Special thanks to Molly Jae for beta-ing this for me. This story means a lot to me, so I would love it if you told me your thoughts on it! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it :)
They meet like this: A little boy accepting a medal of honour for his father from her father.
Madge never could understand why the people from the Seam acted the way that they did. They always seemed so angry and hard; and now, in the horribly cold weather – their anger has never been more apparent.
With a thin layer of snow covering the streets and every available surface outdoors, the solemn occasion is fit with a serene background. Silence surrounds the entire affair, save for the occasional murmur amongst children – for the adults know better than to speak out of turn.
Today is one of the days when Madge is truly proud to be the Mayor's daughter. There is a long line of families, and she trudges behind her father as he gives his condolences to all of them. There was an explosion, her father had told her. An explosion that killed some of their miners, and it is his job as the Mayor of District 12 to do all he can to help them. For the first family, Madge tries to be happy. She smiles graciously (just like her mother tells her to) at the widowed husband and his little girl. Just as she is walking away though, she hears a bitter whisper of 'town brat.'
She tries to ignore it, having heard the words so many times before, but there is something about right here, right now, that makes sure she can't forget it. Suddenly, Madge doesn't feel so proud anymore. She notices how every person is looking at her, with such disgust and contempt. Her eyes examine the way that their clothes are barely held together by stitches, how some of the children are clutching their bellies. She then realizes that she is the very thing that, to these people, represents what took their loved ones away from them.
As Madge passes each family by, it becomes harder and harder. She reaches the girl that she sits next to at school, and she has to blink back tears. She reaches two orphaned children with their grandmother, and her heart plummets at their hollowed faces. She reaches a wizened old woman who looks like she is on the brink of death, and Madge's lower lip trembles as she realizes that this woman will now have to die alone. The walk becomes a walk of shame for her, and every step is unbearable. Each family is so broken and devastated, and when Madge finally reaches the last one she cannot help the overwhelming sense of relief that overtakes her.
This one is a particularly awful one to offer condolences to, because Madge now knows that nothing that her father says – and the medal that he gives – will make it alright. The mother is heavily pregnant, it looks like she could give birth any day now, and she has three young sons. The eldest, who seems just a bit older than Madge, steps forward to accept the medal. He could only be in his early teens, but there is something about him that already makes him look like a grown man. His jaw is sharp and strong, and his hair a lovely woody brown that complimented the hue of his skin. She doesn't know why she does it, she shouldn't after all. Maybe it is because this family is the last one, and she hasn't really reached out to the others… Whatever it is, she just can't help herself.
"I'm sorry," she whispers to him, trying to recall his name from school. Gavin, is it? Grant, maybe?
He doesn't respond verbally, and instead he just snaps his head to look up at her. Madge feels her breath catch in her throat as he looks at her with his unrelenting, intransigent seam eyes. She thinks they are the most beautiful shade of gray she has ever seen. Madge doesn't spare a glance back at him as she walks behind her father, but she can't get the way he looked at her out of her head.
Gale, she thinks. That's it.
They start like this: Barely concealed glances to each other from across the school yard.
Madge digs her nails into her thighs as she watches her friend on screen. Her heart thumps heavily in her chest and her eyes stay locked on the project screen in the schoolyard as she surveys her friend's every move. Madge tries to commit every little tiny thing about her friend to memory: the colour of her eyes, her braid, the foot she leads with when she walks...
Madge gasps as she feels one nail break the skin. She quickly pulls her hands away from her legs and folds them neatly on her lap, trying to place her focus back on the screen. She plays with the food her mother packed for her, feeling almost too queasy to eat.
Madge feels a sudden chill when his gaze flits her way, and she isn't sure if it's because she caught him watching or because he knows she caught him watching. She turns her head away, refusing to acknowledge him. He doesn't have a reason to stare, and she doesn't like him at all. They're not friends, not really, seeing as they only know each other because they're both her friends and she is the Mayor's daughter. She begrudgingly reasons that he is probably hurting just as much – probably more – than she is. At this realisation, she turns back (he is still looking) and offers him a smile.
He doesn't take it.
They both turn at the same time back to the screen. Their friend is dehydrated and on death's corner and if she doesn't find water soon, the only way she'll be coming home is in a funeral casket. Madge cringes at the thought, and sets down her lunch. She doesn't want to eat it, and feels horrible for not wanting to when she knows so many children need and want food so desperately. She compromises as she takes little bites of her bread, and is only able to swallow with a swig of water – and that makes her feel even more horrible when she knows that Katniss would do anything for a bottle right now. When the screen changes from Katniss to a large dark boy that could be from District Eleven, Madge decides that she has had enough. She gets up from her empty table and moves to go back inside.
She spares the table a glance, and almost laughs because at least five children have already moved to sit at the table Madge was sitting on exactly thirty seconds ago. It is a bit pathetic, really, when she is reminded just how resented she is by the people in this district. She reaches the door to the school, and she decides to look once more at the screen – just to check.
