To MoonNRoses (Mooney) on the occasion of her wedding.

Wishing you and your husband lots of love and happiness.

Cheers, MS.


Dustland Fairytale

Sometimes you close your eyes and see the place where you used to live when you were young. – The Killers


Friday, April 30th

Year 76, Capitol Reckoning

Hanna helps me finish zipping up in the back. Blessedly, the dress still fits, although our elderly housekeeper finished a few alterations to the hem last week. I'd hate to use one of the rental dresses, even if Hazelle washed it a hundred times for every bride who ever wore it. Gross. I lovingly smooth my hands over diaphanous white fabric and enjoy the way it feels against my skin.

"Oh, what happened there?" Hanna asks, coming around to the front.

She points out a broken thread and a run on the bodice where a pin once had been. I tore the dress two years ago when I pulled the broach out to give to Katniss. I felt rather rushed at the time and didn't care much whether I damaged the fabric or not. Now I wish I'd paid a little more attention.

"I don't suppose we can fix it?" I ask, trying not to cringe on my wedding day.

"Never you mind. I doubt your betrothed will notice a loose thread here and there, too preoccupied with your pretty face, I'll warrant. But I do have an idea. Just you wait." She leaves me alone in my bedroom and I hear her padding down the stairs. A mild case of nerves keeps me from waiting peacefully. I comb my hair again and powder my nose, then check my dress shoes for scuffs. There should probably be some or my new husband will tease me for looking pristine.

When Hanna returns she holds a small bundle of cornflower blue fabric. "This ought to do nicely. And it goes with the song…lavender blue, dilly dilly, lavender green…" Hanna sings snatches of the traditional wedding song as she pins the chiffon flower to my bodice, hiding the puncture and broken threads. "There now. Let's have a look at you."

I'm nervous to look at myself in the large oval mirror beside the dresser, but I take a deep breath and step toward the stand. First I look at the hem starting just below my knees and slowly trail my eyes upward to the matching sash cinched around my waist, then higher to the crossover bodice and the cap sleeves barely resting on my shoulders. I chose not to wear any jewelry. Through the window, light streams in, catching on dust motes. The beams catch on my dress too, making it shimmer. It's an old thing I've had in my closet, but it sure is pretty. I turn a little to the left and to the right to see how it looks from the back.

In the mirror I catch the sight of my father before he raps lightly on the door with his knuckles.

His brows knit together sadly. "You look just like your mother. She wore her hair loose like that on our wedding day." He tries to hide the way his lips quiver. He doesn't have to though. It wouldn't be right if we didn't feel even a little sad about Mother on my wedding day. He coughs. "Your young man is here."

Father was instructed to keep watch, mostly to keep him from pacing in his office. I know he's happy for me, but it's bittersweet. He won't have anybody else in the house after I'm married. I push down the feeling of guilt, reminding myself that my father is a grown man and can look out for himself if he feels lonely. And I'll visit him often.

I take another deep breath and realize how shaky I am. Father offers me his arm. "Do you have everything you need?"

"Everything's in the bag downstairs." That is, everything I'll need for tonight. The rest of my belongings and my hope chest will follow tomorrow.

"Good. I've sent a hired boy ahead to the Justice Building for the key to your new home," he tells me. "He'll collect your tokens and have them delivered to the house before you arrive."

"You already know which house they assigned us?" I ask with surprise as we reach the landing.

Father stops and puts his hands on my shoulders. "I'm the mayor, you know. I have a few privileges." He winks at me. "Shall we?"

Hanna follows us down the stairs and I hear her sniffle. Suddenly I'm overcome with shyness as we descend and fight the urge to shrink behind my father. Why, though? Maybe because we're under closer scrutiny today and it makes me feel self-conscious.

Or maybe because my life is about to change and Gale and I are entering a new stage of our relationship, becoming people we've never been before. A husband and a wife.

