Five Years After The War—

My first thought is of drowning.

Drowning in the slow, blue pulsating light. Everything feels soft-edged and shimmery, and I can just imagine closing my eyes and drifting off into a watery, dreamless sleep. I feel my eyes want to slide closed. A dreamless sleep. What would that be like?

But instead I stride forward, pushing those thoughts harshly away. I have work to do.

I've always hated these places. The strange, otherworldly lounges and clubs where the majority of the real New Capitol politicking happens. Not in the voting booth, not at the President's round table, and certainly not in the public eye.

No, New Capitol politics are eerily similar to those of the Old Capitol. Behind closed doors, in opulent clubs, and under bed sheets. Tricks and politics. Networking and cash and cashing in your influence.

Sometimes at these informal meetings, my mind will flit to Katniss, her memory a dull ache in my chest, heavy like a stone. How she would sneer at my uniform and my fancy job, Head of New Panem Security. How she would laugh at all the politicians and rich merchants fawning and scraping for a favor from Captain Gale Hawthorne.

A part of me hates her for leaving me alone with all this political bullshit. For choosing her frosting prince and returning home to a life of peace and healing and lazy mornings in the forest. And a part of me hates myself for being so selfish, for minimizing her pain, for still wishing that broken, empty shell of a girl had chosen me.

Yes of course Katniss needed to heal. But so did I. And she left me to mourn by myself. Prim and my friends and my home and my old life. And Rory, who still refuses to see me, bitter blame burning black in the depths of his eyes. And my mother who loves me but thinks "it's better if you stay away a little longer, to give the kids more time." As if I don't feel guilty already. As if I never loved Prim at all. As if I wouldn't do anything to trade my life for hers. As if I didn't work my ass off to help her survive when Katniss was gone. As if I didn't bury myself every day in those mines to feed and clothe and protect those kids. As if I didn't sacrifice everything to be the dad they never had.

It's like you make one mistake and all the good you did before isn't enough to outweigh it.

I would know. I can't forgive me either.

So I made that unforgivable mistake, designing that bomb. But damn it, I was trying to win a war.

And if I can't be forgiven, then at least I'll make the sacrifice worth it. I'll put on the monkey suit and knot the tie, tight like a noose on my neck, and I'll go to the meetings and the press conferences and on the covert missions and I'll grit my teeth and do the work. I'll keep my family and this country safe whether I get thanked for it or not.

And hell, I hate to admit it, but I'm good at this. The politics and the games and the traps, snares of a different, more sinister, kind.

But I still hate places like this, an absurd New Capitol theme bar. I allow my eyes to brush across the room: women and men with astonishingly neon-painted skin, bouffant hairstyles bursting with startling flitting butterflies or impossible blooming flowers, fingers and throats encrusted with jewels like glittering crustaceans; murmured conversation and clinking drinks. A long glass bar emanates a silver crystal light, the endless colored bottles, phials, and vials filled with the most vivid and exotic liqueurs, winking like buried treasure. Black-clad servers hand out bubbling concoctions, simmering with gold leaf, clinking with blood red ice cubes, or poofing blue smoke.

And all the little men are here, grasping politicians and rich tycoons. Greasy hair and smiles that are all teeth, eyes shifting, calculating, glittering like knives.

They love places like these. Dark corners and shadowed booths and wildly expensive drinks, perfect for whispered conversations and slithering smiles and the passing over of a bag of coins.

And well I don't mind so much; these places do have some of the most exclusive intoxicants in the world.

So after the hushed words and secretive exchanges and lies bitten behind my teeth, the unctuous deal-making settling on my skin like a greasy film, I allow myself a few drinks and a little rest. And maybe I'll allow myself something else sweet later because hell, I've earned it.

This time when I think of drowning, no one stops me.

The drinks have made me drowsy and slow, and all the laughing and inane chatter mellow and soften into pleasant background noise.

The blue light pulses dreamily, reflecting off the iridescent scales of the barstools and tables, shimmering in and out of focus. The walls stretch into the dark distance, glassed-off aquariums of gentle moving water; sinuous and fantastical creatures swim languorously in their depths. There is a large, silver piano in the corner. A woman with a brush of blond hair sits at the instrument in a warm pool of light, singing something rich and deep and throaty and slow. I feel myself floating drunkenly in the glowing, thrumming depths of this ocean fantasy.

A waitress in all black, synthetic and shiny and leaving little to the imagination, hands me a glass of brown liquor, and I can't help thinking ruefully that I used to be able to get a whole bottle of the stuff at the Hob for two squirrels and ball of yarn.