But her eyes don't make it to the screen. Instead, they make it to him. His friends are all talking around him, but he isn't. Madge supposes that, like her, he really isn't in the mood for being around other people. For a moment, she considers beckoning him over to her – but then she reconsiders. What would they do exactly? Sit by each other in the school corridor, not even talking? They weren't friends. They were just Katniss' friends.
So instead she just nods, and by some miracle, he nods too.
They talk like this: Simple words that mean so much more than the context in which they are said.
Her feet find their place, one after the other. She doesn't know where she is going, or why she is walking, but she is. Sometimes she thinks it is good to not have a purpose. She makes her way past the bakery – closed, always closed – and she passes through the hidden sections of town; the winding back alley and dusty streets, until the dust turns to coal and she knows she is in the Seam.
She poises herself delicately, able to turn either forwards of backwards if she wants to. Her yellow dress doesn't fit in with coal dust, and she is scared that she might dirty it if she walks in further. Almost as soon as the thought comes, she banishes it away. Katniss isn't scared of a little coal, and Madge decides, neither is she. She hitches her skirt up to the middle of her thighs and step, by step, walks through the coal-covered streets.
She wonders what she is doing here, all by herself, in the wrong end of town. Perhaps she is searching for some evidence that Katniss really did exist, that she isn't just a creature of the Capitol's creation.
When Madge finds him, however, she knew she was looking for him all along. He's sitting on some shabby, half-nailed steps that lead up to his house. His eyes narrow as Madge slows to a halt in front of him, and she wonders if he has a personal grudge against her. She swallows, and clenches her dress harder with her fists.
"Gale," she says forcefully.
"Madge," he says, mimicking her.
She licks her lips, trying to think of something to say. Really, what is she supposed to say to him? That she is sorry Katniss is in the arena? That she wishes Katniss would return too?
"How are you?" she barks, and cringes- mentally slapping herself.
"Just peachy," Gale deadpans.
"Oh, well, that's great," Madge finds herself saying. She rocks back and forth on her heels. "How's your family?"
"Huh," Madge squeaks. She blinks rapidly and clears her throat, trying to find her voice. "Well, you're certainly welcome to come over to my house any time for dinner if you would like."
Gale smiles overenthusiastically. "Super! What day?"
Madge smiles in return, and moves to sit down on the same step as him. "You could come on Tuesday, if you wanted. Actually, Monday is also good – if that's-"
Gale's laughter cuts off her talk. "Should I bring some game along as well? Mayors love wild turkey, don't they?" He bursts into laughter again, and nudges Madge's arm with his elbow, bringing to attention that they were only a foot or so away from each other. "You'd be up for squirrel, right?"
Madge frowns. "There's no need to be rude."
Gale eyeballs her and shakes his head, looking in the opposite direction. Madge racks her brains for something to say, something that won't make her seem like an idiot.
"Any, um, plans for the weekend?"
That seems to get his attention.
"Why are you asking?" Gale drones, and leans back onto his elbows. "You keen?"
Madge furrows her brows. "I know you're making fun of me, I'm not stupid."
"No," says Gale. "You're just hiking your dress up to your thighs for fun."
Madge looks down at her legs and realises that she has been holding her dress up the entire time. She quickly lets her dress go, and attempts to smooth out the creases from where she was holding it so tight. She crosses her arms over her chest, very much annoyed. "You don't have to be mean."
"I'm not being mean," Gale says. "I find it funny that you're so scared of coal dust."
Madge opens her mouth in indignation, about to argue that the amount of coal surrounding the Seam is not just a little coal dust and hasn't anyone ever heard of a broom?
"I'm not sc-" But Madge is cut off, as someone calls out Gale's name.
"That's my mom," Gale says, nodding his head into his house. "I have to go."
They both stare at each other for a while before Madge realises that Gale was waiting for her to leave before he went back inside.
"Oh! Okay." Madge curses herself for sounding like such an idiot.
Madge turns and slowly starts walking away from Gale's house. She can hear him talking to his mother. Between the 'yes mom's' and 'no mom's', she wonders what she was doing there in the first place. Was she keen on him, like he said? It would be the easiest reasoning, that's for sure, but somehow Madge thinks it is a bit different. She could have spoken to him elsewhere for that, if she had wanted.
Madge swivels around just in time to see whom she presumes to be Gale's mother hitting him on the arm.
"Ouch, yeah, mom, I'm asking alright?" Gale jogs over to where Madge is standing, and asks her without looking too pleased, if she would like to have dinner with his family tonight.
"You don't have to say yes," says Gale lazily, not even bothering to hide the underlying command in his voice: don't agree.
"Why?" Madge asks. "Do you not want me to come?"
Gale shrugs. "We're not friends."
