Madge never expects to be reaped.
The fear is always there of course, but Gale Hawthorne is right. There are only five slips bearing her name; she is never going to the Capitol. It isn't fair, none of it is, but the odds are in her favour.
Except there's a mockingjay pin on her chest that says no, the odds are in no one's favour.
The pin is right.
Is she breathing? It doesn't feel like it. The crowd parts around her until she is standing alone. "Madge Undersee!" Effie Trinket calls out again, the excitement tempered with impatience. "Come along, come along!"
Gentle hands push at her back and her legs take unsteady steps. She walks, walks and walks past a district of strangers until she reaches the stage. She cannot breathe and a whisper races through the crowd. The mayor's daughter. The mayor's daughter was reaped. It is disbelief and fear and maybe a little satisfaction. He has never suffered like they have, now he does. Madge climbs the steps and doesn't look at her father. Neither of them will survive it if she does. Effie beckons her forward, her fuschia lips stretched in a pert little smile. There is a bird perched in the curling tower of her hair, a bird with golden feathers and diamond eyes. Madge stares at it and feels her fingers twitch. The bird over her heart glints in the sunlight and if she dies, her family will never survive it. They need her to come home. If she dies, they are ruined.
"Now let's see what brave young man will be joining our Magde!" Effie trills and Madge stares at the crowd without seeing anyone. She is theirs, she supposes she always was. There is blood in her mouth, she is sure she can taste it, and maybe she should get used to that.
Someone screams, someone small and terrified, and Madge wonders how the odds could be so, so against her. She still can't see anyone else, but she can see Gale, tall and proud as he marches to the stage. No one pushes him on, no one needs to. His jaw is clenched, his eyes are almost black in their rage, and still, someone very young is screaming. He stands beside her and she is probably going to die, she knows that but already desperation is shrieking in her blood. She is going to try. She is going to fight. She doesn't want to die, she wants to come home and it just had to be Gale Hawthorne of all people.
"Shake hands," Effie hisses and Gale is a hurricane just waiting to blow her away. His grip is tight, his palm sweaty and Madge can't stop herself from whispering, "I guess it was a good thing I wore this dress after all."
Gale drops her hand so fast it's like he's been burned.
"And here they are," Effie cheers, her nails in their shoulders as she turns them back to the audience. "Your tributes for the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games!"
She claps alone.
They have an hour to say goodbye and her father is her only visitor.
Her mother is sick in bed, there is no sweetheart who loves her and her only friend certainly wants Gale to win instead of her. Her father stays the entire hour (the mayor does get certain privileges) and Madge tries to convince herself that Katniss would have come if she were able. If her father didn't swallow the whole hour, Katniss would've certainly come to say goodbye.
(and deep down, she thinks maybe it's a kindness her father never leaves)
There is a knock on the door, her hour is up and her father kisses her forehead with tears on his cheeks. "I love you," he says and his hands shake as he holds her.
"I love you too," she says and there should be something else, but she cannot think of it. This might be it, the final time she'll ever see him and "Tell Mama I love her too."
The words seem weak, don't seem enough but there are none left to say. She loves them, she loves them, and this is the end.
"Time's up," says a voice, strangely kind for a peacekeeper's voice, and her father stands on trembling legs.
"I love you," he says again and if love were enough to save her, well Gale would still have better odds. There are far more people that love him.
The car ride is silent, or at least she and Gale are silent. Effie talks loudly, too loudly and the car can barely contain all she says. Madge doesn't listen to her words, instead she stares soundlessly out a window at the faces of District Twelve. Old and young, but every one haunted, the people of Twelve stand alongside the road with mourning already heavy upon them. They have no hope for her or for Gale. To Twelve, they are already dead.
They're probably right.
Madge tries to remember how to breathe and this could be her last chance to take it all in. Twelve isn't beautiful, isn't anything but dusty and sad, but it's still home.
"And here we are! Oh, you'll love this!" Effie says in that high, sprightly voice that sinks below Madge's skin and ties her nerves in knots. Effie keeps talking, cannot stop, and Madge doesn't look back at the place she is leaving behind. She doubts she'll be coming back.
She wants to, she wants to so badly it's tearing her in half, but she knows she probably won't. She is going to die but she's going to fight anyway.
The Capitol doesn't deserve her surrender.
The train is luxurious, truly, and Madge knows she should relish it. She is most probably going to die, she might already be dead, she should at least enjoy what time they have left her. She can't. The Capitol has killed her and she will not accept their gifts. She sits in an over-plump armchair, the velvet making her skin crawl. Gale sits beside her, a fire burning in and around him.
"Where the fuck is Abernathy?" he demands of the room though not of her she is sure and Madge stares straight ahead at a crystalline lion roaring on a side table.
"Wherever the bar is," she says because if she is going to die, she will not worry about angering him. He already hates her, what else can he do?
"Fuck," Gale spits and she nods. Haymitch is their only hope; perhaps she'll step off the platform and give herself a quick and easy death. Except of course she won't. She is going to die but she doesn't want to, she wants to live and live and live. She is sixteen, she wants to grow up and see her family again, see Katniss again. She doesn't want her blood to quench the Capitol's thirst. And maybe, she thinks suddenly, maybe she should throw away her life, ruin the spectacle the depraved audience in the Capitol wants so terribly. Maybe she should make it boring and awful, because if she is going to die, why should she die in a way that pleases them? Maybe, but she doesn't want to die. She will, she knows that, but she is going to fight anyway.
