A/N: Well, I guess this is it, folks. Somehow 100 words of a scene multiplied into a 150,000 word story. Thanks for making it fun!
And So We Run
"We often asked my honest friend
If we'd hold on tight till the end.
Your knowing smile just breaks me down
And leaves fighting words in my mouth.
I will light you up, I will light you up." Light You Up, Pilot Speed
Spring, Year 1, New Reckoning
"Is she ready?"
Gale's muffled voice drifts around the wall separating the kitchen from the living room of our Underground quarters. The rough baritone makes my stomach flip with anticipation.
"Just about," Hazelle replies. "Posy helped tie the blindfold."
The blindfold and half of my hair with it, I muse. But she is so proud of herself for tying a knot that holds.
The sound of Gale's footsteps across the kitchen tiles alerts me that he's coming toward the couch that I'm sharing with Posy and Vick. We're playing a guessing game while I wait for Gale to arrive and whisk me away on some undisclosed outing. My heart's been beating with excitement all day. I don't know what he has planned, and I don't know why. Perhaps a celebration of the end of the war and his recent discharge? I don't know. It's not an anniversary or our birthdays.
Posy places the next object in my hand. So far, we've guessed combs, a book, a broken shoelace, and Vick's pet salamander Bristel Jr. This time it's a cloth item. Should be simple, but with my eyes covered, I feel like my sense of touch is off-kilter.
"Is it a…tea cozy?" I ask without conviction, sticking my hand through a hole.
Posy giggles. "No, it's Gale's underwear."
My mouth pops open and a distinctly old lady-ish sound comes out of it.
"I told her not to do it," says Vick, though he's barely stifling a giggle himself.
"I'll take those back, thanks."
We jump as Gale (presumably) snatches the underwear from my hand. A blush creeps up my neck and cheeks. I'd forgotten about him for a moment.
"Um. Hello," I greet with nose-wrinkling embarrassment, turning my head vaguely in the direction of his voice.
"Ready to go, Madge?" he asks. I can hear the amusement in his voice.
"Are you going to tell me where that is?" I ask, forgetting about the underwear in light of much more exciting event.
I'm hardly surprised. He hasn't budged an inch in the last two weeks that I've begged him to tell me what today is all about.
Something presses against my knee, I'm guessing it's Gale's leg as he stands over me. "Come—"
"Not that hand, Gale!" Posy cries with her shrill little voice in my ear. I'm startled as her tiny body leans over me protectively.
For a second, my heart sinks. Not because I don't like it when the Hawthornes are protective of my hand, but because I like to forget about the offset fingers and the aching that makes it difficult to do the simplest things. And because I don't like being treated like a cripple, least of all by Gale, just because of a few aches and pains.
"It's okay, Posy," I say calmly. "Gale wasn't going to hurt me." Of course, I can't see what he meant to do, but he's always so conscious of my hand that I don't doubt the truth of that conviction.
"Here," says Posy. "Use this one." She offers up my right arm like it's a relic. Gale and I both laugh at what a little manager she's become.
Gale's fingers grip my right hand and he tugs me off the couch. He helps me on with a coat, which is…interesting.
"Good luck!" Hazelle calls after us. For some reason, that makes my nerves ratchet up a notch.
"Mom," he grouses under his breath.
I hear Hazelle chuckle. "What?" she says a little too innocently.
"You're being a good sport," Gale commends as he leads me down the corridor. I sincerely hope no one's around to see me walking around with a blindfold.
"I have no choice," I laugh, clinging to his arm. "I'm at everyone's mercy with this rag over my eyes."
"Well, there is that," he agrees, sounding pleased with himself.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see in a minute."
Argh. The blindfold makes me feel disoriented and, well, it has the obvious effect of not letting me figure out any clues! "I'm going to fall over," I sigh.
"I wouldn't let that happen," he promises. "Stop here."
His arm braces my shoulders while he does whatever it is he's doing. A familiar dinging and the sound of metal rolling back are reassuring.
"Hmm. The elevator? Intriguing. Are we going on a field trip to the boiler room?" I tease as he helps me inside.
Gale scoffs. "Boiler room? That's the best you think I can do?" he grouses playfully. "Have a little faith."