Madge raises her eyebrows. "Well, then." She turns to Gale's mother, still standing at their open door. "Thank you Mrs. Hawthorne, I'd love to come to dinner!" She turns back to Gale, who is standing in front of her with a mixture of shock and indignation. "Thanks for the invitation, Gale. Maybe I'll bring some wild turkey myself."
And she walks off, her yellow dress swishing at her knees – the bottom of it tinged with coal dust – and she wonders to herself, if maybe she does like him. Just a little bit.
They have dinner with each other like this: Sitting at a table, surrounded by Gale's family, without a wild turkey.
Madge shows up for the third time in a week at Gale's door – her coming over for dinner has turned into a bit of a habit over the past few days. She thinks that Gale's mother feels partially sorry for her; the sad little Mayor's daughter whose only friend has been sent off to the games. It's selfish of her to keep coming, but she's never met a family like Gale's. For a few minutes, she likes to pretend that they're hers. And for a few minutes she truly does feel like she belongs.
She knocks on the door three times, and Gale opens it.
"You again," says Gale dully, his voice flat and emotionless.
"Yes, it's me," Madge responds with a beautiful smile. "No need to look so pleased."
He moves aside her so that she can come into the house. Gale's mother spots her, and brings her in. She fusses over Madge, and tries to refuse the basket of apples that Madge brought. Madge wonders what it would be like if her mother was like Hazelle Hawthorne.
Rory and Vick, Gale's two younger brothers, hop over to Madge and ask to look in her basket.
"Boys!" yells Hazelle from the stove. "It is impolite to ask to look through a lady's things."
Posy, Gale's little sister, agrees with her mother and shouts at Vick and Rory for being 'wude'.
Gale scoffs, and Madge assumes that it's probably because he disagrees with his mother calling her a lady. She frowns at this. Plenty of her father's colleagues have told her what a wonderful young lady she is, and Madge is pretty sure that they know more about being a lady than Gale does. What does he know?
And it occurrs to her as she stands in the Hawthorne's humble abode, that perhaps Gale and her father's colleagues have quite different opinions on what being a lady entails. She imagines that when Gale pictures a lady, he sees his mother- or Katniss. Madge twists the edge of her sleeve uneasily. She supposes, if Gale compares her to the ladies he knows, she must look like a silly young girl. She's not sure why that bothers her so much.
They all sit down at the crowded table. Madge is shoved in-between Vick and Posy, a sly attempt by Hazelle, she thinks, to try and control her two youngest children. Opposite her, is Gale, who just glowers over his neatly folded hands in his lap. Hazelle and Rory bring out the food, bowls of steaming stew that smell so delicious just a little bit of drool comes out of Madge's mouth.
"Yum," says Gale, looking at Madge darkly. "I love rat."
"Me too!" Posy choruses, banging her fists on the table. "Wat, wat, wat!"
Madge, however, hovers her spoon above the dish. "Rat?" she asks.
"Yup," says Gale. "Short snout long tailed rat. Delicious."
Hazelle says Gale's name warningly, and is just about to turn to Madge to apologise, when Madge – to everyone's surprise – scoops up the biggest chunk of meat with her spoon and eats it.
"Mm," she says, swallowing before smiling. "I love rat too."
After a long meal, Madge decides it is time to go home. She says goodbye to little Posy, who is carried off by Hazelle to bed, when she hears the tell-tale hum of the television. She numbly walks her way into the room next door where Rory, Vick and Gale are gathered around the screen.
There is screaming, shouting, and Madge sees her friend on the screen. Beautiful, brilliant Katniss is hobbling along, trying to outrun the deadly career pack. She is halfway up a tree when an arrow almost pierces her. Madge throws her hands over her mouth, biting down hard on her fists to try and not scream. Her heart pounds loudly in her chest and she feels as if the room is closing in on her.
Everyone's attention is glued to the screen as they watched with bated breath. Even Gale is silenced despite the opportunity to mock her for being so easily affected.
When it is over, and the Careers decide to go to sleep whilst Katniss is still in the tree, Madge realises that she has been crying. Gale silently switches the screen off, and ushers Vick and Rory to their rooms. When he comes back, he sighs deeply, running a hand through his hair.
"Come on, I'll walk you home."
Madge grabs her basket, emptying all the apples onto the table, and makes her way out the door. The night air is bitingly chilly, and she immediately wraps her arms around her shoulders.
"Cold?" Gale asks.
Madge shakes her head and lies. "I'm fine," she mumbles.
They walk next to each other for the rest of the way, not really talking but not really needing to. Gale points out the stars to Madge, which she doesn't really get the time to appreciate in town because of the lights. When they finally reach her house, they pause at the gate, awkwardly shuffling their feet in the ground.
"Thanks," says Madge. For the food, for the walk, for the stars…
Gale shrugs. "Are you going to be alright?"