She's not sure she's capable of anything else.
"And here he is!" Effie says in a voice crackling with strain. She ushers a swaying, bloodshot Haymitch into the room, his hands full with bottle and glass of brown liquid. Gale shoots to his feet and perhaps sensing a confrontation, Effie retreats to where she'd come from. Haymitch flops into a chair and drains his glass. He tips the bottle to refill it, but never gets the chance. Gale snatches the bottle from him and hurls it across the room. It breaks against the wall, liquor staining the plush blue carpet.
"The fuck is wrong with you? You're the only mentor we have, you need to get your shit together. You want to drink yourself to death? Fine, but not today. I have people I want to go home to, I'm not going to let you kill me."
Haymitch looks up at him and there is something in his gaze she cannot explain. He turns those unreadable eyes on her and Gale looks at her with his own and it is clear he is waiting for backup. The odds weren't in her favour and Gale Hawthorne is relying on her. What a day this is. Madge stands and she could scream, she could yell, but doesn't. Haymitch came home when her aunt didn't and she wonders if he remembers that.
"We deserve better," she says and they all do, everyone does.
She goes to her room, presses her face into the pillow and screams.
"You have such lovely table manners, not like last year's tributes. Ooo, it was awful, they were like wild animals."
Gale clenches his knife and she wishes he'd throw it in Effie's face. Madge puts down her own, the food no longer appetizing.
"They were starving," Gale says and there is so much rage in him. There is rage in her too, but it does not blaze like his. It smolders. Effie's eyes widen, the paste over her skin can't quite hide the colour rising in her cheeks and she purses her lips. Before anyone can say anything else, Haymitch stumbles into the room and bumps into the table. The dishes rattle, Effie squeaks in disapproval and Madge's butter knife slides from her plate onto the table cloth. It is white, pristine and a stain starts to form. Good.
"Thanks for joining us," Gale snarls and Haymitch lands heavily in a chair. He pulls a flask from his coat, pours half in his coffee mug and gives Gale an unimpressed look.
"You want my advice on how to survive? Make them love you. That's how you get home. I don't know why, but I see you struggling with that." Haymitch's tone is catty, Gale scowls and Madge feels another noose settling around her neck. Make them love you. Gale has the ability to do that, he has friends, has turned so many girls' heads, he must know how to make people like you. Madge has one friend and they prefer Gale. The odds really aren't in her favour.
He is handsome too, impossibly handsome. The Capitol loves that.
"Also water, water is important," Haymitch says and drinks from his mug of mostly alcohol with perhaps a dash of coffee. His gray eyes stay on Gale and she can understand that. Out of the two of them, Gale is the one with the best chance of winning. He is handsome, can surely be charming, is tall and eighteen and strong and knows how to survive. He can hunt, creep through the woods, set traps and snares. He is used to being hungry and that fire of his, it's fierce. Madge is none of those things. She is the mayor's daughter in her "pretty" dress, she has never gone hungry. Haymitch knows he can't save them both, so of course he's picked Gale. It hurts, it makes her angry enough she tightens her hands into fists, but she doesn't blame him.
She is no victor.
But then Haymitch's eyes stray to her and they are her mother's eyes. There is the hint of recognition and then anger and dismay and misery. She is not her aunt, but she is enough like her to cut everyone else up. Haymitch stares at the pin on her chest and he's torn, isn't he? Gale is the tribute he might actually be able to bring home, but she is a second chance to save an ally he had to hold as she died.
She is not a ghost, but if it helps her survive, she'll haunt Haymitch for the rest of his life.
The Capitol appears beyond their window and Gale refuses to look. Effie waxes on and on about its beauty, Haymitch helps himself to her wine while she isn't looking and Gale stares intensely at a wall. His shoulders shake and though he doesn't say a word, she knows the thought he's screaming in his head.
fuck the Captiol
Madge does look at the Capitol, at all its shiny buildings and beautiful parks and he's right.
fuck the Capitol
The beauty team pulls and plucks and primps, strips her away and builds someone new in her place. "Such pretty skin," they coo even as they wash it and scrub it and bury it in lotions. Madge is silent throughout. She has always been quiet and they do not deserve her words. Her time is running out and she will not waste what few breaths she has left on them.
Her stylist is a man named Agrippa and his eyes make her twitch. He is tall, narrow and his spiky hair sparkles. There are coloured stars painted on the sides of his face and bright orange smeared across his eyelids. He walks around her in a circle, hmms as he sweeps his gaze over her every inch and strokes his pointy green beard.
"Pretty," he says finally, "but not beautiful."
Madge's cheeks burn and she doesn't say anything because she is supposed to be making them love her. The words in her head definitely wouldn't.
"Still, I can work with this. Take off your robe," he says and all his teeth are silver. A lesser shade than Gale's eyes and she can't have heard him right. She is nauseous and Agrippa tuts.
"Off," he says again and reaches for the belt at her waist. She jerks back and knocks into a table, the tray on top clattering to the floor. Agrippa sighs.
"Look sweetie, I don't know if you understand this, but you're from the worst district there is. No one cares about District Twelve, why should they? You're all nothing. I'm only here because I'm new. They make us start on the lowest rung and work our way up. I'm going to work my way up. And to do that, I'm going to make you shine. Now take off the robe."
