CHAPTER 1: The Feast

So, this was it. The morning of the Feast of the 74th Hunger Games - though barely. It wouldn't be dawn for a few more hours yet. During the last broadcast, Katniss had drugged Peeta to ensure herself unhindered passage to the Cornucopia, to get what could only be medicine from the game makers for him. Cato and Clove had spent some time assessing the best method to retrieve their backpack, and Thresh had emerged from the field where he had spent the majority of the Games thusfar to wait for morning. The Girl from District 5 was nowhere to be found, but, she rarely was. Katniss had kissed Peeta on the forehead, and then the broadcast ended.

Knowing that they wouldn't want to miss anything, Madge had invited Gale Hawthorne, Primrose Everdeen, and Mrs. Everdeen to stay at her house after the announcement of the feast late last night - no point in them going home if they were just going to have to come back before sunrise. Madge had sent Mrs. Everdeen and Primrose to sleep in her bed. It was only right. After all, they had suffered so much during this ordeal, they could use a little comfort - and she felt Katniss would have appreciated it.

She and Gale found themselves in the study, seated on two armchairs. They watched the static of the TV in complete silence, waiting for anything at all to happen, but it had been a few hours since the broadcast ended, and would be a few more before it started again.

She cast a quick glance at Gale, who sat perched, tense, on his chair. Madge took in his hunched demeanor, his distant eyes, and the dark circles underneath them, all betraying just how exhausted he really was. The boy, well, the young man, Madge corrected herself - he was 18 years of age - Gale's unfocused stare fell to his hands, which were tracing the intricate patterns embroidered on the arm of the chair in which he sat.

Though she was fairly certain he was too out of things to mean anything by it, Madge felt as if he were drawing attention to the chair's elegance, and therefore - its price. Gale had always succeeded in making Madge feel ashamed of her family's wealth, though it wasn't her fault really. She wrapped her robe more tightly around herself, feeling suddenly awkward in the pale pink silk dress that she wore. It had been her mother's, and she loved the way it somehow still smelled like her. Wearing her mother's old clothes sometimes felt like the closest thing she would ever get to hug from her.

She wasn't sure why she was bothering to worry about Gale's thoughts regarding her money, he was miles away right now.

"Coffee?" She asked him, timidly. Even his company would be better than none at all, at this point. The waiting was really starting to put her on edge. Maybe some caffeine would bring Gale back to his senses and they could talk, or something. At least feeling like she wasn't alone in this room would be a step up.

"What?" He asked, turning his head to look at her.

"Do you want... coffee?" Madge repeated, starting to flush a bit. Maybe he didn't even know what coffee was and she was looking privileged just by offering. "You seem tired is all, and we've got at least an hour until they start the feast, probably longer."

"Oh, sure." He was polite, but preoccupied. He went back to staring at the chair, though he had stopped fidgeting. His grey eyes seemed to be staring though all of the time and space between himself and Katniss, as if he could see what she was doing at this exact moment, despite the lapse in broadcast.

"I hope instant is okay, I don't want to risk waking my parents with the percolator." Madge moved to the doorway, waiting to hear anything from Gale, but he kept silent. She paused in the door for a moment, too embarrassed to look back at him, but wishing he would say... just... anything. He didn't.

In the kitchen, Madge heated water in a kettle on their stove top, and fetched two mugs from their cupboard. As she spooned coffee grounds into each mug, she thought back on the events during the past few weeks: Katniss getting reaped had been so devastating to everyone in such small, but palpable ways. For her, the lack of strawberries around her house, watching the slight drag in Primrose Everdeen's steps, and well, him. Gale being a constant presence in her life, rather than an occasional annoyance.

The first week of the televised broadcasts, the training and interviews in the Capitol, Madge had suffered alone, feeling- what was it, guilt? Feeling guilty that she couldn't go in Katniss's stead. Nobody needed her, Madge, but it seemed like everyone needed Katniss. Madge's loss would have been nothing compared to what Katniss's would be, if she didn't make it home.

