Part 15-Our Hearts Beat Like Drums
Madge tries to keep her breathing regular as the hovercraft carries them to Two, her heart hammering in her ears. She holds onto Katniss and Rory, fingers knotted with theirs and please let us make it out of this okay.
Leevy sits across from her, grim faced and steely eyed, Rory whispers to himself, a litany of reminders and Katniss fidgets, her leg bouncing up and down. The air in the hover craft is tense, talk hushed and Madge runs through her training, attempts to reassure herself.
we can do this
Theirs is one of the first hovercrafts to arrive, landing in a clearing just on the outside of town. They're met by stern looking soldiers who hurry them towards a makeshift camp hidden by the side of a cliff. The ground is rough and uneven but their pace doesn't slow, a tinge of fear in every step they take. Their guides' eyes flicker to and fro, as if expecting trouble and Madge gives up trying to calm her racing heart.
"Hurry up, this way," the man in front of them urges, herding them beneath the relative shelter of the cliff. The sky is pale, sun nearly white and illuminating pearly clouds and Madge tries to find courage in daylight, but she's old enough now to know monsters don't just hide in the dark. More hovercrafts continue to land, the morning air humming with the sound but then another noise, impossibly loud, shatters the day. It's gunfire, except not, cannon fire but worse, anti aircraft guns! someone shrieks and oh.
"Get down!" comes a scream and Madge drops, huddles by a tent pole and it's like the end of Twelve all over again, the whole world coming apart at the seams. She covers her ears with her hands and forces her eyes open, needs to make sure Rory and Katniss are nearby. Instead, Madge watches one of their hovercrafts explodes, burning in the sky like a new sun and the sound it makes is beyond words, horror settling in her stomach like a cold stone. And then another and another, hovercrafts painting the sky like fireworks and she can feel terror flowing through her, hot and scalding.
How many people were aboard those hovercrafts? How many people have died without even stepping foot on the battlefield?
And still the hovercrafts come, some managing to land even amidst the barrage of death but most blooming into great clouds of fire, raining ashes and debris down on District Two. She can't hear any screaming, at least not with her ears, but she can feel it in her bones, an endless screech of fear and pain. Someone grabs her arm, fingers tight enough to bruise but Madge barely registers it, body numb with panic.
"We're all going to die," someone wails or maybe that's the voice in Madge's head, but it doesn't really matter.
She's pretty sure they're right.
("So much for the element of surprise," someone grumbles and Madge almost vomits)
(people, so many people, are dead)
(you'd never know from the way some of these soldiers are reacting)
(maybe Snow's winning after all)
Their commanding officer, Lyme, is a tall, imposing woman.
Madge feels like a little girl in her presence, a kid afraid of being scolded. Commander Lyme prowls in front of them, pacing back and forth and Madge tries her best to stand up straight, keep her spine stiff instead of wilting under the commander's stern eyes.
"District Two is our gateway to the Capitol. This battle will be more important than any we've had so far," Commander Lyme declares as she casts shrewd eyes over each of them and stops her pacing. "Remember your training; do not bend to the Capitols machine of fear. Panem will soon be ours again, believe that."
I do, Madge can't help but think, I do.
There's a buzzing in Madge's ears, a rising hum of panic she forces as far down as she can. They're moving out, finally, marching off to their positions for the siege of Two and Madge feels like her legs will give out with every quivering step.
be brave, be brave, be brave she tells herself, but still her nerves shiver and shake. Rory walks beside her, hushed voice running with constant reminders and tips, preparations for the terror to come and she remembers when she first met him, remembers it like a distant dream. He was so young, still is, and she wants to drag him home, hide him away somewhere safe. But that's why they're here, Rory, her brother, that little boy who's grown up too much, too fast and her, because there is nowhere safe, not in Snow's Panem.
Katniss stands by her other side, face drawn and eyes dark and Madge wonders if winning this war will lighten those shadows, carry away some of the weight on her shoulders. So many terrible things have already happened; can victory really wash them all away?
(she's pretty sure she knows the answer)
They come to a stop on the southern outskirts of Two and slowly file into position to await the signal to attack. They crouch down, hidden by a natural sloping of the ground and Madge's hands are already slippery with sweat. The grass here is sparse and yellow, the sky a dull sort of blue and Madge runs through everything she knows of District Two. They're a mining district just like Twelve. They're the main supplier of peacekeepers to the Capitol. They're the district that has always been closest to Snow, the one with the tightest binds of loyalty. Two is sure to put up a major fight and Madge swallows, her throat dry. She peeks out over their little hill, takes in the sight of The Fringe, District Two's version of The Seam. Ramshackle wooden houses with dirty windows, scraggly lawns and chipping paint, she could almost be home.
(but home is gone, burnt away by the Capitol)
(Madge tries not to think about what she's doing here, waiting to burn these homes to the ground, to do just what the Capitol did to her)
She prays the battle will be quick, hopes Two will surrender without much war and bloodshed. Madge isn't very confident in that, but even so, she's never been one to give up on hope, no matter how foolish.
