Another Pair of Lips

"Five years, three months and six days," I say, biting off the sentence after enumerating the number of days I've grieved for her.

She bursts into tears, proving me the monster she apparently fears.

I look at her wide-eyed in confusion, totally aghast that I've made her cry. "Madge, I'm sorry. I don't understand-"

"Diana, I'm Diana now," she sniffles a bit, wiping her cheeks and pulling herself together. "Madge died in Twelve. Please, you mustn't tell anyone that I'm alive. Not even Katniss," she emphasizes, grabbing my arm. "I'm safe only if Madge is dead. Please," she begs.

I run a hand over my face in consternation. "But why? And, what happened? You never made it to the Meadow. How did you escape? I saw your house in ruins the next day when we went back seeking survivors."

She goes white as a sheet. Mentioning her house was clearly a tactical error. I pull her chair out and she sits down gingerly. I take the seat next to her, and her hand. "Mad-, Diana, I still don't understand. Please tell me precisely why didn't you let me know you were alive? I'm not exactly hard to find. I'm a very public figure. And, I'm your friend!"

She sits quietly for a minute, looking at our joined hands. Finally she begins in a small, soft voice, "I didn't know for months if you- or if anyone- had survived. I learned that you and Katniss were alive only when I saw the Rebel Underground broadcast of you in District Eight. Watching you shoot down two Capitol planes was… awe-inspiring. Everyone speaks of you as the bad-ass cousin of the Mockingjay. A hero of the rebellion," She sits lost in thought for another minute before continuing. "I wanted so badly to find you after I saw that you were alive, but I had no idea how. I was so alone and so afraid. I didn't know who to trust."

"You've been in District Six all this time?" I shudder to think what she's been through. How she's managed alone for all these years.

She nods, "Yes. I-I'm sorry." She looks ready to drop. No wonder, it's after 3 AM her time.

"We'll finish this tomorrow. But first I need to know how you escaped. I must know."

She sighs softly. "Escape? Did I escape? Two Peacekeepers caught me turning off the fence," she confides almost dreamily.

"Caught? You were caught? What did they do to you? Why didn't they turn the fence back on?" My worst fear had been of her being caught. She's very fortunate they didn't shoot her on the spot. This was no ordinary transgression. She had already sided with the Rebellion in opposing Snow's reprisal. We're all lucky they didn't reactivate the fence.

"I broke the key off in the control panel before they could stop me," ha,I think…so very simple. So clever. That's my Madge. Two steps ahead of everyone else. She continues, "I was just hoping they couldn't fix it in time. They told me I was under arrest and dragged me out to one of the Peacekeeper vehicles. They didn't even put me in restraints. We were pulling out of the square just as the first bomb dropped. Dead center. On my house. With both my parents inside," she whispers this last line.

"I should have gone with you. I should hav-" I growl. She puts her hand over my mouth, shaking her head.

"No, Gale. No 'what ifs'," she soothes softly.

I kiss her hand, taking it in mine so that I now hold both.

"Okay. We'll figure the rest out tomorrow. We'll be arriving in the Capitol in about an hour. I'll get the charges dismissed, but you're going to have to tell me everything. How long you were a prisoner. Why you've been hiding. Why you're using your grandmother's name. If you're in trouble. Whatever it is, I can fix it. I can protect you," I promise.

"Before you do anything, you need to know the whole truth. When we arrived in Six- the two Peacekeepers- they just let me go," she stuns me. "They said… they said that my father paid them to smuggle me out of the District," she hangs her head and I lean closer to hear her. "So you see- he…he knew," she whispers. Her eyes are filled with tears when she raises her head. "He knew even before we saw the Peacekeepers pulling out of the square after Katniss blew out the forcefield. He knew that Snow was going to obliterate Twelve. He knew all of those innocent people would die. People he was responsible for. The only one he even tried to save was me."

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We land at Guardian Headquarters at 6 AM, and head straight to the office I keep here. Fortunately Madge's belongings from her arrest were on the train so she was able to change into her own clothes before we deplaned. I order us breakfast and after we eat I tuck Diana (Madge!) in to sleep on the couch in my office.

"Please promise me you won't tell anyone I'm alive," she pleads, grabbing my hand before I can walk away.