Gale's back faces us. He's studying a portrait of my family from when I was four or five. He's wearing his best clothes, which Hazelle took special care to wash and press – I know because she described the process to me in great detail. It's a little strange seeing him dressed in the starched blue cotton shirt and grey corduroy trousers with the hems patched up. His hunting boots are brushed but stained, at least. I'm glad that they look worn and dirty, because it's familiar. It's Gale.

A step creaks, giving us away. Gale turns on his heels and catches my eye. His hair is combed and his face freshly shaven. He looks so clean and groomed, that I realize the dear boy's been holding out on me. In one of his hands, he carries a bunch of wildflowers from the Meadow. That's just his way. While I've been fussing over my hair and clothes, he's been out in the woods and stopped by the Meadow for buttercups.

Gale clears his throat but seems at a loss for words.

I give him a shy smile. "Hello."

"Hey," he breathes, handing me the bouquet. His eyes haven't blinked once.

"Well, don't let me get in the way," Father says. He gives me a tight hug, then shakes Gale's hand. "I'll see you two afterwards. I'm very happy for you both."

Gale nods once. "Thank you, sir."

Hanna adjusts Gale's collar and smoothes out the fabric on his shoulders, then leaves without a word to go sniffle in the kitchen.

Gale purses his lips. "My mom did the same thing before I left," he muses. "Huh. I've never had my clothes straightened out so often in my life."

"Just women being women," Father tells him with a jovial smile. "I'm going to hide in my office till it's time for the toasting."

Father heads up the stairs to his study. When the door closes, Gale pulls me against his chest and the awkwardness vanishes. "Pretty dress," he growls in my ear, before kissing the sensitive skin beneath it.

I laugh into his shirt, wondering if he realizes it's the same dress every time. "You've always thought so."

Gale narrows his eyes suspiciously. "Have I seen this one before?"

"Many times," I intone.

"Thought I recognized it." He laughs sheepishly.

I pat his cheek. "Sure you did."

We hear a creak on the landing and look up. My father has a look on his face like are you two still here? He makes a shooing gesture with his hand, mouthing, "Go!" He disappears again.

Gale grins. "Ready to get hitched, Miss Undersee?" he asks.

"I've been ready," I say, trying to loosen his hold on me. Hanna's flower looks a little worse for wear.

"Oops, flower got smashed." He scratches his head. "Guess I got carried away."

I give him a quick kiss on the lips. "The ones you brought me are beautiful. Thank you."

Gale can't quite hide how pleased he is with himself as he ushers me out the door.

It's not a long walk to the Justice Building. We follow the cracked sidewalk out of the officials' circle to the town square. Before we know it, we're climbing the steps into the dusty foyer. Gale steers me through a rickety door with a placard reading District Clerk.

Unlike the room where they send tributes after the reaping, this room has no plush carpet or overstuffed couches. Creaking wood floor, broken plaster, a day calendar with yesterday's date. A coal burning stove commands the center of the office and a roll top desk sits under a filmy window with a sad geranium wilting in a chipped pot. Gale rings the bell, which rests on top of a messy pile of papers.

It takes a few rings before a Peacekeeper sporting an all too familiar crop of ginger hair saunters through the doorway. I know him a little, though I don't usually associate with Peacekeepers. But the man frequents the Hob, where Gale is a regular.

"You got an appointment?" He stops and looks us over. "Oh, it's you two. Ten minutes behind schedule. All right, before we can proceed I'll need to collect the fee."

Gale shoots him a look. He clears his throat. "I already delivered the fee this morning, remember?"

Darius picks something out of his teeth then smacks his lips. "Oh, that's right."

"But…you aren't the clerk," I say. And I would know. "Where's Rufus?"

"Clerk's home in bed with a stomach bug and Old Cray's got a hangover. I'm taking over duties today." He crosses the room toward the desk. "Well, let's proceed. I need full names, parents' names, and your former abode." Darius ticks off each item with his fingers, then after he seats himself behind the desk he smiles at me. "And you are?"

"Margaret Undersee of No. 1 Official's Circle," I tell him with a crisp tone. "Parents: Henry Undersee and Marigold Donner."

He turns to Gale. "And you?"

Gale rolls his eyes, quickly losing his sense of humor. "You know who we are."

