Prim. My mother. Peeta's father. Hazelle and all the kids. Gale.
My hour is almost up when Madge comes through the door. The last of my last good-byes.
We embrace and just stand there holding each other for a while, not saying anything. We've never needed many words between us. Just being near each other, next to someone we knew we could trust and count on, has always been enough. The vibration of her steady breathing against my chest comforts me. I can hear the last song she played for me on the piano playing in my ears. That's also comforting; I hope I'll be able to carry the memory of it with me all the way to the end.
She doesn't resist when I finally pull away. She knows as well as I do that we don't have much time. My next move is to unfasten the pin from my shirt and hold it out to her. She wraps my fingers back around it. "I want you to have it," I say after she pushes my arm back.
Madge shakes her head. "The girl on fire needs her mockingjay," she says. Her eyes narrow in hatred. "They need to see it. Show them it's still flying strong."
I understand. I nod, and Madge lets me drop the gold pin into her palm, but only so she can refasten it over my heart, just like she did one year ago. I wonder how she feels about her pin becoming the sign of the rebellion; when the rebels win, I hope they don't forget who gave them their symbol. Madge was wearing this memorial of one of the Capitol's greatest failures long before I was, to every reaping, ready to boldly flaunt in the Capitol's face in case she was ever chosen. Maybe she deserves as much credit for starting this rebellion as I do. Maybe that's why I feel the mockingjay belongs back with her.
I adjust the pin and say, "I'll make sure they send it back to you."
The fire goes out of Madge's eyes, but her voice is impressively steady when she says, "Maybe you won't need to."
I shake my head. This part was hard at first, but I've gotten used to it over the past hour. "We both know I'm not coming back, Madge."
I expect the empty reassurance, the last frantic words of advice, the desperate pleas for me not to give up that I've heard from everyone else. Instead, I hear her ask, "You really mean it?"
"Yes." There's a pause before I add, "You know why I can't." I haven't discussed my plans, the plans that entail my own death, with anyone except Haymitch, but I somehow realize that she knows.
Another pause. Madge bows her head. "I know." I don't bother to ask her how.
"I can't let him die. No matter what, I can't let them kill him. I won't be able to save us both this time."
I hear a tremor when she repeats, "I know."
I say, "I'm sorry, Madge," but I don't know why. For not saving myself? For not trying to live? "I never knew it would come to this, but this is how it has to be now. I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too, Katniss. You're the best friend I ever had."
I can't believe I'm doing it, but I'm smiling. "You're the only friend I had," I tell her, using the definition of "friend" that means "of the same age and gender." The only one who would eat lunch with me. The only girl whose company I enjoyed enough to seek. The only girl who enjoyed my company enough to seek me out. The only friend whose house I ever stayed in, the only refuge I had from the cameras and the prying eyes behind them. The only friend I've introduced to the woods and taught to shoot. I don't have the words to tell Madge everything she's been to me. Everything she means to me.
"I'm honored," Madge says, with a little smile of her own.
"You're crazy – what's the mayor's daughter doing hanging out with a girl from the Seam anyway?"
"What's the greatest hunter in District 12 doing hanging out with a rich snob from town?"
"You're not a snob," I say instantly.
Madge looks aside. "Everyone from town is, you know. That's why everyone hates us." She doesn't say it like she's complaining, more like she's giving the answer to a math problem in class.
I remember the things Gale has said in the woods about the misdirected hatred between the poor miners and the wealthier townspeople... and the things he has said in town about how much he hates the rich townspeople. He never realized how right he was about the Capitol driving us apart. Madge has never spoken a word about how hard it is being hated by most of the district to me before.
"They're wrong," I say firmly. She looks back up at me before I continue. "That's how the Capitol wants us to think."
"You don't think that way," she says.
"Neither do you," I remind her. Madge Undersee is not a snob like those idiots in the Capitol and the Career districts who think everyone else is beneath them, who believe they're entitled to be pampered and spoiled in every way possible. I'm suddenly enraged at anyone who can't see this.
Madge and I both smile at her next words: "At least that's one way we've beaten the Capitol."
"Yeah." She's right. "We have." I place my hand on her shoulder and say, "I'm glad I had you as a friend, Madge," realizing my smile didn't last long.
She puts her hand over mine. "You, too." She hugs me before I can see the tears, but it doesn't matter – I can hear them: "I'll never forget you, Katniss." I'm squeezing her tightly to hold back my own tears when I hear her whisper, "It shouldn't be you."
I absolutely cannot let anyone talk that way. "It shouldn't be anyone," I say sternly, but I don't let her go.
"It never should have been you. How can they do this to us?"