I kneel next to her, tenderly bushing her hair back so I can see her face more clearly. "I won't tell anyone about Madge before we've finished talking. And not unless you agree after we have. I promise," I assure her, tucking her hand back under the blanket. "Now, sleep," I say softly.

I'm too wired to sleep. Madge is alive. Alive! It shouldn't be possible, and yet here she is. In my office. Just across the room. Sleeping on my couch. Warm. Breathing. Alive. I'm so excited. Thrilled. One of the greatest regrets of my life- letting her go alone to shut of the fence- has been lightened. I want to shout it from the rooftops. Call everyone we both know. Have a press conference introducing the real hero of District Twelve to the nation.

And yet, she is afraid. Terrified.

As I watch her peacefully slumbering across the room, I ponder what she's been through these past five years. She is clearly overwhelmed by guilt and shame for what her father did. Too ashamed to even use her real name. I guess I can understand that. To a degree. Not wanting to be associated with the former Mayor of Twelve. But, it isn't as if anyone would know he smuggled her out if she didn't say anything. I doubt those Peacekeepers, if they are even still alive, would ever own up to what they did. They certainly wouldn't broadcast it to the nation. I make a note to get their names. Of course, if they had foreknowledge of the attack, they will need to answer for that, too. I hope they're dead. If it comes to a trial, news of her survival could become a nationwide scandal that she might never be able to live down.

But, none of this adequately explains why she let me go on believing she was dead for five long years. Why she let the other survivors believe it. More than a little extreme. Extreme fear? She is terrified of something. Surely Katniss would be comforted to know that Madge survived. Or the few others from Town who remain alive. Could she actually believe we'd hold her responsible for her father's actions? That we could do anything but rejoice at her escape? Whatever the circumstances.

My aide Felix arrives from Two at 10 AM and I immediately have him send for Chip, our resident computer expert. I'm going to need him to amend Madge's records. Or Diana's records, if she's going to insist on keeping her new name. That will take some getting used to. Diana. She'll need new officially issued ID. New birth record. School records. Medical records. He's going to need to delve into Six's database to see what already exists and fill in any and all gaps. And expunge any trace of her arrest. I don't share her real name with either Felix or Chip. I should probably clear this with the Minister so that I can assure Madge that she is completely safe from being flagged again. I'm confident that my word she was a member of the resistance in Twelve and that she shut off the fence will be enough to clear her of any suspicion.

Madge wakes and showers and I listen to the sound of running water (and I was most certainly not at all distracted by the idea of Madge nude in my shower) while I wait for her to join me to finish discussing what has happened to us in the time we've been apart. While I wait I have Felix make an appointment for me with the Minister for this afternoon and I check on Chip's progress with the database search.

We sit on the couch as we eat lunch and she gives me an overview of her life in Six. I'm distracted by her wet hair, curling slightly as it dries. Darker than the usual honey-blonde. I tell her about our escape from Twelve and my life since the war ended.

Madge seems surprisingly interested in the Victors' vote for the Capitol Games which never came to be. The results of the vote were never officially released, due to Coin's death. Rumors that the Games were approved by a vote of 4 to 3 with the Mockingjay voting in favor were rampant around the time of Coin's assassination and Katniss' trial.

"Did Katniss really vote to have another Hunger Games using children from the Capitol?" she wants to know.

"That was a secret vote," I hedge. Even after all of this time I don't like to remember that she voted in favor of the Capitol Games. I've never spoken about it with anyone who wasn't there. I busy myself with the food so I don't need to look Madge in the eyes.

"But I'm sure you know the truth. She didn't speak out against the idea when you and President Paylor and Peeta did."

"You know Katniss isn't good with words. And even if she were, she was a mess for months after her trial." I collect the trash and wrap up the leftovers.

"But Peeta is good with words. Surely if the Mockingjay was against it, he would have trumpeted that to the nation" she pushes.

"Does it really matter after all this time?" I wonder, finally turning back to her.

"Yes. It really does. Was the Rebellion about anything other than keeping Prim safe to her? Was it about ending the Games for her? Freeing the people?"