"Just following standard procedure, so play along, Sonny Jim." Darius folds his arms behind his head and leans back in the chair. "Rufus wouldn't know you from a rat's ass."

Gale crosses his arms and exhales. "Gale Hawthorne of No. 306 in the Seam. Parents: Rhys Hawthorne and Hazelle Reed."

Darius scribbles this information down in a large leather-bound tome lying on the desk and then transfers it over to a blank marriage certificate he pulls from a file drawer in the roll top. He's nearly done writing when the pen snaps in half. "Oops." He wipes the ink off on his trousers, leaving a blue smudge across his thigh. "Oh well. Uh, now that we've got you ID'd, we can move on. State your purpose."

"We're getting married, Darius," Gale huffs. Sometimes I forget how little experience he has with government protocol, and therefore, how little patience. "You already started writing our information onto the license."

"Now, don't get fractious on me," he warns, leaning back in the chair and steepling his fingers. "Everybody's here of their own free will?"

"Yes," I answer for both of us before Gale snaps at the Peacekeeper.

"Glad to hear it. Things can get a little awkward after that question from time to time." He grins like he enjoys the district drama. "Now, Gale Hawthorne, do you take her to be your wife?"

"Yeah."

"It's I do, knucklehead." He doesn't wait for Gale to say it over. "Margaret Undersee, do you take him to be your husband? And God help you if you do."

I stifle a giggle as Gale glares at the Peacekeeper. "I d-do."

Darius grabs the document and sets it down in front of us with a heavy hand. "Well, here's the license." He rifles through a drawer, then says, "I hope you brought a pen because none of the ones here work. Then you lovebirds sign. I sign. Everybody's happy."

Gale clears his throat.

"What?" Darius asks.

Gale leans both elbows on the high back of the desk. "Aren't you going to tell us where we live?"

Darius snaps his fingers. "Oh yeah. Give me a mo'." He shuffles out of the room.

"Where'd he go?" Gale mutters. "The kid already has the keys; we just need the house number."

I rescue the marriage license from further wrinkling under Gale's elbows.

"Doesn't he have to watch us sign?" I ask, smoothing it out. It's not difficult to pick up on how little the Capitol concerns itself with domestic affairs in the districts. At least Rufus, an old man from town, would have shown more concern for protocol.

Gale looks down at me and purses his lips. "I guess this is why they invented the toasting. In case this part isn't legit."

"Oh." I bite my lip. "Did you bring a pen?"

His arched eyebrows speak volumes. When has Gale ever carried a pen? Right. My father always has a pen on him. I suppose that will be my job now.

We stand quietly, waiting, not sure what to do. Darius returns with his arms full of a rickety metal box. "Here's your standard issue television set."

"I have to lug that all the way back to the Seam?" Gale grouses as Darius sets it down by the stove.

Darius returns to the desk. "Yup. They gutted the house after the last tenant died. Old sod kicked in the screen on his."

"Gee, I wonder why," Gale mutters.

"Wouldn't want you spending time in the clink, what with all the mandatory programming coming up." Darius takes a look at the marriage license. "No sigs yet, huh?"

"We don't have a pen, Darius," I say. "Are you sure there aren't any in the whole building?"

"Believe me. I've looked." He shrugs. "We'll improvise." He takes a jagged piece of plastic from the pen and snaps it off. Then he dips it in the puddle of blue ink and makes a squiggly X in the line designated for the clerk.

Darius hands me the shard. I have to stand on my tiptoes to do the same with my signature.

"You've got to be kidding me," Gale says. "Xs? How is that legal?"

Darius shrugs. "I've written your names in the top here. Everybody will know it's your license," he says offhandedly.

"Yeah, except who has a mother named Haze Blot?" Gale grouses.

"Well, I don't know about any mothers in Twelve, but there's definitely a Haze Blot in the Capitol." Darius smiles fondly. "She used to give me manicures."

Gale rolls his eyes, but accepts the plastic. To his credit, he does try to form a G and an H. He hands the document back to Darius, which the Peacekeeper stamps with the Capitol seal and then slides into a large envelope.

