T for some language.
"I am pleased to present the victor of the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Madge Undersee! I give you the beautiful tribute of district 12!"
Madge looked at herself in the mirror. She barely recognized herself. For the first time in at least a week she felt clean but even now she didn't feel like herself. Her hair was in Capitol fashion and the dress that was on her body was so far away from the innocent white dress she had worn then. When she still felt like herself, when she was still herself: quiet Madge Undersee, not the beautiful tribute of district 12 she had been forced to become.
Even after hours of scrubbing she could still feel the blood on her hands.
"Madge!" Katniss flung her body onto Madge's and Madge pushed her away, looked her straight on, and took heavy breaths as she calmed herself. "I'm so sorry, I didn't- I forgot that..." she trailed off.
Katniss had forgotten that another tribute had tried to strangle her to death. That she had felt her throat being pushed in on itself and the air struggle to go through the constricted passageway, that she had felt light and happy as she died before her own hand betrayed her and stabbed the other person. "It's not your fault."
In reality, it felt a little like it was.
"Thank you so much," Katniss said. "I- Why did you do it?"
"We're friends," Madge said, and it sounded like she was trying to convince herself, that she had to tell herself that they had been friends. It sounded like there was a doubt that it had been some kind of illusion she had tricked herself into believing; at this point she wouldn't be surprised if it was. "You're far more needed and loved than I am."
"Don't say that," Katniss reprimanded. Madge thought that somehow over her time gone that their roles had switched: Katniss sounded so much more like how she had been. Now Madge was the cynical one, the one biting at life hoping to beat it down as Katniss rode atop of it.
"I don't lie to myself anymore," Madge said honestly, shortly, straight to the point.
"My mom wants me to invite you over for dinner tonight, she says you're basically part of the family now. Will you come?" Katniss asked and there wasn't any way she could say no, so she nodded. "Can I ask you something?" She nodded again.
"That thing, that you said about Gale? How much of that is true, why did you say it?" Katniss queried.
"Not now," Madge shook her head. "Later, ok? Maybe you can take me to the meadow?"
"Of course," Katniss nodded. "I'll see you later, be at my house around 5:30, ok?"
The only thing Madge seemed to be able to do anymore was nod, so she did just that.
She couldn't play piano. She tried, really hard, but she just ended up sitting on the piano bench for hours staring at the sheet music of a song that now felt forbidden to her hands. Even the shiny new piano and the room in her new home with the wonderful acoustics couldn't make her play, because she didn't think a person as wicked and twisted as her could ever be able to play something so innocent and beautiful again.
"Undersee," his voice called from the left of the door as Madge approached the Everdeen's house.
"What do you want Gale?" she asked, looking him straight in the eye.
"Why did you say all that stuff? About wanting to come back to me?" he seemed almost offended and Madge wanted to yell at him. After all this time he couldn't even pretend to be nice to her? She had gone through the Hunger Games, wasn't that enough to prove to him that she wasn't just some Town girl?
"Because no one wants to sponsor a boring rich girl from town with no motivation to come home. A girl in love with a boy she can never have who just wants to get back to him to properly announce her feelings, on the other hand, that the twisted Capitol wants to sponsor. Haymitch thought it would make me more appealing and I have to say that I agree," she responded. "Sorry it ruined your reputation," she spoke, not waiting for him to say another word or to see his face as she walked by him into the house.
"Did you like the dinner?" Mrs. Everdeen spoke and Madge nodded.
"It was delicious."
She wasn't lying either, even after all the capitol food she had eaten it was one of the best meals she had ever had. Maybe it was the sentimentality of the dish, or the company she was in, but sitting around a table with people she thought she would never see again was a surreal experience. Madge looked over and noticed Peeta, the unexpected member of the odd table, and saw how his pinky finger touched the side of Katniss's hand and they linked their fingers together.
No wonder Katniss had been acting far more "teenage girl-y": she had fallen in love with Peeta. Now Gale's rage was easily deciphered: he wasn't pissed off at her (entirely), he was pissed off that the love of his life was with Peeta. Madge looked at Peeta and stared, her breathing getting heavier before she wasn't even capable of keeping the words in her own mouth trapped inside.
"I'm sorry," she blurted, watching as Peeta looked up abruptly at her. The entire table, for that matter, became silent and turned towards her. She stood up awkwardly, grabbing her plate and mumbling something about the kitchen. She placed her plate in the sink and grabbed the sides, clutching on with what seemed all of her semblance of a life she had left. The swinging door made a sound and she heard footsteps come up behind her.
"Madge," Peeta said. "I am incredibly happy you are home."
"Don't," she said as she turned. "You can hate me. I hate me."
