Well…um…hello! If there are any of you out there who still follow this story, you know it's has been legit years since I've been active. I honestly haven't thought about this story in ages with life kind of getting in the way. But I randomly logged onto my account a few weeks ago and saw so many kind messages and reviews submitted many years after I'd left off writing of any kind. Honestly, those messages and reviews inspired me to finally finish this story. There is no way I can reply to each one of you personally, but I'm so grateful for the support and encouragement you've given me over the years. I would never have finished if it wasn't for you.

Honestly, I had this chapter outlined since the beginning but never got around to finishing it. I haven't written anything in a longgg time so please be gentle. I hope you approve!


Part I

A flutter.

An electrifying, terrifying, giddy flutter. Of excitement. Of hope. Of…something. Some heady mix of anticipation and trepidation and warmth.

My body tingles with a thrill of nervousness and fear and the beautiful, blooming, unbelievable realization flooding through my heart—

He's coming back.

Another flutter, this time in my hand. I glance down at the letter clenched tightly in my clammy fingertips. I smooth it open quickly, hastily glancing around the hangar bay to see if anyone is looking. But all the other families are huddled together, focused on each other, whispering excitedly. Hazelle and the kids are trying to get as close to the barriers as possible, squirming through the crowd, too nervous and thrilled to pay attention to me. They've worn their best clothes: faded, pressed shirts for the boys, bright but simple dresses for the girls. Their eyes focused only on the hanger bay doors, nearly dying with anticipation, waiting for those doors to open.

I duck my head and read the letter one more time:

Dearest Madge,

I can't believe I'm finally coming home. I can't believe that this impossible year and a half has dwindled to just a few weeks. There are so many things I want to say to you. But mostly I just want to see you and hold you. I can't wait to be near you again.

I hope and pray you'll be there when I return.

Thinking of you always,


My heart clenches painfully. I re-fold the letter for the thousandth time and clutch it to my heart. The words seem so impossible, so utterly unbelievable that I have read them over and over again in the three weeks since the letter arrived. Gale's scratchy, hurried script. A blur of dirt in the top right corner, a smudged echo of his fingerprint. The careful, precise folds. And his words, my God his words, most unbelievable of all. How can it be that Gale is finally, finally coming home?

A loud metallic shriek echoes through the underground as the hangar bay grinds open.

My stomach leaps into my throat. I don't dare believe.

Hazelle pushes her way forward with the kids, wind whipping their hair as they bunch against the barrier, eyes trained on the incoming hovercraft, Posy cheering, Vick shifting from foot to foot with excitement, his curly hair prominent among the crowd of bobbing heads and pointing fingers.

It can't be, I think frantically. It's the wrong hovercraft or there was a change in plans or he doesn't actually want me here. A million doubts and fears race through my mind in a dizzying flash as the craft banks in and touches down gently on the tarmac.

The turbines slow and quiet as the hatch swings open with a metallic hiss.

My stomach knots painfully. I screw my eyes shut, my breathing coming in quick, staccato bursts of panic. I can't handle it if he's not here.

I hear a strangled cry and my eyes flash open.

And there he is. Dark boots, camo pants, army green t-shirt, broad shoulders and beautiful, wild black hair that of course has managed to fall into his eyes.

Gale is back.

And Hazelle — composed, dignified, perpetually controlled Hazelle — sprints towards him. Under the barrier, past the cordon tape, her simple dress and scarf streaming behind her, she dodges the D13 guard holding his hand up for her to stop, and crashes right into Gale's arms.

She collides into Gale causing him to stumble back a couple of steps before catching and steadying her. Hazelle is sobbing and clutching his neck. And though I stand more than fifty feet away, I hear her whimper, "My baby. My baby. My sweet baby boy," over and over again as she strokes his hair and face. Gale looks bewildered for the briefest moment before folding his mother in his arms and rocking her gently as she cries.

Other soldiers and personnel file out of the hovercraft scooting around Gale and Hazelle. Some clap Gale on the back or pat his arm as they walk by, a quick acknowledgement before greeting their own families and friends with a mixture of cheers and hugs and tearful kisses.