They wait for days or minutes or years for a signal to come, but it never does.
(that soldier from earlier was right, they'd lost the element of surprise)
(and now they'd pay for it)
The only call to action they get is a hail of gunfire, spitting out from behind them. People scream, panic, run and Katniss shoulders Madge to the ground, bullets burying themselves in the hill above her. Dirt rains down on her head and Rory is shouting, voice lost in the cacophony of chaos. Their squad splinters, scrambling off in opposite directions and Madge claws her way up, knows they need to find better cover. She looks around wildly, but there's nowhere to go, nothing but peacekeepers and open fields.
The thought springs to her mind and of course, of course. There'll be plenty of cover there, a much higher chance of losing the peacekeepers. There might be civilians though and the thought makes her wilt, but no, they don't have a choice. She hadn't noticed a single sign of life when she'd been watching, has to believe all the people have been evacuated.
Madge lurches upwards, driven by adrenaline and grabs the strap across Rory's shoulder, knows he'll never hear her if she tries to speak. She tugs hard to get his attention and gestures towards the Fringe, mouths the word run. He frowns, shakes his head, probably wants to argue but they don't have time for that. She grabs a hold of the pack on his back with both hands and yanks, the unexpectedness of the move nearly knocking him off his feet.
"Go!" she yells and ducks down as more gunfire sprays over them. She crawls on her stomach over to Katniss, hooks a finger in the leg of her pants and pulls. Katniss flicks an eye in her direction and Madge jerks her head towards the Fringe, her lips moving in words even she can't hear. Katniss bites her lip but then nods, sliding down so she's level with Madge.
"Toss a grenade for cover and we'll climb over the hill and make a run for it," Katniss tells her, yelling but sounding like a whisper. Madge nods and reaches for one, Katniss still firing at their attackers. Madge pulls the pin and throws it, refuses to think of the people she may be catching in the blast. The explosion nearly deafens her, the ground shaking but Katniss is already standing, hauling Madge after her. They clamber over the hill and down the other side, Madge's whole body made of pudding. Rory is waiting for them and Madge doesn't know who says "Run!" but someone does and they're all running, angry shouts and bullets hounding their footsteps.
The gunfire grows louder, like it's just behind them and Madge feels fear tighten in her chest. Just don't stop running. Rory reaches the Fringe first and ducks between two narrow houses, Madge turning the opposite way down the main road. They'll have to split up and find their way back to each other, can't risk all going the same way and having the Peacekeepers follow after. She can't hear herself over her jackhammer heart and her body moves on instinct, dodging this way and that, hoping to lose anyone that might be tailing her.
Rory, Katniss, we'll find each other again.
I know we will.
Madge whips around a corner and stops, presses her back against the wall of a nearby house. She peeks quickly back the way she came but can't see any pursuers, may finally have shaken them off. She takes a moment to catch her breath and then pushes off, has to track down the others.
She creeps through Two, her hands clenched around her gun. Peacekeepers might be anywhere and she has to stay alert, feels like her every pore is on fire. Adrenaline is like liquid lightning, jolting through her at a million miles per second. Stay focused, stay calm, find Rory and Katniss. She hears gunfire in the distance and freezes, but then forces herself to go on. Be brave.
She walks with no sense of time, no idea how long it's been. Where are you? she wants to scream but can't, needs to keep looking. Hyper alert ears hear the sound of feet on gravel and Madge stops, flattening herself against the nearest wall. She quiets her breathing, eyes trained on the direction those feet are coming from and she aims, trains her weapon on the narrow opening between two houses. Who is it? Training plays on a loop in her head, every lesson running a marathon through her brain. It's going to be okay, you can do thi-
Madge almost screams at the sight of him, not words, just sounds strangled by feeling. Instead she tumbles towards him, feet crunching over rocks and broken glass. Rory mouths her name but is smart enough not to say it and they meet in a cloud of kicked up dust, her eyes stinging from dirt and tears. It's not so much a hug as it is a mushing of bodies, lumpy gear jabbing each other painfully. It's quick because time is always running so far ahead of them and they hurry for cover, fingers knotted in each other's sleeves.
Rory finds a door with a broken lock and they sneak inside someone's hollow home, all shadows and left behind memories. They move without having to plan it out loud, Rory dragging a springless sofa in front of the door, Madge closing ratty curtains. Rory sits on the couch, sinks low into the cushions and Madge is sure the peacekeepers will trace them by the thunder beat of her heart. She shuffles over to sit beside him, the seat wilting beneath her weight and she looks at him, a smudged coal drawing in the dark.
"What's the plan?" he whispers and Madge pushes her tongue against her teeth. What is the plan?
"Any idea how many peacekeepers are out there?" she eventually responds, the silence a bit too much like a noose. He shakes his head. Madge drums her fingers on her leg. What's the plan? She stands and peeks out a window at the street, notes the narrow alleys at either end.
"Okay," she starts, turning back to Rory with determination weighing in her bones. "We have a good vantage point from these windows for each end of the street. If we can lure the peacekeepers here, they'll bottleneck and we might be able to pick them off, or at least thin them out."
