Five times Gale Hawthorne sees Madge in D13's hospital wing, and one time he doesn't.
. . .
"I hate getting shots," a little voice whines petulantly near his hip. Posy Hawthorne glares up at him, pout fully engaged.
Gale laughs. "Shots aren't all that bad," he tells her, tugging gently on her dark ponytail. He actually hates shots too, a lot; he doesn't think it's healthy to poke things into his body that don't belong, thank you very much. But District 13 requires different shots for every age bracket and now that Posy is seven, she's due. It's been a year since the war ended but his mother hasn't gotten approved to leave the underground bunker yet. He thinks she might secretly be scared to return to 12 after seeing it burn, so until she decides to leave they must abide by the rules.
Which, at the moment, means shots for the gray-eyed girl at his side, looking up at him with so much trust that it breaks his heart — he remembers someone else who trusted him that much, he remembers what he did to her, he remembers—
"Really?" Posy tugs his hand, demanding his attention once more. He is pulled from his dark memories by her hopeful smile and he grins down at her, swinging the little hand that tightly clings to his. He squats down, looking into her earnest eyes.
"Maybe for these District 13 babies," he tells her, rolling his eyes playfully, "but you're from District 12, Pose. You're tough." The little girl beams.
"I'm tough," she repeats stubbornly. He laughs again; the only time he doesn't hate himself is when he's with her and the rest of his family, too distracted that his brothers and sister will never face another Reaping or be forced to work in the mines or hunt illegally or die of starvation to truly loathe himself like he should. He wants to wrap himself up in them forever.
He stands back up and pulls her toward the medical wing allocated for things like this, paltry visits that have no sense of urgency. The receptionist reclines at her desk, idly flipping through a newspaper. He can tell she's a native, her mousy brown hair and thin skin give her away instantly, but she flushes when she looks up at him and he fidgets uncomfortably. He remembers looks like that from his slag heap days; he's been getting those a lot lately, ever since the end of the war declared him some kind of hero. "Hi, there," she looks up at him coyly. "Can I help you?"
"Er…we're here for Posy Hawthorne's appointment," he mumbles, not looking at her directly. She sits straight and fluffs her hair casually, trying to catch his eyes, huffing after a moment when she realizes he's not interested. She thumbs through a thick black book on her desk filled with names and times and procedures.
"Second room on the left," she tells him haughtily, pointing down the hallway. Posy sticks her tongue out at her. She has definitely been spending too much time with Vick.
He tugs her down the hallway into a pristine room that makes him wrinkle his nose and lifts her onto the bed. Her short legs dangle down and she kicks them out in front of her before looking at him. She has a dangerous look in her eyes, the one that she gets when she doesn't want to go to sleep at her bedtime.
"I don't think I need shots," she announces abruptly, giving him the most serious look a seven year old can muster before jumping off the bed and walking to the door. He snorts and swoops her up—and goodness, she's getting too heavy to pick up much anymore. Gale thinks it's a wonderful problem for a girl from the Seam to have.
"Oh no, you don't," he tells her firmly, plopping her back up on the tiny hospital cot and tickling her sides. She squeals like she always does, so loud it makes his ears hurt sometimes, and he doesn't know that the door has opened until it shuts loudly. He turns around.
A pretty blonde woman holds a thin folder, peering at the name as if for the first time. "Hawthorne?" she reads incredulously, before looking up quickly—her eyes dart to Posy and then swiftly lock on him. Her blue eyes flash with recognition.
"Undersee?" Gale tries to remember the last time he saw Madge Undersee; it was in District 12, the night of the bombing. The tenuous truce they had formed while coaching Peeta and Katniss for the Quarter Quell dissolved as soon as the train left the station. Every time their paths crossed they exchanged barbs and glares, except for the night they fled to the Meadow with the rest of District 12. He hasn't thought of her much since then.
The corners of her mouth curve down in a slight frown. "Hawthorne," she repeats, this time a cool acknowledgement. Her gaze switches to Posy and a smile lights up her face. "You must be Posy," she says brightly, walking over to the wide eyed girl on the table.