Eventually Hazelle pulls away. Gale whispers something gently in her ear and she nods. They turn towards the tarmac, Gale softly rubbing Hazelle's back as she swipes at her eyes roughly.

I inch closer to where the kids are standing, but still hang well back. A part of me doesn't want to intrude on the family reunion, the other part of me is desperate to see him, run to him.

Gale looks…older. And tired. Dark circles under his eyes, the glimpse of a new scar, red and angry, scabbing over on his taut forearm. A light wash of stubble peppering his jawline.

He reaches the barrier and looks up, startled to see how Rory has grown. Taller, broader, tougher. The brothers now stand eye to eye. But Rory still reaches for Gale and clutches him tightly, firm hands on each other's backs. Vick has sprouted up too, coltish and sickly and thin as a rail. But his smile is the same, and his mop of dark curls, and his arms wind around Gale effortlessly and he doesn't even try to hide his sobs. Posy has changed most of all. Thin and angular, almost eleven, she is all bruised knees and big eyes, her long hair a messy braid tied with a bow, no longer drowning in her brothers' hand-me-down shirts or looking cute in baby-girl dresses, almost a teenager. But Gale lifts her up easily and twirls her like he did years ago, and Posy squeals happily, her shrieks a metallic echo in the cavernous underground.

Gale sets Posy down gently and looks up, his grey eyes meeting mine. My lips twist into an anxious smile and I feel my stomach flip nervously, but Gale doesn't hesitate. He strides towards me firmly and gathers me into his arms without a word, and suddenly I'm surrounded by him. His heat, his muscle, his throbbing, living warmth. A crisp, clean scent and prickly stubble. His arms encircle me and overwhelm me, but his touch is unbelievably gentle, his strength held in check. Instead of crushing me with his weight, he cradles me so, so tenderly, and I feel peaceful and comforted and unbelievably secure. His presence washes away my anxiety, as cool and soothing as a summer breeze.

"My God, Madge. You're nothing but skin and bones," he murmurs in my ear. He rubs a hand lightly along my back. "I'm so happy you're here," he lets go slightly to peer into my face, and there is a delicious heat in his dark, silvery gaze.

I gulp audibly and he grins.

And I feel a flutter, a completely different and utterly pleasant kind of flutter, all doubts and fears banished. A gentle contentment flows through me.

He's back.

Gale is back.

Part II

I had imagined a quiet, comfortable dinner at home. A homemade meal, laughs with the kids, a quiet chat with my mom and Madge. But Ma was so excited about me coming home, and had so many months to plan, I guess she had a different idea. She grabs my hand with a tentative smile. Crepe-thin lines of worry and difficulty and age crinkle in the corner of her eyes and spider web along her forehead, and she looks smaller. Like worrying about my life and Rory's anger and Vick's illness and Posy growing up have weighed on her back and her shoulders so much so that she's actually shrunk. With her cracked hands and stooped spine and graying hair, my indomitable force of a mother looks old and so tired. I don't have the heart to tell her no.

So I let her take my hand and lead me through the fluorescent-lighted underground tunnels, Vick and Posy vying for my attention with their chatter, Rory scowling and stumbling silently behind, Madge bringing up the rear, biting her lip and twisting her ponytail in that adorable way of hers when she's thinking hard about something important to her.

And I let Ma lead me to a party hall on one of the middle levels. She's clearly taken her time lovingly decorating the room and the long pine table with candles and wooden platters, festoons of greenery and wild flowers and food. And the food! No freeze-dried protein packs or dehydrated soup or powdered energy drinks. Not even stewed berries or squirrel soup, which would have been perfectly delicious in Twelve. No, now there is a heap of warm, fresh bread, soft and fluffy and abundant. There's a large bird, roasted and golden and dripping juices, buttery piles of vegetables, hot and steaming bowls of meaty gravy, and even a small mountain of fresh fruit— crabbed apples and yellow pears and something wrinkly and strange...maybe a melon? And at the end of the table there's actually a pie, glistening and crusty, smelling divine.