"Great." Darius stands and holds out his hand for Gale to shake. "Let me be the first to congratulate you, Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne. Can I kiss the bride?"

Gale blinks. "Er…"

Darius doesn't wait for an answer before I'm tipped backward and his tongue is shoved down my throat. It's over in a blink and I'm back on my own two feet next to Gale feeling sullied and unusual. I grab his arm to steady me. And to keep him from taking a swing at Darius.

The Peacekeeper smiles and hands over the envelope with our license. He winks at me. "Rufus doesn't know what he's missing." He sighs.

I blink at him, but he just gestures toward the stove. "Don't forget your TV set. Now, if you don't mind, I'll get back to my lunch."

"Uh, Darius, where are we going?" Gale asks through gritted teeth, since he still haven't told us.

"Oh." He scratches his head. "No. 13, the Seam."

"Thanks."

Gale lifts the TV off the floor. Something rattles inside. I have a feeling we'll be back for another one soon. Gale nods his head toward the door, wanting me to go on ahead of him. Tucking the envelope under my arm and minding the flowers, I make sure the cord is wrapped securely so that he doesn't trip over it.

"You kids have fun now," Darius shouts after us.

We make it to the double doors before Darius steps out of the office and leans against the doorframe. "Oh, and Gale?"

We turn apprehensively. Gale's shoulders bunch, either from holding the heavy TV or from tension of another kind. "Yeah?" Gale grouses.

"Give her a flourish for me later." He winks.

Gale and I blush…or I do. Gale just looks flustered. I push the door open for him and we hurry down the steps as quickly as possible.

We don't say a word until we've crossed the square and started down the Seam road. Gale's mood brightens visibly now that we've left the town behind. A few people wave at us who recognize Gale and offer congratulations, though they look at me curiously. Not many merchant girls end up out here.

"Did that just happen?" Gale asks with a grin.

I laugh. "Wow. Will you kiss me and get his taste out of my mouth?"

"I'm going to kill Darius," Gale vows, but there isn't any venom in it. Gale says that in the Hob, you can't even tell that Darius is a Peacekeeper from the Capitol. It must have been the bad air in the Justice Building that had him in such rare form this afternoon.

Gale stops. "But at least that's one step out of the way." He smiles and then brushes my lips with his. It's hard to get a proper kiss with the TV between us.

"You'll have to do better than that," I tell him. "The taste is still there."

Gale half laughs, half sighs, adjusting his hold on the awkward metal box. "If I do any better we won't get to the rest of the ceremony and then your father will have me whipped," he jokes.

I shrug and follow him down the road. "Probably." Then I ask, "So, what did you pay Darius, anyway?" In Twelve, it's the groom's duty to pay the license fee. If he can't afford it, then he can't afford a wife, either.

Gale gives me a sidelong glance. "Off the record?"

"Naturally."

"Wild dog."

"So that's what I taste?" I wrinkle my nose.

"Best get used to it, Mrs. Hawthorne," he teases. "We'll be eating that a lot."

"Well," I reply. "Hopefully not after Darius chewed on it first."

"That must be it," Gale tells me, pointing at a peeling set of black numbers. He shifts the awkward, heavy box in his arms one more time and points at a nondescript shack in a row of nondescript shacks. "Not too shabby." He grins.

He means the location, since the shack is decidedly shabby. No. 13 lies near the edge of the Seam closest to town. It means a longer walk to the woods and the mines for Gale, but a shorter one for me when I want to visit my father or purchase something from the market. Not that there will be a lot of the latter for me now.

I plaster a smile on my face for Gale's sake. A crack runs down one of the front windowpanes and the window boxes have weeds growing in them. But a fledgling maple grows beside the stoop, which looks like it's been freshly swept. The swollen buds promise lots of beautiful green leaves and a healthy shade tree, which cheers me up considerably.

We're still two houses away when the weathered wooden door creaks open and Vick pokes his head outside. He calls, "There you are, Gale. Finally." He shuffles down onto the stoop. "Mom wants to know if we should start singing yet?"