Oh, I see. "For Katniss, it was about protecting Prim and Peeta, above anything else. I think for her it was largely a failure. Prim died and Peeta was tortured. He tried to kill her. We really didn't think he was ever going to recover from the torture and brainwashing."

"So then, she voted to have the Games. You haven't denied it. Why would she do that?" she challenges.

"I wasn't present at the vote, but I've talked to several of the Victors who were. I'm not sure what she was thinking. Perhaps it was just revenge for her loss of Prim. Or for the Capitol putting her and Peeta through two Hunger Games. For them torturing Peeta. Spite, if you will. Or maybe she was thinking that Coin was as ruthless and amoral as Snow and voting yes was to assure she had the opportunity to assassinate Coin. If she had voted against Coin's suggestion then maybe she wouldn't have allowed Katniss execute Snow. If that was her plan, it was quite cunning. And ruthless. But, if that were true, then Coin's death was premeditated, not a psychotic break as determined in her trial."

"What do you think?" she asks.

"Katniss doesn't normally think things through strategically. She's reactive. Impulsive. She's not cunning nor ruthless. She doesn't plan things like that. She's at her best when she's in the moment. My guess is that she voted for the Games out of spite and Coin's assassination was an impulse of the moment brought on when she realized that Coin, not Snow, was responsible for Prim's death. For what it's worth, Peeta disagrees with me. He believes her vote was a ruse and that she never intended for the Games to actually happen once she'd assassinated Coin."

"Of course, he always believes she can do no wrong," she muses. "People in the districts still agitate for the Capitol Games. I hear the talk in Six. Do you think they'll ever take place?" her eyes bore intensely into mine.

"Absolutely not! That was one of the biggest things we were fighting against. That cycle of violence ended with the war. Only the fringe radicals still cling to the idea that they could become a reality."

"I wish I were as confident as you seem to be," she takes a shaky breath. "I'm afraid Gale."

"Why?" Why is the possibility of another Games foremost in her thoughts?

"I'm the only child of the highest ranking District Twelve Capitol official. I'm afraid if they knew I was smuggled out of the District just before the bombing began… I'm afraid they would send me into the Games. Or lynch me on the street. To pay for the thousands killed in the bombing. The thousands my father lifted not a finger to protect," she confesses.

"You think they would send you into the Capitol Games? You aren't even from the Capitol!" The idea that someone might want revenge on Madge shocks me. Alarms me.

"No, but my father was. Who's to say that my name was ever even in the Reaping ball in District Twelve? What lengths could my father have gone to to protect me?" she exclaims.

"All these questions about Katniss and her vote, you think she would vote to send you into the Games if they were held? You thought I…?" I can't even finish that sentence. I get up and stride angrily over to the window.

"No! Not you!" she declares as she follows me. "I'm sorry I didn't contact you, but I was afraid. Afraid that if you found out I was alive that Katniss would find out and everyone would find out. I simply couldn't risk it. That's just how it is when you're on the run. I'm so sorry! Please forgive me," she begs, stepping close and wrapping her arms tightly around my waist.

I enfold her in my arms instinctively. Protectively. How I have missed her! I rest my cheek on top of her head as I absorb the things she just confided. Her deepest fears. She thinks she would be considered a prime target for Reaping if the unthinkable were ever to happen.

The odds of the Capitol Games ever being held are remote, but I can't state with any degree of certainty that they won't happen. There are still pockets of unrest even five years after the war. Even though she shut off the fence, for some people that wouldn't be enough to atone for her father's crime. What if the next President were in favor of reinstating the Games? I really can't see that happening, but I'm sure Snow didn't believe the Rebellion was going to succeed either.

I thought the fear of someone I loved being Reaped was in the past, but clearly not. I do love her. And I can't just dismiss her fears. Valid fears. But I can do everything in my power to shield her from harm. To make her feel safe. To make her safe. And, fortunately, this time I do have the power to protect her. My power will be her shelter.

"I think the chances of the Games ever becoming a reality are remote. And Reaping the daughter of a Mayor from any district would be outside of the idea as originally proposed. It is assumed you were at risk in Twelve's Reapings. I wouldn't repeat your suspicions in regards to that. Not to anyone." I suspect she may be right on that score given the Mayor's threat to me. If he had the power to put Rory's name in the ball exclusively, then he had the power to keep Madge's out entirely. It could have been a bluff. It could have been true. There was a time that thought would have enraged me, but no longer. I turn her face up to mine, "and of course I forgive you." I hug her tightly for a moment before releasing her and stepping back.