It's Madge's turn to shrug. "As alright as you can be when your only friend is in a tree surrounded by careers... What about you?"
"She's strong" is all Gale says, ignoring her question altogether.
"You're right," says Madge, taking a deep breath. "Anyway, have a good night."
"You too." Gale replies before he reaches for Madge's wrist and squeezes it. "Stay safe, Undersee."
He walks away, and she stays put. Stay safe, Undersee? What a horrible phrase to be in love with.
They kiss like this: Hot, wet lips trying to capture something more than what they can give each other.
One night after dinner they're out the back of his house, arms tangled, hair mussed. He runs his hands down her ribs, to the dip of her stomach until they are gripping her hips. Gale squeezes, before pushing her up against the wall. Madge gasps in surprise, and wraps her legs around his hips and tightens her hold on his shoulders.
It feels wrong for it to feel good, thinks Madge. A nervous little thought from a girl who has never been touched.
"This is stupid," Madge breathes, before going down to kiss his lips once more.
"Completely." He agrees, trailing his lips across her jaw.
"I don't even like you," admits Madge, throwing her head back when he reaches her neck.
"Not even a little bit?" Gale asks as he sucks on her collarbone, his gray eyes flitting up to her face devilishly.
Madge can't take it anymore; she pulls his face up to hers and kisses him without bothering to respond. Her tongue caresses his, and he breaks away for a moment, cradling her face, to grin.
"Knew it," he laughs.
Her stomach curls delightfully and she immediately clenches her thighs around his hips. "I think you like me," she says, enjoying the way he tenses the more she squeezes. "Maybe a little bit."
Gale moves his hand to grab her thigh and he presses himself closer against her. "Nope." He shakes his head.
Their foreheads touch and Madge grins. "Not at all?"
He kisses her firmly on her lips. "Not one bit."
"Well, then." She laughs and pushes herself away from him, sliding down from the wall.
As she runs to grab her shoes, she feels Gale's hands slide around from behind her. "Whoa, where are you going?"
Madge turns around and wraps her arms around his neck. "My mother always said not to kiss boys who don't like me."
Gale laughs and pokes her ribs. "Your mother's an idiot."
They're backing up against the wall again, and Madge pulls Gale's hand down to her thigh where he eagerly lifts it again. "Guess we'll just not have to tell her then," she says, as Gale tugs against her lips.
They become friends like this: With a fight and a few kisses.
They walk alongside each other, their steps in time with one another. Madge's pony tail swings from side to side with each step that she takes, and Gale tugs on it, laughing.
"What?" snaps Madge, gathering all her hair onto one side.
"Can't you ever make it stay still?" Gale laughs.
Madge rolls her eyes and scowls, letting go of her hair. "Would you rather I cut it all off?"
"Nah, you can keep it."
She smiles to herself, every now and then twirling a few strands of her hair in her fingers. The day is lovely. It is warm and golden, and Madge lets herself forget for a few minutes that two of her friends are fighting for their lives in a place far away from here.
They continue to walk, their steps making little imprints in the dusty streets. Madge smiles at the size difference between her feet and Gale's, and when she points this out to him he smiles too. Suddenly, Madge stops.
"What is it?" Gale asks.
"Look," she says, pointing in front of her. They're outside the bakery. "It's so sad."
"Were you friends with him?" asks Gale, sliding his hands into his pant pockets.
Madge shrugs. "You don't need to be friends with someone to miss them when they're gone. He was nice, Peeta."
"He didn't seem so nice when he was siding with the Careers." It's an offhand comment from Gale's part, but something about it riles Madge up.
"Yeah, and look where that got him," she snaps. "Driven nearly out of his mind by tracker jacker venom and with a stab wound that's slowly killing him." Madge takes a deep breath and turns to Gale. "Besides, he helped her in the end, didn't he? He's a good guy, Gale. You can't hate him just because you want Katniss to come home. It's not his fault he was reaped, just like it wasn't hers that Prim got reaped."
Gale is silent, and just stares ahead at the closed bakery. "I hate them. The Capitol."
Fear fills Madge.
"Gale," Madge warns. "Watch what you say."
"I know you hate them too, even though you're too scared to admit it," Gale spits. "Everyone hates them here, Madge. Who here would honestly say that they didn't mind their children being chosen to fight to the death? It's not an honour, it's bullshit."
Madge quickly looks around to see if anyone was in hearing distance of them. She grabs Gale's wrist and walks with him over to the empty schoolyard. They're behind one of the shabby classrooms when Madge finally lets go.
"You can't talk like that, Gale," she says firmly. "Anyone could have heard!"
"Oh please," scoffs Gale. "I get this from my mom; I don't need it from you as well."
He turns and starts to walk away from Madge, his fists clenched at his sides, his steps angry.
"Gale!" Madge yells exasperatedly, running over to him. "Stop acting like an idiot!"
