She steps off the hovercraft and blinks frantically. Her entire body flinches involuntarily against the sensation. Too bright. She is used to darkness by now, so the unadulterated sunshine above District 13 makes her simultaneously nauseous and dizzy. It occurs to her, a flittering thought in the corner of her mind, that this is the first time she has seen the sun since her kidnapping. This hovercraft picked her up in the dead of night and traveled in windowless silence through the day.
As she walks through the open hovercraft grate, someone is holding on to her arm with a gentle grip, helping her unsteady legs, legs so unused to walking on their own, move. Left. Right. Left. Right. One foot in front of the other. She repeats the commands in her mind, willing her body to cooperate. She slips only once, mercifully, and the arm at her side keeps her standing. Madge opens her mouth to speak, to thank them, but she cannot find the words. The only thing they allow her to bring off of the hovercraft is her blanket, which is draped over her shoulders in a delicate manner, as though the extra weight might crack her starved, brittle body.
Madge keeps her eyes trained on the ground below her, as though afraid that it may dematerialize beneath her and reveal the metal floor of her prison cell once more. But the ground stays solid beneath her feet, even as the color changes from the grey floor of the hovercraft to the brown of the dead earth above District 13.
The war is over. And prisoners of the former state are being turned over to the new government. Sent to District 13 to be at the mercy of the Mockingjay's new order. Return to sender. We're giving the damaged goods back. Take her off our hands. She isn't good to us anymore now that she's mangled and tortured beyond repair.
"Private Masteron, sir," says the voice of the man guiding her once they stop.
She feels him straighten beside her like a rod was shoved straight up his back. Two booted feet land in front of her downcast eye line. They stand at attention, perfectly side by side, the picture of disciple in spite of the mud caking the soles. Her frame collapsed inward, trying to make herself look as small as possible, Madge listens to the conversation.
"At ease," the voice across from her says, "Status?"
Madge has no desire to look up at her new captor. The voice is hard, biting, clipped and cold. No one who needs her attention for any longer than necessary.
"Prisoner of war. Capitol identification number 617-350-0. In custody since the bombings of District 12 when she was discovered outside of the fence-"
Hearing her history repeated like a weather report is almost comforting. If she focuses hard enough on the words and the cadence of the man's voice, she can almost pretend that she wasn't there. Almost.
"The details and extent of her-"
He stops and clears his throat, and Madge knows that word he is trying so hard to avoid. Torture. A beat of uncomfortable silence stretches between the three people in the clearing, the only sound the humming of the hovercraft behind them.
He continues, "The extent of her injuries are all in the report."
A brush of wind blows through the clearing above District 13, wrapping the three of them together.
"Good. That will be all, Masterson."
The warmth of the hand of Madge's arm departs wordlessly, but she hears the quiet man padding back toward the hovercraft, leaving Madge alone with the pair of muddy boots before her. Immediately, she folds her arms over each other, her hands gripping the blanket draped over her shoulders.
"Madge," the voice says.
It does not sound like the voice from before. The edge is gone. It is soft, and Madge recoils at the sound. How does he know my name?
"Madge, can you look at me?" he asks, his voice tentative, almost worried.
She nods her head, but makes no move to actually try. If they shipped her to Thirteen directly, with no stops for re-identification or hospitalization, she cannot be faced with a friend.
"Please look at me."
The words almost get eaten up by the blustering wind. They are too soft, too quiet, and almost desperate. Almost.
Taking a deep breath in, she grips the corners of her blanket across her chest until her pale knuckles go almost blue. Unused to the exertion, her entire body shivers with the effort. Her lips are pursed, but finally, she lets her eyes ascend. First, up the laced boots-two loops are missed as though they were thrown on in a hurry, she notices- then up to the combat pants, well worn from use. At the man's sides, one hand hangs freely, limply, while the other holds itself tightly around the strap of some kind of weapon slung over his shoulder. The sight of it almost makes me lose her nerve. Then, the broad shoulders, the strong neck, the ID tags hanging around his collar... The sun glints off of it with blinding malice, refusing to show her the name of her new captor.
When she reaches his face, her heart stops. Gale. Gale Hawthorne. A million memories flash across her mind in that moment, strawberries and morphling in District Twelve play against clawing at the walls for escape and hearing familiar screams echo down the hallway in the Capitol.