"Please," he reached for her before retracting his hand at her grimace.
"I couldn't save him, Peeta. I couldn't save your brother," she cried out, a strangled cry erupting from the back of her throat for the first time since she had let herself cry since the first night on the train. "I couldn't save any of them."
"No one blames you," he said, and despite her convulses as he grabbed her, he pulled her close and held her there, letting her panic attack subside as she caught her breath, holding back screams that were only released at night in the privacy of her own home.
She thought Gale or Katniss might have been in the doorway during the whole thing, but she preferred not to dwell on it. Her whole body was thinking about how Madge blamed herself.
If Madge hadn't heard the shuffling from the familiar walk behind the door, she would have just left.
"What do you want Undersee?" Haymitch said, downing the last of his drink.
Madge walked past him into his house, going to the kitchen as he grumbled behind her about no manners and rude little children and things she knew he didn't actually give a damn about. "Does it work?"
"Does what work, sweetheart, you're going to have to be a little clearer," he responded, moving around in the kitchen.
"This," she lifted the alcohol bottle up, storming over to him. "Does it make you forget?"
"Enough," he shrugged.
Madge uncorked it, swinging her head back and chugging before he pulled the bottle away. She coughed spastically and felt the fiery liquid fight down her throat. "What do you mean by enough?"
"Are you crazy, you're 16 and you're trying to kill yourself by alcohol consumption," he yelled.
"Being 16 didn't stop you. What do you mean by enough?"
"I forget her!" he slammed the bottle against the counter. "I forget Maysilee," he whispered.
"I figured you loved her," she laughed after seconds of silence. Taking the bottle from him and taking a small swig. "The Capitol wouldn't have it any other way."
Haymitch closed his eyes and dropped down onto the couch, but Madge could see the clear spot he had made sure to leave open for her and joined him by his side.
As Madge stumbled along the path she thought about Katniss and Prim.
Regret had never filled her for what she did for them. She regretted so much: letting the Capitol do to her what they had, how some of the other tributes had met their ends, and how she hadn't let her meet her own.
She regretted living, but never for a second did she regret volunteering.
"Where the hell is the damn opening for this stupid fucking fence!" she yelled, shaking it and sliding down with her back against it until she was sitting on the ground.
"Undersee," Gale hissed as he walked over to her off the path, appearing in the darkness. "It is the middle of the night and you are somehow downright drunk and yelling so loud everyone in the stupid district can hear you! What are you doing?"
"Trying to get into the forest," she yelled again, shaking the fence once more for good measure.
"Would you stop yelling, please? You can't go in there right now, it's night, you have no idea where you're going. You will probably end up getting yourself killed in there," he answered, crossing his arms aggravatedly.
"If only I could be so lucky," she mumbled.
"You're the one survivor out of 24 and you're freakin' suicidal! What is wrong with you?" he spoke vehemently.
"I don't like being drunk," she replied, closing her eyes and leaning her face against the fence.
"It can hurt your head once it starts becoming a hangover," he answered.
"No, it...it makes it worse. It didn't make me forget it just made everything worse and all the memories are colliding into each other and I can't remember what really happened and which ones are just the nightmares I have every night and I'm seeing a million different deaths all at the same time and remembering that some of them are real and I actually watched them..."
"How did Haymitch let you go?" Gale asked quietly, the anger leaving his voice as he looked at her sadly.
"He fell asleep and I snuck out," she whispered back, grabbing onto the fence as she looked over his left shoulder slightly and her eyes widened.
"How about I walk you home, okay, Madge?" Gale offered and Madge nodded, standing up as she noticed that he had used her first name for maybe the first time ever and forgetting about the forest.
It would probably just make all the memories more real anyway.
A blood curdling scream erupted from her throat and she woke herself up. Madge couldn't remember the last time she had slept for an entire night or hadn't been plagued with the heavy feeling of just being tired. Most often she couldn't help but see Rue being hanged by that trap over and over again on repeat along with the memory of Peeta's brother defending themselves from careers and the knife going straight through his throat.
The word run still on his blood-soaked lips.
"Will you marry me?" Peeta questioned as he knelt on the ground and Katniss nodded. The family around her cheered and she laughed because it was so funny. They were 16 and they were getting married and months ago they barely spoke to each other at all. Months ago Katniss didn't ever want to get married.
Madge smiled at Katniss over the crowd and she mouthed thank you back, but she snuck out of the crowded house (even at her house this crowd didn't seem to fit), and followed behind Gale. He had stormed out and she walked behind him as he snuck underneath the fence, started kicking a tree, and released a scream. She walked right past him and he looked up, following behind her curiously as they walked until they reached the meadow Katniss had showed her.