The doors grind together and the gentle lifting sensation tells me it's moving. I poke Gale in the side. I think. "Well, a boiler room is a step up from a dumpster or…or wherever else kids used to go in District 12."
I feel his shoulders shrug. "I wouldn't know," he says. "I spent all my free time in the woods or the Hob."
"I never went to the Hob." It took all my courage just to go to the woods with Katniss. The rumors circulating through the town families about the tough crowd who frequented the place were not encouraging.
"For good reason," says Gale. I can't see him, but I can hear the smirk in his voice.
"Snob," I chant.
Gale makes an exasperated noise. "Madge, you can't be a snob about frequenting a black market. It's a contradiction of terms."
"The Hob centered around an exclusive set of people. That's snobbery, even if that exclusive set of people happen to be – oh, is this our floor?" The elevator stopped and the doors roll back. I'm thankful for something in the Underground that is so audibly obvious.
If only Gale obliged me as much. He doesn't tell me which floor it is, just ushers me through the corridor. I hear other people around us this time. Their steps make scattered sound patterns that match the different paces and treads. Then all of a sudden the sound quality changes, from the close, clipped sounds of feet moving to an echo-y emptiness of a vast chamber. It feels like the walls have fallen away. I gasp, sensing open space and cool, moist air.
"Where are we?" I ask shrilly.
"Here," he says infuriatingly. He places his hand on the small of my back, steering me this way and that till I'm almost dizzy trying to figure out the pattern.
I stop. Gale's fingers fumble with the knot at the back of my head, accidentally pulling some of my hair. He apologizes and then the blindfold falls away.
It takes a few blinks for my eyes to adjust to the light. When I can see properly, I step back and gape at what's in front of me. I'm staring up at a mural-sized picture of a man and a woman flying on a rocket while kissing. Underneath, Hobgoblin is written in bold green script. Huh. New pinup.
I turn slowly toward the nose of the hovercraft where the pilot leans out of the hatch with a chesire grin on his face. Quintus tips his head in a gallant gesture. Color creeps up my neck. Gale gives me a knowing look, like he expected this reaction. I elbow him.
"Mornin'," Quintus greets. "Beautiful day for a flight."
"That's what he always says," a woman Gale once introduced to me as Nev grumbles as she strides past us. She looks like the woman on the rocket pinup down to the teal stripe of her long, side-swept bangs and loose-flowing hair. "It's overcast and chilly outside. Don't let Quintus fool you. Oh. And congratulations on your honorable discharge, former Soldier Hawthorne." She says this in one long string of words that might seem a little abrasive, but Gale looks like he's used to her brusque manners.
"Thanks," he replies to her back.
Nevada climbs into the hovercraft in front of us. I can hear Quintus say, "Overcast and chilly is my favorite."
"We're going with them?" I guess with wide eyes. A trip in Quintus's Hobgoblin is the last thing I expected. I try to hide the fact that I'm a little disappointed. A double date isn't what I had in mind. We've had plenty of those with Katniss and Peeta.
Gale grins at me. "Yeah. I thought you might like some quality time with Quintus while you still can. Er. Strictly off the record, I think he's seeing Nev."
"Ha-ha." He's never going to let me live that one non-date down.
Gale throws a bag he brought with into the fuselage and turns to hand me up.
"But where are we going?" I persist, ignoring his hand. "And why?"
Gale's head lolls backward and he groans. "Hell's teeth, Madge. Didn't your parents ever surprise you when you were a kid?"
"My parents weren't really the surprising kind," I point out. As mayor, surprises were pretty much my dad's worst nightmare. Like the day Thread showed up.
Gale purses his lips. "Well, it's not too late to educate you. So, play along like a good girl."
That earns him a pitiful shove in the arm.
"Hop in, pretties!" Quintus calls to us from the pilot seat. There really isn't anything else to do but take Gale's hand and let him pull me inside.
"That's where we met Captain Pike's fleet," Gale tells me, pointing out a basin of cleared land in the middle of the forest as we fly overhead.