Her words are sure but her throat is dry and Rory nods, tongue running over his lips. Of course, how exactly they're going to lure the peacekeepers is another question. Rory gives her a thoughtful look.
"How do you feel about explosions?"
"Ready?" Rory asks, not bothering to whisper anymore. After all, they want the peacekeepers to find them now. Madge looks at him and his face is shiny with sweat, there's dirt beneath her nails but we can do this. She nods.
The blast rocks the street and Madge grits her teeth, crouched behind the furniture they'd pushed against the walls as extra cover. With her ears still ringing, she jumps up and pops open her window, trusts that Rory is doing the same. She trains her gun on her end of the street and tries to calm her hectic breathing. She fails.
"So now we wait," comes Rory's voice and Madge nods.
Now they wait.
They arrive on Rory's side first.
Madge nearly jumps out of her skin when he opens fire and forces herself to stay focused on her side of the street. Her ears shake and shudder with the sounds of death and gunfire, her teeth biting down into her lip. Stay focused, don't look. Sweat slides over her skin, stretched so tight it might snap apart any minute.
"Fuck," Rory swears and Madge almost turns, is half a second from going to help when peacekeepers start to file in from her side of the street. Panic, so hot it's almost cold, spills from her head into the rest of her, filling her up from top to bottom. She pulls the trigger with slick fingers and the kick back rattles her organs. Madge has never shot a real person before, tries not to focus on the fact that she's killing someone's child, sibling, parent, spouse. There's a loud, angry lion roar in her ears, drowning out the world and she remembers Janah Malleefowl and a smoking gun, tries not to remember her body in the street.
The peacekeepers return fire and Madge ducks, bullets piercing weak wooden walls and lodging in her furniture barricades. Then she's up, firing, taking cover and up again. A few bullets come so close she can feel their heat and even a few peacekeepers creep near, but she refuses to think about that, does what she needs to make it out alive. She moves like a machine, her training working without conscious thought. Don't think, just do.
She pulls the trigger and nothing comes out, her gun empty and she drops down to her knees, tries to numb the fear in her blood as she reloads. When she stands there's a peacekeeper so close to her window she could reach out and touch him, the white of his armour glowing in the midday sun. For a second Madge is blind from both the glare and the memory of peacekeepers in the sun, fists and boots tattooing her skin. She's saved only because the peacekeeper in front of her didn't expect her to stand so suddenly, isn't quite ready to fire. Madge pulls the trigger and her bullet buries deep in his armour (his and all of theirs, all those peacekeepers she can never forget), blood spraying out and she can taste it in her mouth. Her stomach roils with heat but she doesn't have time for that right now.
Win, you have to win
She could have been there for years when the last peacekeeper falls, her gun nearly slipping from trembling hands. It takes her a minute to hear it over the bang, bang, bang of her heart against her ribs but Rory's stopped shooting too. Madge turns to him with a quivering smile, relief like water over burnt skin. We did it!
But Rory isn't smiling as he turns and time seems to slow down, seconds stretching into hours. There's a frown on his face, red, red, red spreading across his shirt and...no.
Madge would scream but can't, words choked in her throat.
Rory's been shot.
She can't breathe and Rory wavers as he touches his wound, fingers coming away scarlet. He slumps sideways, shoulder knocking into the wall and slides down to the floor. Madge trips towards him, her knees cracking angrily against the floor. She ignores the pain and crawls over to him, her hands shaky as she grabs his elbow, curls one hand around his wrist.
"Rory," she murmurs, doesn't know what to say.
"How...how bad is it?" he mumbles, voice rising and fading. Madge swallows. She can't tell through all his clothes, can only see the blood, so, so much blood.
"Here," she whispers, taking his hand, "put pressure on it. I'm going to see if I can find any first aid supplies."
Madge stands on quaking legs and has to take a moment to breathe, to relax. It's going to be okay. Rory's going to be okay. She goes to the bathroom first, the house here laid out similar to her own. She ignores the homesickness as she grabs every clean towel she can find, has to stay focused on Rory. They don't seem to have any bandages or disinfectant, but Madge can't tell if they never did or took it with them when they left. She shakes her head. Not that it really matters, what matters is there's none. She goes to the kitchen and fills a bowl with water from the sink, needs something at least to clean him up. She settles down beside him again and can't really tell in the gloom, but she thinks he may be getting paler.
"So?" he asks as she pulls away his hand, his fingers already stained red.
"Don't move, I'm going to have to cut away some of your shirt."
He nods weakly and Madge feels her rib cage tighten. She pulls out her knife and forces her hand to steady as she cuts the fabric around the gunshot wound. His blood is thick and dark, oozing steadily out of him and Madge feels a little like puking. She uses her hands to tear his shirt a bit more and then exhales loudly, the whole bloody mess exposed. It's on his left side, just missing where she thinks his kidney should be. She puts a hand on his shoulder and gently leans him forward, but sees no exit wound on his back.
"I think the bullet's still inside you," she tells him, that thought like a boulder in her gut.
