I could hear the murmurs through the door, the angry mutterings punctuated by the occasional curse, the thump of a hand against the heavy wood of the desk. I could almost picture the small pencil jar dancing across the surface from the force, bumping into the corner of the frame that had sat, pride of place, for as long as I could remember.
"This is not what I was expecting. Do you know what that bastard did?"
"The town square was a mass of people. And they're not happy."
"The Hawthorne kid? He's been doing those kinds of things ever since that damn mine blast."
I crouched, and listened, as Father continued to alternate between yelling and hissing angrily, the heavy tread of his footsteps moving back and forth across the room. I desperately wanted to stay here for as long as I could, to listen more, to find out what I could, to try and determine who he was speaking to, with my ear pressed firmly to the door. But it was close to Mother's medication time, and Lonnie would be upstairs any minute, and would tsk and roll her eyes at me, and I didn't want to deal with her right now.
Today had been bad enough as it was.
I'd not seen anything like it, not even the times I'd managed to sneak a look through the keyhole of Father's study door when he was watching broadcasts from the Capitol. Not even when watching the Hunger Games year in and year out. This was different. This had been planned. Calculated. Executed to perfection.
I'd seen the man at the Justice Building earlier in the day, with his shorn head and piercing black eyes, mouth set in a firm, unimpressed line. He wasn't from around here, that much was obvious. I hadn't thought much of it, not with how many strange folk we'd had visit from the Capitol since Peeta and Katniss returned. But instinct had told me when I'd seen the crowd in town that he had something to do with it. He was the reason people were grouped in the main square, mostly silent, except for the occasional gasp and a whistling that repeated itself over and over again, each time accompanied by a sharp thwack. Curiosity, I must admit, had gotten the better of me, and I'd crept around the edges of the crowd until I found a gap, and a direct line of sight.
I hadn't expected to see Gale Hawthorne tethered to a whipping pole, prone and listless, his back a bloodied mess, and Katniss Everdeen flying out of the crowd to protect him.
Katniss was the only person I had ever really considered a friend. I was too quiet, too boring for the town girls, and to the Seamers, I was nothing more than the Mayor's daughter. But Katniss had been different, always had been. I couldn't say either of us ever considered that we were friends until she was reaped. Prior to then, I would have described us as acquaintances that ate lunch together. I suppose being faced with never seeing someone again puts them in a whole new light. When she returned, we developed the friendship we hadn't had before. I can't say the days we played piano were much of a joy for her, but the days she took me out into the woods were the best I'd had in a long time. The look of freedom on her face every time we went out there made up for each blister I obtained while trying to use a bow.
Hearing Lonnie's heavy footsteps on the stairs, I quickly shifted away from the study door, headed down the hallway to my bedroom, and gently closed my door behind me. My heart thudded in my chest as I thought about everything I'd heard my father say. I'd never heard him speak so angrily, and never so obviously against a Capitol sanctioned practice, especially that of the actions of a Head Peacekeeper. Granted, Cray had been a lazy and drunk slob, a man more concerned by the needs of his dick than the district he'd been sworn to oversee. In that respect, I suppose we'd been lucky, not to have someone so prepared to resort to violence so quickly and without disregard. Until today.
I had a feeling 12 was going to be very different from now on. Seeing the injuries sustained by Gale was more than enough evidence to confirm that.
I moved over to my window, staring out at the snow swirling around outside, the whimsical white flakes settling on my windowsill, on the bushes below, the street covered in a thick white blanket. Squinting, I tried finding the Everdeen's home, through the storm, through the small thicket of trees that separated our street from the start of the Victors Village. I couldn't, but I knew they were out there, a young man in pain, and his surrogate family doing what they could to save him.
But even I knew Mrs Everdeen's healing knowledge wouldn't be enough.
I thought about two young people who had gone through hell and back, two people who had been virtual strangers, now forced to put on a show for the Capitol. I hadn't thought things could have gotten any bleaker than that for them, but today proved otherwise.
I'd learned enough from the communications Father received from the Capitol to know that there was a lot more to Katniss and Peeta's story than we'd been privy to during the Games, though I never let on to her that I knew. That knowledge warred with what I witnessed with my own eyes every time I saw them together. Katniss might be oblivious, Peeta might be oblivious, President Snow might be oblivious, but I wasn't. An unbreakable connection had formed between our two victors, one deeper and stronger than either of them could probably understand at the moment.