"Thank you. I've been looking over my shoulder since I got to Six. At first I was afraid what would happen if Snow discovered I'd survived. I thought after the Rebellion I wouldn't need to be afraid anymore. But I am. Afraid of the Games. Afraid that someone might come after me or someday my children in retaliation even if the Games never happen."

"I don't believe the Capitol Games will ever happen, but if you are truly afraid and determined to keep your survival a secret I will help you. I can have all of your records amended. Madge Undersee can stay dead and Diana M. Fletcher can become official. If you're certain," I look at her searchingly. "Once we do this, there is no turning back," I caution.

"I am. I can't ever go back to being Madge. I'm not that sheltered girl anymore. And I would never stop worrying about someone wanting revenge on me for my father's actions. But, what about Katniss? How can you keep such a secret from her?" she wonders.

"I haven't spoken to her since just before the vote," I reveal, turning and walking back to my desk.

"You haven't spoken to her in over four years? Because she chose Peeta?" she conjectures, following me.

"No, it didn't have anything to do with him. She blames me for Prim's death. Because I designed a bomb intended to take out first responders. Medics. Like Prim, you see?" I stress. She needs to know who I've become. The things I've done.

"She blames you? For killing Prim and all those other children? Because you designed a bomb? You were fighting a war. Designing a weapon doesn't make you responsible for someone else's use of it against innocent children instead of against soldiers. You couldn't possibly have foreseen that happening! Besides, you loved Prim," she defends me passionately.

"Well, Katniss blames me. Now, I'm going to need to share the details of your story with my boss in order to seal access to Madge's records. He's the only one I need to tell. And I'll need a DNA sample to input for you, Diana."

She smiles when I call her by her new name, hopefully distracting her from any more talk of Katniss for the moment. "You trust your boss not to tell anyone?"

"I do. I could make the changes myself, but if it were ever somehow discovered, it's better that the Minister of Justice signed off on it himself. I could be accused of favoritism where you're concerned."

"Your direct supervisor is the Minister of Justice?" she asks, clearly impressed. I nod in acknowledgment. She smiles. "Okay then. I trust your judgment. And I'm glad to be a favorite," she smiles.

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We take a car to my apartment at the end of a long and thrilling day. I'm glad Diana didn't balk at my suggestion that she stay with me. She didn't want to walk the few blocks in fear of being recognized, even though I told her that there were only a handful of people from District Twelve now living in the Capitol. So, this is how she's lived these past five years, looking over her shoulder constantly? Hiding in shadows? Staying inside?

She has been unusually quiet on the way. Is she still tired? Worried about being recognized? Uncomfortable with me? I wonder about the cause as we ride the elevator to the top floor. Once we're inside my apartment she doesn't leave me in suspense for long.

"I knew if we ever saw each other again that you would be angry, but I never imagined you would be indifferent. So…so businesslike. Tell me. Is there…do you have a girlfriend?" she falters.

"Indifferent? You believe I'm indifferent to your survival? That's ridiculous! Why would you think that? I was angry before you explained why you were hiding, but I was never indifferent," I exclaim.

"Not to my survival. To me being here. With you," she says softly. "I have imagined what seeing you again might be like. The anger I expected. I guess I just didn't know what else to expect," she trails off, looking around.

She walks away, through the foyer and living room. I watch her walk out to the terrace, still trying to decipher her meaning. One thing I can answer for her. I follow her outside and find her leaning on the railing looking out over the glittering Capitol as the sun sets.

"This is quite an apartment," she offers, apparently trying to change the subject.

"Spoils of war. It's called a penthouse. I lived here with my family for the first year after the war. I needed a place big enough for five of us, and this one has a pool, which the kids were wild about. I spend quite a bit of time in the Capitol, so I kept it." I lean on the railing beside her.

She nods distractedly. "Is that the Hunger Games Memorial?" she points to the newly completed monument near the City Circle.

"I don't have a girlfriend," answering her previous question as if there was no interruption. "Do you have anyone special in Six?" I ask casually. I find I'm holding my breath waiting for her answer.