Gale turns around, his expression furious. "Don't tell me how to act! You don't know shit." He moves to walk away again, but Madge kicks him in his leg. "What the hell, Madge?"
"If you would just listen!" yells Madge, throwing her hands up in the air. "I'm trying to talk to you, and you keep walking off!"
Gale takes a step closer to Madge. "Just because your daddy is the mayor, doesn't mean you get to boss everyone around. You're just a spoiled little town girl who has never had to work a day in your life." Madge is about to interrupt, but Gale covers her mouth with his hand. "Do you think things are easy for me? Katniss and I used to just manage to feed our families together, what do you think is going to happen if she doesn't come home? I'm going to the mines soon. I won't have time to hunt anymore, and a miner's salary can't feed seven extra mouths. Don't you dare tell me that I don't have a right to hate the Capitol."
Madge slaps his hand away. "That's right. You do have seven extra mouths to feed, and you certainly can't feed them if you're dead."
Gale furrows his eyebrows. "What?"
"What do you think would have happened to you if a peace keeper had heard what you said before? That they would give you a high-five and a hug? Everyone hates the Capitol, Gale – but there are reasons why no one speaks out. What would happen if President Snow decided to stop sending food to us?" Madge sighs and rubs her neck. "We need them, Gale. We can't survive otherwise."
"You seem to have thought about this a lot," says Gale, crossing his arms over his chest.
Madge laughs bitterly. "I've lived my whole life seeing exactly how dependant we are on them. Have you ever noticed how many mine collapses there are here? District One mines as well, but we never hear of their mines collapsing. The Capitol could stop it if they wanted, but they don't. Gale, the Capitol watch children die for fun. They could wipe us out, if they wanted. All of us. Just like Thirteen."
"That doesn't make me hate 'em any less."
"I don't expect you not to hate them, I expect you to be smart about it," Madge says curtly. "You can't go around just shouting about how much you hate your life, because if the Capitol knows you hate it, they can take it away without a second's thought." Madge is silent for a while, deliberating something in her head. "Gale," she begins cautiously. "You know my mother's sick, right?"
"Madge, what has your mom got to do with anything?"
"She gets headaches," Madge responds, looking at him pointedly. "They started right after my dad proposed the idea of miner's getting pensions to the Capitol."
"I don't want pity," says Madge brusquely. "I'm over it; I've been living with it my whole life now. What my point is, my mom would be fine if my dad hadn't stood up to the President. Don't make the same mistake he did, Gale."
Gale is silent.
Madge laughs. "It's alright, I don't expect you to tell me that I'm right. I know that would kill your ego. You don't have to look so depressed though."
She tugs on Gale's collar with her hands, and he grabs her wrists, pulling her up to him for a kiss. She is flush against him, and she winds her arms around his neck before he pulls away.
"I think we should fight more often," Gale smirks, kissing Madge once more.
"I don't know," says Madge, pulling away from him. "I'd rather we just stay friendly."
Gale shrugs, knotting his fingers through hers. "Well, I'm flexible."
She bumps him with her shoulder, before they head back to town.
Friends, thinks Madge looking up at Gale. This is going to be interesting.
They fall in love like this: On a day where the Games are good and their spirits are high.
"She's really going to make it, isn't she." It's not a question, more of a statement, and as soon as the words are out of Madge's mouth she smiles. "She's coming back, Gale.'"
Gale pulls Madge closer to him, where they lie on the grass. They are in the woods, with birds chirping above them and butterflies flitting around from tree to tree. Madge has never been in a more magical place, and the sheer beauty of it makes her think of unimaginable things.
Gale doesn't smile like Madge does, but instead he breathes in and out very deeply. "She's a survivor."
With those three words, a new feeling fills Madge up. It starts in her toes before it spreads to her fingers, and suddenly she is bursting with happiness and energy. She props herself up onto her elbows and, biting her lip, she stares into Gale's beautiful gray eyes.
Madge moves to smooth back Gale's hair from his forehead, and he grabs her wrist. Madge looks at him questioningly, not fully understanding, before he pulls her down for a kiss. It's like all their kisses, hot and wild and passionate. It's a battle of tongues, lips and hands. A delightful warm feeling starts growing in the pits of her stomach, and Madge keeps kissing Gale until she feels she might die from lack of air.
They pull apart, gasping for breath. He winds his hands into her blonde hair, and she grips his chest. They are tucked so tightly together she doesn't think that they will ever be able to get apart. Gale rolls Madge over so that he is on top of her, and he skims his hands down her ribs into the soft dip of her stomach.
"Gale!" Madge laughs, as he busies himself with her neck. "My hair is going to get grass in it. You'll mess it up."
Gale lifts himself up and tickles Madge behind her ears, where he knows her tickle spot is. She writhes beneath him, biting the insides of her cheeks so that she doesn't laugh. "Typical town girl," Gale teases, only stopping tickling her to kiss her once behind her ears instead. "Besides," he whispers against Madge's ear, "I like your hair messy."
