a ficlet inspired by one of my headcanons: Madge has memorized the men who died alongside Mr. Hawthorne and Mr. Everdeen. She could never forget them.
There is a small knock on the door. It is Sunday, and the world is a little dark. Gale rises, his entire body screaming at the effort. The mines are killing him. He thinks it before he can stop himself. No. The mines are not killing him, he corrects. The work is hard. The darkness is suffocating. But it hasn't killed him yet. Mama and her children are away. Gale is alone in an empty house.
His steps are not the strong ones they usually are. They shuffle and scrape against the floor. He is tired, his mind exhausted. Eyes meet his through the screened window. He does not open the door.
"What do you want?"
An edge slices through his tone. Madge Undersee doesn't bat an eyelash. This is what she expects.
"I thought you might want company."
Her voice is dense. Her lips barely move. She hides her eyes, looking down at a chipping floorboard. A storm is brewing above. The rain hangs heavily above them, ready to burst any second.
"Can I come in?"
An arm reaches for the door handle, but Gale leans his weight against the frame. The air around bears down on him. Wind smells like rain. Today is not the day for Madge Undersee.
"Why do I need company?"
He sneers. She knows nothing. She couldn't know anything. Madge's fingers throb as she grips the door handle. Her voice takes on a nightmarish tone. It is part sleepwalk and part knife twist.
"Cassius Bind, survived by his mother and younger sister. Roger Brome, survived by wife and unborn child. Spurrey Andrews, survived by three children. Madder Cress, survived by mother and father. Cleave Kilm, survived by his fiancée. Tare Undersee, survived by wife and two children."
Armor begins slipping. Gale struggles to cling to his mask as the rest of him falls away. She breathes and looks up at him at last. A brush of wind could be louder than her next sentence.
"Yarrow Hawthorne. Survived by his wife and four children."
Her jaw locks. Those blue eyes hide from him once more. Nothing but air passes between them for a long while. Gale waits until he formulates a response that should push her away. She can never feel the weight that he feels today. But if he has to hurt, he wants her to hurt too. That revelation throws him off balance. His retort is too breathy. His jaw is too loose. Rain begins to patter behind Madge.
"Did you brush up on that before you came here?"
Blonde hair shakes.
"No. I never forgotten them."
Forgotten? The muscles in Gale tense painfully.
"I was there that day. When your mother got his mining medal. When the mine collapsed. Four years ago today."
Madge fights the urge to look up at him. She is not the crying type, but emotion rises in her throat. Seeing Gale would turn a trickle into a deluge.
"I remember them all."
A bitter laugh hitches between them. Gale leans back on his hips.
"Yeah. Well. I wish I could say the same."
He turns to leave her, a hand reaching up to rub his eyes. She leans against the wooden doorframe, refusing to enter without his permission.
"I know you don't like this kind of attention-"
"Then why come here?"
Her response is instant.
"Because I don't want you to drown when I could pull you out of the water."
Gale opens the door. They lay on his bed the whole afternoon, soaking in the sound of the wind and the rain. Every once in a while, he would reach out and brush her hand.
It was a beautiful reminder of being alive.