She doesn't want to. She doesn't want him to see her naked. Maybe it shouldn't matter; considering everything else, does nudity really matter? It's just skin. If she can show her legs, her arms, why not her stomach? Chest? Why not her-
There is no choice really. Every bit of her, every inch, it belongs to the Capitol, it always has. This is the game, these are the rules and if she wants to go home, this is how she has to play. It doesn't matter, it's just skin. It's just skin. Madge closes her eyes and unties the belt. She shrugs off the robe and it doesn't matter. Home is waiting for her and what does the fear in her stomach matter? The Capitol likes glamorous tributes in racy costumes. She needs them to love her. It's just skin.
"You should eat more, it'll give you a better figure," Agrippa says and Madge would laugh, but there's nothing funny about this.
fuck the Capitol
Madge is cold as she's led to their chariot.
She is wearing nothing but paint and sparkles and she is cold. Swirls of black and grey cover her from toes to hair line, dusted with a soft sheen of gold that glimmers in the light. She is coal, the heart of District Twelve and is the gold meant to represent fire? Or is it a hint that beneath the dust, there is something wonderful to be found? She doesn't know, she doesn't ask and she tries not to think about the fact that she is naked on national television. They haven't let her keep anything for herself.
She shivers and her bare feet step quickly over the chilly ground. Her hair seems out of place, pulled into a bun at the top of her head and not painted any colour at all. She is still blonde and that doesn't match her costume at all. She wears a thin crown of wires and Agrippa had smiled smugly as he'd placed it on her head. It has a purpose she assumes, but she doesn't bother to ask him. He is too proud, she doesn't want to stroke his ego.
Madge avoids making eye contact with any of the other tributes and refuses to imagine what they might think of her. They don't matter. It's the Capitol that must love her, not them. She is still cold and District 12's chariot is the farthest away, but she finally reaches it. The same wires as her crown are strung all around its edges and she frowns. What could they be for?
"Good, you're both here. Up, up!" Effie says and Madge has to turn. Gale is standing there and Madge refuses to look any lower than his chest. He is painted just like she is, he sports the same crown but he wears the entire ensemble better. His black hair blends in perfectly and so do the silver of his eyes. The golden shine accentuates the line of his jaw and the Capitol is going to love him. She is pretty but not beautiful. Gale is magnificent.
They climb up, stand as far apart as the little chariot allows and Madge is grateful he never once looks at her. She wants to clutch the rim of the chariot but Agrippa had cryptically told her to keep her hands inside at all times. They are restless though and she hooks her thumbs together to keep them steady. District One's chariot begins to move and soon the procession has begun, the fanfare loud and deafening. There are thousands of eyes on them and the citizens that can't wait to see them die scream as they roll by.
Madge isn't sure she breathes at all.
Halfway down the parade ground, the wires on the chariot burst into light, into flames, orange, red and yellow. Madge gasps and so does everyone around them, thousands and thousands of voices caught together. But it isn't just the chariot. Fire flickers in the corner of her eye and when she turns her head, she sees Gale's crown is just as ablaze. Hers must be too and the roar of the crowd rises louder louder until the very air shakes with it. Madge looks at Gale as he burns and it suits him so well, for he is a fire, he has always been made of flames.
And in this moment, with the Capitol pressing in on every side, she thinks she might be a fire too.
Gale is rigid and cold to the crowd but Madge lifts her hand and waves, because she needs all the help she can get. There are ashes on her tongue, but survival must always cost in Panem. Gale's jaw tenses when she blows a kiss and maybe she hates him too.
They are enemies now, just like he's always wanted them to be.
Effie is delighted, so delighted in fact she forces them to watch the parade after they've returned to their rooms. Haymitch is considerate enough to let them put something on first.
They sit on the couch and Effie is right to be delighted. The other tributes trundle by, some looking good, some awful but it is their chariot that eclipses them all. The flames are stunning, their light catching the golden dust on their skin and making them shine just as Agrippa'd said she would. The blonde of her hair blends well with the fire of her crown and it is obvious the crowd is enraptured. They are District Twelve's coal set aflame and it is magnificent.
Gale looks like a conquering hero with his anger and disdain and Madge cannot believe the ethereal girl on the screen is her. They do not look like tributes, like people, they look like spirits peeking through the flames. Madge hates Agrippa, hates him, but she will give him this.
He has made the Capitol love them.
It takes her hours in the shower to wash herself clean.
The water never gets cold, not like it would if she were at home, and Madge scrubs every inch of skin. It is only skin and right now, it isn't even hers. The water pools black beneath her feet and she thinks of Gale in his own shower across the hall. This is a boon to both their chances at winning. The Capitol loves them at first (or technically second) sight and though all of this leaves her sick, she knows they are at least one step closer to going home.
They love them both, love her even though they know nothing about her, and she must capitalize on that.
Madge scrubs her skin until it bleeds.
Haymitch's advice for training is simple. "Give them nothing." Nothing, nothing, nothing, make them underestimate you, make them unsure of what you can do and unable to plan against you. This must be directed at Gale, for she has nothing to give. Unless the Games involve playing the piano, she has nothing. She isn't strong, she isn't a hunter, she has no skills she can show off and leave people in awe. If she's going to make it out of this, she's going to have to use her head. Cunning, clever, smart, that's what she'll have to be. She isn't a fighter, so she'll be a survivor.
Madge goes from station to station alone and Gale does whatever he likes, but they do nothing together. They have not spoken once since she answered his question about Haymitch on the train, but she supposes that isn't a surprise. He hates her, he's always hated her and now he might have to kill her. Now is the worst time to make friends.