The little girl looks suspicious, and Gale's not sure if he should be proud or embarrassed. "Who're you?"
She smiles. "I'm Madge. I'm from District 12, just like you!" Posy perks up at this and Madge lights up again. "Are you ready to get your shots?"
Posy's eyebrows furrow. "I'm tough," she tells her. Madge snorts, rolling her eyes at Gale.
"Family trait, I guess," she mutters. He doesn't say anything, too surprised by her sudden appearance to snipe back. He takes in her worn gray dress, a standard issue number that has a frayed hem and a little tear in one of the pockets, the long blonde hair that she wears in a practical braid down her back except for a few stubborn strands that have escaped.
"What are you doing here," he asks after a long moment. Posy looks bored and confused that the attention is no longer on her.
Madge gives him a wry look. "Giving your sister a shot," she answers him drily, walking over to a white cabinet and pulling out supplies.
He looks at her doubtfully. "They let just anybody do that?" Even with her back to him he can sense her annoyance at his question—her shoulders stiffen and the muscles in her neck twitch slightly. He sees one of her hands curl into a fist. He grins a little; different setting, different dress, same old Madge Undersee. He was always able to get her hackles up, something he took distinct pride in back in the day.
She continues to organize her supplies, not even turning around. "I've been training for two years, Hawthorne," Gale gets the feeling there's a ruder name she would be calling him if his baby sister wasn't here. "I'm perfectly able to give shots."
Posy interrupts, clearly ready to be the focus again. "I don't need a shot," she informs Madge determinedly. Madge turns around and grins at her; Gale doesn't think he's ever seen her look like that. Back in 12 she was always cautious and quiet, the only emotion she over showed him was anger at his deliberate provocation. He's seen her smile more in these two minutes than he did the entire time he knew her in District 12; he can't help but notice how much she's grown up, how confident she seems.
"Are you sure?" Her fingers slip into her right pocket and pull out a purple lollipop. Posy's eyes widen with longing; candy was an unheard of luxury in the Seam, and not exactly a huge commodity in the ever practical District 13. Her little hand reaches out, but Madge pushes it smoothly back in her pocket. "Sorry, Posy, I can only give candy to little girls who get shots. Oh well." The exaggerated disappointment on her face is comical. She picks up her folder and walks towards the door.
"Wait!" Madge stops and turns around. Posy pokes her bottom lip out, and for a moment looks far too precious to be related to Gale. "I guess I can get a shot."
Madge smiles at her sweetly, and Gale is fascinated—she just set a snare, as sure as he did every day in the woods in 12, and Posy walked right into it without even noticing. And seven year olds are trickier than rabbits.
"Great!" Her enthusiasm is infectious, and Posy beams back at her. Madge walks back over to the counter, brushing by Gale; he can't help notice she smells like clean laundry, reminding him of home before the war. If it had ever occurred to him to think of it, he probably would have assumed she smelled like flowers or vanilla, or something else utterly unnatural. It unsettles him that she smells like home, even more so when he realizes he's trying to catch a whiff when she walks by him again.
Madge pushes a stool in front of Posy and settles on it, giving his little sister a very serious look. They stare at each other for a moment, big gray eyes locked on pretty blue ones, and Posy looks quite apprehensive now that Madge has the needle in her hands. She gives Gale a panicked look. "I don't want a shot," she repeats, but this time her lip trembles dangerously. Oh, no. Gale hates crying, has absolutely no idea what to do with it, and is saved the trouble when Madge reaches out her free hand and squeezes Posy's.
"You just have to be brave, Posy," she tells her very seriously. "When you're brave you can do anything, even if it hurts a little." Her blue eyes glance back at Gale, and he's frustrated that she's caught him staring; if she thinks anything of it, she doesn't give it away. She looks back at his sister.
"Gale will be right here to hold your hand, and it will be over before you know it!" Gale nods encouragingly, and suddenly he's on Team Undersee. A bizarre twist of fate he never saw coming. He's not even sure she's ever used his first name before until now.