A shout from Mother echoed through my wall, and I sighed, pulling myself away from the window. Her headaches were always worse when it snowed.
I timidly knocked on the door, opening it without waiting for a response, to see Lonnie standing at the foot of the bed, her arms crossed angrily. Mother was sitting up in bed, staring out the window, not even turning at the creak of the door opening.
"Miss Madge, your Mother won't take her medication," Lonnie gritted out. "Tells me she don't need it." Moving over to the bed, I looked down at her, until she finally returned my gaze.
"I don't need it tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or for the rest of the week," Mother replied forcefully. I studied her, studied the clear eyes, the still hands, the calm demeanour. I glanced at Lonnie, and nodded.
"It's ok, Lonnie. Leave it with me. I'll speak with Mother," I told her calmly, holding my hand out for the box of medication Lonnie gripped tightly in her hands.
"Lonnie, it's fine. Let me do it." I reached over, took the box Lonnie reluctantly handed over, and waited until the old housekeeper had left the room, shutting the door with more force than necessary.
"You upset Lonnie, Mother," I told her, smiling gently.
"She wouldn't listen to me," Mother complained. "I told her I didn't need it. That I'm fine."
"Are you?" I sat beside her on the bed, studying the box in my hand, flipping the cardboard lid open and closed absently. A weeks' worth of medication in my hands, waiting to be used by a woman who had slowly but surely become dependent on it. The fact she had turned it down was a situation that, as far as I knew, had never occurred.
"Yes," she replied firmly. "I've realised it's time I need to be strong again, without my medication."
I couldn't help the way my mouth dropped open in shock. This was not my mother. Or, if it was, who had brainwashed her?
The idea formed so quickly, so suddenly, it almost came out of nowhere. I opened the lid again, prepared to plead my case.
"Mother….How would you feel if I moved your medication out of the house completely?" I said softly. She rolled her eyes.
"That's waste, dear," she scoffed. "There is no point wasting perfectly good medications from the Capitol."
"No," I started. "What if…..I took it to someone who needed it?"
"Who needs it?" She demanded quickly.
"A boy who got injured today. He might die without it." Of this, I had no doubt. Mother eyed me curiously – I could almost see the moment realisation struck.
"This is about that Hawthorne boy, isn't it?" She finally sighed. "All these years of not having any trouble in this district…" she trailed off, turning her attention back to the snow falling outside the window. "He's friends with Katniss Everdeen, isn't he?"
"Brings you strawberries."
"He'll die without this medication."
"And you'll take it whether or not I say yes, won't you?"
She turned back to me again, a faint smile on her face. "You're just like Maysilee, dear. I just hope one day doing the right thing doesn't get you in trouble." She paused, brushing a lock of hair behind my ear. "You should go now, before the storm gets any worse."
I smiled back at her, kissed her quickly on the cheek, and leapt to my feet. "I'll be home as soon as I can."
In the 15 minutes it took me to pull on my winter boots and lace up the jacket Father had gotten for me the last time he was in the Capitol, the storm had increased tenfold. I could barely see 5 feet in front of me, as I clutched the small box to my chest. My boots began to stick in the snow, my hair stuck damply to the back of my neck. I couldn't feel my nose.
I hurried as best I could, knowing I shouldn't be out in the storm, and not wanting to get caught in it, or stuck at the Everdeen's. They didn't need me. All they needed was what was clutched between my frozen hands. I kept my eyes trained on the soft lights that began to come into view, their glow warm and reassuring through the dark night. They were my guide, and soon enough I had reached their front door. It seemed quiet inside, still, and I was terrified that I was too late, that he was already gone, that they'd locked themselves away, mourning. I reached out, pressing the buzzer insistently, almost madly, in my need for them to hear me. I heard the echo of voices, the thudding of footsteps, and the door opened abruptly. Katniss, her mother and Haymitch Abernathy stood there, varying levels of surprise on their faces. They looked tired, and Katniss' eyes were red and swollen, but dry.
I wasn't too late.