Madge is used to being lonely and she focuses exclusively on the survival skills. Mostly she studies the plants, the safe ones, the poisonous ones, the ones that heal. She ties knots and climbs things, neither very well but she does it again and again until she's at least passable. She focuses on how to make shelter, on how to recognize infection and how to fight frostbite. She tries to memorize what signs mean water is unsafe to drink and then circles back to the plants. She knows they will be her greatest asset.
Gale catches everyone's eye, but of course he does. She is quiet, she is nothing special, no one looks at her and thinks threat . Gale is different. He is the tallest tribute, he is strong, he is eighteen and though he follows Haymitch's advice, everything he does is precise and careful and determined. The fury in his eyes helps too.
Funny that they can't see the same fury in hers.
"You need a strategy," Haymitch tells her and she knows that. If she wants to win sponsors, she has to have something that sets her apart and makes them love her. But what?
"Everyone loves a legacy," she says and Haymitch looks very far away as he sits beside her. He nods.
"They do, bring that up. Specifically that you want to honour her and make her proud and be just like her. You've always wanted to."
She wonders what her mother will think if she hears that lie, but maybe she won't. Maybe she won't even watch.
"And keep thinking. The more weapons in your arsenal, the more targets you hit."
Madge doesn't bother to learn the other tributes' names.
That would make everything worse. It seems hard to imagine that things could get any worse, but she knows they can. In the Hunger Games, things could always be worse.
She learns their faces because it's hard not to, but she tries very hard not to look at the little girl from Eleven, the youngest competitor who will have to die if Madge wants to see home. She's twelve and if Madge looks at her, she knows her courage will fail. She needs to focus on herself, on her parents and home, and she won't if she looks too long at Eleven. She is twelve, the Capitol shouldn't be killing her.
Of course, the Capitol shouldn't be killing any of them.
She avoids looking at the careers too, she doesn't need the fear. They are deadly, they are cruel and they watch Gale with hungry eyes. He ignores them all and she thinks that only makes them more interested. She ties another knot and wonders if they'll ask him to ally with them. It would be a good strategy she supposes, it might carry him very far indeed.
He won't join them. There are some lines he could never cross and that's one, she is sure of that. He'll fight alone and so will she.
Hopefully the careers turn on each other quickly.
"They think you're weak," Gale says on their last day of training as she struggles to make a fire. His shoulder pushes against hers and days he hasn't spoken to her and this is what he opens with.
"Easy pickings," he says as if this is somehow news to her. She moves so they aren't touching.
"Good. I don't want them to come after me."
He looks at her, stares at her, and she wonders if he's trying to light her on fire with his eyes. If anyone could, it'd be him.
"If you don't get a good score in training, no one's going to sponsor you," he says and she wants to walk away from him but that might draw attention to herself. Fading into the background is the best skill she has.
"Thank you, I wasn't aware how this worked," she says and he snorts angrily.
"If you want to die-"
She turns to look at him and she is so angry she wants to hit him, hit him, hit him. She gets up and leaves and doesn't care if people talk. She doesn't need Gale Hawthorne to lecture her, Gale Hawthorne who is probably glad that of all the girls in Twelve, she was the one that was sent in with him. Of all of them, she is the one he will miss the least.
He is all she has left of home and isn't that a tragedy.
Madge has no flashy skills, she knows this and Gale is right in that her score won't win her any sponsors, but there's not much she can do about it. Three days aren't enough to make her a warrior, she will never be Gale. Katniss would have done better if she were here, but thankfully she isn't. Madge doesn't want to be here, but she'd rather be here than watch Katniss be here.
She and Gale probably have that in common.
They all sit together on the couch in their fancy penthouse to hear the scores, and thankfully Haymitch and Effie sit between her and Gale. Her score is sure to be dismal; she doesn't need to see his reaction.
"And now for District 12!" Caesar Flickerman and his very blue hair say. Effie shushes them even though no one had been making a sound.
For a moment, the tension dissipates. The collective breath is released and Haymitch whistles low.
"Wonderful, wonderful!" Effie cheers and Madge finds herself saying "Good job." It comes out low and breathy and no one acts as if they heard it. Good.
"And finally, Madge Undersee...5."
There is no enthusiasm this time. Effie mutters something despairing that sounds like "the things I am forced to work with" and Haymitch just nods like he expected as much. Well, he probably did. She certainly did. Thankfully, Gale says nothing.
"Alright, tomorrow it's interview time. And I think you're both going to need a lot of work," Haymitch says and Gale makes a sound she would describe as a cross between a scoff and a snort. Effie simply releases a sad sort of moan like having to prepare them for their interviews is somehow worse than anything they'll be forced to go through.
"I should rest up then, I want to put my best face forward," Madge says and sounds sincere but isn't. Haymitch smiles in the corner of his mouth. She stands and Effie bobs her head, the butterfly wings in her hair trembling.
"An excellent idea. Maybe you'd like to do the same," she says to Gale and he scowls. Effie recoils and Madge almost smiles. She makes her way to her room but in the hall between their two doorways, Gale catches up to her.
"Madge," he says and has he ever said her name out loud? She thinks this might be the first time she's heard it from him. Her stomach twists.
"What? You want to give me a lecture?" she asks and turns even though sense says she should just retreat to her room. His posture is defensive and he is angry, but it's hard to tell if it's with her or everything else. Maybe both.
She is angry too, and this time, she does not let it smolder. She lets it burn the way his does.