And so Posy, ever a Hawthorne, grips her brother's hand with all her seven year old might and squeezes her eyes tightly closed, not making a sound as Madge quietly goes about her work. Gale can't help but be impressed at the ease with which she works; it's clear she's been doing this for a while now. He takes her in for a moment — her eyes are just as bright blue as they were staring at him from her back door, her hair a darker blonde since she's been hidden from the sun for so long. She's lost some of the excess weight she had from so many full meals at the Mayor's house, but she is slender and still curves in all the appropriate places. She is pale except for the slight pink in her cheeks and the splash of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her white teeth worry her bottom lip as she concentrates on Posy, brow slightly furrowed. She's just as uncomfortably pretty as ever, not that he will ever admit to noticing.
She finishes, squeezing Posy's knee. "All done," she says warmly, and Posy's gray eyes flicker back open to watch Madge put a bandage across the bend in her arm. "Not so bad, huh?"
Posy's smile is more like a grimace, but she shakes her head. "I'm tough," she says once again, and Madge laughs.
"Yes you are!" She pulls the lollipop back out from the pocket with the small tear, and Posy's eyes widen eagerly. Her hand shoots out to grab it, then freezes in midair. She looks at Gale cautiously.
"Can I have it?" She knows without thinking that he doesn't like free things, doesn't like gifts or charity. Madge frowns slightly, and Gale reaches out to tug his sister's dark ponytail again.
"I reckon you earned it," he says with a grin; Posy snatches the candy and quickly unwraps it, stuffing it into her mouth as if Gale will change his mind if she takes too long. She is instantly lost to a sugary world, sucking happily, no longer aware that Gale and Madge even exist.
And so the two stare at each other for a moment, even though there is no longer an excuse to stay in the room. For a second the appraising look she gives him reminds him of the receptionist outside, only far less unwelcome — and then the hostility returns. Madge's eyes narrow at him. "I didn't know you were still in 13," she tells him, her tone slightly accusing.
"Keeping tabs on me Undersee?" Gale isn't sure where the teasing, flirtatious tone comes from, but it makes her blush a little and he decides he might have to use it more often. He shrugs. "My family still lives down here, and I'm visiting for a while." He doesn't tell her the vacation is forced because he literally hadn't taken a day off since the war ended and the doctor at his job in District 2 thinks he might be suffering from some kind of trauma, or some crap like that.
She nods and looks at him for a moment longer, then stands up. "Well, I should—" she grabs Posy's file and gestures toward the door, looking unsure of herself for a moment. Gale wonders if she's as confused by their interaction as he is; he definitely doesn't remember ever being remotely interested in Madge Undersee back when they were just kids. He's not sure the same can still be said.
He stands up too and Posy follows him, jumping off the bed and looking up at him expectantly. The lollipop is still in her mouth and her lips are turning purple; he can't help but laugh at her, and she giggles too. He grabs her hand and looks back up at Madge, who is staring at their clasped hands with an uncharacteristically wistful look on her face that she immediately shakes off as soon as she sees that he's looking. She bends down until she is on Posy's level.
"It was nice to meet you, Posy," she says, her smile full and pretty. Posy practically melts; he can tell that she idolizes the blonde already. She gives her a purple grin.
Madge stands back up and smoothes her worn gray dress, looking back up at Gale. "Hawthorne," she says, nodding at him before turning and walking to the door.
He calls her back without thinking, "Undersee?" She turns slightly, raising an eyebrow at him. He smirks. "Pretty dress."
She rolls her eyes at scoffs at him, but he doesn't think he's imagining the way she blushes or the small smile on her face as she walks out the door without another word. Posy looks up at him curiously, annoyingly observant for such a small girl. He sways her little hand between them and pulls her to the door.
"Let's go home, Pose."
He can't help but wonder as he leads her out of the hospital wing, past the flirty receptionist and toward their level, if he will see Madge Undersee again.
He kind of hopes so.
. . .
. . .
Because that is the line all of my Gadge hopes spring from and I refuse to let it die. I know you Gadgers are out there, so please leave some feedback!