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Here it is, the last chapter. Madge POV introduced, but only for a snippet.
I step out of the bathroom and raise my arms. "Well?"
Mae motions for me to twirl and I roll my eyes. Mae has been our family's housekeeper ever since I was a baby. She doesn't have any daughters, and has taken to fussing over me at any chance she gets. Like now. My sky blue dress rests just above my knee and I tug on the hem self-consciously as I turn on my heel. I can't believe I let my father talk me into going tonight. I can't believe I let Mae help me pick out a dress and curl my hair. When I face her again, she nods approvingly. "Beautiful. The boys will be falling at your feet left, right and centre, honey."
I ignore her and cross to my dressing table, picking out a light blue ribbon to match the dress. I slide it under my hair and cross the ends to pinch a low ponytail, only to have Mae snatch it from my fingers and bat my hands away. I am so startled that I just gape at her. She doesn't appear to notice, because she has transformed the ribbon into a simple headband and begins fluffing my hair, so that the curls cascade down the front. When she's satisfied with it, she meets my eyes in the mirror and smiles, "Don't want my hard work to go to waste." She pats my shoulder. "I'm going to check if the chicken's ready. I've put your shoes near the door."
She makes her way to the door. Before she closes it, she pokes her head in. "Madge?"
"Smile," she says, her eyes teasing. "You look like you're going to a funeral or something."
I lift my lips, and it must look painful because Mae laughs. She shuts the door behind her and I sigh at my reflection in the mirror. I look too…dolled up. I've never had my hair curled for a school event. But I guess it's because I've never been to a school event that is also social one, let alone the Harvest Festival Fair.
I have never wished that I were grounded so badly. If Katniss were going, I think I would actually be looking forward to it. It would be nice, exploring the fairgrounds and actually participating in a non-school related activity. Even though Katniss doesn't really like talking, I enjoy her company and take comfort in knowing that she doesn't expect me to start the conversation or sees me as the spoilt Mayor's daughter. Unlike other people.
And just like that, Gale Hawthorne is dominating my thoughts once again. I groan and drop my forehead to my hand. It completely slipped my mind that he's probably going to be there tonight, and if I'm not careful I would have to endure his snide remarks about, well, basically everything about me. Tonight, though, it will probably be centered on Derian Porter.
Oh yes, yet another reason why I'm dreading tonight. I have stupidly agreed to go with Derian Porter.
I don't even know what possessed me to say 'yes'. It kind of just popped out, after worrying all day about having to go alone and walk around with my jam donut while everyone is linked by the arms and stealing kisses. The Harvest Festival Fair is known for being a couples' affair. It is tradition for the boys to ask the girls to accompany them, which is romantic and great, but not when you're one of the girls who don't receive notes taped onto your locker or slipped into your notebook. So when Derian sauntered over and leaned against the locker beside mine, I guess I was getting desperate.
I can't believe I allowed myself to feel desperate.
Stop it, Madge. He's been nothing but sweet to you after that incident during the wrestling competition.
The doorbell rings and I dash to the door to slip on the boots Mae laid out for me, silently thanking her for not picking out heels. My clomping boots announce my arrival as I rush down the stairs, and Derian looks up at me. His mouth falls open and I blush, but he quickly closes it and smiles warmly at me.
Relax, it's going to be fine. You have company now, and a nice one at that. Derian angles his arm toward me as I step beside him. You might even have fun.
I smile back.
Mae enters from the kitchen to see us off with a few words of warning to Derian that causes me to blush and his cheeks to turn a bright shade of pink. As I cross the threshold, my shoulder brushes against the coats hanging on the rack and I grab one despite the mild temperature. The last time I left it behind, I paid for it dearly by having to share the warmth of that horrible, rude and insensitive prick, and admit to enjoying it. I gulp.
"I hope we don't run into that idiot Hawthorne tonight," Derian says suddenly.
The mention of him snaps me out of the embarrassing memory and I dart my eyes to Derian, worried that I have unconsciously betrayed my thoughts aloud. I sigh in relief when I see that he isn't looking in my direction at all.
"Is he going to be there?" I ask, hoping he doesn't hear the note of curiosity in my voice. I don't know if I'm hoping for a yes or a no.
"Of course, he goes every year. Not sure if you know this, but Hawthorne has a reputation. Different girls every year, if you know what I mean."
'No'. I was hoping for a 'no'.
"Oh," is all I say.
Fine. I wasn't expecting to have fun in the first place.
I try to coax Katniss into coming with Thom and I to the Harvest Festival Fair, even though I know what her answer will be.
