down. It takes a while, but once I've finally accepted that nothing is going to happen tonight, I try to make sense of things. The first and most obvious feeling is one of frustration. Great and terrible frustration. Then the confusion sets in. She certainly didn't seem tired under the tree, and no more than thirty minutes has passed since then. And she's never been too tired before. I've even woken her up before to…you know, and she happily obliged every time.
Why wouldn't she want to be with me? I cup my hand over my mouth and exhale. No, my breath is fine. Showered today, followed my same hygiene habits. There isn't anything different about me. At least physically.
Did I do something wrong? I go over everything that happened after she had me pushed up against the tree. She was fine during the discussion of the green-haired pin cushion. When we talked about Cole the Schmuck she seemed more upset with herself than anything. I do remember her getting angry when we talked about Peeta's ode to Katniss. But that only seemed like annoyance. It wasn't until I told her not to expect anything like that from me that she turned to ice.
That's…interesting. Does she want me to do something like that? I never took Madge for the sappy type. But what was that she said earlier? Every once in a while a girl likes to be romanced, to be appreciated.
Well, I hate to break it to her, but I'm no poet. Any thoughts I have about her that sound even remotely flowery I keep to myself. I'm a lumberjack, not a decorator of cakes and cookies. I wasn't cut out for that kind of thing.
Madge buries herself deeper into my side, and I look down at her. Some moonlight shines through the window, causing her hair to sparkle like a waterfall of sunshine and daffodils. I shake my head, cringing. Definitely not a poet.
I guess I'm just not that great at expressing what I'm feeling. After all, what is the point of it? Talking about your feelings doesn't put dinner on the table or protect you from having your name drawn at the reaping. But I'm not battling starvation or the threat of the Games anymore. There's plenty of food here, and my family is safe in their cabin on the other side of the settlement. Well, my mom, brothers and sister are. Madge is here, with me.
Thinking back, I did talk about my feelings some. Certainly griped enough to Katniss about my hate for the Capitol. But I've come to see that I treated Katniss more like a hunter, a comrade. Which is not at all how I treat Madge. Madge is different. She's my wife, not a fellow soldier in arms.
Huh? Maybe it's that same way with Mellark. To him, Katniss is more than a soldier, and who knows how Katniss views him? He's certainly not a hunter, but that doesn't seem to bother her any. I guess he fills some other kind of role in her life, which might explain why she likes the love poems. And why Madge might want some poems from me?
And since I don't give her poems, does that mean she doesn't think I appreciate her? The thought makes my stomach twist with guilt. I love her more than anything or any person, and if that isn't clear to her…Well, I'll make it clear. I'm not going to have her regret choosing me over Quintus McFarlane and Cole Phillips.
Only problem is, like I told Madge, I don't do poetry. And certainly not if Mellark's done it first. I can do better than that. Just got to find a way of expressing what I feel for her in my own manly way.
There's a slight tickling on my chest as Madge bunches her hand in the cotton of my shirt. The room is so quiet, I can hear her murmur my name in her sleep.
I place a kiss on Madge's forehead and close my eyes. I'll come up with an idea to show her how much I care, and you better believe it will blow anything Quintus McFarlane, Cole Phillips, and Peeta Mellark ever did to bits.
To Be Continued