"Knock your socks off," Gale calls back with false verve. This is the part we've dreaded since our engagement, neither one of us very fond of being the center of attention.

Vick gives the thumbs up to whoever is in the house, then hops off the stoop and walks up to us. "Uh, hi, Madge," he says, shyly eying my shoes. His ears and cheeks turn red. It makes his freckles stand out.

"Hi, Vick." I repress my laughter at my new brother-in-law's bashful behavior. When Rory comes out, Gale quickly passes the TV off to him.

"Oof! Thanks a lot," Rory mutters.

"We've been setting up for you," Hazelle tells us when she steps onto the stoop. She's beaming at us and I swear the countdown to grandkids flashes in her eyes. She arranged her boys in a line and makes Posy hold her hand. The seven-year-old doesn't appreciate this, but she does have a bad habit of getting underfoot. On the other side of the stoop, the Everdeens and Mellarks (the younger) line up with my father and red-eyed Hanna. Peeta nudges Katniss, since she's the gifted singer in the lot. She wrinkles her nose, but starts off the song:

"Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green,

When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen.

Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so?

'Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so…"

Gale picks me up and carries me over the threshold before they get to the second verse. "Mind your head," he teases as we pass through the doorway.

"You should mind it," I chide playfully as he sets me down. "We're not married all the way, yet."

"Empty threats." He winks. Fortunately we get inside without any mishap. "Well, this is it."

We step into the common room that serves as kitchen, parlor, workroom, and as often as not, the bathroom. Cracked walls. Dusty floors. Warped wooden counter with a basket of food for our wedding meal on it and a rusty sink. No tables or chairs yet. Through a small window over the sink, I see the back of the small property and a rickety outhouse. Any baths will happen in front of the kitchen stove. It's a lot for a merchant girl to get used to…

In the corner lies the stove, and next to it, a full bucket of coal, a dustbin, and a tarnished stand holding a shovel and poker set. Our bags are piled in the corner nearby.

We can still hear the singing through the door, but everyone files in behind us to finish the song. They stand in the back of the room while Gale and I prepare for the toasting. I lay the envelope containing our license in a cupboard for safekeeping and take a deep breath because, by rights, this is the real ceremony. A piece of paper doesn't mean much – not like the words we're about to speak to one another, which are given extra meaning by the symbols we choose to represent them.

When the song ends, Gale opens his pack, revealing his tokens. In the Capitol, they still use the ancient tradition of an exchange of rings as tokens of their vows. Out in the poorer districts, we've had to improvise. My heart stops when I see what Gale brought. He risks his life smuggling these out from their safekeep in the woods.

Gale's grey eyes lock with mine and I forget about the danger. "As a token of my vow, I bring this bow and these arrows," he says in a solemn, steady voice. "I will defend you with my life, shield you from want and from hunger." He holds the tokens out to me.

I accept the quiver and bow and carefully lay them aside. Then I retrieve my token.

I stand before Gale with a small velveteen pouch. "As a token of my vow, I bring this salt. I will keep your home, your table, and your spirit hale." He opens it, spilling out a tablespoon's worth of the contents into his hand. It's not a risky or expensive token to bring, but salt is foundational to life here and a common marriage token.

Now that we've offered tokens of our vows, it's time for the toasting. To build our first fire and break bread.

Gale shovels coals into the grate. I pass him wads of old newsprint, then the long matches used for lighting stoves and fireplaces. He strikes one against the stove and together we lower it. The kindling takes and then we drop the match.

I unwrap a small parcel resting on the stove. "Peeta made it himself this morning as a favor," I murmur to Gale. It's a loaf of fine white bread no larger than a scone. It's covered in poppy seeds.

Lots of poppy seeds.

Gale leans over my shoulder, then snorts. The fertility symbol isn't lost on him. "Mellark thinks we need help?" he whispers in my ear. I bite my lip to keep from laughing.