"Before you say anything, I don't want to die. I don't. I'm sixteen, Gale, I want to grow up. I want to go home. I want to see my Mom and Dad again, I want to see Katniss again. I don't want to die, okay? But I'm not you, I can't wow them with my strength or my skills or anything else. You'll win sponsors because you're brave and handsome and a survivor. I have to make them love me, so I will. I hate them. I hate this place and these people, but I'll lie and blow them kisses and say I love every single one of them. The Capitol has stolen my life, but if you think I plan to just lie down and let them, then you-well I'd say you don't know me, but you don't want to. And now you don't have to."
There is anger in her voice, tears in her eyes and the few feet between them feel like miles. He stares at her and she can't explain the look in his eyes, but he looks and looks and looks. She wonders what he's seeing.
"So? What do you want?" she demands and his breath goes in with a hiss.
"I don't want you to die."
"What?" is all she can think to say and there is static in her ears. Gale looks away.
"I said I don't want you to die."
Now Madge is the one staring, her heart caught in her ribs.
"But you need me to die," she says and he laughs, but it is furious. He looks at her again with rage and misery and injustice and she can feel it in her bones.
"You don't think I know that? Twenty three people have to die if I want to go home. You have to die and I know that. But I don't want you to and I won't be the one that kills you." He is firm, he is conviction and none of this is fair.
He looks at her for a long moment and shakes his head. Shakes it and closes his eyes and his shoulders lift with anger.
"I don't know! Maybe because...because I know you or because you're from home or because I can't imagine going back to Twelve and passing your house and knowing I only can because you're dead. Because you're Katniss' friend or because...because...I don't know. I don't know," he repeats and then "Do you want me to die?"
Of course she doesn't. They aren't friends, they've never even gotten along, but she doesn't want him to die.
"No," she says and he nods.
"Because I don't," she says and he nods again.
They are quiet and she's not sure there's anything else to say. She doesn't want him to die, he doesn't want her to die, but in the end, at least one of them will have to.
"Good luck, Gale," she says and means it. His eyes hold hers and for the first time since this started, there is no anger there.
"Good luck, Madge."
Madge lies in bed and her life is a tragedy.
Not just hers, everyone's. Except hers will be played on live television for everyone to see. But they love that, the Capitol loves a good tragedy.
Her eyes widen
They love a good tragedy.
It's tragic Gale doesn't want her to die, tragic she doesn't want him to die. It's tragic and imagine how much more tragic it would be if they were friends, if they...if they were in love.
The Capitol loves a tragedy. The Capitol loves a romance.
The Capitol will surely love a tragic romance.
Madge lays out her plan to Haymitch and he looks at her with surprise in his eyes.
"I think that'll work," he says and she thinks her lungs are shaking as she breathes. The more weapons you have, the more targets you hit and hopefully Haymitch knew what he was talking about.
"You'll tell Gale?" she asks and maybe she should, but she's not sure she could. It's one thing to tell him she's going to lie, another to tell him just how she plans to lie. It shouldn't matter, not really, only one of them can make it out, but she thinks it'll matter to Gale. This could help both of them, but whatever else he is, he's honest.
"You don't want to catch him off guard?" Haymitch jokes and she makes a noise that might almost be a laugh.
"He'd probably throw me off the balcony."
"What, pretty girl like you? Shouldn't he be pleased?"
Madge does laugh this time.
"You obviously don't know Gale Hawthorne."
Agrippa and his team make her beautiful for her interview.
They paint her lips a deep rose, make her eyelashes long and dark and sweep her hair back into a loose bun, golden flowers holding it in place. Her gown is white but woven with faint silver thread and the fabric shimmers every time she moves. She totters in the tall shoes they give her, pale gold ribbons wrapped around her legs from ankle to knee. Her cheeks are pink and Effie coos in delight.
"Oh lovely, lovely! You'd never know you were from District Twelve."
She means it as a compliment and Madge wants to pull Effie's star spangled hat from her head and stomp on it.
Gale looks handsome, but of course he does. She's not sure he could ever be anything else. His hair is slicked back, not one single strand out of place, his suit is deep, deep red and the shirt underneath is open enough to show off his collarbone and a hint of chest. He is thin, underfed, but she doubts they'll notice that.
"Ooo, what a strapping young man you make," Effie says and tries to smooth out the fabric at his shoulders. He flinches at her touch and backs out of reach. Effie purses her lips. Madge licks her own and she should ask him if they're agreed on the plan for tonight. She's going first, if they're not on the same page she'll come out looking like an idiot. She never gets the chance.
"Stop fussing," Haymitch says as he comes into the room and Effie sniffs. "Let's go, it's time."
Madge breathes deep and Gale's eyes are heavy upon her. She looks over at him and he nods.
Madge walks out on stage with the happiest smile she can conjure. She waves at the crowd and shakes Caesar's hand like her skin isn't peeling back from him in horror. She sits in a flounce of shimmery skirts and beams at the people clapping and cheering, all the while hoping the ceiling will collapse and crush them all to death.
"Madge Undersee, I hear you're the mayor's daughter?" Caesar starts, his voice bright and friendly but he is not her friend. No one here is.
"I am yes," she says and each word is a jagged bit of glass in her throat. "I hope I can make him proud and all of Twelve too. I have a lot to live up to."
Caesar's eyebrow goes up, his smile quirks with interest and he's very good at this. Hopefully she will be too.