Once Peeta Mellark, Katniss and Madge's classmate, publicly declared his love for her during the interview, things changed. District 12 became more hopeful about the possibility of Katniss's return, because of the Capitol citizens' response to the whole thing. There was talk that Katniss may receive sponsors as a result of Peeta's confession and her high training score.

That was also the week that the Everdeen's TV set started "acting up." How they knew to come to Madge, she would never know - maybe Katniss had mentioned their friendship, or Primrose had seen them talking at school. Either way, they came to her one night, desperate, asking to watch the Games at her house. They offered Prim's goat as a trade for the favor, saying they had no idea what had happened to their set and no money to get it fixed or replace it.

Of course, Madge had let the Everdeens watch at her house and told them to keep their goat - she and her family had no need for additional expendable income.

Eventually, when Madge was letting Primrose pick out one of her old dresses for the interviews when Katniss made it to the final 8, the poor girl told her that Gale had had kicked their set the night Peeta confessed his feelings for Katniss, and the signal had been inconsistent since - making the Games even more painful and uncertain.

The first few nights, it was just nice not to have to watch alone. Madge's parents had been, well, sick and running the District, just like they always were. Her dad was making an effort to help organize the sponsor fund for Katniss with Sae, the cook woman from the black market, but beyond that, it was business as usual. She had watched alone, and since she had never really talked to any of her classmates, talking to them about the Games would have been weird. She heard plenty of gossip about the whole thing, but never contributed.

It was nice to have people to suffer with, to talk to. On the third night, Primrose had asked her if Gale could come along to watch the next time. He had been watching at their house because the Hawthornes don't have a set, and Gale didn't want his younger siblings watching, in case Katniss died, anyway. Madge had agreed.

He was never talkative, usually angry, and always rude to her, but in some strange way, Madge liked having him around. It was like having a piece of Katniss right there with her. He, when he did speak, speculated on what Katniss was thinking or doing, and he knew her so well, that he must be right.

The night she got the idea to drop the tracker jacker nest, he was so excited. That night he talked - about how smart she was and how risky it would be. He was so certain that she would be able to pull it off. He had hugged Mrs. Everdeen, and even danced around a bit with Primrose. When his eyes fell on her, Madge, sitting in a chair, terrified what the next morning would bring, he had even pulled her to her feet, grabbed her by the shoulders, and, through a rather winning smile, assured her that if anyone in the world could pull it off, it would be Katniss.

The next morning, of course, he'd sobered when Katniss got stung too, when Peeta fought off Cato to protect her, and when she got her hands on the bow and arrow. He was struck mute when Katniss passed out for days because of the tracker jacker venom. When she did finally wake up, it was as if Gale had been holding his breath since she passed out. The Games were killing him, almost as literally as they were killing the tributes.

The day that she sang to the dying little girl, Rue, from District 11 - the day that she killed the boy from District 1, Katniss's mother had cried, and took Primrose from the room, so that she couldn't watch the gruesome scene unfold. Madge and Gale had been left alone then,too. All that poor Gale could say was that he had never heard her sing.

Madge poured the steaming water into the mugs until the hot liquid was black and smelled bitter. She wondered if Gale took cream and sugar in his coffee, and then immediately realized how stupid it was to think about such things. She hated the way he made her second guess herself without saying or doing anything at all. Katniss had never blamed her for being rich, so why did he have to?

After a few more minutes stressing over how to fix Gale's coffee, Madge settled for pouring cream into a small pitcher, and filling a small dish with sugar. She placed these with spoons and the mugs on a tray and brought them back out to where Gale sat, unmoving. He could figure out for himself how he liked his damn coffee.

"Sorry that took so long."

She set the tray on a table between the two chairs.

Gale mumbled ascent and looked at the tray. It was a silver tray, and set upon it were two mugs on saucers, a tiny cream pitcher and a sugar bowl all from the same china tea set. Madge wanted to die. Gale looked at the tea set and laughed bitterly. Madge's cheeks burned.

