A Few Months Later
When I wake my body is still aching from yesterday's training session. Posy is curled into my side but Gale and Vick are both absent, and I know that they've already woken and started their day. I carefully extract myself from the little girl beside me and let her sleep, considering we once went through the days when sleeping in was just a fantasy.
The tile floor is cool to touch and I cross my arms over my chest before making my way to the kitchen. Gale is sitting at the table and Vick is next to him, reading from a book that they gave him in his class. Still not used to the sound of his voice I lean against the wall and listen to him as he speaks.
"'This is no bird,' he said in a scared voice. 'I think this must be a lady.' 'A lady?' said Tootles, and fell a-tree…a-trembling. 'And we have killed her,' Nibs said horse… hoarsely."
"Yeah," Gale nods encouragingly. "You've got it, bud."
"They all whipped off their caps," Vick continued. "'Now I see,' Curly said: 'Peter was bringing her to us.' He threw himself sorry… sorrowfully on the ground. 'A lady to take care of us at last,' said one of the twins, 'and you have killed her!'"
"Oh no," I murmur. "Not Wendy!"
Vick looks up from his book and smiles toothily. "I don't think she's dead," Vick says. "Peter Pan wouldn't let her die!" Gale chuckles as Vick looks back down at his story book and starts reading Peter Pan again. It took a few weeks after we arrived but Vick finally found his voice again. It started with single words before eventually becoming sentences. His favorite thing are the stories, he likes to read them to us.
Gale tips his head toward the kitchen and I make my way over. We leave Vick at the table reading and he doesn't seem to mind at all.
"You made coffee?" I ask, starting toward the pot. Gale wraps his hands around my waist before I can even reach the counter and presses a kiss to my neck. "Good morning to you, too," I laugh.
"Sleep okay?" he wonders. His lips continue down my throat and along my collarbone. "Posy still asleep?"
"Yes and yes," I nod. He spins me so I'm facing him and I step backwards, resting against the counter. Gale's hands slide up my waist and I can't help but smile. He dips down and kisses me gently. The coffee is soon forgotten as we kiss, his teeth grazing my bottom lip and my tongue inching into his mouth. Gale moans and leans over me, his arms tight around my hips.
Suddenly Rory's tired voice rings through the air. "You two are sick," the younger mutters. "It's not even eight o'clock."
Gale waves him off and as if to drive in his point, kisses me again. Rory groans and we hear him storm from the kitchen, and Gale pulls away chuckling. "I think we embarrass him," I say.
He shrugs. Gale's voice is loud as he says, "Rory's just angry he can't kiss Prim whenever he wants!"
"Hey!" Rory shouts back.
Again Gale chuckles before leaning down and kissing me again. "C'mon. We should get ready for the day."
The first mark on my arm for the day is Visitation. After dropping off Vick and Posy in their respective classrooms (Rory knows the way to his and insists he walk alone which I know means with Prim) I make my way to the medical ward. It takes a few minutes but they eventually buzz me in.
Delly sits on her cot browsing a book coolly. She looks up when she sees me and smiles, but holds up her hand as if to tell me to wait. I ease onto the edge of her mattress and let her finish reading whatever it is that's in her hands. Delly closes the book and sets it on the table by her bed.
"I have something to tell you," she says. I wait quietly and can't help but be nervous as she widely smiles. "They're letting me go," Delly tells me.
I nearly gasp. "What?"
"Proja's picking me up around noon and taking me to lunch. My first lunch in the cafeteria. Can you believe that?" I can't help but laugh, climbing onto Delly's bed and throwing my arms around her and holding her as tightly as I can. "They've got everything they need from me," she chokes out. Her eyes are filled with tears but she's smiling, she's smiling. "Enough blood samples to last practically forever. And after another one like me died last week from old age and he didn't reanimate they don't think I will either. They've deemed me safe."
Safe. Free. Delly will make it out of here.
District 13 seized her immediately upon arrival and locked her away. At first no one could see her, we all thought she was dead. Proja, though, he knew she wasn't. He went after anyone he could find, demanding answers and an explanation. If she's dead at least let us bury her! But she wasn't dead.