Together we each hold an end of the loaf and then pull it apart, but only use one piece for the actual toasting. The rest of the loaf we'll finish tonight when we're alone. Gale reaches for the skewer hanging on the stovepipe. He places the bread on it and then we hold the skewer a safe distance from the flames. Quietly, we watch the bread brown. Then he pulls it out of the oven.

"I take you for my wife," he says with a steady voice. He tears off a piece and places it on my tongue.

I chew slowly. It feels like the bread has sucked all the moisture out of my mouth, making it hard to swallow. Eventually I do, and then it's my turn.

My voice cracks as I tear a piece for Gale and place it on his tongue. "I take you for my husband."

I feel oddly formal when Gale finishes the bread, like I should shake his hand or something.

He scratches his head and we both look at everyone else. "Now what?"

"I think you'd better kiss her," Peeta chimes in.

Someone mumbles ew, but I don't find out who it was because Gale takes me in his arms and gives me a kiss that wipes away any trace of Darius and his lunch.

I make him stop when the catcalls begin.

Now that the ceremony is over, Hazelle and Mrs. Everdeen help put together the dinner. Gale and I try to rinse the blue ink from our hands. I try to gauge if I feel any different, more wifely or something. What does that feel like? If anything I feel relieved that the ceremony is over and a soft, residual glow from the promises Gale and I have made. He elbows me, breaking my reverie, and hands me a dish towel.

"Okay, Madge?" he whispers.

I kiss him. "Yes."

We eat a simple meal of stew and bread, both wedding gifts. Greasy Sae sent the stew over with Katniss as Gale is one of her favorites. Peeta and Katniss (well, mostly Peeta) supplied the bread for our toasting, for our dinner, and later our wedding cake. Everybody sits on the floor with their plates and mugs, even my father, although I can tell by the way he's eyeballing our kitchen, that he's taking measurements for a dining set. I think he'll need another reminder soon that Gale doesn't want him buying us things. It makes Gale feel like my father doubts his ability to care for me, when the truth is we just need to put a little money aside for a while.

When the food is gone and the cake eaten, Hazelle and Posy wash and dry the dishes she brought from home. My own set of dishes and silverware, which belonged to Grandma Donner, will arrive tomorrow with a few of my other belongings. Not that I plan to spend a lot of time unpacking when I can bully Gale into taking me to the woods with him. Tomorrow is Saturday, but Gale doesn't have to work again until Monday. Most weddings in Twelve happen on a Friday, because the new couple are given two paid days off to…get to know one another. It's one of the ways the local officials like to "encourage the young people" to marry. Sunday is a day off for everyone, so it makes for a nice, long weekend.

I regale everyone with the misadventure at the Justice Building this afternoon. My father pulls a pen out of his coat and makes us sign the license all over again, muttering about incompetent Capitol employees. Then our family and friends leave early, even for a work night. I guess they wanted to, uh, give us an early start.

Hazelle leaves us a basket of food for breakfast. "Lots of eggs for protein. Keep your stamina up."

Gale pinches the bridge of his nose and ushers his family out the door. He locks it behind them.

It's just us now. The mood shifts and the shyness I felt this morning returns. Gale trudges over to the sink. He waits, letting the tap run until the rusty color clears, then he tries scrubbing the ink off his hands again. We need soap…I need to start making a list. I walk over to the corner where our overnight bags still sit and realize that I haven't even seen the second room of our new home. We've been that preoccupied with the ceremony and our guests. I lift my bag from the floor, but then Gale appears at my side. His hand rests on the small of my back momentarily and then he takes the bag for me, as well as shouldering his own.

"I got these," he says.

I swallow. "Thank you."

Gale purses his lips, like he isn't quite sure what to say. "I'll just, uh, put these away then."

"Okay."

Gale lets himself into the bedroom and I wonder if I should follow or pretend to be busy with something out here. I'm not sure what he wants or how to ask him yet. Then I take a moment to consider what I want. Mope in the living room or corner him where there's a bed nearby?

I switch off the light in the kitchen and then tiptoe to the bedroom. I notice Gale on his knees, poking his nose around in the blankets and sheets. He looks up when I close the door behind me. Rory and Vick brought over a lumpy mattress, which somebody already made it up for us on the floor. We'll use it until we have the money to buy a new (er, new for us) mattress and bed frame.