"I have choices for what to put in my steaming hot coffee, and Katniss is starving to death in a cave. That is rich." Gale scoffed. It was probably the most he'd spoken in her presence in days.

She couldn't say anything in her own defense. He was right.

After a few uncomfortable moments of weighted silence, she took a spoon and dipped it in the sugar bowl. She brought a spoonful of sugar to her cup, dumping it in and hesitating.

"Do you want some... sugar?" She gestured with the spoon to Gale, who was staring at her intently, thinking, she could only guess what. Something terrible, probably. She hated this, why was she being so... domestic with him. Hadn't she already decided to let him figure his own coffee out?

"Do mine however you do yours." Gale said dismissively. "I've never had coffee before. Bit of a luxury for someone from the Seam, if you don't mind me saying so."

Madge began fixing both of the cups of coffee, watching the cream billow into the dark liquid like a tiny storm. "I do mind." She wanted to say, but she kept quiet until both coffees were a lighter brown color and smelling considerably sweeter. She offered his mug back to him.

"Here." He took it, and his hand brushed hers, sending an uncomfortable pang to her stomach. She pulled her hand away quickly, and took a long drink of coffee. She took it in, the smell, the taste, and relaxed a bit. It had been a long night. If they could just make it through the feast, if they could know that Katniss was still alive; she could make it through another another day.

She glanced over from her coffee to see Gale looking at her.

"How's-" She began.

"Fine." He answered. He had taken a sip, but his mug was resting on the table.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, thanks." He answered without the slightest trace of gratitude.

Madge struggled to keep the conversation going, though it was seeming rather futile.

"Uh- are you... hungry? Do you want something to eat while we wait?"

"I'm used to being hungry. You know some families can't just grab a snack whenever they feel like it."

"I KNOW THAT!" Madge snapped, then struggling to keep her voice low, she said, "I know that, okay? I'm trying to be nice to you. Every night that you've been here, I've made food available, blankets, whatever you needed and you've been nothing but cold to me-"

"Maybe because I'd rather someone like you be a tribute in the Games than Katniss-"

"Katniss chose this. She volunteered to go in sister's place, and for the record, my name was in the ball more times than Prim's-"

"Don't you call her that!"

"-Than Primrose's!" Madge was so angry, she was shaking. Why was he being so awful? She was trying so hard to help him, because he was Katniss's friend, but he made it so hard sometimes.

"I know that you think I'm... 'someone like me,' but my aunt was reaped, when she was about my age. The same year as Katniss's mentor, Haymitch Abernathy."

"Well, judging that you weren't born yet, I'm sure that was very hard for you." Gale dismissed her attempts at reconciliation and went back to staring at the static on the TV.

Madge had thought that maybe if he understood that her family had lost someone too, he would let up, but it didn't seem likely now. She took another long sip of her coffee, trying to calm down. They sat in silence for what seemed like a long time, but when Madge glanced at the window, the unrelenting blackness of night seemed unending. It wouldn't be dawn for a while yet.

"She meant it, you know." Gale said.

"Who meant- you mean Katniss?" Who else would he be talking about.

"That stuff about- not wanting to come back without him. That kiss on his forehead." Gale couldn't bring himself to say Peeta's name, but he didn't have to. The way he bit the word "him" would make you think it caused him physical pain to say it. "I know her. I can tell. She meant it."

"Gale, he saved her life." Madge pointed out. "She doesn't want him to die, but that doesn't mean-"

"Doesn't matter." Gale stopped her. "I'm her cousin, remember? I'm not supposed to give a damn about what she thinks about Pe- about him."

This was as close as they'd come to honest conversation, and Madge felt awful. She had no idea what to say. Not that she had never noticed that Gale carried a bit of a torch for the, now appropriately called "girl on fire," but Madge had always assumed that the love was either brotherly, or returned.

"I- went on a date with Peeta once." Madge had nothing better to say, so why not? Maybe they could keep talking, even if wasn't helping his problem.

"I care why?" Gale's walls shot right back up.