"Use these for your friend," I said quickly, thrusting the cardboard box out in front of me. Katniss reached for it hesitantly, lifting up the lid to reveal the Capitol medication. "They're my mother's. She said I could take them. Use them, please." I looked up into their faces, the shock on Mrs Everdeen's, the begrudging admiration on Haymitch's, confusion on Katniss'. I knew I didn't belong here, although my heart ached to help them more. I wanted to hug Katniss, tell her it would be ok. But I didn't even know if it would be. With nothing more to say, I turned on my heel, and whirled back into the darkness of night.
I didn't get far when I realised the storm has gotten worse, and the path I followed from home was barely visible. I needed to stop, and stop now, before I got stuck in a snow drift and got discovered next spring. The outline of the porch of Peeta's home loomed in the night, and I hurried over there, huddling on a wrought iron chair. It was freezing, despite the heavy thickness of my jacket and my boots, but at least the house provided a partial block to the wind. I sat and waited, watched the snow swirl across the front yard, and was thankful when I could see that the wind had dropped off. The storm had settled, at least for now, and I sighed in relief, knowing I could head home. It wasn't until I'd taken two steps towards the edge of the porch that I saw the dark figure heading towards me.
"Peeta," I called, so as not to startle him. His head shot up, from the ground where he'd been staring intently, his eyes widening.
"Madge, why aren't you at home? It's freezing out here." He moved up onto the porch, digging the key out of his pocket for the front door, slipping it in the lock, and ushering us inside the moment it swung open. He closed the door and began to unwind the thick, heavy scarf he wore around his neck, eyeing me carefully.
He didn't look at me like he looked at Katniss. He never had, he never would. Not that it mattered. He wasn't what I wanted.
"Sorry, Peeta," I began to apologise. "I lost the path back through the trees, and thought I would wait it out on your porch until it eased off a little." He nodded, hanging the scarf and his coat on an old fashioned hat rack beside the door, and began moving down the main hall, indicating for me to follow him. I planted my feet - as much as I would love to stay in the cozy, warm home, I had my own I needed to return to.
"I just need to know it was of use, and then I'll go home," I said gently. I could see his shoulders drop, heard the heavy sigh he exhaled. He turned to me, nodding.
"He's fine. Well, as fine as he can be. It helped. Thank you Madge," he replied formally. I smiled happily, unable to keep the giddiness from my voice.
"Thank goodness. I was so worried that I wasn't in time, that Gale wouldn't-"
"Don't tell me you're in love with him as well," he suddenly spat out, almost bitterly, but I could see the shame on his face immediately. He slumped into the corner of his lounge, head in his hands. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. It's been a long day."
I studied the boy – no, after those games, he was more than a boy, really – in front of me, knowing that while I'd known him for most of my life I didn't really know him. Of the two, I knew far more about Katniss.
I sat beside him, rubbed a hand comfortingly against his arm. "I don't really think there's an 'as well', Peeta. I don't doubt that Katniss loves Gale, in her own way. They have a bond that can't be broken. But so do you. You and Katniss have a bond that no one else will ever understand. And it's unshakeable, no matter what you may think right now. Katniss loves you, in her own way as well. I just doubt she's realised it yet."
"In her own way," he snorted, rubbing his eyes with his fists. "What does that even mean?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "But I've spent enough time with Katniss since she got back to know how she works, how she reacts. She doesn't say a lot, but her actions speak a thousand words. You're good for her, whether either of you realise it or not. And you're going to need each other for a very long time."
He turned to me, his eyes empty, a little sad. "I feel like the third wheel," he mumbled honestly. "Some days I just want to leave her alone, like before, like before the Victory Tour. But I can't. I don't want to."
"Then you shouldn't," I told him firmly. I got to my feet, and noted that the storm had quietened down even more. Getting home should be so much easier. "Stick with it, Peeta. You don't know how things will work out. I think you mean more to her than you realise, than she lets on. Maybe one day, you and Katniss will be together."
"And you, Madge? Who will you be with?" He asked dully. I'm not even sure my words have gotten through to him. I shrugged, because despite what I craved some days, I simply didn't know the answer.
"I don't know. And it doesn't really matter. Good night, Peeta," I said softly, moving back to the front door.
"Good night, Madge," he replied, but he made no attempt to move. I closed the door behind me, heading towards home.
There isn't anything more I could do for our Victors tonight.