"I can't," she says as expected, and launches into a long explanation of urgently needing to help Prim make bundles of goat's cheese to trade at the Hob tomorrow. I nod like the understanding friend I am, but secretly think that Prim is more than capable of curdling goat's milk and wrapping it in basil on her own. Thom shrugs, not bothering to tease Katniss anymore because her response is always the same, bids her goodnight, and we make our way to the fairgrounds, a field just down the road from school.
Like every other year, the place is already filled with eager young couples determined to soak up as much of the night as possible. Strings of lights hang above us, disguising the stars and the fact that we are in a deserted field. There is music playing from large speakers at various points, though it is barely heard above the gushes, laughter and carefree conversations. Thom and I dive for the free beverages, and I take a swig out of my bottle of orange juice, a rare treat, savoring the sweetness. An irrational anger at the wealthy for having the option of drinking it anytime threatens to bubble over, so I down another mouthful and force myself to enjoy this opportunity while I can. As we stroll past the stalls, I avoid the heartbroken glances in my direction, and there are more than usual tonight. Apparently, that incident with Miranda didn't slip under the radar, so the females in our school became bolder as they have discovered that I actually have a heart, says Thom. Ha. If only they knew who was responsible for that.
Just as her image forms in my mind, she steps out from behind a tent and I almost choke on my drink when I see her hand clutching Derian Porter's arm. I watch him lean close to her ear and whisper something, which tugs her lips into a small smile as she nods shyly. My fingers tighten around the glass bottle, not caring if it shatters because it would be the safer thing to break if tossed up with Derian Porter's jaw. The slime disappears into the crowd, and Madge visibly relaxes.
I am shoved forward and my hand tips. Orange juice dribbles down my white shirt. Perfect. Another earful from Hazelle Hawthorne. "What the hell?"
Thom smirks and tilts his head toward Madge. "Stop being an ass and go to her." With that, he salutes me and darts away into the crowd, leaving me with protests hanging on my lips and a bright orange stain down my chest.
I grit my teeth and sweep the last droplets hastily off my shirt. I spot a bin behind the girl Thom so desperately wants me to talk to, or maybe I refuse to see any other bin but that one, and saunter toward it. Madge is rubbing her arm absentmindedly, and it is so familiar and evokes the images I've been trying so hard to push away that I nearly abandon my trip to the bin. She catches me before I can, and I tell myself that it would be rude to ignore her now, so I should probably go up and say something. And throw my bottle, of course.
I approach her and she lifts her chin to hold my gaze. If she were any other girl, my first instinct would be to compliment her. It should be my instinct now, because from her soft curls to her long legs, she is breathtaking. But what tumbles out is, "I see you remembered to bring a coat."
Madge squints, trying to figure out if I am teasing her or being my usual snide self. She goes with the latter. "I see you didn't. Trying to trick another unsuspecting female into 'sharing your body heat'?"
Woah. Sharp tongue. I ignore the blow. "I see you're here with the creep who forced himself onto you. A bit desperate aren't you, Undersee?"
This makes her fume, I can tell from her scorching eyes, making the blue more brilliant against her fair skin. For someone who dishes out insults so glibly, she fails miserably at taking them.
"Derian asked and I said yes-"
"To him? Out of all the others who dared to ask you?"
She does not meet my gaze and a thought occurs to me.
"Was he the only one who asked you?" I ask, unable to believe that no other male plucked up the courage to win over the Mayor's daughter.
A blush creeps to her cheeks and she shifts uncomfortably.
All intentions of taunting her are blown out the window as I stand there and gape. Why not? I aim my question toward the general male population. Are you blind?
Madge bites her lip.
"Why are you here?" she asks, slipping her hands in her coat pockets.
I stare at her. "Because I always come-"
"No, I mean, why did you walk here? Can't be to talk, since I'm so despicable to you, so what?"
Wrong and wrong. I did come here to talk to you. You are not despicable. You drive me insane with just one gesture. All I have to do is look at you to remember the feel of your skin against my hand, and remember how much I wanted you then. How much I want you now.
"Bin," I mutter, holding up the empty bottle. I reach around her and she backs up slightly, as afraid of the contact. I feel her tiny breaths on my neck, her soft tendrils of hair on my cheek. She smells of flowers again. The bottle clanks into the bin, and I draw back. We are both still for a second, then Madge mumbles, "You have juice on your shirt."
It is so irrelevant and so Madge that I laugh, breaking the tension. This makes her laugh too, a clear sound so beautiful I swell with pride at being able to elicit it out of her. As the laughter dies down, I clear my throat and Madge cranes her neck to inspect all the tiny lights above us. It is clear that neither of us want to acknowledge whatever just happened. The conversation we launch into is strange in it's own, it's lighter, less cutting, more playful.