"Uh- it, was awkward. I talked about playing piano mostly, and he talked about- well, bread and working the bakery. Frosting cookies and that type of thing. Then we somehow got on the subject of Katniss." Madge took a steadying breath, trying to find the right words to reassure him. "Gale, he's going to protect her."

"In that state?" Gale said wryly.

"In any state."

"I wish I were there with her."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do."

"What good would it do?" Madge demanded, standing, and sloshing the rest of her coffee down her robe. "They only changed the rule about having two victors because of their star crossed romance and you know it. The only thing you would do in there is get yourself killed."

"I would die for her."

"And she would never forgive you for it." Madge frustratedly pulled off her robe and tossed it to the floor. "That's just how she is. It's the same reason that she won't let Peeta die for her."

"How do you know that?"

"I- I just do." admitted Madge weakly.

"You're probably right." Gale actually smiled a bit, if sadly. He took another sip of his coffee.

"Does she- know, I mean; Have you ever told her about how you feel?"

Gale took another sip of his coffee, then, "Why did you go on a date with- bread boy anyway? Katniss always said you weren't the social type."

Madge took the deflection as a no, but was so happy that they were talking that she didn't push it. "My dad set it up, as a favor to Peeta's mother or something, I never heard the exact details."

"Ah, a business transaction."

"Something like that."

Madge and Gale sat in rapidly growing silence. "No, no, no, say something," Madge thought, not wanting conversation to die.

"I-" she coughed, "I was one of Katniss's sponsors. I sold some of my jewelry to put in with Greasy Sae's fund."

"Me too."

"What did you have to sell? I imagine you couldn't spare any food." She tried hard to sound aloof, but her voice came out concerned. Damn it.

"No uh, a suit jacket - my father's - had these... cuff links. I was told they were valuable by someone, your father maybe, when I wore it to the ceremony for my father, and... Katniss's... after the mine explosion. I took them off and sold them."

"You're a good friend."

"So- are you."

Silence again, but more comfortable. Madge looked into the soft static glow of the screen. She vaguely realized that she was smiling. "No." her thoughts were so loud that she was afraid for a moment that she had said, "No" out loud. Her heart was pounding so hard that she spared a quick glace at Gale to see if he could hear it, but he had returned to his own little world.

Madge placed her hand against her breast, attempting to will her heart to slow. "He's sitting here, telling you how much he loves Katniss. What are you thinking?" Then of course, she realized that she wasn't thinking, she was feeling.

She realized that Gale was right. Katniss, in the arena, she spent a lot of time thinking, and when she told Peeta that she couldn't stand the thought about living without him, she wasn't thinking it at all, she was feeling it. In that moment, Madge understood what Gale probably also knew: even if Katniss makes it home, she will never come back to him in the way that he wants. It's too late for that.

Finally, breaking their newfound and familiar silence, the feast began. They watched wordlessly. Katniss was nowhere to be seen, as the sun glittered off the golden cornucopia. In a flash, the red-headed girl from district five jumped from the horn, took her pack and flitted into the woods. Gale made a derisive noise. Then, hell broke loose. Madge had to remind herself to blink and breathe as she watched the incredible showdown between Clove and Katniss. Madge could hear Gale's teeth grinding in frustration as Clove toyed her knife around Katniss' face. Then, a crash, and Thresh's giant, dark form appeared, Godlike, on the screen. Clove's tribute picture flashed at the bottom of the screen, along with her time of death as Katniss and Thresh made some sort of peace. Then, as quickly as it started, Katniss had her tiny pack of medicine, and she was gone. The feast continued, of course, but Madge and Gale were done watching.

Madge slowly turned to look at Gale, unsure of what to say. Gale, slightly more present than before, felt her eyes on him, and looked at her. She knew she that she was making the most pitiful face, but couldn't make it go away. Gale's face was empty.

"Feeling sorry for me?"

"I-" Madge was speechless. She reached across to touch Gale's hand, before she even thought about whether it was the right thing to do in that moment or not. He flinched, but did not withdraw his hand.

"Don't," he pleaded.

"You were right."

"I know."