Rory laughs painfully. "Well, shit. You'll have to...take it out."
Madge shakes her head quickly, a panicky feeling filling her lungs.
"I can't, I'll make it worse."
"I've been shot, I'm not sure...it gets worse."
Madge bites her lip. You could die, she thinks but doesn't say. She inhales a shaky breath and places a clean towel in his hand.
"Keep up the pressure," she tells him and he watches her through half closed eyes. Her whole body trembles as she goes to the sink to clean her knife. She scrubs at her fingers, her nails, her knife with dish soap, eyes welling with tears. She's no surgeon, knows only the most basic first aid and they need Prim, someone, anyone, who could save Rory. What if I make it worse? She grabs a wooden spoon on the way back and kneels in front of him smelling strongly of lemons. She takes a few deep breaths in the hopes of steadying herself. It doesn't work.
"Are you sure about this?" she asks and he nods weakly.
"I'm not...gunna lie, I've forgotten most of what Prim taught me about emergency first aid, but...I'm pretty sure leaving the bullet in there's not a good idea...And hey, if this goes terribly wrong and we should have left it in, you can...totally blame me. My bad," Rory says and tries to smile but Madge can't return it. He nods again and removes the towel from his wound, Madge flinching at the sight of it. She squeezes the handle of her knife, doesn't even know where to begin.
"It's okay," Rory whispers, "I know...you can do it."
"Here," she mumbles, placing the spoon between his teeth and for the first time, she can see the worry bright in his eyes. She bends down to get eye level with his wound and leans in close, feels sick as she tries to see the bullet. It's too far in, not to mention too dark and she leans back, stomach rolling. She scoots in closer and Rory closes his eyes, unable to watch.
"Ready?" she asks, grabbing his shoulder to steady him and he nods jerkily. Slowly, carefully, she inserts her knife into his wound, hoping she'll hit the bullet with the blade. It's probably a terrible idea, but she has no idea what else to do. Rory tenses under her fingers, teeth digging into the spoon. He grunts in obvious pain, eyes screwed up and nose wrinkled but Madge keeps going, can't stop now. And then finally, she feels it.
"Got it," she breathes in triumph and pulls out the knife, Rory wincing. "Got it," she repeats and figures she'll give him a minute to recover. He's breathing heavily and she realizes there's no way she'll be able to dig out a bullet from his wound, it's too small and narrow. She bites her lip.
"If you want me to take it out, I'll have to make the opening bigger."
He exhales loudly and leans his head back.
Madge nods. She takes his shoulder again and Rory clenches his teeth around the spoon. Her knife is steady even if her heart isn't when she starts to cut into his skin, widening the bullet wound. Rory groans, hands tightening into fists. I'm sorry.
She puts down her knife, the first part of her job done and closes her eyes for a moment. You can do this. She looks at his face, his grimace of pain and then plunges two fingers into his side. He yelps around the spoon and she frowns in sympathy, sorry running over and over through her mind. He is warm and wet, or at least his insides are and Madge fights down the rising tide of bile.
Rory needs me.
She feels it then, fingers grasping at the bullet slippery with Rory. It tries to get away from her but she doesn't give up, forces it to come out and Rory hisses as her fingers leave his body. The bullet, so tiny but so dangerous, slips from her fingers to the floor as Rory spits out his spoon.
"Fuck" he moans, "fuck fuck fuck".
"I'm sorry," she says around a sob, mopping at his wound with a wet towel. There are tears in the corners of his eyes and his breath hisses out of him like steam. She takes another towel, this one clean and dry and places his hand over it.
"Come on, we need to keep up the pressure and stop the bleeding."
Rory nods and pushes down on the towel with shaking fingers.
"Thanks," he breathes, voice so very faint. "That fucking sucked. Don't...don't ever try it."
Madge half-laughs, half-sobs.
(the battle for District Two wages on, peacekeepers overwhelmed by the sheer number of rebels, all ready to die for their freedom)
(Snow receives dispatches in his Capitol, of rebel footholds, of dead peacekeepers and defectors, Two's citizens who aren't so keen to fight for a king they've never met)
(resistance members are slaughtered in droves but still they come, cannot, will not give up)
(it is a war heavy on casualties, but slowly, Two falls)
The sun travels to the other side of the house, casting them in even deeper shadows and Madge pulls her gaze away from a collection of family photos on the wall to check on Rory.
He's bled through his towel again and she feels helplessness strangle her heart, because she has no idea what she's supposed to do. She gives him a fresh one and he offers her a fragile smile, his skin graying.
"I'm...good," he answers her unspoken question and she doesn't believe it for a second. She touches his cheek and he coughs violently, his whole body convulsing. Madge grabs him and holds him, his horrible hacking echoing in her ear. His forehead leans on her chin and she keeps him close, tries to keep him together through the spasms. He flops backwards when he's done, nearly boneless and Madge looks down to find almost-black blood clots in her lap.