The pair of refugees from District Twelve stand in tense silence, both sizing each other up. Gale's face is covered with a few days worth of stubble, his eyes are more tired than Madge ever remembers seeing them, and there are a few nicks and cuts edging his features. He looks older, wiser, exhausted. But he is still Gale. Madge sports a new scar of her own, a long one across the length of her cheek, her hair hangs limp and dirty around her face, and her entire body shakes even beneath the thick blanket. She looks thinner, dirtier, beaten. But she is still Madge.
"It's you," He says, his smile small.
He looks at her as though he still cannot believe it. And, truth be told, he can't believe it. He woke this morning to the news that the prisoners of war were being returned and made nothing of it until he saw the list being sent to District Eight for processing. Someone from Twelve. A real, live person from Twelve. No, not just a person, a friend, someone who Gale knew in another life. He arranged for her transport directly to Thirteen. And if he weren't so terrified of hurting her, he might have run up and scooped her into his arms without a moment's hesitation.
Madge says nothing at his acceptance of her miraculous appearance. What is there to say? Hello, Gale. Yes, it's me, Madge. Here to laugh at me because you fared this war better than I did? Go ahead, I don't blame you.
No, she doesn't think he would respond well to that. He looks at her questioningly after a moment of consideration.
"Can I put this down?" He asks, referencing the weapon, "You won't take it, will you?"
His smile looks more like a grimace, as if he half expects her to take the weapon and run off into the woods before she can be put into the new system. Oh, if only he knew that it was Madge who saved his life after the whippings in the square. And if only he knew the price paid for it.
Not trusting herself to speak, Madge simply nods. She watches with careful eyes as he slowly slides the gun off of his shoulder, his gaze never leaving hers. He leans down to lay it in the grass at his side, and I think for a moment how harmless it is. Without his control, it is just a pile of metal.
When he stands straight once more, he places his hands before him, palms up and inviting, but his eyes questioning.
"Madge, can I-?" He begins.
She looks at him for a long moment, taking in everything around them. The hovercraft is long gone, but the wind is persistent in playing with them, teasing as it plays game across a desolate field. The fresh air suffocates Madge, but not nearly as much as his gaze does. The Gale she remembers is cold, cynical, and shut from the world. And here he stands, arms open before himself, asking for a hug.
She looks at him, her face dead but her mind reeling. The survivor in the back of her mind reminds her how easily he could snap her neck or break her back in that position, and calls to mind memories and flashes in her mind's eye that support the knowledge. But, Madge thinks to herself, I'm free. Am I going to let the Capitol hold me captive forever?
Finally, she nods, only once and barely enough for him to register that it happened. The moment he receives her message, he closes the space between them, and they embrace. She is stiff as a board, her entire body on edge at the close contact. Gale bear hugs her, throwing his entire body into the act of cocooning Madge. She does not reciprocate the embrace, allowing her hands to remain locked across her chest as they clutch the blanket.
To a passerby, it may seem that Gale is protecting or guarding Madge. But from the inside, it is another world. He clutches her to his chest, his strong arms wrapping easily around her frame like a drowning man holds onto a life preserver. He lets his face sink into her blonde, unwashed hair as he feels her slacken against his body, her face turned out toward the side, her scarred cheek resting, feather-light, against his chest. Madge inhales the scent of soap flakes and something vaguely medicinal that is clinging to his military fatigues, allowing it to soak into her. Their breathing patterns fall into pace with one another, for the first time since the bombings in Twelve, Gale feels like he can breathe.
Whether or not either of them know it, they just began to put the pieces of each other's puzzles back together.
"I knew you would make it."
Gale can't believe he says it out loud, the thoughts that he rolled over in his mind since the report from Twelve came back with Madge's death confirmed. Be it wishful thinking or damnable pride, Gale always held the nagging suspicion that the world wasn't ready to lose Madge Undersee.
Madge realizes how much training he must go through to learn how to deal with people like her- the crazy ones, the damaged ones. When they began, he spoke in low, even, clinical tones, always asking questions, never allowing his gaze to drift from her for even the briefest of moments. But these words, these words are real. And with that realization, she finally trusts herself to speak.
"You look like a mess, Gale," She says without moving from his grip.
The girl feels Gale shaking against her body with stifled laughter. Gale smiles, wide and genuine, his eyes sliding closed as his grip tightens around her. There is the Madge he knows.
"You too, Madge," he mutters, the sound muffled by her hair.
It is three months since the war with The Capitol ended. And yet, neither Madge nor Gale know what peace is until this moment.
So, this definitely has a different vibe than my other Gadge story, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. It is very rough, not beta-d, and the fluff is obnoxious. I know. But I had to write this after some graphics I made today, and I thought that as long as I was writing it, someone might as well read it! Please review and let me know you thought!