Their eyes were locked, his grey eyes, so sad she could feel her heart breaking. He dropped her gaze.

"Nice dress."

"Don't tease, Gale." Madge said breathlessly, feeling a tickle somewhere in her insides at his slight smirk, no matter how contemptuous it was.

"How much did that cost you?"

"Gale, don't-"

He pulled his hand away and stood up.

"Enough to sponsor Katniss? Enough to send her more? Something for her instead of medicine for him? Let's go through your fucking closet, and count the things we could buy Katniss with your fucking clothes!" He was pacing.

"Gale!" Madge stood as well.

"Your house, your jewelry, the drugs that keep your mom in la-la land-"

"GALE!" Madge was taken aback by his sudden change in demeanor.

"Let's see if we can't save Katniss huh? If you're such a good friend, I bet you wish you could take her place, so what's giving up everything if it can bring her back, right?"

"Even if I give up everything, it won't bring her back, only she can do that now or-"

Gale was across the room in about half a second. With one hand, he grabbed Madge's face so hard that she stopped short. He pulled her face so close to his she could see the individual stands of his dark eyelashes. "Or... what?"

"Nothing." Madge whispered, taking the hand that was on her face and attempting to pull it away. She couldn't, of course.

"Or. What?" Gale was unblinking. He pulled her in even closer, until the tips of their noses touched.

"Or Peeta can." Madge looked away and Gale dropped her to the floor, suddenly exhausted.

"I would give anything... But, because he's there-" Gale dropped to his knees, hopeless.

"Gale, what- what can I do?" Madge asked helplessly. She could feel tears in her eyes. She was just so damn tired. "How can I help?"

They were so pathetic, crumpled in piles on the floor, blaming each other for Katniss's fate just to stay sane; just to have something to convince themselves that it wasn't their own fault.

"I want you to be her." Gale said.

Madge felt a stabbing pain in her chest, mixed with a churning in her stomach. Did he mean that he wished Katniss were the one here with him now, in this pink dress? Did he mean that he wished Madge were in the arena? She knew either way, that there was nothing she could do.

"I can't be."

"Then help me forget." Gale whispered.


"Help me... forget. Just for a little while." Gale begged, desperately. "Just, help me forget that she's out there, cold, alone, in danger, and in love... with- him."

There was a long, painful pause. Thoughts flew through Madge's head, the pounding in her heart got louder. Suddenly, it felt stifling in the sitting room. She looked down at the hem of her silken dress. Somehow, she thought of Katniss, and the horrible gash on her face, racing back to Peeta to deliver the medicine.

She leaned into him, carefully, from her spot on the floor. The television showed old footage from the reapings and the sun had finally started to peek out from behind the heavy velvet curtains. He looked at her with empty eyes, and as suddenly as before, grabbed her face and pressed a harsh, punishing kiss to her lips. Their balance was precarious, kneeling on the floor and leaning into one another, held up only by the pressure between their lips.

She felt his coarse hands in her hair, as he lifted his other hand from the floor and toppled onto her. As they broke from the kiss, they stared at one another sharply. Something seemed to have been decided. It was nothing loving, nothing gentle, but it was certainly distracting. Gale might have expected her to simply lay there; let him distract himself, but Madge seemed to be determined to contribute. She ran her hands over his chest and he let out a guttural noise against her throat, placing a bite-kiss there. He kissed all the way down to the first pearly little button on her dress.

Then, without warning, he ripped the little button off with his teeth and spat it across the room. He gave her a challenging, devilish look as he took hold of both sides of her dress. Madge felt the pressure on the material as he unceremoniously popped off the remainder of the buttons and they bounced through the room and nestled into the rug. Some of them flew off the rug and on to the hardwood floor, where they noisily skittered into the corners, seemingly scared of Gale's force.

"I wonder how much those buttons cost, hmm?" He said quietly, fiercely. She could feel his ragged breathing and her gaze narrowed. At some point, this was unfair, she decided. It was not her fault. She shrugged out of the ruined dress, left in her white, lacy underclothes. She had always thought she would be shy, coquettish perhaps, when a man saw her this way, but she felt freer, unabashed. Finally, they were doing something, not sitting, watching, waiting.