But when I look at my glass, I can't believe I compared it to that horrific swill Sae used to brew in her backyard. I swirl the two fingers of rich brown liquid, clinking gilded ice cubes and a wash of gold-flecked spice. It's almost too beautiful to drink. I take a small sip, and the smoky smooth flavor instantly warms my throat. I feel a relaxed balm course through my body.

Damn, this is good, I concede to myself, my limbs pleasantly languid after just one taste.

A loud surge of clapping crashes through my thoughts like a wave. The blonde woman stands at the piano, her hair a gilded halo in the buttery pool of light, her dress a shimmering column, silvery and slinky and made to draw the eye.

She gives a slow half smile of acknowledgment to the crowd before gliding amongst the patrons, bestowing a wave here and a light touch there like party favors for a select few. Her movements are smooth and languorous and lovely.

And suddenly…I know her.

I sit up abruptly, the blood rushing in my ears.

It can't be. Not after all these years.

She continues weaving her way slowly through the bar. Her movements are unhurried and liquid, the glittering mirrors of her dress reflecting the pulsing light of the club into a halo of rainbow fractals. As she moves closer I notice her glassy eyes and drooping lids. She looks almost sleepy; and I realize with a start that she may be drunk.

She stops a few tables away, bestowing a slow smile at the men sitting there. Her eyes half-lidded, she rests a languid hand on one of their shoulders, the diamonds on her wrist a glittering waterfall against his dark jacket. "Can you do a girl a favor and let her bum a cigarette?" she asks. Her voice is just like her song, a throaty liquid molasses.

"Anything for you, Em," the man smirks and reaches into his jacket pocket. He pulls out an elegant silver case and taps out a cigarette. Her eyes float across the room from under her heavy lashes. As her gaze shift towards me, she freezes, just for an instant. And I see her eyes, their unmistakeable and distinctive blue, harden like ice chips for the briefest moment. She immediately looks away, but I know. I feel my eyes widen as recognition rushes through me.

It's Madge Undersee.

She doesn't acknowledged me, just leans forward for the man to light her cigarette, the tip burns orange and she releases a practiced cloud of smoke, blurring her features. She keeps her eyes down, avoiding my gaze, as she turns and makes her unhurried way towards the bar.

I stare after her, her mirrored dress glinting in the smoke as she glides away, unruffled, unmoved, uninterested.

Something about seeing her takes me back to Twelve. I can still see her house, a pale beacon in the sunshine, towering white columns and manicured lawns and sleek black cars in the sweeping driveway, just a pile of smoking rubble the last time I visited. No one from the Seam had the guts to approach that house; only Katniss and I were dumb enough to try. Sneaking through the back hedgerows, glancing around guiltily for Peacekeeper patrols, hopping the iron fence and slinking to the back gate. I remember the first time me and Katniss knocked on her back door, sweaty palmed, hungry, and trying to hide our fear.

And surprisingly it wasn't a butler or a maid or cook that would usually answer the door. Most often it was her.

Pale skin pinkish and creamy, blue eyes, and fine hair like a weak sun reflected in the lake at dawn. I remember seeing her and hating her. Dresses pressed and new and white while coal dust coated everything we owned, a fine grit embedded in our very skin. Always with a new, glossy ribbon, pastel and satiny and soft. Something you couldn't find, let alone purchase, at the black market even if you promised to cut off your finger in exchange. Well-fed and curvy and clean, so unlike Seam girls, wiry and dark with rough hands and jutting bones.

Oh I hated her. But I'll admit, there was something about her that was terribly fascinating. There always is something fascinating about what you can't have. Like Rory staring longingly at whipped, creamed confections in the baker's window or Posy running a fascinated finger over the milky satin of a dress before Ma would plunge it into the water for a wash. She was those things, creamy chill and milky satin. Cool and aloof and quiet and so untouchable. I never knew that kind of quiet in my life; even at night there were always kids snuffling in the blankets, and Posy sharing my bed, tucked into me like a hot coal, burning my skin. Coughs and snores and the rain clattering on the tin roof, sharp and metallic. Yet her house was always silent and still, refreshingly hushed like an iced drink on a hot day. I hated her for everything she was, everything she had, everything I couldn't give my own family. And yet… I couldn't look away.

I would find myself staring at her under hooded eyes. Always looking for a fault or a crack in her quiet exterior. Telling myself I hated her cleanliness, her pressed dresses, her good health, her ready pile of coins. And damn I hated how cold she was. One flick of her eyes up and down and she'd make you feel low as dirt. But then our fingers would brush as I handed her a bag of berries, and I remember how graceful her hands were. I had never felt fingers so smooth in my life.