I watch appreciatively until the view disappears into the forest, as Gale, Nevada and Quintus recount their reunion there. Gale hands me a beef and potato pasty that Hazelle and I made that morning, under the pretext of teaching me family recipes. Except they didn't have squirrel in the Underground, so we used beef. She says she used to make them for her husband every day to take for lunch and dinner in the mines, and she did the same for Gale. I had no idea that these stuffed pastry pocket things were actually meant for our trip. Hazelle is too sneaky for her own good.
"I think I prefer the squirrel version still," he says, biting into one that Hazelle made. I can tell she made it because it doesn't look like someone sat on it like all of mine do.
"You'll have to move back to the woods then," I joke around a bite of potato.
Gale looks at me blankly. Did I say something wrong? It's not as though we haven't talked about the possibility of leaving the Underground one day.
"Or not," I mumble.
"How's your hand feeling?" he asks, abruptly changing the subject. "It's bothering you, isn't it?"
I've been pressing it against my waist. I don't think about it. Gale's picked up on the habit as a sign that the ache is especially bad. It's not awful, but I think the humid chill in the cabin makes the ache worse. It's like I have the hand of a geriatric woman. Compound that with the amount of tea I drink, and yeah, old woman. I just need lace and a cat.
Gale grimaces like he always does when I lie about it. "Give it here."
His warm fingers gently massage warmth back into my fingers and hand. It feels amazing. A languor melts through my body; I lean against his arm. But there's something different this time. His hands are warm but clammy instead of dry. My first thought is that he's coming down with something. I look up to see if he's pale or if his color is unusually high.
Gale feels me watching him and his eyes meet mine. "Am I hurting you?" he asks.
"No. I just wondered if you were feeling all right," I murmur. "Your hands are clammy like you have a fever."
His eyebrows raise a fraction. "Me? I'm fine." He wipes his hands off on his trousers. "Don't worry about it."
"We're going to be landing in a few minutes, folks," Quintus calls back. "Take a look out your window."
Gale and I both lean over the seats to look out the side window. Low, heavy clouds mist over a thick, sweeping evergreen forest dripping with moisture. Gale points to the west toward recently cleared land. The soil is all turned up in ruts and sectioned off in box-like patterns.
"What is this place?" I ask, not expecting an answer as Gale has been tight-lipped about everything today.
"New colony," he replies, watching my reaction carefully.
"Oh!" My hand flutters to my mouth. "This is?"
The corners of his lips turn up with pleasure. I lean over him even more to get a better look at the piece of land that has been debated over in a string of endless bureaucratic waffling. But the need for an aboveground community is incredibly pressing given the sudden increase in population due to war refugees.
"I don't believe it!" I cry. "Gale, nobody's said a word about clearing land yet. The plans hadn't even been approved, I thought."
"Well, it's supposed to be under wraps right now," he tells me. "But I have a few connections."
"With who?" I ask suspiciously.
"Well, my best friend is the Mockingjay and her mentor happens to be Haymitch, the head of district liaisons." We both snort over the fancy title. "I dropped a few names. And, you know, it doesn't hurt that I am a decorated war hero," he says smugly.
"Plus, Hawthorne knows a dapper and snappily-dressed pilot who happens to feel obliging once in a while," Quintus butts in.
"Yeah, yeah," Gale drawls. The camaraderie between to completely opposite men is funny to witness.
Quintus brings us down expertly on the thin landing strip. Gale opens the door and jumps out, offering me a hand down. It's drizzling steadily and the air has a flat, heavy feeling to it.
"Did it get warmer out?" I ask, blinking into the drizzle that turning my hair into a frizzled monster.
"Like a storm's coming," Gale muses. He leans back into the fuselage. "Hour okay?"
"Take your time, kids," Quintus answers. "If this hovercraft's a-rockin' don't come a-knockin'."
"I didn't want to know that," Gale replies.
"Me either," Nevada mutters form the cockpit.
"They aren't coming?" I ask.
Gale grins in a way that makes my heart skip a beat. "Nope." He tucks my arm through his and heads off into the mud town.
"We're just here to walk around, huh?" I press.
"No, there's something particular I want you to see."
