Disclaimer: I own nothing but my own imagination.
As soon as we exited the stage, Gale and I were separated again. Luckily, like before, our separation was brief and we were soon reunited on the platform outside the train. Gale was no longer dressed in the gray suit he had worn to the interview and was wearing a pair of slacks and a blue shirt instead, an outfit not completely different from what he had worn to the reaping. He smiled when he saw me. Or maybe it was the white dress that Cinna had styled me in. Our stylists apparently wanted it to look as if no time had elapsed since we had left District Twelve. The alarmingly familiar outfit choices could not be merely coincidental.
"Pretty dress," Gale commented as we drew closer together. I smiled sheepishly and did a small twirl for him. My dress fanned out around me and we both watched its movements, transfixed by the bobbing material.
"Are you two lovebirds coming or not?" Haymitch said as he brushed past us, breaking the spell. "I want to get out of this place now and I will not hold the train so that you two can whisper sweet nothings into each other's ears. Now move it."
"We're coming, alright?" Gale said angrily, but there was no real force behind his words. He offered me his hand and we boarded the train together.
Once we were on the train, Haymitch turned to Gale. "I need to talk to you, boy," he said grouchily. "Something important." Gale nodded and waved off my concerns when I shot him a worried look. He followed Haymitch down the corridor, leaving me with Effie and a few free hours. Effie offered to keep me company but I said that I would be fine. In reality I just wanted to sit in my room and watch the various Districts roll by my window, each passing second bringing me closer to home.
Supper was served at nine and I was happy to see Gale again. It was funny how close we had gotten since the Games. When I was not with him I felt as if something was missing. Some would say there was a psychological explanation behind this, some version of Stockholm's syndrome, but Gale had not held me against my will. The Capitol had. He was another pawn in their game. Gale and Haymitch were quiet as we munched on small sandwiches filled with delicious meat and salads. Luckily, Effie had no problems filling the gaps in conversation with mindless chatter about the latest Capitol gossip and speculations on the relationship between Gale and me.
I tried to catch Gale's eye numerous times so that we could share an eye roll at Effie's theories but he would not meet my gaze, a fact I found more and more worrying as the meal wore on. Haymitch, I noticed, had not requested water with his dinner and was halfway through his second bottle of wine. This did not bode well. Whatever he and Gale had been discussing must have been pretty serious for Haymitch to have turned back to alcohol.
Haymitch left the table without saying anything when he had drained the dregs of the second bottle. Taking a third from the stand beside the table, he left the room. Effie sighed heavily and excused herself, muttering something about locking up the liquor cabinet for the rest of the journey. She kissed each of us goodnight on the forehead and I almost laughed at Gale's expression. When she left, Gale stood up and walked to the wine cooler, taking another bottle and uncorking it. I watched him bemusedly.
"What are you doing?" I asked him. He didn't answer and kept his back turned to me as he uncorked the bottle.
"I'm enjoying my last Capitol funded meal for a couple of months," he said, alluding to the certainly painful Victory Tour that we would have to attend in only a couple of months. At least we would have each other to help us through it. Gale turned back towards me and poured some red wine into a glass. I laughed and took the glass from him before emptying its contents into the waiting wine glass. Gale glowered at me but I simply raised my eyebrows. What had him in such a bad mood? Surely he was pleased to be going home, yet every mile we moved towards home he seemed to be growing surlier and more detached – like the Gale who had mocked me the morning of the reaping.
"You want some?" he asked and I shook my head, already wondering if I would regret my decision to stay sober.
"Why do you think Haymitch started drinking again?" I asked Gale, hoping that this was enough of a hint to prod him to reveal what he and Haymitch had discussed earlier. "I mean, he seemed to be getting on alright back in the Capitol without the stuff."