She blinks and then stands on unsteady legs, hurries over to the bathroom. The vomit comes quick and hot, scalding its way up her throat. She grips the edge of the toilet bowl as she heaves, her insides seeming determined to be on the outside. She stays like that for a moment after she's done and then forces herself up. Rory needs her to hold herself together and she turns on the faucet, ignores her reflection as she scrubs away his blood.
Someone's going to find us soon, they have to.
The sun burns orange through a window as Madge makes her way back into the living room, nausea swirling in her gut. She goes to kneel beside Rory and something's wrong. His hand is no longer applying pressure, lies useless instead, his whole body mostly limp. His head lolls a bit to the side, breathing shallow and Madge feels fear start to burst in her brain.
"Rory, hey, wake up, don't fall asleep. Stay with me," she begs, grabbing his shoulders and his eyelids flutter but don't quite open. Madge almost panics but forces it down and threads her fingers through his and pushes down, won't let him bleed out on the floor.
"Talk to me Rory, tell me a story," she insists and he gurgles a little. She squeezes his hand and moves up against his side, presses herself as close to him as she can. "Please, Rory, talk to me," she whispers against his ear.
"I'm o...kay" he manages, voice thin but there and Madge buries her face in his shoulder. She can feel his every shuddery breath and places a hand over his heart, needs to feel it beating. She needs to keep him awake, needs to keep him conscious.
"Keep talking, you need to keep talking, okay?"
He nods and forces his head upright, the strain clear in all his muscles.
"Sor...ry. What should I...say?" he asks, sounding exhausted.
"Anything. A secret, something nobody else knows."
He pauses and Madge is almost afraid he's passed out when "Birds," he mumbles and Madge blinks.
"Bi...rds freak me...freak me out," he forces past his lips and Madge feels her eyebrows go up.
"I've never...never told anyone, could you...could you imagine if Vick found out? He'd never've...let that go...right?"
Madge nods, a small smile touching her lips.
"He and Gale...hah, they'd have loved to know...I'd never hear the...end of it..."
"Your secret's safe with me," she promises.
"I...I told Peony," he admits and Madge squeezes his fingers again. "I always, always wanted to...go out into the woods with Gale, but...fuck, those birds. They were...just so...creepy. She didn't laugh though...she was terrified of...fish, can you believe it? Fish."
He takes a pause to catch his breath, body rattling and Madge tightens her grip on him.
"I took her...to the pond when...when we were fifteen, I...I think. She spent...a half hour or something, just...standing at the edge, afraid she'd see one. She got...knee deep and then...screamed, sure she'd felt one...I've never...never seen someone move so quick. Fuck...she'd be so pissed I told you..."
Rory smiles a little bit and Madge feels her own widen.
"Vick...Vick would be so angry right now. He and Posy...they'd give me so much shit for getting...shot like this. Hah...they'd be so mad..."
Madge's eyes sting with tears, her whole body sagging.
"And Peony...and Prim, they used to...do one hell of a...of a tag team. I'd be in so much...trouble..."
Madge sniffles and sits up to get a new towel, the current one soaked through with blood. Rory inhales a few times, the sound of it wet and rattling.
"I wish...I wish they were here to...yell at me," he admits quietly, eyes downcast and Madge squeezes the towel in her hands. "I...miss them. Vick and...and Peony. I miss them..."
"I know," she whispers, tries to stem the blood flow with a clean towel. "I know you do."
He nods, breathing so laboured Madge can barely hear it, but she does, just, just manages to. There's something, someone, many someones outside, footsteps carefully stepping on the dirt street. She tenses, fingers tightening on her gun but then deflates like an old balloon.
The door opens and standing there, lit up like a superhero by the setting sun, is Katniss.
Madge bursts into tears.
Medics swarm over Rory like buzzing bees and Madge leans against a wall with weak knees. He'll be okay now, they'll make him okay. Katniss comes to stand beside her and doesn't say anything, just places a hand on Madge's shoulder and squeezes. Madge wipes at a few tears still dribbling down her cheeks and puts her hand on top of Katniss'. We're all okay.
"That's one hell of a graveyard out there," Katniss says and Madge had nearly forgotten about all the peacekeepers she'd killed, had been so entirely wrapped up in Rory. She doesn't know what to say, so she just nods instead, wonders if it made any difference in the grand scheme of things.
"Most of Two is ours," Katniss continues and Madge feels a little lightheaded. "The remaining enemy forces have gone to hide in the mines."
Madge closes her eyes.
"Do we have any ideas how to get them out?" she asks and Katniss shrugs.
"I'm sure the people in charge are figuring it out. We're just grunts, no one tells us anything."
Madge nods again and peeks over in Rory's direction. She can only make out his left foot, everything else blocked by busy medics but that foot's enough. He's okay she tells herself again, desperate for the reassurance.
The next morning Rory is sent away to an impromptu hospital while Madge and Katniss march back to war, ready to stamp out the last of Two's defenders. The rebel forces converge on the "Nut" the mining mountain where their enemies have taken refuge and Madge hopes they'll surrender without a fight, but she isn't holding her breath.