He leads me past the clearing, down a path through the trees. He doesn't say much for the twenty minutes we walk. His jaw works like he's mulling something over in his head, so I take my time getting to know the forest. The smell of damp leaf mould and pine sap entices my nose, reminding me of the weeks we spent running from Twelve. In some ways, I miss those days the most. Sure, they held terror, but it led to my new family and a feeling of belonging I thought I'd lost with my parents.
Eventually, the trees thin out again in a small, muddy glade surrounded by ferns. We're soaked to the skin, pushing damp hair out of our eyes. Through the trees I can glimpse the blue-gray sheen of a body of water.
"Is that a lake?" I ask.
"River," he says. It's only one word, but the way he says it, low and sleepy, packs a lot of meaning. The river's where we started. That must be why he brought me here, I realize. A symbolic return to our beginning. How thoughtful!
I start to pick my way through the mud, only to discover another staked out foundation lies at our feet.
"Is this for a house?" I gasp.
"Looks like it," Gale replies vaguely, staring at the patterns with a puzzled expression. "Hard to tell when you're looking at it from the ground."
I step inside the boundary and walk around, stopping in a small, squared off area.
"What is this room, do you think?"
"Bathroom, I guess," he answers, pointing at the pipes sticking up from the mud. "It'll have real plumbing."
Gale says it like indoor plumbing is a novelty…which I guess it was for him until we made it to the Underground.
"All right," he drawls. "You're nose is all wrinkled up. What are you thinking?"
I'm not about to admit that I'm thinking about how he grew up as a poor boy from the Seam while I was the only child of the mayor who grew up in luxury. Considering that it hasn't been a year since Gale decided that out social differences don't matter.
"It's kind of small," I say stupidly, meaning the bathroom.
"Is it?" he asks, scratching his head.
"It's the size of a linen closet," I try to say, digging myself in a hole. Oh well. It's someone else's house to worry about.
"Oh yeah, linen closets. Fancy," he teases.
"Did you want to show me the river?" I ask, changing the subject. I step out into the next patch of staked-off mud. A hallway?
"Why would I show you a river?" he says through a grunt.
"Well, I thought—"
I look over my shoulder. I blink at the open space where he had been standing, then look down. He's bent over, wrenching up stakes and moving them to widen the bathroom. A horrible (in a wonderful sort of way) suspicion erupts in the forefront of my mind, like puzzle pieces suddenly forming into the picture, the whole day making sense. I quickly look away and walk into the widest square as an unusually strong case of nerves does something wobbly to my legs.
Gale clears his throat. "Say, Madge?"
I squeak. Words are not forthcoming. "Hmm?"
"Could you look at me for a second?" he says.
Of course I can. I'm not paralyzed with anticipation. I'm not absurdly nervous. I'm not suddenly shaking like a leaf. Turn around slowly. Look down.
My stomach drops out. "Oh!" I gasp, stepping backward in surprise, with my hand over my beating heart.
"Since I'm down here, I wondered…" He's on his knees in the mud, in the…I do the worst possible thing for the moment. I laugh.
Gale scowls. "This is not a very auspicious beginning."
I cover my mouth with my hands, trying hard to curb the giggles in my throat, but that only makes it worse.
Gale gets out of the mud and crosses his arms. His eyebrows of doom take center stage. I can't tell he's not mad, just annoyed that things aren't going according to plan.
"Out with it," he gripes.
"I'm s-sorry," I stammer, "are you proposing in someone's bathroom?"
Gale blinks at me for a moment, then looks down. A self-deprecating grin creeps over his face. "You're right." He grabs my elbow, leading me to a box at the end of the hallway-like area. It's a large space.
"Is this the kitchen?" I ask.
"Nope," Gale answers, pulling me against his chest. He smirks. "This is our bedroom. Surprise."
My stomach does a swan dive. It's becoming a familiar sensation. It kills the laughter. "Our b-bedroom?" Our house!
"Hypothetically, yes." He drops an open-mouth kiss on my throat that makes my eyes roll. "But you haven't said yes yet."
"You didn't ask me fully," I somehow manage to reply.
Gale's dark eyes gaze at me with amusement. "You interrupted, I recall."
"Please begin again. I promise not to laugh." It's true. I'm in danger of a completely opposite emotional response.
Gale takes a deep breath. His forehead creases in concentration. "Margaret Undersee," he murmurs, using my full name. "Will you marry me?"