"He's an alcoholic, Madge. That's why he drinks," Gale said sharply. "You've no right to blame me for his relapse, if that's what you're getting at." I inhaled sharply and watched as Gale drained his glass in one gulp. He grimaced and poured another.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I just thought that he'd given up for good now. He seemed to be doing so well." He had. I'd never seen Haymitch so organised, his suit neatly pressed and his collar straight. The spark that had been dead in his eyes as long as I had known him seemed to have rekindled. I thought that this was the new Haymitch. Unfortunately, according to Gale, I was wrong.
Gale sipped his second glass and I watched him. His brow was furrowed and his eyes seemed to be looking at something far away. Gale was brooding. Maybe sulking would be a better word to describe his actions but I doubt he'd take being compared to a toddler lightly.
"What's up with you tonight? You seem out of sorts." Gale opened his mouth as if to make some snappy retort but then he closed it without a word. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he set down his glass.
"I'm just stressed about something," he said. I reached my hand out to lay it on his shoulder, squeezing it gently.
"You can tell me about it if you want," I offered. Gale drew a deep breath and turned to me.
"You know that what we had in the arena wasn't real, don't you?"
With those words Gale Hawthorne broke my heart.
Instantly, I felt my skin pale and my hands begin to shake. Quickly, I withdrew my hand from his shoulder as if I'd been burned. What did he mean 'wasn't real'? How could it have been anything but? He'd kissed me, we'd taken care of each other, and he told me he loved me. We were willing to die for each other! How could he tell me that wasn't real?
"W-what?" I spluttered and my cheeks reddened, already embarrassed at my overly emotional reaction. Gale spoke slowly and steadily like a man who was very sure of his words.
"You understood, I mean you understand that it was for the cameras, for the viewers. Haymitch and I discussed it before the Games. We assumed you understood. You did, didn't you?" I found myself nodding along to what he was saying. I couldn't have reacted any other way. This boy was killing me in a way that Cato or the Capitol never could, he was crushing my spirit. I pushed my chair back from the table and stood up, unsteady on my feet.
"Bed," I said, "I need to go to bed. We'll be in Twelve early tomorrow." Gale reached for me but I jerked away from his reach.
"Madge," he said, his voice soft. "I'm sorry that-" I cut him off with a wave of my hand.
"What have you to be sorry about? We're both alive. Your plan worked wonderfully. Thank you for keeping me alive. I appreciate it," I said, hating the shake in my voice and in my body. I needed to get out of there fast or I risked collapsing. The last thing I wanted now was Gale's pity. He didn't need to know how much this hurt me.
Gale tried to follow me out of the room but once I reached the door, my body seemed to kick into self-preservation mode and my legs found their strength again. I ran down the corridor like I was being chased and wrenched the door to my room open, bolting it firmly behind me.
Sinking to the floor, I leaned against the heavy wood of the door and listened to Gale's feet pound up the corridor.
"Madge," he called, his voice loud even over the noise of the train. He knocked on the door.
"Madge!" he repeated but again I didn't answer. I couldn't. I was too busy trying to stifle my sobs by pressing my hand over my mouth. He didn't deserve to hear my tears anymore.
"Please, Madge," he said, his own voice cracking.
"Just go away, Gale!" I snapped, my voice angry and full of what I imagined was pain but sounded like desperation and longing. I heard him sigh at the opposite side of the door.
"If that's what you want," he said and I finally heard his retreating footsteps. Moving my hand from my mouth, I allowed sobs to wrack my body, letting the grief take over me. Unlike the romantic heroines in books I had read I had not had love and lost it. I had fake, contrived love and lost it. How careless of me. How stupid of me to throw my heart around for just anyone to take.
But that was the worst part, wasn't it? Gale wasn't just anyone to me. He was It.
The train pulled into the station of District Twelve and I rose from my perch on the floor. I hadn't moved all night, and I had to smooth out the creases in my white dress. Moving to the bathroom, I tried to get my hair into some sort of order. Luckily, Cinna's curls from yesterday had held in place despite my tearful night. Washing my face, I examined the girl in the mirror before me. Her skin was blotchy from tears and her eyes red and tired looking. That would never do. I needed to present myself so that no one would ever suspect something was wrong. I couldn't let him, let them, know that they had broken me.