The columns of soldiers shift restlessly and Commander Lyme steps forward, a megaphone clamped firmly in her fist. A tense hush falls over the crowd and Madge can feel her heart pounding, beating up in her throat.
"This is Commander Lyme, representing President Coin and the United Army of Panem. We have no further wish for bloodshed and so, we are willing to offer amnesty to each one of you. Surrender now and come out without your arms and you will not be harmed. I myself am from District Two, and I promise you, I have no wish to spill anymore of our blood."
Her words echo around the district and no one breathes, waiting for Two's response.
"This is your last chance, if you do not come out, we will use force and show no mercy. Surrender now."
Again, her words are met by only silence and Madge feels tight all over, her every nerve about to snap. They wait a few moments, just in case, and then Commander Lyme shakes her head. She lowers her megaphone and steps back, a grim expression on her face. Madge can feel apprehension gnawing at her, lowering over her shoulders like a blanket.
"Brace yourselves!" Commander Lyme suddenly bellows and Madge looks at Katniss in question. Brace ourselves? For what?
(for the very end of district two)
The Nut erupts like a volcano, fire shooting from all directions.
Madge screams and she isn't the only one, the ground bucking beneath their feet. Dirt and rocks burst into the sky, raining down on the soldiers cowering outside, their pale faces making it clear none of them saw this coming. Blast after blast demolishes the Nut, anyone and everyone inside and no mercy Commander Lyme had said and clearly, she'd meant it.
Hovercrafts rumble in the sky, dropping more death on the Nut while bombs somehow hidden inside continue to go off, President Coin's war machine taking no chances. Dust clouds and pebbles shower down on her and Madge can't scream anymore, feels numb as the explosions continue, reducing the mountain to rubble and destroying the Capitol's last allies in the Districts.
She watches fire kiss the clouds, imagines the screams of those burning away inside their sanctuary turned tomb. That's enough she wants to wail, but doesn't, maybe isn't as compassionate as she wants to believe.
(that's enough, but is it? Is it? asks the darkness in her heart)
(Madge doesn't listen for the answer)
District Two is done, they've won and Madge is hard and cold all over.
She can't imagine victory is meant to feel like this.
The so-called hospital smells like so many things Madge wishes she could ignore, lights dim and grimy. It's understaffed, underequipped but it's better than nothing and that's what she keeps telling herself as she sits by a slumbering Rory's bedside, his limp fingers clammy in hers. She'd love to sleep too, feels like she could for a whole year, but she's afraid to close her eyes, afraid of what she might wake up to. The medics had patched him up as best they could, but he's still breathing heavy, his skin far too pale. She kisses his grimy knuckles and please be okay Rory, please, please be okay.
"I found Leevy," Katniss reports, coming up behind her and Madge sighs with relief.
"Is she okay?"
Katniss comes around to the end of Rory's bed and nods. "She broke her arm, but otherwise, she'll be okay."
They both stare down at Rory, the struggling rise and fall of his chest.
"I heard a rumour too," Katniss begins and Madge tears her eyes away from Rory.
Katniss manages a smile, tired and a little rough in the corners. "That we'll be going home soon."
Madge feels her tiredness start to melt away.
We're going home.
Madge holds Rory's hand the whole way back to Thirteen, promises she'll never ever let go.
Everyone is herded to Thirteen's overcrowded infirmary when they arrive, no matter how many times they protest they're alright. Madge has no injuries that need tending, she just needs home, but no one listens. She shuffles alongside those in desperate need of care and daydreams of a shower, her own bed, her family.
Medics, nurses and doctors are waiting for them as they reach the infirmary and quickly begin sorting through them. Madge and Katniss are pushed off to one side, no immediate threats to their health while Leevy and Rory are pulled another way, in need of proper medical attention. Madge sinks to the floor between a box of bandages and a table covered in sterilized tools and leans her forehead on her knees, tired like she's never been before. She can see Maysie against her eyelids, Gale, her father, Prim and the Hawthornes. Soon, she thinks to herself, soon we'll be together again.
Time moves or doesn't, Madge can't quite be sure. Eventually nurses come to examine them, make sure they really are alright. There's no available beds so they do their work right there in the corner and Madge keeps her eyes closed as she waits for her turn. I hope Rory's doing alright.
"Madge," Katniss hisses, kicking her in the ankle and Madge's head pops up, assuming it's her turn. But the nurse is still two people away and then Madge follows Katniss' line of sight and feels her chest burn suddenly hot.
He's standing in the midst of a flurry of activity, her heart pounding out his name. He says hers and she hears it even though he's much too far away, feels invigorated and refreshed at just the sight of him. She stands and keeps her eyes locked with his, never once looks away and the whole world around them seems to blur, no longer mattering. She walks to him and straight into his embrace, folds into his chest like she'd never left.
"You're back," Gale whispers and Madge smiles into his shoulder.
Holding Maysilee is better than any medicine, salve or balm, soothes and reassures Madge like nothing else ever could. She feels alive again as she holds her daughter, feels courage and strength pounding through her blood.
"I love you," she whispers though her tears and this is why she fights, why she has to win.