"What are you looking for?" I ask.

"Nothing," he says with a shrug.

"Worried about bed bugs?" Because that's totally a possibility in the Seam, I've heard. But I keep that to myself.

"No." He sits down on the mattress. Because it's on the floor, his knees come up nearly to his chin.

I lean against the door. "Then what are you doing?"

Gale scratches the back of his head. "Uh…I'm worried about pranks," he says with some reluctance.

Pranks? "Why are you worried about that?"

"I've got two brothers," he explains. "You probably wouldn't get it." He pats an empty spot next to him.

No, probably not; but I get Rory and Vick. Those two would love a chance to pull one over on their cool and controlled older brother.

"I didn't say anything because I didn't want you to worry about it. The bed looks safe, though," he continues, like that's all that matters.

"I am vastly relieved." I smirk, coming over to stand in front of him.

Gale catches my wrist and pulls me down to sit on the mattress with him. "You should be. Itching powder in the bedspread is an awful way to start a honeymoon." His smirk wipes the smirk off of my face. "But seeing as there's nothing to worry about…"

I start to turn away but then his arms pin me to the mattress on either side of my hips. I'm forced to lean back to rest on my elbows while he bends over me. Look who cornered who.

"I think it's safe to say that we can go to bed in peace."

The sudden husky tone of his voice makes me shiver. I clear my throat. "Right. I'll just change into my nightgown then." The folds of my dress pool between my legs, which partly hang off the mattress. The wrinkles will never come out.

"What's the point?" Gale leers. He lifts one of his hands to my knee, pushing the fabric higher on my leg, then leaves a slow, lingering kiss on my lips. I reach for his shoulder, wanting to pull him closer. It's not the first time we've kissed this way, but it's the first time Gale's been able stay for more than kissing. He reclines on his elbow beside me and his lips press against my throat. Everything inside me feels attuned to what he's doing, how his hand skims over my hip and stomach, how his fingers brush over the neckline of my bodice. His kisses trail over my collarbone and the dress strap falls down my arm. My breath hitches in my throat. I want to make him do that too.

My lips find his again, parted in invitation. My hands steal beneath the hem of his shirt, feeling the way his muscles work beneath the smooth skin of his back in reaction to my touch. Feeling dissatisfied, I free my hands from his shirt and gently push him up.

I'm not sure if I should ask or not, but I decide not to bother before I yank his shirt off. I hold it in my hands for a second while we both stare at one another. Gale looks like an urchin with his hair askew. His arms are scarred and his neck and face are a little darker than his chest, otherwise his body is remarkably unscathed for a miner and a woodsman.

My dress comes next. Gale leans over me to find the zipper. Throwing the shirt away, I take the opportunity to run my fingers over his bare torso. A dusting of black hair covers his chest. I sit up higher to leave a kiss on the hollow below his throat. Gale's breath comes out in short hisses and his fingers, always so steady, fumble with the zipper pull till it snags on the fabric. I can't help grinning against his collarbone.

"What are you giggling about?" he growls. I scoot back fully onto the mattress and he snatches my ankle so I can't move farther away.

I try to look stern, but fail. "If you've broken my zipper, I'll never be able to get out of this dress."

Gale's eyes narrow with determination and with one last tug that can't be good for the seams, the zipper falls away. The second strap slides down my shoulder and the dress joins Gale's shirt on the floor.

He frowns like a disappointed schoolboy at the slip I wore underneath the dress, like he didn't expect anything else to get in his way. But he rolls me beneath him anyhow. My head falls back on the pillow and—

SQUEEEAAAK!

"Oh my…wha?" I sit up stock straight in bed, gasping for air. The room is pitch dark except for a small light plugged in near the nightstand. I look in its direction, trying to gauge my surroundings. The glow illuminates a small picture frame of Gale and I on our wedding day. He's wearing his Mockingjay dress uniform.