Madge punches his arm softly, and laughs as he jumps off her – pretending to be hurt. "Oh, don't be such a baby, Gale." Madge runs her hand through her curls, trying to untangle all the knots and to get out all the grass.
"Those are harsh words coming from a girl who screamed the first time she saw a lizard," says Gale, sniggering at Madge's glare. "Come on, let me do that." He moves over to her, and starts to pick out each blade of grass stuck in her hair.
He only gets about three out before he moves her hair away and kisses her shoulder. It's a surprisingly intimate gesture that sends gooseflesh up her arms.
Madge turns her neck so they are facing each other, and Gale holds her cheeks in his hands before bringing his lips down to hers. They have never kissed like this before, so soft and sweet. Before, they were full of passion and fire, but for some reason Madge likes this kiss one thousand times more than all the others.
They caress each other, taking their time. The kiss is so gentle that it makes Madge feel dizzy in her head. Suddenly, she realizes what this means. What this kiss is telling her.
She pulls away from Gale abruptly, and they both look at each other with understanding. Madge tries to think back to her story books… to the tales of romance she used to read as a child. None of them prepared her for this. None of them prepared her for the fact that she would feel awful when she fell in love with someone.
Looking into Gale's eyes, she can tell that he feels awful for it too.
They say goodbye like this: One word shared between the two of them, but three more words balanced on the tip of both of their tongues that they can't quite get out (I love you).
"I know what you're going to say," says Madge, her hands folded neatly in her lap where she sits on the bench in her garden. "I was going to say it too."
"Really?" Gale comes to sit beside her, and they are both so stiff it's almost comical. "How do you know what I'm going to say?"
Madge sighs and picks at the skin around her nails. "Because we've been thinking it for weeks now, and neither of us want to put it off any longer."
"I don't want to end this," Gale says, his jaw clenched.
"Yes you do."
Madge's hands are clammy and sweaty, but she holds them together still. She knows that they can't continue on like they have been. Things are different now; they just have to face it.
"Madge," Gale says firmly, "I care about you."
"Oh, I know you do… And I care about you too, Gale."
Madge sighs. "I think we both know that I'm not the right girl for you." The admittance is harder than she thought it would have been. "Things just aren't working out."
"Why are you so difficult all the time?" Gale snaps.
"Just face it, Gale!" Madge says. "You don't want to be in this,"she gestures between them, "Anymore."
"Why are you saying that I don't?" Gale's voice is tense and forced. "I do, okay?"
She lets the words out before she can stop them.
"I know you kissed Katniss!"
He exhales slowly. "Madge, I-"
"No, I get it," she interrupts, playing with the edge of her dress. "I really do, Gale. You don't have to explain anything. It was always her for you, I know that." She tries to make her voice reasonable, but it just cracks at the end.
"She's with Peeta," Gale reasons, as it that explains everything. He reaches for Madge's hands, and she flinches away.
Madge looks up at him, her chin trembling. "I'm not going to be with you because you didn't get a better offer, Gale!"
"I'm sorry," he says, shaking his head.
"Me too," Madge says bitterly.
They sit in silence for a while, Gale clenching the bench and Madge clenching her hands. Their legs aren't brushing, and the space between them feels almost surreal. Could it really be that only last week they were kissing in the woods?
"We can still be friends," Gale says, but it sounds more like a question than anything else.
"No we can't," Madge says, shaking her head. "We were never friends before, why should we be friends now?"
Her voice rises hopefully, and though she hates it, she knows she is testing him. For a few seconds, she lets herself imagine Gale fighting for her. She imagines him jumping up off the bench and admitting that he loves her, that he would do anything…
"I suppose you're right."
With those words, Madge's daydreaming is cut short. Of course he wouldn't fight for her, she tries to remind herself. Gale loves Katniss, remember?
Madge squeezes her eyes and tries to make herself be the better person. "She loves you, Gale," Madge says. "It was wrong, what we did."
"Right," says Gale, rising from the bench. "I guess that's that then." The hurt in his voice almost cuts Madge, and she finds herself rising with him.
"I don't regret it, you know," she says, trying to smile. "It was wrong, but I don't regret it."
"Don't suppose I get a goodbye kiss?"
Madge laughs then, it's short but it's a real laugh. "Don't push your luck, handsome."
She walks him over to her gate, where her house meets the street. Gale nods his head at her as she opens the gate, and she almost jams her fingers as she is reminded of that time in the lunch yard where he did the very same thing. Gale doesn't seem to notice how far away from the present Madge is, and when she is brought back it's clear that he didn't notice at all.
Madge puts her hand behind her back, holding the gate so she can get some balance. "Do you remember how I used to hate you?" Madge says, stalling for time or an excuse to talk to him while she still has it.