I abruptly pull back so that I'm facing her with one hand on her shoulder and put my finger on her lips as I shake my head. This isn't the time or place for that. I don't take my finger away until she nods in understanding. Her eyes beg me to forgive her for that foolish outburst, but her voice is anything but apologetic as she whispers, "This shouldn't be happening. They can't keep getting away with this. Somebody needs to stop it." I see her eyes widen in confusion. I don't blame her – that sound coming from my nose and closed lips could easily be mistaken for a laugh. "What's wrong?" she asks.
I gulp down my laughter and reply, "Nothing, it's just that you reminded me of..." I stop involuntarily before I can say the name. I force my mouth to finish: "Of Gale."
Madge blushes at the name. I wonder if Gale knows that Madge is just as fiery a rebel as he is. She's not a blazing flame that rages wildly out in the open for all to see like he and I but a smoldering ember that burns silently and secretly, that you can't even tell is hot until you examine it very closely, but is just as dangerous. Even after weeks of working with her and Gale to prepare for the Quell, I still don't really know what Gale thinks of Madge. He's never spoken to me about her, and I, of course, have never spoken of her to him – at first because I had no reason to, and then because I had a very shameful reason not to.
It's my turn to blush now as I remember what I felt the night that forever changed the way I look at Madge Undersee. It's all Haymitch's fault – if he hadn't said it, I never would have seen it. I'd gone years without letting myself see it, after all. I may not know how Gale feels about Madge, but I know exactly how she feels about him. She's never spoken about him to me, either, but she doesn't need to – she showed me the night she ran through a snowstorm to bring him medicine to ease his pain, risking the wrath of every Peacekeeper in the district if she'd been caught helping the criminal who had just been whipped almost to death in the square.
Remembering that night makes me realize something. I know why Madge understands what I have to do, why she doesn't question my plan to die in that arena so that I can save Peeta, why she knows it would be pointless to try to talk me out of it. We both will do whatever it takes to protect the boys we love. I don't care to analyze how or in what way we both love them right now; it's not important anymore. I'm just relieved to know that at least someone will see my death not as surrender to the Capitol but as my greatest act of rebellion. I won't surrender Peeta to them, just like Madge wouldn't abandon Gale that night.
"Don't worry about me," I tell Madge with my hands on her shoulders. "I'm not afraid anymore. I'm ready now."
"Ready to..." she begins to say angrily.
I stop her before she can say the word "die" and get too upset. "...To do whatever it takes to save him," I admit for the first time to someone besides Haymitch. "You understand, right?" I remind her. She starts to lean towards me and open her mouth, and I can tell she was about to protest again, but she jerks to a halt before she can. "You know why I have to do this, remember?" No answer. I'm going to have to say it: "You'd do the same thing." That's not a question.
Madge takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and bows her head again. I feel her shaking under my grasp and realize I unintentionally gave her a bad shock. I feel like I've invaded her privacy and am trying to figure out how to apologize when she asks, "How long have you known?"
"Not as long as I should have," I confess. I hope she doesn't want to start talking about this. I'm so ashamed of my attitude before – my refusal to see anything in Madge's interaction with Gale when we talked at her back door over strawberries and game; my always taking being first and best and favorite and most important with Gale for granted, never willing to give him the love he eventually wanted but not willing to share him, either; my petty jealousy the night Madge brought him the medicine; my rage that she had the nerve to trespass on my territory; my fear that she did love my friend when she had no right to love him the way I refused to! President Snow would have loved to see me that night – Katniss Everdeen, more threatened by this sweet, quiet, blonde beauty than of any mutt the Gamemakers could set on her!
Just thinking about it makes me sick. Both Madge and Gale are wonderful people who deserve to be happy, and when I saw that she loved him, that someone loved him the way he wanted to be loved, I did my best to deny it. Nobody in their right mind would say that I deserve to live more than Peeta. I'm so pathetic that I still hope Madge will never find out how I felt about the whole thing before the Quarter Quell, the rebellion, and my mission to save Peeta straightened out my priorities.
"I'm sorry, Katniss." I couldn't have heard her right. "I never meant for you to find out. I know I had no right... that he could never... but how could I help it? I never wanted..."
This is the worst thing she could possibly say to me. Loving Gale Hawthorne is a sign of wise judgment that no girl needs to apologize for. How could I ever have faulted her for that? "It's okay," I say weakly. I swallow and wait until I can make my voice sound stronger as I try to change the subject back: "You understand why I have to protect Peeta, right? What if it were you two?" We both know who I mean. "What would you do? You'd want to do everything you could to save him, right?" Madge sighs deeply in resignation as she nods. "Well, this is what I want."