I collapse back on my pillow and try to calm my breathing and remember the images in my head before I woke up. Was that one of Posy's squeaker toys in my pillowcase? I duck my hand beneath the pillow and feel around for something. But I don't find anything, of course. It must have been the dream – in real life, Gale would have known to check the sheets and the pillows for pranks.

The familiar weight of Gale's arm presses over my stomach as he turns in bed.

He whispers sleepily in my ear, "What is it you were dreaming about?"

"Hmm?"

His hand strokes up and down my arm; I feel the warm metal of his wedding ring graze my skin. "You were humming in your sleep. Sounded happy."

It felt happy – it was about us. I turn in his arms, snuggling against his chest. He smiles against my hair.

"Oh," I murmur against his throat, "just a dream. We got married."

His hand stops moving. "Pretty sure we are."

"It was different." I muse over the scenes, feeling strange after seeing an alternate reality. Then I remember something from the dream. I sit and start inching Gale's nightshirt off. It's easy since he quickly decides to help. But then he gets the wrong impression and tries to remove mine, too.

"Hold on a second," I tell him.

"Why?" he groans.

I lean over him and find the lamp switch. We both flinch under the bright light. Then I push him down on his stomach to look at his back.

"Uh, Madge, what's going on here?" he asks.

"I'm just looking."

He mutters something like crazy girl into his pillow, which I choose to ignore.

Huh. It's all there, the jigsaw pattern, the tracery of white lines and ridges. I'm not sure if I should cry or not. I wish he could have the smooth back I dreamed about and all the implications that come with that. No Thread, no whipping, no rebellion…but what if the alternative didn't turn out the way I dreamed?

"My back isn't my best side," he grumbles.

Poor Gale. I place a kiss on his shoulder blade where the damaged skin is particularly tight and troubles him the most.

Then I sit up, wedging my pillow between my back and the headboard, letting him up off his stomach. The lamplight reveals the whitewashed walls of our Underground quarters. Gale and I…our whole life together started down here, not back home in Twelve. Our wedding didn't turn out quite like it did in the dream…something troubles me about that.

"You know," I muse. "I'd like to think that if Katniss and Peeta had never been in the Quarter Quell and if the rebellion had never begun, that we'd still have found each other."

Gale's arms cinch around my waist. I wiggle down from my sitting position and he rolls me under him. "Does it matter?" he asks.

I do my best to shrug between his body and the pillows. "A little."

"Well I don't think it does," he states.

I blink. "Why not?"

"Because," he says, "what matters is that one day some shy, under qualified girl tried patching me up on an exam table with awkward foot rests. She kept blinking at me with those deep blue eyes and then next thing I knew, I'd asked her out to dinner."

I giggle at the way he makes it sound like our first date, because it definitely wasn't. "Dinner with your family."

"Weeell…" He gives me a lopsided, sheepish grin. "I needed to work up to it."

"Sure." I trace his collarbone with my finger. "But you did pick me up and walk me back all by yourself, which was nice."

"Yeah," he says. "Sounds like me."

"Of course, I didn't hear from you again for another month." I frown in mock disappointment. Well, I did feel disappointed at the time, anyway.

Gale sighs and rubs the exasperation out of his eyes. "Madge, I already explained what happened—"

"I know, I know." I roll my eyes. "You'd enlisted with the rebel forces and couldn't take the time during your training to write me a simple little note…"

He places an open-mouth kissed on my throat. "You know writing isn't my shtick."

"I've n-noticed," I say as his leg settles between mine.

"Anyway, the material point here is that we did find each other." He kisses my jaw and I feel my worry dissipate with the reassuring weight of his body on mine. "A lot of crap happened; things we can't change, but we're here now and I love you. Why wonder how it could have happened differently…"

I feel myself tearing up. "Gale, that's really thoughtful—"

"When we could be doing something much more fun, now that we're both awake."

Gale switches off the light.


The End

Thanks for reading!

Special thanks to Geeky_DMHG_Fan for comments and to Ceylon205 for much needed beta! And thanks to Norman Rockwell for letting me use his painting "Marriage License" for inspiration. :D