"What are you doing?" he asked as she laid down.
"I'm always tired," she answered, "and who is going to notice I'm gone anyway? Even at my own house I'm not the focus. I'm just the creepy, quiet murderer everyone is afraid of now."
Gale didn't bother to correct her, he just laid down beside her instead.
The feeling of sun woke her up and she looked to her left to see he was still there. He woke up in seconds and he looked at her as she yawned. She hadn't slept so good since she left for the Hunger Games in what seemed such a long way away. "Thanks," he interrupted her thoughts.
"It's possible that's the first time you've ever said that to me," she answered.
"It's the first time I've had need to."
Madge nodded and stood up, smoothing her dress and hair but not really caring anyway as she did it.
"For what? I just slept the best I have for...forever," she snorted at his serious expression.
"I mean about what I said," he answered.
Madge's face fell. "What?"
"I'm so sorry that I told you that you wouldn't be reaped," he said. "You went into the arena and I was so worried that you were going to have the last things I ever said to you be about how there was no way you would ever end up there."
"I don't want your pity, Gale," she bit back.
"What? I was apologizing."
"Everyone says sorry. Sorry you ended up in the Hunger Games, sorry you had to be in there with someone you knew, sorry you didn't kill off the other tribute before they got a good shot at your shoulder," she told him, pulling her sleeve down so that he could see the scar. "Frankly, I don't see how any one of these things has to do with anyone who says them because they couldn't do a single thing about it."
"I'm apologizing for something I did, though," he defended himself.
"I don't want apologies! I want to be dead! I don't want to take multiple showers a day just to feel a semblance of what clean used to feel like! I don't want to not be able to sleep or have nightmares when I'm awake and asleep or be afraid of people touching me, but I am Gale. I'm afraid of what I am and I'm afraid that the rest of my life is going to be like this," she gestured wildly around her. "So I'm glad that you can make yourself feel better by saying sorry, but I can't. You were just afraid that I was going to die like everyone thought and you might feel a little guilty about it so I'm so glad you could get it off of your chest. And I actually thought that maybe we could be friends..." she snorted. "What the hell was I thinking," she walked away from him.
"By the way," she whipped around. "You can't have Katniss, you won't get her. I'm sorry to be the one to make you have to see the hard reality that is life, but Peeta loves her and she loves him. Her story doesn't end with you so it is best that you move on and stop daydreaming about her because I think you don't love her as much as you think you do. I think you love the idea of loving her," she told him, turning back around. "Good day Mr. Hawthorne."
"You shouldn't have snuck away when I was sleeping," Haymitch said, not bothering to turn around as he heard her enter. "Gale told me about you by the fence."
"Sorry," she apologized, laughing maniacally for a second because she had just yelled at Gale for saying sorry.
"Did they touch you?" he turned around abruptly.
Madge froze. "Who?"
"You know who I'm talking about. Did people from the Capitol touch you?" he spoke bitterly, the signs finally coming together in his head after seeing it happen to so many before her.
"Goddamnit!" he screamed, throwing the bottle at the cabinets and breathing heavily as the sound of the cracking glass subsided. "Please tell me they didn't..."
"My virginity turned them off," she smiled through tears and she thought about how twisted it was. How she was happy that a man had only touched her and felt her and complained about her virginity. "It didn't stop him from playing."
Sometimes in her nightmares the thought of those hands on her could be worse than the blood.
"You know," Madge said as she turned towards Peeta, "in another world you and I would have been so happy together."
"Yes," he smiled at her. "It would have been nice, but that's a world where you didn't volunteer and you don't look at Gale the way you do and I don't love Katniss more than I have ever loved anything in my entire life. You gotta come to this world, Madge."
"I really want you and Katniss to be happy," she whispered.
"And we just want you to be happy. We just don't know how to do it."
****"He's sorry, you know," Katniss said, trying to play piano while Madge sat futilely on the bench next to her. "He didn't mean to hurt you."
"I know," she nodded.
"Then why don't you go apologize to him, you guys can be friends," Katniss turned towards her. When had she gotten so friendly, so cheerful and upbeat and, in a weird way, motherly.
"Because I haven't talked to my parents since the first time I got back or had a day where I don't see something red and think about blood. Because I'm crazy and Gale deserves better than a friend like that: a crazy girl who deserves to die alone."
"You could be right," Katniss shrugged, "but you could also be so so wrong."
"I'm sorry," she said as the door opened up and he appeared.
"Oh, so I'm just supposed to forgive you for snapping at me for saying sorry?" he walked past her, towards the fence. "Sorry if I'm a little skeptical of your sorry."