My throat constricts with the wave of emotion that passes over me, turning my voice to water. "Yes, please?"
The crinkles around Gale's eyes deepen with gladness. His hands cup my cheeks. I shiver as his thumb wipes raindrops from my lips. His eyes study them like he might never see them again. Which is ridiculous because I just promised to stay with him till I die. Casting patience to the wind, I throw my arms around his neck, planting my lips on his. In our muddy bedroom! A squee gets mashed between our mouths. It must be infectious. Laughter rumbles in Gale's chest as he crushes me against him. Ow.
I pull away to investigate the item digging into my hip. It's coming from the bulge in his pocket.
"Oh, I almost forgot." His voice has a warm, husky rasp that goes straight to my yo-yo stomach - it will never recover from today.
Gale digs in his pocket, pulling out a box. I watch him open it carefully, revealing a small sapphire set in white gold. How in the world did he pay for that? I silently gasp. He pockets the box, but holds the ring between his fingers. With his other hand, he takes my left. For a startled moment, I look at the damage, the hand that could once move with style over the ivory keyboard of my grandmother's piano – but can't make a fist now - and a strong urge to hide it from his sight takes over. How can I wear such a beautiful thing on something so ugly? And the closer I look at the ring and my finger, my heart sink as I realize it can't possibly fit over the swollen joint of my knuckle.
But he doesn't try to. Instead, Gale presses a tender, lingering kiss on each misshapen finger. Each touch makes my heart feel like it's closer to bursting. My eyes brim over as he kisses the sensitive skin of my palm, like my hand is something precious to him.
Gale takes my right hand and slips the ring onto the fourth finger. He fiddles with the band until he thinks it's just right. "It reminds me of your eyes," he murmurs.
"Bloodshot?" I sniff.
Gale chuckles. "Your eyes are beautiful and blue."
"Are you happy?" he asks.
"You can't tell?" I reply hoarsely.
"Well, you're…crying a bit."
"Happy crying," I croak, gently sweeping strands of his wet black hair out of his eyes. "I want this so much."
"Me too." He grins impishly, belying his relief. "It would have been a long hovercraft ride if you'd said no."
That coxes a bubbly laugh from me. "I never would."
"We'll have a new beginning here," he says enthusiastically. "The council offered to make me the head of Forestry. I told them I know a woman with a political background who'd make an able alderwoman. Haymitch put in a good word for you, too."
My head spins a little with the new prospects ahead of us. "It's so much to take in."
"You don't mind that I already made plans for the house?" he asks uncertainly. "I know we didn't get a chance to talk about it."
I shake my head, saying with absolute conviction, "It will be perfect."
"Even if the bathroom is the size of a linen closet?"
I grin. "Well, you fixed that." I let the idea of living in this new place – with Gale – sink in. "This is really our new home?" I exhale.
"Sure. This is our room. Down the hall is the bathroom, closets, the kitchen and den, and the two extra bedrooms are across the way."
"Only two extra?" I ask. "Don't you think your mother should have her own for once?"
"My mother?" He cocks his head to the side, looking confused. "Madge, those rooms aren't for my mom or my brothers and sister." He lets the suggestion hang there.
"Oh," I say. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that his family wouldn't be moving in. "Well, it's always good to have guest bedrooms."
"I was thinking something more permanent." He nudges me.
I bite my lip thoughtfully. "Two extra rooms will be plenty, then."
Gale guffaws. "They're big rooms. Lots of space for multiple occupants."
A streak of lightning interrupts our silly banter, causing us both to glance up anxiously. It's the only warning we receive before the drizzle breaks into a torrent of heavy drops coming down like a curtain. Thunder rolls over the clouds like celestial rolling pins. My thoughts speed to the dry interior of the Hobgoblin in the other clearing.
"Time to go, Madge," Gale says, reaching for me. "We'll have to run for it."
I willingly place my hand in Gale's strong, life-saving one.
And so we run.
A/N: Aw, we've come full circle. I hope you've enjoyed! Thanks so much for reading.
If you'd like a glimpse of Madge and Gale's life in the new colony, and a little something Christmassy, take a gander at my short story Christmas Cheers.