She strained up and bit him hard, where his shirt hung open. He growled and for a moment looked ready to strike at her. Madge suddenly understood what it might be like to be an animal in the forest caught in one of Gale's traps.

The television changed, and suddenly, the announcer was narrating, Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen have never been luckier to know one another. A montage of kisses, gentle wound-mending and meaningful looks lit up the sitting room.

Gale leaned down and covered Madge's mouth with his own again, more determined than ever for a distraction. His hands strayed around her side, pulling her up against him. Madge could feel his desperation, and kissed him back just as harshly. With a strangely practiced flick only possible from years of setting snares and tying game, he unhooked her brassiere and leaned down into her soft, rounded chest, biting and licking and kissing as though she might disappear if he did this too slowly. Madge didn't want to think about Katniss, but she could see her on the screen, laying next to Peeta in a similar fashion. Then I'll just have to fill in the blanks myselfshe heard Peeta say. Gale cannot see what is happening on the screen, Madge realized as canned music filled the room and she watched Peeta and Katniss share a passionate kiss. Madge moaned and buried her hands in Gale's dark, thick hair, pulling only enough to let him know she's serious. They kissed again, and Madge made quick work of Gale's shirt, pointedly undoing each button without ruining the fabric.

They were flat against one another, kissing desperately, he harshly squeezed and massaged one of her breasts and she bit his lower lip. She ground her hips against him and felt him, big and hard, against her thigh. Then and Katniss's voice came from the television, You don't have much competition anywhere.At this, Gale seemed to try to lose himself in kissing her, pressing against her leg.

Madge reached up and undid the tie on his loose pants. He gratefully stood and pulled them off, staring at her. Madge, flushed, naked spare her white underwear, propped up on her elbows, her large eyes flashed and dared him to continue. Her blonde hair fell around her shoulders in waves, glowing with the lonely ray of light that came in through the drapes.

"Well, princess, what are we going to do now?" He said, taking in the sight of her despite himself.

She smiled back sadly, "Distract ourselves." She moved so she was kneeling in front him, and looped his underclothes with her thumbs. "Forget." She said quietly. Then, she pulled down on the cloth, and he was completely naked. Her eyes widened, the reality of Gale's sex before her. The noises on the television had changed and now an announcer droned on about Cato, now without his fellow District 2 Tribute to face the Games and the wilderness alone. Katniss was out there, fighting for her life, if she could do that, certainly Madge could do this, she thought. She wrapped her fingers around him and licked from the base to the end. He gave a strangled moan. She darted her tongue out again, then closed her mouth around him.

He buried his hands in her hair. For a long moment, Gale was nowhere. The room was silent save for the narrator from the television and the quiet groans coming from the back of Gale's throat. Madge thought about Gale's contempt for her family, and dragged her teeth along the length of him. Gale only groaned in response, sappy music returned on the TV and from the corner of her eye, Madge could see more of the same images of Katniss and Peeta kissing, the canned music returned and Gale snapped to attention.

Gale gave her a sudden shove and he dislodged from her mouth with a startling pop. She fell to the ground. In an instant, he was on top of her, pressing against her flimsy underwear. They kissed, gentler this time, and he put his hands on the last clothing between them.

"Please," he said quietly.

Then, the TV changed. Coming in live, the announcer boomed, having given Peeta Mellark the life-saving injection, Katniss Everdeen has fallen unconscious! Only morning will tell if she survives the day! Everything stopped cold. At once, what they were doing seemed wrong. and they both stared at the monitor, carefully not touching. The reality of the Games crashed into them with incredible force.

Nearly naked, they stared blankly at the television as they saw Katniss laying in a pool of blood in the cave.

Gale stood, yanked his underwear up and hurriedly put on his pants and tossed his shirt on, fumbling for his buttons and left without a word, leaving Madge topless, flushed, and confused.

She picked up a lonely button and stared at it wonderingly. How much did a pearly little button cost?