For Maysilee, Madge thinks she could do anything.
Anything at all.
There's a heap of clothing on the floor and Madge lies on her back in bed, eyes closed and body humming. Gale lies on his side beside her, propped up on an elbow and she can feel him looking at her, kissing her all over with his eyes. The room is dim, her breathing slow and home is not so much a place as a feeling, like a fire boiling her blood.
"They started planning the Capitol invasion the second they heard Two had fallen," Gale whispers, goose bumps following his fingertips across her skin.
"You're going," she murmurs, opening her eyes. Gale nods and his hands stop, a burning hot trail remembering where they'd been.
"This is it," he tells her and she knows it, feels it like a storm in her chest. She reaches for his face and pulls him down to her, fills herself with Gale, entirely and completely. This is it his voice echoes as he touches her inside and out, this is the end her heart whispers back.
Soon, this will all be over.
(but for who?)
Her father stops by before breakfast the next day, eyes wet and shining.
"Madge," he breathes when she opens the door and she smiles, her own eyes starting to fill with tears.
Neither one of them says anything else, they simply fall into each other's arms and hold each other tight. Madge laughs into his shoulder as he squeezes her and there's something magical in this moment, something bright and warm and right.
Are you watching Mama? Us Undersees, we're going to be okay. We're going to make it, I promise.
And if she listens with her heart instead of her ears, she's pretty sure she can hear her mother say I know.
Madge has to settle back into her regular routine and it feels so strange, because everything is different now, but also just the same. She works and trains, nightmares nibbling at her mind, memories and could-have-beens lodging in her chest and freezing her all over like ice. Gunfire and blood, Rory's gray skin, explosions rattling her bones, they've taken root inside her but outside everything goes along as it has for months and months, monotonous and never changing. Coin's daily briefings greet them in the mornings, schedules dictate their every waking hour and everybody just plods along, even as Madge's whole world tilts a bit on its axis.
Maybe nothing's changed, she thinks as she stirs her pudding at dinner, maybe I'm the only one who's different. It's a bit disorienting, a bit like drifting out to sea but every time she needs an anchor to keep her steady, there's Maysie tottering on unsteady legs across their room, Gale's body warm against hers in bed, Posy's excited whisper at supper, Prim's gentle hands, her father's tender smile, Katniss' steely determination, Peeta's silly jokes, Hazelle's comforting eyes, Annie greeting her at breakfast with a breathless "I'm so glad you're alright".
There's a storm raging inside but Madge knows it will pass, the people she loves like sunshine peeking through clouds.
We're going to be okay.
Deep down in her heart, she believes it. That's something not even going to war can change.
Madge goes with the Hawthornes to visit Rory, feels an odd sort of fear pooling in her gut. She knows he's okay, on the road to recovery and still it builds, weighing down her limbs. Posy charges ahead of them, barging into the infirmary with determination blazing in her eyes and Hazelle follows after. Madge lags a bit behind with Gale, that odd worry chewing on her skin.
"Something wrong?" Gale asks and she shakes her heads, even as acid crashes against the walls of her stomach. Why am I so nervous? They head inside and the place is crowded with patients and their families, the cost of Two's liberation a heavy one.
"Looking for Rory?"
Madge turns around and Prim stands behind her, eyes shadowed with exhaustion. She's pale too, hair dull and Madge thinks she needs a break, but then, they all do. Gale turns too and smiles at Prim.
"Yeah, hope he hasn't been causing you too much trouble."
Prim laughs thinly, her eyes not lighting up like they used to.
"He's been great. Well, aside from constantly trying to convince everyone he's fine to go home that is."
"That definitely sounds like him. So, where is the menace?"
Prim's smile is weak as she points to their right.
"He'll be along the wall over there. I'd go with you, but I've got so much work to do..."
Madge squeezes her arm.
"When are you off?"
"Umm, I don't know, uh...I haven't gone home in two days, but we lost so many in Two..." Prim trails off and Madge pulls her in for a quick hug.
"Get some rest Prim," she pleads and Prim nods against her shoulder.
"I'm okay, really. Now go on, Rory's waiting."
Madge and Gale watch Prim as she slouches off into the crowd, hearts heavy.
"She's an Everdeen, they're tough. She'll be okay," Gale says and Madge nods, wishes she could believe it. They head in the direction Prim pointed, past so many beds of injured men and women, before they see the Hawthornes. Rory is sitting up in bed, colour back in his cheeks and Madge feels some of her tension ease. But she still can't shake the image of him, limp and nearly lifeless in her arms. She tries to shake her head to clear it and Hazelle pulls Rory in for a hug, holds him so long it's like she'll never let go.
"I'm alright, Ma, really. Prim's taken good care of me."
Hazelle nods and releases him, except his hand, kept tight in hers. Posy glares at Rory, arms folded across her chest.
"You're a jerk," she pronounces and Rory grins.
"Ah, just the homecoming I dreamed of."
"Really," Posy insists, fighting the gathering tears in her eyes. "I'd never, ever forgive you if you got yourself killed."