The same fingers I felt pressed into my arms once, a long time ago. And a riddle, whispered into my ear, her warm breath hitching in the dark…

I shake my head firmly, pushing that useless memory away. I swallow thickly.

And here she stands. Taller, thinner, still curvy, still graceful. Her hair, paler than I remember, an icy blond in the blue light. Her skin the same frosted porcelain, and her fingers long and elegant and endlessly alluring. A siren rising from the depths of a frozen sea to entice me back to all the painful memories of the past.

And I think maybe I shouldn't go over to the bar. Maybe I should just let her disappear into the smoky blackness of this depraved sea grotto lounge, singing the blues in this little black corner of the world, letting her pass me by like a silent ship gliding in the night.

But a part of me can't help wondering where she's been all this time. How she ended up here of all places.

And who am I kidding. I was never one to let things go.

So I walk over and wave to the bartender that her drink is on me, and I lean one elbow against the bar so I can stand right up next to her. She doesn't acknowledge me, but I see her stiffen just slightly and intake a sharp, tiny breath, and we both know what the other knows.

"Madge Undersee."

"Captain Hawthorne," she says with a drowsy blink, lifting her martini glass in a mock toast, her nails clinking against the cold glass.

"All these years, and no one from Twelve even knows you're alive. Yet here you are," I lean in.

"Twelve?" she gives a bitter bark of laughter and her eyes go blank. "What do I care for District Twelve? None of them cared for me."

"That's not true," I answer in surprise, though I had just been musing how much I hated her mere seconds before. My stomach swoops guiltily. "Katniss cared for you. I, well I—" I stop abruptly, not quite able to finish the thought.

"You what?" A raised eyebrow and a drowsy half smirk. "Can't even get the lie out can you?"

I take a deep breath, annoyed with myself, with her. "Come on, I would have wanted to know you're alive at least. I'd have wanted to know where you were."

And that much I know is true. The question burns in my stomach, tingles on the tip of my tongue. What happened to you?

How did she escape the burning District? What really happened to her parents? And, most pressing, it pains me to admit, I wonder what happened to Madge that she ended up like this— tipsy, detached, and empty eyed. Singing bitter songs for pathetic men in a raspy echo. One part sloshed and one part sad.

Madge Undersee was always a mystery, a quiet enigma, never allowing a crack in her facade. That much hasn't changed. Silence and secrets; I never knew what was going on behind those doll-like eyes.

Except once… a whisper in the back of my mind. I crush that thought angrily.

"Why would I want to remember District Twelve," she continues slowly. She breathes in her cigarette, its orange heat reflected like a haunting fire in her eyes. "Why would you?"

I'm annoyed with her dispassionate tone. And that her cold, indifferent words reflect my thoughts so easily. I hate thinking about my old life in Twelve. But I can't just turn it off, block it out like she so obviously has.

"So no one here knows who you are?" I can feel myself getting angry. "Like our whole lives in Twelve never even happened?" I want to shake her. A part of me hates her. Her bored tone and sleepy, glassy eyes.

"Why talk about the past? Why think about it, even? It's easier this way," she answers in that same indifferent, infuriating voice.

"What happened to you, Madge?" I grind out. She was exasperating in Twelve, but this disinterested, apathetic version of her is much worse.

"What happened to me?" She smiles and exhales a cloud of smoke. "Life, baby. Same as everyone."

"That's not what I mean and you know it. What happened to you after I-, after we-," I stutter, unable to find the right words. I take a deep breath. "Madge, you know what I'm asking."

She takes long drink from her glass, her dark lashes fluttering closed, avoiding my eyes. She sets the glass down delicately and gives me a sad, boozy kind of half smile.

"After the bombing of Twelve…well…" she pauses. "Well I just wanted to be invisible for a while," her speech is slower, more drawn out than I remember, an almost sleepy drawl. "Being anonymous…it feels safer somehow."

"Being anonymous," I roll the thought around in my mind. "Being anonymous I can understand. But this, not telling a soul you're still alive—" my voice almost cracks and I stop myself suddenly. "What are you going to do? Hide behind your piano forever?" The words come out harsher than I meant.

"I'm used to hiding behind my piano," she answers with a small smile. "I mean just at home...just when mother…" Her face closes off suddenly, her eyes flat as mirrors. "It was a long time ago. You wouldn't know anything about it." And just as suddenly her faces clears, "I tried to teach Katniss you know, before her Victory Tour. She didn't have the patience for it. I don't think she found it useful."