"Do you remember when you were so afraid of a little coal that you hitched your skirt up to your neck?" Gale quips.
"It wasn't that high!"
As soon as they are laughing, they seem to be reminded of why they are there. Gale swallows, and clears his throat.
"I'm glad that we were friends, Madge," he says, earnestly.
Madge forces a smile. "Me too. It's not your fault, you know? Sometimes liking someone…" loving someone." "Sometimes, it just isn't enough."
"Guess it's goodbye, then?"
Do you love me?
"Goodbye, then." She smiles at him as she closes the gate.
I love you.
He walks away from her, and Madge heads back to her house. She bites the inside of her lip so furiously, until she tastes the metallic taste of blood. She doesn't want them to, but the tears roll down her face anyway. They are hot and heavy, just like his kisses.
They move on like this: Each one trying to live separate lives, but never really forgetting what happened between them when Katniss was away.
Madge doesn't see Gale, not for a while. She mostly avoids the places she knows he likes to go to, and he doesn't trade with her house anymore. She still sees Katniss though, and one day Katniss takes her to the woods. They don't happen to come across the place Gale took her to, though. For that, Madge is thankful. She doesn't think she could have taken it.
She doesn't see him at all, actually, and Madge has to wonder if Gale is avoiding her.
One day, her father comes home and there is something odd about him. He immediately snaps at Madge to stop playing piano, and, with shaking hands, goes and pours himself a glass of whisky. He sits down on the sofa in their living room, grasping his drink in his unsteady hands, staring off into the walls.
With his grave face and all the antique furniture surrounding him, Madge can't help but think how poetic the whole thing looks.
Madge gets up, and goes over to ask him what's wrong. She hasn't left the house all day, and has been trying to learn a new piece that she finds very difficult. She wants to make her father feel better, she really does, but she can't help but let her mind drift off to the piece she was trying to learn. As Madge looks at her father and pretends to listen, she is really running over every fingering for every note she has to play – and trying to decide which fingerings would be better. She suddenly thinks she has found a solution to her problem (4th finger, 5th finger, shift up and use 2nd finger) when her father takes a deep breath.
"A boy was whipped today, Madge. Young too." Her father's voice is expressionless, and his face is cold as he downs his liquor in one gulp.
"Whipped?" says Madge, startled and fully disrupted from her musings. "Since when do we even have a whip here?"
"I told you, Madge, it's all the new peace keepers," says her father, looking at her peculiarly.
"Oh, right," says Madge, nodding although she really doesn't recall hearing anything about the new peace keepers. Had that been part of what her father had said earlier on? "What did they do?"
"He was caught trying to trade a turkey and a bunch of other things. He tried to say he found it wandering the streets, but it was really quite obvious where he got it from. He didn't deserve it though; poor boy was unconscious half way through. Sweetie, Madge, are you alright?"
Madge's throat is suddenly very dry and she feels as if someone has punched her in her stomach. This isn't happening. "What was his name, dad?" she asks, her voice croaky.
"Madge, honestly, sweetie are you sick?"
Her father moves to put his hand on her forehead, but she swats his hand away and grips both his arms. "What was his name?" she practically spits out every word, desperate to be proven wrong.
"Gale, Gale Hawthorne, I think."
Madge's hand flies up to her mouth, trying to cover up the choking noises she is making. The next hour for her is a blur, the last thing she can remember is her father yelling at her to not go out in a blizzard. She doesn't listen though. How can she? All she can think about is Gale, Gale, Gale. How he has to feed his family, how his skin is always so warm, how his eyes are so beautiful.
She reaches Katniss' house, hoping that Gale is there because she really doesn't think she can make it to the seam in a snow storm. When Katniss opens the door, Madge doesn't even look at her, and instead shoves the box of morphling into her hands. She spares a glance behind Katniss, and she sees him.
She sees him, his back a bloody mess of flesh, lying down and whimpering. Madge looks up at Katniss, almost about to ask if she can see him. When she sees Katniss' face though, she knows she has to go. She's just Madge, remember? Who is she to even be near him now? Katniss is what Gale wants, not her. It has been, is, and always will be Katniss.
Madge tries to avoid him after that.
After the Quarter Quell announcement though, what can she really do? She's going over to Katniss as often as she can to give her newspapers and Gale is almost always there. Katniss and Peeta train every day, Gale helps them with snares and Madge… well, she just sits by and watches. She isn't really much help to them other than to share what bit of information she has from the Capitol and whatnot.
She wonders about his back, if his beautiful skin is now scarred. The thought is so awful to her, that she can't bear to sit around anymore. She waves a quick goodbye to Katniss, who is now helping Peeta scale up a tree, and moves to walk off.
Madge only makes it to town when he catches up with her.
"Madge!" Gale yells, jogging over. "Hey."
She ignores the way her breath hitches as they are surrounded by the peaceful scenery of the quiet town. There are hardly any people outside, despite the beautiful day.