"What do you want me to do?" Madge asked. "I could really use a friend like you."
"And what exactly is a friend like me?" he stopped abruptly and turned towards her. "Some stupid seam boy who you can feel free to yell at whenever you need to let off some steam?"
"Someone who doesn't let me get away with my shit," Madge said. "Everyone has been walking around on eggshells around me like I'll snap and break because they are afraid to say anything bad to me or yell or call me out on everything I've been doing and the way I've acted. You're the only one who has been honest and, frankly, I like it. I've been pretty horrible, I need someone to acknowledge it instead of let it slide."
"Well good, because you've been acting like an idiot," he said gruffly.
For the first time in what felt like years Madge laughed and she didn't know the last time something had felt so good.
"We're going to be late to their wedding, you know, that really important thing," Madge told Gale, walking carefully as to not scrape her dress on anything. "You really couldn't wait to do this until there was an available time when we weren't wearing nice clothes?"
"No," Gale responded, not bothering to turn around as he continued on determinedly through the woods. "It's not my fault they decided to have the wedding so soon."
"You and I are in the wedding party, Katniss will kill us if we don't get there on time."
"Madge, would you shut up? Stop having such doubt in me, I'll get us back in time."
Madge shook her head in an aggravated matter but followed him anyway as he kept with his insistent strides. Suddenly they were in an open field she had never visited before that held a sad beauty. Something about the wildflowers and the lonesome blowing tall grass made her sad and she looked at Gale expectantly. He turned towards her and nodded upward.
She looked up and all of a sudden what felt like millions of mockingjays flew into the sky and she stared up in amazement, a small smile playing at her lips. "What are they doing?"
"Migrating, just for a little while," he answered, staring as they flew into the distance.
"Will they come back? Will they find this place again?"
"Always," he told Madge, turning his head and looking her straight on.
She had a feeling, for the briefest of moments, that what he was saying had to do with more than just birds.
Madge couldn't be snuck up on. She didn't like surprises and she most definitely didn't like them when they involved touching. Memories of cold eyes and money on the table and frigid air took over and her heart rate elevated.
But when Gale helped her over the fallen log by holding onto her waist, her tremors seemed to disappear far faster than normal.
"Where have you been?" Katniss asked as they ran in the back door of Haymitch's house.
"Ask Gale," Madge mumbled as she walked by her.
And even though it was said completely irritated, there was also a large part of her that felt partially bubbly about it.
"Let's go, sweetheart," Haymitch stood in front of her, holding out his hand.
"You want us to dance?" she said skeptically, but she stood up anyways, walking with him to where the dancing was currently taking place in the middle of the large dining room. "You know this will be disastrous, right?"
"Think about how many people will watch us," he responded, stopping in front of her and assembling the proper dancing position.
"They'll be waiting for either you to pass out drunk or me to snap and stab someone," she spoke monotonously.
"High expectations," he mumbled as they danced.
"For a drunk you're rather good at this," she told him.
"For a psycho you're pretty rational," he told her.
"Haha," she replied. "Very funny. Maybe I should give them a show, stab you."
"You wouldn't," he told her confidently.
"Why, exactly, not?"
"Not only would it be too messy and you would have another death and more blood on your hands, you'd also lose the one person that actually understands the trouble of being a victor," Haymitch shrugged.
He was right. Not that she ever actually considered murdering Haymitch in a room full of people, or really at all, but she could never kill again. The nightmares were bad as they were, and the thought of feeling worse than she already did made her contemplate how many ways she could commit suicide if the need arose.
Pills in the cabinet, knife in the kitchen drawer, overdose on morphling...
"Can I steal her?" Gale interrupted her thoughts as the songs switched.
"Fine by me," Haymitch backed away, winking at her as he left.
Madge looked up to see his face, seeing as standing right next to him made him that much taller than her. She looked away and scanned the dance floor, seeing Katniss and Peeta in a loving look that still confused her. "How can people go from nothing to something so quickly?"
"Look at us," he answered. "A year ago I didn't even call you by your first name, and now we're dancing together. Crazy things happen all the time."
She looked up at his face again as he scanned the crowd and smiled at his at ease expression. Though she didn't like to admit it, and would never dare to admit it aloud, being in Gale's arms made her feel protected. Shaking her head, she didn't let herself think about it. That would mean delving into feelings and emotions and trying to sort out all the twisted lines and curvy edges.
Looking at the spot he was currently looking, Madge leaned her body closer towards his as the music turned slower still. "Do you still love her?"
"Katniss?" he turned towards her, his eyebrow scrunched the slightest bit. Madge nodded.
"No," he shook his head. "You were right, you know."