"Yes. My Aunt Maysilee was a tribute in the last Quarter Quell." An excited shiver runs through the audience. Everyone loves a legacy. "She's my inspiration, she always has been. She was brave and cunning and clever, I hope I can do her justice. I hope I can come home where she couldn't. And I know she'll be there with me, lending me her strength."
Caesar nods with an impressed look. The audience applauds.
"And who else is waiting back home for you? A special boy perhaps?" he asks and Madge ducks her head.
"Oh no," she says softly and Caesar pats her hand.
"I don't believe that, pretty girl like you? There must be someone."
"Not at home," she says and the whole room breathes in at the implication. Madge tightens her fingers in the folds of her skirt, breathes deeply and then leans towards Caesar.
"Can I tell you a secret?" she asks and he nods eagerly.
"I never thought I'd tell anyone this, but it's now or never right?" She takes another deep breath, lets the anticipation mount and then says "There is a boy. He's handsome and brave and loyal. He's honest too and hardworking and so very caring. He stole my heart years ago, I've just never been brave enough to say anything."
"And what's his name?" Caesar asks and the whole room holds its breath. Madge smiles sadly, tragically and says the name they've all been waiting to hear.
Caesar's eyes widen, he wears the perfect mask of shock and dismay and the whole crowd shivers with the delightful horror of her secret. They devour it, feast on it and gasp in their surprise. Madge lets her smile tremble and wipes at her eyes even though there are no tears there. Caesar stands and gently pulls her to her feet.
"Our time is up. Madge Undersee!"
She waves again to the crowd and moves to the side with her fellow tributes. They ignored her in training but now they see her. By the hostility in their eyes, she would say they don't like what they see. She knew they wouldn't. Invisibility was a safety net, but survival needs more than that. She needs sponsors and maybe just maybe, she's won some here.
"And now let's welcome our final tribute, Gale Hawthorne!"
A sad sigh echoes through the room. Here he is, the boy that stole Madge's heart, the other half of her tragedy. He carries it well. He shakes Caesar's hand and the smile he offers is tight and strained. He sits and Madge prays he plays along. If he doesn't, she is no longer tragic. She is embarrassing.
"Tell me, what do you think your odds are?" Caesar asks and Gale leans forward, elbows on his knees.
"Good. I know what I'm doing." He is confident, he is firm and so it doesn't come across as bravado. It sounds like the truth. An excited whisper laps around the audience. Caesar nods.
"And is there anyone back home waiting for you?"
"Yes. My mother, my brothers, my little sister. I promised them I'd come home, no matter what. And I intend to. They need me to."
Gale loves his family and there is something raw in his voice when he speaks of them, something that touches her and she is sure everyone else listening. He is good at this. Caesar sighs with just the right amount of sorrow and looks at Gale with sad eyes.
"I have to ask, were you listening to the interview before yours?"
Gale is silent for a long moment and he just looks at Caesar, the entire room holding its breath. He sits as if there is heaviness on his shoulders and finally he nods slowly, his eyes dropping to the floor.
"Yes," he says softly, "though I really wish I hadn't."
Caesar is surprised and for once, she thinks it's genuine.
Gale looks back up at him and oh, he plays tragedy so, so well. "Because, before I heard that, I could believe we never had a chance. I could believe that even though I've loved her for so, so long, she never loved me back. It doesn't matter that I might die, because there was never a future for us. But now I know there could have been. Now, when there can't be, I know we could have had a life together. Now, at the worst possible moment, I know I didn't love in vain. Except, I did, didn't I?"
A groan covers the whole room, emanates from every pair of lips. Madge allows her eyes to widen, allows shaking hands to come up and cover her mouth and oh, he's played this so much better than she ever dared dream.
"Gale Hawthorne ladies and gentlemen!"
The crowd screams for him, screams and whistles and cheers for their tragic hero. He walks over to her and she is sure the cameras follow his every move. She does not take her eyes off him. Her hands slip from her mouth to press against her heart and he doesn't sit beside her like he's meant to, he stands before her and stares down at her. Caesar tries his closing address but no one is listening. Madge stands on unsteady legs and the audience is enthralled. She and Gale look at each other for a moment and no one breathes.
"Gale," she whispers softly and he touches her cheek. And then, before a crowd of Capitol citizens so eager for spectacle and tragedy and romance, he kisses her. It is soft, sweet and the room erupts. Madge has never been kissed before and her blood warms in her veins as his lips press against hers. He cradles her face like it's made of glass and the audience screams and claps and weeps. The lights are shut off above their heads and Gale pulls away.
Their work is done here.
Haymitch is actually grinning when they get back to their rooms.
"I didn't think you had it in you," he says and claps a hand on Gale's back. Gale shrugs away from his touch.
"I guess you were wrong," he says and his voice is hard and unkind. Effie sniffles and Madge presses her thumb against her lips. That was her first kiss and never would she have guessed it would come on television before all of Panem or that it wouldn't come from love or infatuation or even attraction. Still, as unromantic as it may be, she thinks this kiss might be better than any other. This kiss might save her life.
"Oh, it's just so sad," Effie warbles and Madge blinks at her. Haymitch shakes his head and Effie actually believes it, believes she and Gale are in love and suffering for it. That's good. If they fooled her, there's a good chance they've fooled everyone else. Gale scowls and Haymitch rolls his eyes.
"Yeah. Anyway, you two should get to bed, you have a big day ahead of you," he says and Gale is already marching away to his room. Madge hurries after him. It's hard in her tall shoes and he must hear the click click clack of her following him. When they are safely out of view, she calls his name.