"I know," Madge says again. Her eyes look as sharp as steel when she opens them and places a firm hand on my left shoulder, all signs of weakness smothered. "Don't worry – you'll get him out," she says reassuringly. "I know you can do it."
"It's going to be harder than last year," I say next, adopting the same tone and manner. Enough grieving – time to be strong.
"You're a lot stronger than last year."
"I hope it'll be enough," I say, as if we're talking about studying for a big test in school.
"You're stronger than they are, we know that." Exactly what Gale said last year... "We'll all be rooting for you to beat them." I'm about to thank her when her voice softens and she adds, "I wish there was more we could do to help."
"Maybe there will be..." I start to say ominously, thinking of the impending rebellion, before my train of thought detours and my voice trails off. It's a bit ironic that I now find myself wishing there was something I could do for Madge to make up for my jealousy. She deserves more than a few fleeting words of friendship. She deserves...
The idea hits me at the same moment as my fear that our time must be almost up. "Madge," I ask, "could you do me a favor?"
"Anything!" she answers immediately, of course.
I've already made Haymitch promise to protect Peeta, Gale to take care of Prim, my mother to help take care of little Posy, Vick, and Rory. It seems appropriate that I now ask Madge, "Take care of Gale for me."
Madge starts as the implications of what I'm asking sink in. She needs a few seconds to collect herself before she says, "I would if I could, but you know he'll never let me."
"He will," I say confidently.
"How do you know?" Madge asks sincerely.
"Gale has some crazy ideas in his head right now," I explain (like thinking he's in love with me), "but things will be different soon. When this is all over, you're both going to need someone. If I know you have each other, it'll be one more thing to give me hope when I'm in that arena."
"You mean that?" Madge asks in disbelief.
"Of course I do," I say, and I truly do. "You two deserve each other, Madge. Don't give up on him yet. He's going to need you. You can give him what I never could. He just needs to realize that."
Madge shakes her head, still unconvinced. "I can never give him what he wants. I'm not you."
"He'll forget about me," I say, but Madge shoots me a look that instantly makes me rephrase. "He'll move on eventually. When he stops looking for me, he'll realize what he was really looking for was right in front of him the whole time. He's too smart not to see that, right?"
"I hope so," Madge says, obviously involuntarily.
"Please take care of him for me, Madge," I repeat. "It could never have been me, no matter what. It always should have been you."
There's a long pause, but Madge finally says, "I'll do my best, Katniss."
"Promise me," I almost beg.
"I promise I'll love him," she assures me. "I'll be there for him. I'll do whatever I can. I'll try."
"I know you will," I say hopefully. The abrupt change in expression on her face tells me we both hear the sound in the hall at the same time. We quickly embrace again and hold on with all our might. When the Peacekeeper opens the door, there is no sign of tears or grief as we pull apart. Madge waits until the man is less than a foot behind her to take a step away from me.
"Good luck, Katniss," she says before he ushers her towards the door.
"Good luck, Madge," I wish her before the door slams shut.
Thinking about the people I'll never see again is too painful, and thinking about my mission too overwhelming, so I sustain myself on my walk to the train by building my castles in the air for Madge and Gale. I know I will die in that arena, that Peeta will have to live on without me, but maybe the two of them can still live happily ever after.
The new addition to the graveyard looks much less intimidating in the spring sunlight. Instead of turning around in tears like I did last night, I manage to walk all the way through the entrance, my right fist clasped tightly around the bouquet of white lilies, my left around Peeta's hand. There are so many new graves to visit, but we decided to take them one at a time – one each day – for now.
Peeta leads me to the one I wanted to visit first. We stop in front of two headstones – one a double monument for the husband and wife buried together underneath, the other for their daughter. The mockingjay I requested is carved beautifully into the front of hers. I originally wanted it to be a mirror image of the golden bird pinned to her dress when she was finally laid to rest, but a certain young man suggested it should be positioned with its head erect and its wings fully extended in flight, and I'm glad I didn't object.
It takes a while for me to tear my eyes away from the name and stoop down to place the flowers against the stone. It's only as I do so that I notice someone has sprinkled bluebell petals over the ground and left a wreath of wild flowers from the meadow leaning against the front of the headstone. I smell the faint scent of pine, strawberries, and fish in the air and realize these were left by someone who just returned from the woods. I find some consolation in the fact that he was here even before I was.
I lay my bouquet beside the wreath and let the tears fall. I feel Peeta's strong arm around my shoulders, holding me up. I survived, she didn't – I'm here with him, the two of us living on together, and she's gone forever, forcing another to live on without her.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way.