"You loved the idea of loving her?"
"Yea?" she answered.
He looked down at her and curved his lip into a one-sided smirk that Madge loved and rarely saw. "Yea."
"Can you play for me?" Gale asked her as they walked.
"I haven't played since before," she said.
"So?" he questioned.
"So I can't."
"Why?" he stopped and looked towards her, crossing his arms.
"I forgot," she told him.
"Bullshit, the way you used to have those songs memorized couldn't be forgotten. What's the truth?"
"Can't or won't?"
"I can't, Gale," she turned towards him, angered at his prying personality. "The last time I played I was innocent and my biggest problem was taking care of my mother, everything has changed. How can I go back and pretend like nothing has?"
"You sit down, put your fingers on the keys, and push," he told her, walking away from her and leaving her standing in front of her house in thought.
Madge looked at the keys and put her fingers on them. All she had to do was push, push. Push away the thoughts of blood for a little while, push away her stupid questions about what she was beginning to feel for Gale, push away her anger and push the keys. She had stabbed, how could pushing piano keys seem so hard?
Her fingers sought out a simple C chord impulsively and she pushed before she could question it. She started small, with scales and simple chords and nothing that sounded like the magnificence Madge had used to be able to play. It took her hours before she could get the courage up to close her eyes and let her hands find the beginning position she had once known so well. And then she was playing and it was beautiful and she couldn't help but cry.
It had become hard to decipher what tears were of sadness and which were happy.
"Gale!" Madge screamed as she ran through the door, not bothering to knock seeing as she knew the family would all be in, most likely preparing for dinner.
"Madge?" he exclaimed in surprise, turning towards the door as Madge ran straight at him and enveloped him in a hug. His arms instinctively wrapped around her back and he bent down so that she wasn't on her tiptoes struggling to keep hold of him.
"I played," she whispered and he laughed the littlest bit, filled with knowledge that he had known she could. He held her there and for seconds Madge ignored the fact that Hazelle was smiling at them like a goon and Rory whispered something about Gale's girlfriend.
She didn't want one thing to distract her from this moment.
"You know," Katniss brought up nonchalantly, "you never clarified how much of that story you spun about Gale was true."
"What made you think of that? It was so long ago..." Madge trailed off, because even though it was a long time ago the memories still felt fresh and new in her brain. Katniss shrugged.
"I guess...I used to have a crush on him, when I was younger and puerile and you would bring me strawberries, but then it was more about what he stood for. He was like freedom, some kind of daydream I could have that took me away from my life. I wasn't in love with him when I said that for the cameras, I was just trying to stay alive."
"What about now?"
"Now?" she contemplated. "I don't think I love him, but it's more than a silly crush. It's based on something."
"I could've told you that," Peeta snuck in through the door. "I could have told you that since that dinner at Katniss's."
"Madge," Gale said, laying next to her as they looked at stars. Madge's bedroom felt like a coffin at night, and she much preferred to be out in the open when she could.
"It wasn't ever about my reputation."
"What?" she asked, turning her face towards his.
"When you came back you said that you ruined my reputation by saying what you did, but it wasn't ever like that. I was just afraid that you actually did love me and I had been the oblivious jerk who treated you the way I did, which wasn't very good."
"I don't blame you," she told him. "I just...I didn't understand why you hated me so much."
"I didn't hate you," he answered immediately. She raised her eyebrow and he explained. "You were unattainable, you were the thing I thought I wanted that I couldn't have. I didn't hate you, I never hated you."
"You wanted me?"
Gale nodded, looking at her and Madge could see now that his eyes held so much more than friendship.
"Well, damn, I used to have a huge crush on you," she laughed. "I guess it's too late now."
"Because who would want me now?" Madge laughed, this time far more morbidly. "I've been used and I'm dirty. I've killed and I'm cracked all across the surface but my stupid design team has had to paint over all of it because the cameras want an innocent Mayor's daughter when I'm dying inside every day."
Gale didn't bother to use his words as he put his hand on the back of her head and pulled her to him. Their lips met in a clash of passion and love and some kind of unidentifiable understanding of the other. As Madge pulled her body closer to his, she felt beautiful, less broken, like a human and not the monster she had begun to believe she was.
She was still scared and sad and broken, but somehow Gale seemed to be the mortar she needed to patch her up, even if it was just for some fleeting moments. She needed him, she couldn't even remember a time when she didn't feel this full and clean.
Because even though the itch that was always scraping at her hands was still there, her hands felt cleaner than they had since the first time she was forced to kill another.
Gale was the most perfect of purifications and in that one unprecedented moment, Madge felt like she was more light than dark.
And nothing had ever felt so good.