"Hey," says Madge, smiling. "How are you?'"
"Great – seems like my skills are finally being harnessed for good." He doesn't add that he hates being around Katniss and Peeta together, Madge already knows that. She knows him better than they both think, and maybe that's not such a bad thing.
"Your back?" She couldn't help it, not really. It's been a recurring thought in her mind. Ever since that incident, she hasn't been able to go a day without wondering if his back was alright – if he was okay.
Gale shrugs as if it was nothing. "Yeah, it's fine."
He's trying so hard to be positive and happy that Madge rolls her eyes. "Don't act around me," she says, swatting his arm. "Honestly, it's okay to feel a little pain sometimes. Why do men never understand that?"
Gale shrugs once again, playing for nonchalance. "Maybe it's because we never do feel any pain."
"You're stupid." Madge wonders when those words became a substitute for 'I love you'.
"You tell me that enough and I'll start to believe it."
Madge rolls her eyes. "How's your family?"
She asks him this because when he speaks about his family it is one of the only times when he really smiles, and she really misses that.
"They're great. Posy lost her lisp." He replies, his lips curving into the smile she has been waiting for. They're walking now. No destination in mind, just simply two friends walking side by side.
"They grow up so fast, don't they," says Madge slyly, nudging Gale with her elbow and winking.
"I know," he laughs and she does her best not to be too affected by it. There's no denying she missed it though. "Before we know it, she'll be off gallivanting around shouting praises about some boy she met at school."
"Oh my gosh!" exclaims Madge, clapping her hands over her mouth as she imagines the little lady that Posy will grow up to be. She can see her being every bit as beautiful as her brother is handsome. "Posy is going to have such a hard time dating with three older brothers!"
"Well," says Gale, cracking his knuckles jokingly, "Whatever keeps 'em decent."
They're running out of things to say to one another now, and Madge decides to end the conversation before it gets too awkward, because they can really only talk about family for so long.
She smiles and squeezes his arm. "It was good to see you, Gale."
He smiles back. "You too."
They turn away from each other, both with words unspoken on their mouths. Madge is startled and a little bit scared at how easily they managed to talk to each other again. It was fun, nice. How long will she wait for him, she wonders? How long will she be able to convince herself that maybe he loves her too? How could she have let this happen?
"Yes?" Madge whips herself around, smiling brilliantly but her eyes sad.
Gale has his hands in his pockets, his gaze peculiar. "Bye."
Madge just nods, her heart completely enamored with the man standing in front of her. He looks so strong, so determined. She thinks she could stare into his eyes forever. She never truly noticed how amazing he seemed to her, and now it seems like it's too late too notice. Her throat becomes heavy and her eyes start to well with tears, her resolve breaking.
She stamps her feet into the ground, dust flying behind her in the sparesly filled streets. She stops. She's not used to seeing only two footprints.
She dies like this: An almost-grown girl who was caught up in a blast that wasn't meant for her.
It isthe finale of the Quarter Quell, everyone perched on the balls of their feet. Strange planes start to fly above them. Questions buzz around her: have Katniss and Peeta already won? Is it a food drop? Are Katniss and Peeta both dead, and this is the Capitol's way of announcing it? Then the planes start to circle and the screen in the town square turns to black, and everyone knows that this is different. The sudden blasts and the rubble flying everywhere soon concludes everyone's train of thoughts.
Her blonde curls are singed off, and her face is unrecognisable. But the worst part? She is still alive. She is still alive when Gale (of course it is Gale, because really, who else would it be?) starts gathering up people to take them to the meadow ("move, come on, move! Don't you want to live?"). She is still alive when he runs just ten inches away from her, with a crowd of other people, and she is still alive when he leaves her. Her voice croaks as she tries to yell after him, hardly making a sound at all. She is still alive for a while after that, barely breathing, her heart barely beating and her senses slowly fading.
Smoke and the smell of the gasoline used to blast her district still hangs in the air, and she guesses that it will stay for a while, and as she closes her eyes... she thinks.
It's true what they say, life really does flash before your eyes. And she is there – her mind desperately clinging to all her happy memories, a vain attempt to try and remember who she is. She remembers her first piano lesson, her first day of school, the day when Katniss came and sat next to her at lunch, her parents tucking her into bed just last night – the way the sheets felt so soft and snug against her tiny frame, the Reaping, Gale…
One thought echoes through her head: will he remember me? Will any of them? This is what it comes down to, she thinks. In the last few breaths before you go, it isn't about good grades – or who was the fastest runner when you're about to die.
And all she can think about is wasted time, wasted moments, wasted seconds that she would give anything to have back now.
Her breath becomes shallow, and the pain is so intense that it is almost numbing her. She doesn't live for much longer, and the one last image she sees in her mind?
The gray, seam eyes of the fourteen year old boy she met on that cold winter's day.