"Can I talk to you?" she asks and he stops walking. She stares at his back and tension vibrates in each and every one of his muscles.
"I'm sorry," he says, "I shouldn't have kissed you without talking to you about it first."
Madge's eyes widen. "Oh no, it was amazing," she says and feels a blush touch her cheeks. "It was an amazing idea," she corrects because that's what she meant. Not that it hadn't been an amazing kiss on its own, because it had been. It had made her warm, made her flutter even though she knew it was fake and it's no wonder the girls at school whisper about him in the halls. But that's not the point right now.
"It did better than anything we said did," she says and he turns around to face her finally. "And I was hoping we could talk about that, about getting more mileage out of this lie."
"Who knew young love could be such a tragedy?" Effie all but wails from down the hall and Gale closes his eyes with a pained look on his face. Madge winces.
"I'm not drunk enough for this," Haymitch answers and Effie makes a distraught sound.
"Oh, you're heartless."
Gale exhales heavily and she is sure she can see sparks in his breath.
"Fine," he says, "but first I need to get out of these fucking clothes." He tugs the jacket off so violently a button nearly hits her in the arm. He wrenches open his door, throws the jacket inside and then stomps after it. Madge goes to her own room more sedately. She hates it here, hates the people and the Capitol and everything they do, but Gale has always hated them more. If being here is agony for her, she can't even imagine how it must feel for him. He must be drowning.
Her outfit is complicated to escape, but she manages to unwind the ribbons on her legs after a momentary struggle and then kicks off the shoes. Her feet sigh in relief. Unzipping her dress nearly involves dislocating her arm, but she is eventually free of it and already she feels more at ease, more Madge. She washes her face and undoes her hair, pretty but not beautiful yet again. She slips into her sleepwear and creeps across the hall to Gale's room. She doubts Effie would approve of any late night meetings.
She knocks but there is no answer. She knocks again and "Gale?" she calls. Still, he doesn't answer. Is he in there? She looks both ways down the hall and when he doesn't answer her third knock, she tries to figure out where else he could be. He wouldn't have gone back to the main room, would he? What if Effie wanted to talk? No, he wouldn't do that. But then where? He can't be in his room, he wouldn't be that rude. Right? No, he wouldn't. He wouldn't. It's unlikely he's in Haymitch's or Effie's room, so she turns back towards the main room and hopes Effie doesn't want to talk.
The lights are low and maybe Effie and Haymitch have gone to bed. Madge very much hopes so. She steps cautiously into the living area but no shrill voice greets her and maybe she's safe. There is no one at all as she looks around and she frowns. She turns the other way and oh. There, beyond the glass, she can see his long form shadowed on the balcony. Fresh air, she's almost forgotten what that tastes like. Madge is quiet as she joins him and he doesn't glance her way, his eyes staring at all the bright, beautiful lights spilling out below them. He is wearing a plain shirt and pants and he seems to have taken a shower, his hair no longer slicked back but damp and falling naturally. He looks far better as himself.
"Look at this place," he says as she leans against the rail beside him. "Look at how they live. We're starving in Twelve and they live like this. Someone should burn this whole fucking place to the ground." He is bitter, he is angry and he is right. They deserve better, they all deserve better, except the Capitol. They deserve to pay.
"I'm not sure how to do that, but maybe one of us can at least beat them at their own game," she says and Gale turns his head to look at her. She peers up at the sky but the lights are too bright for her to see any stars. She might hate the Capitol even more.
"When you kissed me, I had an idea. I know you probably already have a strategy worked out and maybe even people you want to ally with, but I think...after seeing how they reacted to us together, not just talking about each other, but being together...I think we should team up."
She doesn't look at him, she doesn't want to see his reaction until she's finished.
"We join together and we let them fall even more in love with us, with our romance. Let them grow eager for the tragedy to come as we work together and protect each other and seize every last second we can. Let them root for us and wish there was some way we could go home together. And then, when enough tributes are gone, I'll suggest we split up. It'll be tearful and heartbreaking, but I won't be able to bear watching you die. But you'll refuse. You'll say you love me so much you want to stay with me until the end, protect me as long as you can, even if that means dying. There's no victory for you without me. I'll stay. But then, that night when you're asleep, I'll leave. Because I love you too much to let you die for me. I'll be devastated and when you wake up, you'll be frantic to find me. You won't. We'll be heartbroken and every time a cannon sounds, we'll be terrified. We'll watch the sky and if we see each other's face up there, we'll be shattered. And they'll love it and devour it and want more and more and more. And maybe, just maybe, it'll help one of us win. We'll be their favourite tributes, their beloved tragic romance and they won't be able to stop thinking about us and talking about us and doing all they can to help us win. We'll make them carry us all the way home."
The idea had bloomed into being while he'd kissed her, the Capitol shrieking and already obsessing over just the hint of a tragedy to come. Imagine how much they'd love them if they could see them being in love, if they could see them in all their glory and know that every second brought them closer to the inevitable bloody end. If they spent all their time in the arena apart, their story would be of interest, but if they spend it together? The Capitol will be ruined.
Gale breathes out angrily and grips the railing tight. Madge bites her lip.
"It's okay if you don't want to, it's just an idea-"
"A good one," he says and fire leaks from his skin. "A really good one, damn it."