Rory's smile softens and he reaches his hand out to hers, squeezes her fingers. "I know."
Posy nods and bites down on her bottom lip. Her eyes blur with tears and then she flings herself on him, blubbering on his shoulder in a snotty mess.
"Ah come on Posy, I'm okay," Rory says, patting her back.
"Shut up," she replies and sits back, rubbing furiously at her eyes. Hazelle wraps an arm around Posy's shoulders and Rory takes note of Gale and Madge.
"Posy's right, you are a jerk," Gale says shaking his head, a small smile on his lips.
"Hey, you got blown up. I don't think this is quite as bad as that," Rory counters with a smirk and Madge feels a knot in her chest start to loosen. This is the Rory she remembers, the one they'd missed for so long. Gale rolls his eyes and sits in a chair by Rory's bedside.
"So, what? Every time I complain about someone doing something, you guys are gunna throw that in my face?"
Posy giggles a little, Hazelle's eyes shine and Madge feels a little like she's floating. Rory looks over at her and smiles warmly, less the little boy who lost everything, and more the handsome young man he should've been allowed to be.
"I'm glad you were there with me," he says, taking her hand and Madge feels tears build in her eyes. She wishes she didn't always cry but this is one habit she can't seem to break.
"Me too," she mumbles and Rory grins, that old, old Rory grin, full of mischief and good cheer.
"My hero," Rory teases with his voice, his eyes bright and sincere and then Madge grabs him, sobbing ridiculously into his chest. Gale laughs and then his arms are around them both, Posy and Hazelle soon joining in.
(and with her eyes closed, she could swear Vick was here too)
Preparations begin in earnest, plans drawn up for the final siege.
A manic energy infuses the walls of District Thirteen, breathes life into the people hemmed in underground.
"So, I'll be going to the Capitol instead of Leevy," Thom tells them with a grin over lunch a few days later, Leevy, her arm bound up in a sling, nodding along. Gale sighs dramatically.
"Guess we should say our last goodbyes now," he tells Madge and Thom rolls his eyes.
"You're the one who blew up last time," he retorts, words softened by a grin. Gale opens his mouth to reply but Leevy gets there first.
"How about you watch each other's backs," she says and Madge can't help but nod.
Bring each other home.
Days tick down into hours, their day of reckoning creeping ever closer.
Soon, soon is the promise roaring in the walls of Thirteen, their rebellion ready for its final test.
Gale holds Maysilee in his arms, whispers softly to her and Madge leans against him, presses her cheek to his shoulder. Maysie sleeps soundly and Gale's voice is tender as he talks to her, reassurances and promises in every word.
...when this is over, I'll teach you to swim, to lay the perfect snare...
...we'll go home to Twelve, you'll love the woods...
...I'll remind you when you're older, but always listen to your Nana's advice. You can ignore Uncle Rory and Aunt Posy though...
...I love you...
Madge sighs into his skin, wants to stretch this night out for years. Instead, they have only a handful of hours before he's gone and she closes her eyes, lets the sound of him soothe her ragged edges. He is promising Maysie a million tomorrows and Madge will hold him to it, believes in him and his coming home.
They have only tonight and then the rest of their lives, days and months and years upon years.
Madge believes that.
(she has to)
Madge and Gale are quiet as she walks him to the hovercraft, hands linked and bodies brushing.
They'd dropped Maysie off with Hazelle, he'd said all his last goodbyes and now there's just this walk, this one walk before he's gone, off where she can't follow. There are other people walking the same way but Madge barely notices them, is entirely focused on Gale and every last second she has with him.
They reach the hangar bay and families mill about, exchanging kisses and final farewells. She can see Peeta and Katniss nearby, whispering in each other's ears and then Gale turns to face her, hands resting on her waist. She wraps hers around his neck, hands playing with the hair at the back of his head and tries to smile. Words crowd up inside her and Gale presses his forehead against hers.
"I love you," he murmurs and Madge tilts her head up, lips ghosting over his.
"Come back to me," she breathes into him and he tightens his hold on her waist, their hearts pressed together and beating in tandem. She kisses him with breathless abandon and this is not goodbye.
She can taste a thousand words on his tongue, passed silently between their lips. He will be back and Madge gathers her courage around herself like armour as he starts to pull away. His fingers catch hers and she squeezes slightly, burns the feel of him into her flesh. She inhales and watches him walk away, off to join the others and Peeta comes up beside her, slips his arm around her shoulders. She slides hers around his waist as they watch their soldiers head off to war, the final battle of them all.
I love you Madge thinks to their backs, i love you i love you i love you.
Gale turns back for a moment and Madge smiles, wants what could be his final look at her to be something worth remembering. Leevy comes up on her other side, hand finding hers and this is it.
The end is here.
(please, please let it be the Capitol's end)
(please, not ours)
(the end is here, not only in the Capitol but in Thirteen too)
(the Rebellion is launching their last strike but so is Snow)
(and this time, it really is winner take all)
AN Only one chapter left! Thanks for sticking with me so long, you guys are the best! :)