I rooted around and eventually found some cosmetics which I applied to the best of my ability. The overall effect was pleasing. I unlocked the door and sat on the bed, awaiting further instruction. I would be the model Victor. Effie poked her head around the door, a smile on her face. She looked genuinely happy to be returning us to our home, an emotion that I would've once believed impossible coming from a Capitol citizen but I knew better now. My prep team, Effie and Cinna were people just like those in District Twelve. Many were just misguided. They were as much victims of Snow's regime as we were. They too wanted to rebel, the fact that Gale and I were still alive was a living proof of this. People like Effie were the ones who had fallen whole-heartedly for the story of the star-crossed lovers from District Twelve and I would be eternally grateful to them.
"It's time," Effie said, taking my hand and pulling me out into the corridor of the train. My heart constricted painfully as I saw Gale walking towards us from the far side of the corridor, Haymitch at his shoulder. Together, the four of us walked to the end of the carriage where we would exit. Effie and Haymitch moved in front of us, effectively blocking our view out the small window at the top of the door. It didn't matter, though; I could picture the scene that waited in store for us. I visualised my mother and father standing there waiting for me with Gale's family and the Everdeens. The scene seemed to be a mirror image of our leaving. Gale, his expression surly, and I in my white dress with tears escaping my eyes and my mockingjay pin glinting brightly on my shoulder.
"Ready?" Gale asked stretching his hand out towards me. I took it, shakily and he squeezed it gently. I wanted to slap him. How dare he try and comfort me when he was the one to inflict the pain in the first place? Where did he get off on trying to help me? I didn't say any of this, though. He didn't deserve to know how badly he had hurt me. He had lost all his rights to knowing what I thought when he had ended things between us. When he had said that it was nothing more than a ruse to ensure our survival, so instead of saying anything I just nodded blithely.
He smiled back at me but his eyes were tight. Something inside me was glad that he was nervous about seeing our families again too. Effie had warned us that some people at home might be intimidated by our elevated statuses as Victors now, they might keep their distance and treat us with deference but it wasn't because they weren't glad that we were home. They just didn't know how to treat us now. We were Victors. We were killers. I don't know how they handled such matters in the Capitol but in the Districts murderers were punished.
The door of the carriage opened and sunlight streamed in, turning Effie and Haymitch into dark outlines ahead of us. They moved forward, stepping into the brightness. I inhaled deeply, and with my hand clasped tightly inside Gale's, followed. Everything would be the same and different. The past was the past and the future was pending.
To be continued…
Thanks again to Ellenka for edits. :)
Poor Madge and poor Gale! Just because they both emerged from the Hunger Games doesn't mean that all is right in their world. Just like Peeta and Katniss things seemed to go belly up even after they were out of immediate danger. I know that I've said before that this is not The Hunger Games with the names changed. Gale is not Katniss or even Peeta nor is Madge Peeta or Katniss. I did find it interesting thought that in this chapter Madge's emotions mirrored what I imagine Peeta was feeling post games. He would've been concerned for Katniss and failing to see signs that their love was something other than genuine, poor Madge and poor Peeta.
Review and let me know what you thought of the last chapter. :)
Thank you to everyone who took a chance on a story that sounded slightly out-there. I want to thank everyone for sticking with this story despite, delays, mistakes and a Cato and Madge kiss. Thank you to every single person who took the time to let me know what they thought of the story. Thank you to everyone who asked 'Will there be a sequel?' The answer is: yes, definitely! I need to find out what happens to these characters just as much as some of you do. Keep your eyes open for the first chapter of the sequel entitled: Between the Bars, named for the Elliot Smith song of the same name. Either put this story on alert and I'll post here when it is posted or you can put me on author's alert. I will post here when the first chapter is posted but I would expect it loosely some time at the beginning of June. Till then may the odds be ever in your favour!
Sorry – I couldn't resist. : P