"What happened? Saw a hot girl and got distracted?" she teases.
Something like that. "Thom was being his usual idiotic self."
"Is Thom the tall boy who was with you before?"
She noticed. "Yes, don't get any ideas though, you're not his type." I don't know what is making me flirt so carelessly, but I can't stop. It's so easy to lose myself with her.
"Oh yeah. Apparently I'm the only girl from Town who doesn't appeal to you Seam boys."
Wrong again. "Where did your date go off to anyway?" I ask to veer away from the subject.
"Oh, he said he was going to get us drinks," Madge says.
I doubt it. I rise slightly on my toes to glance over the top of the crowd, and surprise surprise, Derian is not at the drink stand. When I look back at Madge, her face falls at my silence, "I'm not going to get my apple juice anytime soon, am I?"
I watch as she sighs and slumps on a crate next to the bin. Closing her eyes, she murmurs, "Guess I was expecting it because I don't feel so bad. Or maybe it's because you're here so I'm not exactly humiliated."
Wait, was that a backhanded compliment?
The impossible thought dissipates into the cold night air as I watch her, eyes closed, arms wrapped around her chest, eyebrows furrowed, trying to make sense of the idiot's betrayal. Trying to convince herself that she isn't hurt. She looks so vulnerable, so different from the caustic girl who always has a smart insult to hurl back at me, that my insides churn.
I will wring Porter's neck if he dares show his face around me again.
Some insane desire to hold her overtakes me, so before I do anything incredibly stupid, I let out a long, heaving sigh. "Okay, I don't think I can stand hanging around here while you're busy moping."
Madge glares at me, like she cannot believe such an insensitive human being exists. I can't believe it either, if my mother ever finds out how I am behaving right now… "I didn't ask you to, remember? You came for some absurd, unfortunate reason."
I am about to take back what I am about to offer the ungrateful brat, but I remember the unadulterated look of hurt on her face and swallow the urge to wring her skinny neck as well. "Let's go somewhere else," I say.
Madge's mouth flies open as if to fire a comeback at me, then snaps shut when my words finally hit her. I fix my gaze on the crowd, though everything is a blur and the only thing that matters is her answer.
"Okay," she says softly.
She pushes herself off the crate and looks up at me with such hope, such expectation, that I tear my gaze away, angry with myself for suggesting the walk because it is sure to disappoint her. It won't even help her at all.
But I want her to come. And from her compliance, it seems that she wants the same thing. So I start moving through the crowd before my common sense pulls the strings of my lips and they utter something I am sure to regret.
The walk is quiet and slightly awkward because we are not exactly each other's choice person to be around, but Madge looks content as she brisk-walks next to me, so I shove my hands in my pockets, more than happy to extend the silence.
"Was she your girlfriend?" she pipes up after about forty steps.
"Miranda," she clarifies, ducking her head, but not before I catch the pink rising in her cheeks.
"Uh," I scratch my head, "We went out once."
"Oh," she says.
The weak attempt at conversation dies out and reverts back to the rhythmic scraping of our boots on gravel, until I finally stop in front of a formidable pile of coal debris.
Madge arches an eyebrow. "Is this-"
"The slag heap, yes," I say. I don't even know why I brought her here. Stupid hormones.
I wait for the disdain that I get so often from Katniss, but Madge's expression is unreadable. She steps onto the hill tentatively and squeaks when the slag engulfs her boot. But she digs her other foot into the hill, pushes her coat sleeves up, and races to the top. She laughs and collapses on the slag.
It is my turn to raise an eyebrow. "It's just…I was never allowed to play with mud as a kid," she explains.
I roll my eyes. "Sorry to burst your bubble, but this," I wave to the heap of coal debris, "isn't mud. It's slag."
"Well, this slag is your idea of a romantic getaway."
"At least I have one," I counter.
"At least I don't go around spreading diseases," she retorts.
I step forward, because she cannot beat me at my own game, but my tongue refuses to cooperate so I resort to pinning her with what Posy calls my 'scary stare'. A smug smile spreads on Madge's face because she knows she has won, the annoying Townie, and she sighs, hugging her knees.
"I bet you brought Miranda here too and smiled and talked like what you're doing with me," she teases, gazing up at the night sky.
"Ha, yeah that's one way to put it," I smirk, recalling the finer details of that new years party. Ahem. Focus, Hawthorne.
Silence settles over us again, it does that a lot, but it is comfortable, undemanding, and somewhat familiar. I realize it reminds me of Katniss and quickly will it away. I think the fact that Katniss and Madge are friends makes it difficult for me not to compare them, so I try and pretend that Madge isn't associated with Katniss at all. It helps keep the hostility at bay.