"You shouldn't be," he says and presses his balled fists to his forehead. "It's not you, it's that I have to...to lie and lie and lie so these monsters will love me and save me from the mess they've dropped me in." He pushes his hands into his hair and digs his fingers into his scalp. "I'd rather kill them but I can't. My family needs me, I promised them I'd come home and...and fuck."
Madge feels her chest ache. "Yeah," she says and tears gather in her voice. "I know how you feel. I hate this too, but we don't have much choice. I want to go home. And if not me, then I want you to go home."
His hands fall to his sides and when he looks at her, she can taste the tragedy of Panem on her tongue.
"Me too," he says softly and she nods.
"And Katniss will understand. If you go home, you can explain it. She'll understand."
Gale's eyes flash and he knows he's in love with Katniss, even if Katniss has never acknowledged it. She wonders sometimes if Katniss is genuinely oblivious to his feelings or deliberately ignoring them because she doesn't feel the same. Well, it hardly matters now.
"And if you do make it home, can you...will you tell Katniss thank you? I never got a chance to say goodbye, can you tell her how much it meant to be her friend?" She doesn't mean for her voice to shake so much but it does and she doesn't want to die, damn it she doesn't want to die. She is sixteen, why is she about to die?
"I will," he says and she believes him. She looks back out at the opulent world below them and thinks of home, of her dad and her mom and Katniss and she will be the mockingjay on her pin. The Capitol tried to stomp them out, to eradicate them but never could.
She'll be just as resilient.
"When we're out there, we should be as honest as possible. We need them to believe us and the best lies are the ones closest to the truth. So be yourself. Don't make things up unless you have to, don't adopt a new personality or persona, just be you. The only lie we should tell is that we're in love, everything else should be us," she says and he breathes out fire.
"I don't think they'd want me to be me," he almost growls, voice low and angry. Madge feels his rage touch hers, feels it light hers aflame.
"I do," she says firmly and when his eyes meet hers she is sure she can smell smoke rising. "As for the sponsors, well be as much of you as you can be."
He nods and it's strange to be standing here with Gale Hawthorne of all people. For as long as she's known him, he's looked at her like she was poison. Now they're making plans to keep each other alive.
"Madge," Gale says and she's not really sure why, but she's very glad he's finally started using her name. "Tomorrow, as soon as you can, run. Don't go to the cornucopia, just run. I'll find you. I can track you and I'll find you."
Madge smiles faintly. "That was always the plan. Haymitch gave me the same advice, but I didn't need it. I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses. Running was always my plan."
She knows of course that it isn't his plan. He will go to the cornucopia for a weapon and food and supplies. He has better odds than she does in a straight fight, but odds are something she would never bet on. He could die in the bloodbath but nothing she says will change that. There are no stars in the sky, but maybe, she thinks, maybe she can see them in his eyes.
"Be careful, Gale. Come find me."
The last thing he said to her back home was angry and all about how she would never, ever be reaped. The last thing he says to her now is a promise.
She needs to sleep, needs to be properly rested but this could be her very last night alive. She wants more, she's going to fight for more, but the fact is, this could be the last. Tomorrow is the only morning she is guaranteed to reach and her breathing stutters.
If this is to be her last night, she really wishes she could have spent it in her own bed.
The last morning she can be sure she'll have is quiet.
She's never been much of a talker and she doesn't say a word all morning, not to anyone about anything. She's not sure what she'd say even if she tried. She showers, she eats and then she's flown to the arena. A tracker is stuck in her arm and she avoids looking at everyone else. This is terrifying but she cannot let it swallow her.
Eventually she is hustled into a room and turned over to Agrippa. He takes her chin in his hand and turns her face this way and that, before he sighs. "If only you were beautiful. But I suppose pretty will have to do."
He opens a closet door and pulls out a quilted bodysuit. He hands it to her. He turns back to the closet and Madge strips out of her clothes and then pulls on the outfit he'd given her. It covers everything but her feet, hands and face and she is sweating almost as soon as she puts it on. Her stomach starts to roll because this must mean the arena is to be a cold one. She remembers the games where nearly everyone froze and though she knows they won't let that happen again, she cannot help the fear. Cold weather will make everything so much harder.
"Here, put these on too," Agrippa says and Madge pulls on thick socks, a pair of just under the knee boots and then a zip up jacket with a hood. She is melting and Agrippa attends to her hair, braiding it and then pinning it back behind her head. He leaves a soft tendril to frame each side of her face and then he is painting colour onto her lips. A soft, sweet pink before he makes her eyelashes long and black like they were at her interview. For a moment, she is confused. Why is he bothering to make her up? But of course, this is what she is. She is the pretty girl who holds Gale Hawthorne's heart. He's the hero with the good score and better odds, she's the love interest. Fine, good. Let them think that. She's safer if they underestimate her. Agrippa hands her a pair of gloves and then finally, he takes out her pin.
"This is very nice, is it really from Twelve?" he asks and she aches to rip it from his hands. She nods.
"Hmm, how strange. They almost confiscated it, you know. What if you tried to stab someone? I suppose they decided you were unlikely to kill anyone by pin stabbing."
He fastens it to her jacket, right over her heart and she feels a little steadier. The Capitol tried to eliminate the mockingjays, but they couldn't. They won't rub her out either.
"Time to go," Agrippa says and she steps into a glass box that makes her feel as if she can't breathe. Her chest is tight and he doesn't even watch as her box begins to rise, taking her up and up and up. She presses her hand to her pin.
This is it.