It was a long time before any of us knew anything. Delly was being treated in the medical ward, we learned. In a secure, safe space so in case she was to change no one would get hurt. They believed her story of being infected and not changing because it had happened to others before. They had a few tests to run to confirm it, and then we were allowed to see her. She wasn't allowed out of the room but everyone agreed that was much better than being dead.
After a few days of seeing her healthy and alive she finally told us that she was working with District 13 to create a cure. She either had the choice to cooperate or she had to leave the district, and she honestly wanted to help them. So far nothing overly substantial has happened, but that doesn't mean we can't keep hoping. Delly told us that the ones who has already reanimated were too far gone but those bitten still had a chance if we found them soon enough.
And now she's free.
"They say I can stay with Proja," Delly tells me. She wipes her eyes with the back of her hands. "I don't… it's so surreal I don't even know how to react."
"Delly," I grasp her hand, "you've been so strong."
"Thank you," she chokes out. "I… I've always wanted to help. I never wanted to hurt anyone when I got bitten and now I'm… they say I helped save lives." She sniffles and wipes her eyes again. "I just wish Loaf could've been here, you know? Maybe I could've…"
"Don't do that," I murmur. "Not now. We've come so far." She sniffles one last time and nods, not meeting my gaze. "There's an entire section on the memorial wall," I tell her. "For the people we lost in District 12. If you ask Proja I'm sure he'll take you."
Delly blinks and looks up at me. "Does Loaf…?"
"He has a spot," I nod. Again her eyes fill with tears, but now she's smiling. Delly reaches across and hugs me tightly, burying her face in my sleeve.
After my conversation with Delly I decide to visit the memorial wall for myself. I've only gone once before and it was the month after we got here, right after they dedicated a spot for us. There are many names and plenty of room for more, but for now it can stay like it is. We don't need another person added to the list.
I scan the wall until I find where my mother and father's names are. Right next to each other. My heart twists in my chest and I start to feel nauseous. The tears only actually spring to my eyes when I see Taftan's name a few rows down. I stretch my arm out and trace the engraving. Taftan Mellark. Where would we be now if he had never fallen?
God, the things I would do to have one more conversation with him. Or with my parents. Or with Hazelle, whose name is a few spaces down from Taftan's. What would I even say?
"Are you from District 12?" a voice asks. I jump at the noise and swat at my eyes before turning and nodding at the girl behind me. She smiles and looks up at the wall. "That's cool. Do you know Katniss Everdeen?"
"Yeah," I nod again. "We're friends."
"Cooler," she smiles. She's definitely a few years younger than me, maybe 13 at the oldest. "I'm from District 6." I study her further. Short copper colored hair and bright brown eyes. "My family basically walked into District 13 when we were escaping the whole zombie mess. We were some of the first people they let in."
"Well that sounds like an interesting story," I say. Much more interesting than knowing the famous Katniss Everdeen who's just a simple soldier now. She loves it, not having a camera following her wherever she goes. She and Peeta can live in peace.
"Nah. Short and boring." The girl looks back to the wall. "My name's Molly. Y'know, I met another girl named Molly, too. She's from District 9, though. Cool, huh? Meeting people from other districts."
"It is cool," I agree. "I'm Madge."
"Well it was cool to meet you Madge from District 12."
I laugh. "You too, Molly from District 6." And just like that, she walks away. I turn back to the wall and trace Taftan's name one more time before a thought bubbles up in my head. I glance over my shoulder to see Molly but she's gone, and a group from District 2 has replaced her.
Gale is in the kitchen when I get back. His break between training sessions is nearly the same as mine. He has to leave a bit earlier than I do but we still get a few hours of just us together without the kids in the middle of the day.
When the door clicks shut he peeks his head out and smiles. "There you are," he says, gesturing for me to join him. I pace over to where he is and Gale quickly wraps me in his arms. I bury my face into his gray shirt and inhale the scent of gunpowder. He's been at shooting practice all morning. His hold around me is tight and when he releases me he pecks my forehead sweetly. "You okay?"