I feel a jolt of surprise. I try to think all the way back to those days. I can't remember ever knowing Madge played piano. Or that her and Katniss were such good friends. All I can conjure from those days are hazy memories: the ache in my heart, a painful longing for Katniss, a nebulous dissatisfaction, hard to define. And the mines, dark and dusty and claustrophobic, the never-ending work, the liquid, throbbing fatigue, and a bone-deep sadness, chipping at the dust of my father's bones buried with the coal in the walls.

The unexpected memories of home make me go surprisingly soft. And I look at Madge and remember how she used to be, so young and innocent and fresh. And with her frosty blond hair and mirrored dress, she looks surprisingly fragile—like a piece of glass, a tiny, breakable thing.

"The usual Ms. Em?" The bartender asks, placing a silver tray in front of Madge. And I'm surprised to see gauze, a rubber band, and syringe.

"It's Morphium," she says, seeing my expression. "Special Capitol engineering. Don't look so worried; it's not addictive like the cheap junk in the Districts." She stubs out her cig. "The war is over. Aren't we all supposed to be having fun?" her words are light, but her smile has a bitter slant, and I feel suddenly very sad.

"Madge. The fake name, the drugs. What are you really hiding from?" I ask quietly, genuinely. She goes still.

"The pain. Same as you."

Then she relaxes and gives me a shrug.

"After what happened to me…" she pauses suddenly. A sigh. A swallow and she looks like she's steeling herself. "I've learned to differentiate every shade of pain, its every subtle variation. And there is no hiding from it, no numbing it."

She reaches for the rubber tourniquet band, and ties it deftly around her upper arm, using her teeth to pull it taut. She picks up the syringe, the clear liquid inside glowing in the hazy blue light. "This. It just makes the world…soft," Her eyes close dreamily, "Like the morning after a heavy snow fall, when everything is new and white and…muffled." And her words make me wonder again just what happened to Madge Undersee during the war.

Her eyes open and with surprising ease, she pierces the soft, bluish skin of her inner arm with the needle and gently drains the syringe. The syringe goes back on the tray. She dabs the droplet of dark blood with a square of gauze in a practiced way, and with a quick swipe of bruise balm the puncture wound disappears. Easy as anything. I feel faintly sick.

"Don't look at me like that, Captain," she glances at me with a frown. "There was a time when you were happy to partake. To numb your own pain." And her voice is sly. It sparks a hazy memory just out of reach. A flash of pain, of cold, and a swirl of snow.

Before I can grasp the memory fully, she is getting up, her dress spraying a wild halo of mirrored light, a silver chameleon, reflecting everything, revealing nothing.

"Pretty dress," I say with a smirk, unthinking.

Her head snaps up to look at me, and I feel a grim satisfaction that I finally elicited some kind of reaction from behind her cool exterior. Recognition flares in her eyes, hot and angry, and she sees me at last. She holds my gaze for a moment, just like back then, and time seems to unwind around us.

But then her eyes cloud over as the drugs take hold, and her eyelids droop, her lashes thick and heavy on the cream of her cheeks. The detached Madge from before returns.

I'm surprised when one pale finger reaches towards me, ghosting along my cheek, unimaginably delicate. And Madge leans forward, a whisper in my ear like frosted steel, Don't come back here again.

And then she is gliding away, drowsy and unhurried, a silver shard gleaming in the dark. Her movements are smooth and languorous as if she too is one of the untouchable sea creatures undulating through the water, trapped in the walls.

And I know she's right. I shouldn't come back here again.

But a part of me wonders what she's doing here. What she's been doing all this time. Why she would run and hide and not tell anyone she's alive. And something stirs in me, a memory from long ago…Now we're even. A murmur in the dark. And the thought that maybe I'll finally understand what she meant when she said those words to me so many years ago.

And like I said, I've never been one to let things go.


Guys! What the heck...I can't believe I'm back in this fandom after so many years. Honestly, I can't believe I left this fandom for so many years. I've had this one-shot in my notes for years, honestly since right after Mockingjay was published. So I've finally gotten it together to write it out properly...and as soon as I started, I immediately turned it into a multi-chapter fic...why do I do these things to myself? Regardless, I'm happy to be back. I've certainly missed the Gadge family. I'm way out of practice with writing so pleaseeee let me know what you think. Comments, criticism, and suggestions are much needed and much adored. Lots of love,