She turns towards me, finally. "No. I don't have anyone waiting for me in Six. Except maybe my boss if I haven't been fired for not showing up for work for the past week."

I take a step closer, smiling down at her. Taking her face in my hands. "I've missed you, Diana."

"You didn't act like it earlier," she breathes.

"Because I haven't kissed you yet?" I ask, as the distance closes.

"Yes, I thought you might kiss me." I move closer still. "Sooner. If you still cared…" she whispers, looking up at me uncertainly.

Our lips connect, tentatively at first, then more eagerly as I take her fully in my arms and she pushes her hands through my hair, holding me closer. Five years of pain and longing. Five years of separation. Of mourning. Of hiding. Leading up to this moment.

Leaning our foreheads together, I confide, "I more than care. And I would have kissed you sooner, except for a few things. You were frightened. And vulnerable. And technically still in my custody until we finished your new identity papers this afternoon. I was in a position of authority over you. Kissing you didn't seem fair."

"But I wanted you to kiss me. I've missed you so much, you have no idea," she informs me, her eyes glassy with unshed tears.

"I've missed you, too." I trace the curve of her jaw tenderly before sliding my hand behind her head and pulling her to me for another kiss. Kissing her is even better than I remembered.

We cook dinner together in the marble and glass kitchen; kissing, touching and laughing as we do. Normally when I come to the Capitol I am alone for dinner. I've never minded the solitude, but being with Madge just feels so right. I feel so carefree. So young.

I give her a tour of the slick Capitol apartment after we do the dishes. She's amazed that it has four bedrooms, and five bathrooms. It encompasses the entire top floor of the building, allowing for spectacular views of the Capitol and the surrounding mountains from nearly every room. Posy's bedroom has a canopy bed surrounded with frilly curtains that she chose when she was five. That bed was the only thing that convinced her to sleep in her own room. It's always reminded me of Madge's bedroom in Twelve. I can tell she has a similar thought when she sees it, her eyes widening. I move us along quickly through the rest of the rooms.

We return to the living room then spend several hours kissing, cuddling, and talking on the couch. I tell her how Katniss and I grew apart during the war. I confide that I've long since realized that I'm better off without Katniss. She tells me how she survived by herself in Six. I tell her about the fighting in Two and the Capitol. She tells me what the war and its aftermath was like in Six.

We talk about Panem's bright future. About it's long, turbulent history. We marvel that we've lived through such an historic time. I share my plans for continuing to heal the rifts in District Two. She wonders about what came before Panem. I tell her about London, England, where her great-great-great-grandmother competed in the Olympic Games. We dream about traveling there someday.

"I love you," I declare earnestly, looking deeply into her eyes. I wonder briefly if it's too soon to share this feeling, but it was bursting to be said.

"I love you, too, Gale," she returns with a glorious smile.

"I don't want to be apart from you. Not even for a single day. Please say you'll come to Two with me. It's beautiful and there are no others from Twelve there aside from my own family. And they can be relied upon to keep a secret."

"Gale, I can't just move in with you. I'll need to find a job and an apartment of my own," she objects.

I smile at her, "That was a yes." I lean in and kiss her again as she laughs with delight at my reaction.

We plan a trip to Six to tie up the loose ends of her life there. She worked in an office at a factory. I'm confident I can help her to find a job once we're home in Two. There has been a lot of rebuilding since the war. And there is nothing she cannot do if she puts her mind to it. She'll just have to put up with being my guest until she finds her new job.

It's getting late and we're sitting facing each other on the couch, our fingers interlaced. I should show her to a guest room, but that would require letting her go. I want her face to be the last thing I see before I close my eyes and the first thing when I open them. I've missed her. Her warmth. Her touch. Her love. It's on the tip of my tongue to ask her to marry me. But, I've only known she's alive for twenty-four hours. What would she say?

I lean forward and am just opening my mouth to speak when there is loud, insistent knocking on the door.

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Author's note

So, Madge is alive! Who do you suppose is at the door?

Two more chapters to go, I think.

Any loose ends you need tied up or other characters you need to know the fate of before we say goodbye?

Thanks to those of you who took the time to review the last installment.

Reviews are love.