"Sure," I nod. Gale's weary but doesn't push me. He hands me a cup of tea which he's obviously just brewed and we walk into the living room together. After quietly sipping for a few minutes and just soaking up the quiet, I decide to speak. I place the cup down on the table and Gale lifts an eyebrow. "There are so many people here," I start. "You know?"
Gale places his cup down, too. "Okay," he murmurs. "And?"
"I went to the memorial wall today and met this girl from District 6. She was younger than me. Said cool a lot." Gale smiles and lets out an airy laugh. "We just meet so many people here, people we never would've met before." Gale waits for me to continue. I hesitate. "Like girls who are stronger than me," I finally whisper. "Prettier. Girls who—"
"Madge," Gale cuts me off. His face is hurt. "Are you saying what I think you are?"
"We were forced together to survive," I blurt. My stomach is twisting again like when I was at the memorial wall. "Maybe there's a girl here who's more… suited to you. Someone who actually fought to survive and didn't hide behind the tallest person, or someone who—"
"Madge," he says again. His voice is sad, now. "Do you want to leave me? Is that what this is? You met someone else?"
"With all these new people I thought you—"
"No," he barks. "Dammit, Madge," Gale scoots closer on the couch and pulls my hands into his. "It's always been you. It'll always be you." He squeezes my fingers. "If you want to meet a new guy…" he trails off. "No, not even that. Hell if I let you go that easy. If you want to leave we can talk it through, we can figure things out, but I thought you and I, I thought were good, that we—"
"We are! I don't want to leave you," I say. After blinking a few times I realize that my eyes are filled with tears. "I love you, Gale."
His hands reach up for my face, tilting my chin upward to face him. "And I love you," he whispers. "I don't want anyone but you, Madge."
"There are other girls… braver and—"
"Other guys, too, then."
"No, no," I shake my head. "I want you."
"And I want you," he says again. "You're beautiful, Madge. Beautiful and brave and strong." Gale leans down and kisses the corner of my mouth. "I love you. We've been through so much." He kisses me again. "I've met plenty of people here and none of them, none of them have made me even question how I feel for you." My hands crawl up his chest and latch onto his shirt. "I want you."
My body trembles as he pulls me onto his lap. I latch my legs around his hips as he pulls my mouth down to his again. He kisses me so passionately I wonder how I could've ever thought he might want to leave.
As we gasp for air I say, "I just thought maybe…" but I can't even finish the thought because he cuts me off with his lips.
"Only you," he pants. "Only you. Ever." I nod and our foreheads collide, causing us both to jerk away and then to laugh. "We're happy," he murmurs. "Right? You're happy."
"I'm happy," I nod again, making sure not to hit his head this time. His smile stretches into a grin as he kisses me again. Gale pulls me on top of him fully before rolling us completely so I'm beneath him. "You're the bravest person I know," I whisper. He noses into my collarbone. "I wouldn't be here without you."
"I wouldn't be here without you," he echoes. Gale suckles along my neck. "I love you, Madge. I love you." I dissolve to pieces below him, my hands searching for the hem of his blasted gray shirt. He helps me tear it over his head and then works for my shirt. We have a few hours to waste until we have to go to training.
I'm still not very good with the guns even after training with them for a few months. District 13 didn't waste any time getting us into soldier mode. Most mornings we have runs to do, and sometimes we do hand to hand combat. Most of the time we practice with shooting, though. They never want us too close. We know close contact things just in case. We're at war, they say.
War with the dead. Those are our only enemies now.
I'm in the same class as Katniss and Peeta who would much rather be here than in another Hunger Games. Katniss takes to the guns easily and even though I can tell Peeta doesn't like using weapons he does so too.
There's a giant fence around District 13, sort of like the ones around all the other districts, but the dead haven't accumulated yet. The higher ups think that one day they'll wander in this direction, it just might take a while. There are patrols out there now, and Katniss and Gale go into the woods to hunt for meat at times. Other than that, most people still don't see the light of day.
"Soldier Undersee," a voice says. I turn and find Finnick Odair with a gun extended. He smiles slightly. "Up for a round?"