"Tell me something," she says.
She is talking an awful lot tonight. "What?"
"I don't know, anything." She rests her chin on her knees. "Your family?"
My throat feels dry and I clear it. "I have two younger brothers and a younger sister. Rory's twelve, Vick's ten, and Posy's only three. They're a bunch of troublemakers," I say, my voice embarrassingly tender even though the description is chiding. Madge's lips turn up.
I decide that I am not going to risk revealing my soft spot for my siblings to Madge Undersee, so I turn the question back to her. "What about you?"
"I'm an only child."
"I know that," I glare, because her tone suggests that I'm an idiot for asking a question with an obvious answer. "Tell me about your family."
It is the wrong request. Her face closes off, her eyes glaze over, and her smile disappears. "Well, you know my father. And you've probably heard about my mother."
I nod. The condition of Mrs. Undersee isn't so secret anymore, things spread like wildfire in District 12. I recall seeing her once a long time ago, when Madge and I were only children, and if my memory is anything to rely on, Madge resembles her a lot in appearance. Mrs. Undersee, who shuts herself up in the house all day, who the rumors say is sick. Very, very sick. I suddenly feel bad for knowing before hearing it from Madge herself, because it should've been her secret to share.
"That's all there is to tell, really," Madge's voice is quiet, guarded. No, no, no. She picks at a loose thread on her coat sleeve, refusing to let me see her eyes, to unravel the other secrets that hide there.
But she's given me enough. Enough to see that she is lonely. Dreadfully and painfully so.
That desire is back again. The yearning to hold her, to shield her from anything that could ever steal the rare, carefree laugh I was fortunate enough to bear witness to. I know that offering words of comfort it isn't one of my strong points, so I give in.
I tread up the pile of slag, and she follows me with her eyes, somewhat confused but fine with the fact that I'm moving closer. Blue is the last thing I see before I place my hands on the sides of her face and press my lips against hers.
She freezes, from shock, from inexperience. I draw back and open my eyes, in time to see hers flutter close and a sigh escape her pink lips. I take it as an invitation and lean in again, deepening the kiss. My fingers dig into her silky curls, the pretty blonde curls I've so longed to thread my fingers through, and the light blue ribbon slips off. Her lips are answering, willing, allowing me to show her, to comfort her. And I do.
When we're finally breathless, Madge is the one who pulls away, and I draw in a sharp breath. I notice that her light blue dress has coal smudged all over it. "I'm sorry," I say, gesturing to the stains, though I mean more than that. I'm sorry that you're lonely. I'm sorry about your mother.
I'm sorry for kissing you without your permission.
At that, she meets my gaze. Her eyes are desperate, searching. For what, I have no idea, but they hold me there until she breaks away. I might be mistaken, but she looks almost…crestfallen.
"I should go," she mumbles.
No, stay. "Oh. Yeah."
"Derian," she adds.
I nod and push myself reluctantly away from her, my feet sinking into the slag. Madge stands and dusts her dress quickly. She steps past me and walks briskly toward the road, pausing once to glance back at me.
Not a 'see you', or even a 'goodnight'. But 'bye', a word so final that it is like she knows that this, whatever this is, ends here. That the glimpse we both got of Something Better will be another bottled secret tossed into the ocean of her blue eyes, unmentionable and irretrievable.
I clench my hands.
Because how can a Mayor's daughter and a Poacher from the Seam expect otherwise?
You guys, I think that was it. It feels strange to be ending the story here, but for all we know, it didn't end here, did it? ;) I started this fanfic because, in tumblr terms, like all of you I JUST HAD TOO MUCH GADGE FEELS AND IF I DIDN'T WRITE I WOULD BE SOBBING ALL DAY. I think it was the right decision because not only was it therapeutic, it was unexpectedly rewarding.
'What Nettles Me' was an exploration of one possible way Gale and Madge could have interacted before his famous 'Pretty Dress' comment on Reaping Day of the 74th Hunger Games, so I only intended it to be a few chapters long. After Chapter 5, I would imagine Gale reverting back to hostility and biting remarks when it comes to Madge, and Madge, ever so eager to snap back, would treat him the same way to hide her growing feelings for the boy with the strawberries. It wouldn't be until the 74th Hunger Games that Madge and Gale would find their way back to each other, and you can read all about that in 'Night and Day' by the Canidae and 'Unexpected' by jennycaakes. Both of those stories are my personal favourites, so be sure to check them out!
My sincere thanks to all those who have taken the time to read this written form of my Gadge Feels. I hope it made you feel all kinds of feels.
To every single one of my reviewers, you have no idea how precious a review can be! It never fails to brighten my day, so thank you again.