I accept the gun and follow him to the back of the shooting range, waving to Katniss and Peeta over my shoulder. Over the days Finnick and I have become closer. He's told me a lot about his life before all of this and how sometimes he's grateful for the end of the world. At least we're getting a chance to start over, he told me once.
"I'm surprised you're still on the soldier track," Finnick tells me. The targets are off in the distance and I awkwardly shuffle the rifle in my hand. "I thought you said you were going to switch to the medical track."
"I want to," I tell him. I want to put Delly's dedication to good use. Prim's already in that field, she's a natural at it. "I just want to learn a bit more strategy things. Just in case, you know. Besides, I haven't talked to Gale about it yet. I want to do that first."
Finnick nods and takes a few shots. "There's a rumor going around that they're starting to build above ground," he says. "That's why so many people keep getting sent out. They're clearing out a space." A space above ground? Like another District? "Got to start somewhere, eh?" I nod and take a few shots of my own. Most miss. "You should tell Gale about it. The thing above ground."
I cock an eyebrow. "Should I?"
"You know how he is with the outdoors. Nearly leaps at every chance he can get to be out there. Living outdoors again? He'd kill for that." Finnick lowers his gun and turns to me. "You two are still good, right?" I tip my head forward and hope I'm not blushing. If only he knew… "Good. I'm glad."
Guilt swells my stomach as I think of Finnick and his love Annie who was lost in the war with the dead. It took a few weeks before he really told me everything and my heart shattered at the confession. He's still not over it and I don't think he will be, but he carries on and tries his hardest to make it a better world to live in. That's what Annie would want, he said.
Finnick sucks his teeth and returns to his gun, taking a few more shots. I watch as he takes impeccable aim and shoots his targets in the head.
"They're sending me out," he says. He doesn't even turn to look at me. "I requested it." Still I stare at him and he doesn't turn. "District 7. They say there's a group out there that's headed north. It's uncharted up there so they're not going to run into any danger, but we've got to pick them up."
"You're not out to get yourself killed, are you?"
It's very rare that the soldiers going out to fight the dead don't come back, but there's still that occasional slip up in which someone is bitten. We can save them now, though. Mostly the soldiers go pick up groups. There are also people that go into the districts to scavenge for supplies, but it isn't as frequent. Other than that, there's a team that just goes out to kill the reanimated dead. We're cleansing Panem one zombie at a time.
"Not likely," Finnick laughs. "The leader of the group, I know her." Again, I cock my eyebrow. "Johanna Mason. Heard of her?"
"Once or twice."
He laughs again. "She'll just about kill me when she finds out I've been here for months and didn't go after her. If I had known sooner—"
"You don't need to explain yourself to me, Soldier Odair," I say. He smiles. Takes another perfect shot. Lowers his gun for good. "You think the rumor about the above ground place is true?" I ask.
"It's got to be. If District 13 keeps taking in every survivor out there they're bound to run out of space sooner or later." He takes a few steps over to me and pats my shoulder. "You'll see the sun again, Madge. Don't worry about it."
And he's right. Disease has ravaged our country and made a mess of humanity, but we haven't lost ourselves among the way.
I glance over at Katniss and Peeta, the latter of the two struggling with how he holds the gun and having her fix it for him. As she leans over him Peeta kisses her cheek at Katniss blushes before scolding him. I think of Posy who's started drawing pictures to hang on the fridge because everything here needs a little bit more color, about how she and Vick are working together to write their own story. Of Rory who has finally secured the heart of Prim and has been spotted kissing her once or twice. Of Proja and Delly getting to be together again with no walls and no medical wards, just the two of them.
I think of me and Gale who had never expected anything of the two of us. Who've grown together and blossomed beautifully in this world of death.
Everything torn down can be rebuilt. Every time a door closes another opens.
Every time the dark of the night consumes us, we just have to think of the sun that will rise in the morning. And morning is on the horizon.
A/N: We've reached the end, friends. Always always always remember that there is hope. Hold on tight because life's a crazy ride. Love one another and help one another. Hate is a disease and it's killing us all. Don't let it infect you. I love you all, and I'm so thankful that you've stuck with me through this. Love, Jenn.