My stomach rumbles embarrassingly, it's been so long since I've had a real meal. My mom smiles knowingly, and her satisfied smile is worth everything.

The room is already full, but it isn't with politicians or generals or socialites. There's Katniss, a brief tight hug smelling of sunshine and pine, and Peeta with a warm and easy handshake. A nod from Finnick looking tired but still handsome in his red flannel and leaning heavily on a cane. Prim gives me a squeal and a twirl, showing off her new nursing student uniform. Mrs. E bestows me with a motherly smile and musses my hair just like she did when I was a kid. There's several survivors from Twelve too: Ripper and Thom's elderly parents and Delly Cartwright and her brother. Even Haymitch is there, scruffy and scowling, already gripping a glass of foamy ale, Effie Trinkett smoothing his hair and poking him to sit up straight.

And there's Rory, looking so much older, his muscles corded and stretching the fabric of his shirt. He reminds me of myself at that age, confused and angry but feeling the need to be strong. I'm so relieved this war is over already, or I know he'd already be at the front lines. And there's Vick, my precious baby brother Vick, lean and gangly, all limbs and angles, still feeble from his bout of illness, and I feel weak with relief that he didn't die. And there's my darling Posy, precocious and sweet as ever, bossy and brash and so dear to me. And Madge sitting next to me, all gold and cream and sweet brightness.

And seeing this beautiful dinner warmed by candlelight, my friends and family healthy and safe and laughing and not hungry, seeing this peace I fought so damn hard for—my heart feels full and so content that for a moment, I can't breathe.

But as we sit down, Rory drops a plate with a crash and jumps out of his chair with an echoing bang, and suddenly there's sweat along my brow and I'm scrabbling for my knife, anxious breaths sawing through me like a rusty blade.

A rushing flash of fears and phantasms: fire and gunshots and raining bombs. My sweaty hand clutches the knife as I reflexively look for the threat.

But Madge is there, her cool hand gripping mine and her gentle fingers slipping the knife out of my grasp. And I close my eyes and breathe in great lungfuls of cool, calming air and my mind slowly clears, the fears and living nightmares receding like quiet waves on the shore. And I look around the room and everything is continuing on like normal, smiles and drinks and people piling food, because no one has even noticed what I've done.

Before Madge can ask me if I'm alright, my mom rises from her seat saying she'd like to propose a toast, and I give a silent prayer of thanks for her impeccable timing. She holds up a glass of amber ale in her cracked, wrinkled hand as we turn to her expectantly. Madge gives my leg a reassuring squeeze under the table, her quiet presence a soothing balm to my fractured, fevered mind.

Ma looks solemnly along the table, and even the kids quiet their chatter.

"I look around this room and see so many people I love. My heart feels so light and so full. But there are cracks...cavernous empty spaces in this same heart. Quiet, devastated, painful spaces. Spaces once filled by the many loved ones who can't be here with us today, who should be here with us today. And our hearts cannot be whole because they aren't here. Let us remember all of those we love that lost their lives in District Twelve and throughout this awful war," she raises her glass.

"For Rayn Hawthorne," we turn in surprise to Mrs. E who has also raised her glass. I startle at the mention of my father's name.

"For Brookes Everdeen," my mom answers with a nod of thanks.

"For Rue," Katniss chokes from across the table.

"For Annie and Mags," Finnick says softly.

"For Maysilee Donner," I turn shocked to hear the soft anguish in Haymitch's voice.

"For Thom and Bristel," Madge clutches my hand as I turn towards her. My heart floods with gratitude and I can see the tears prickling in her eyes.

"For Mayor and Mrs. Undersee," I whisper back.

The names continue for several minutes, and slowly the ghostly ranks of the dead fill the room, mothers and daughters and fathers and idols and friends, insubstantial and shimmering, an army of the dead crowding us, far outnumbering the few of us who survived.

"For Thresh."

"For Johanna."

"For Cinna."

"For Greasy Sae."

"For the Mellarks."

"For my mother."

"For Wiress."

"For Darius."

"For the Cartwrights."

"For Chaff."

"For my sisters."

"For Mazer."

By the time Prim finishes with a sniffle, "For Lady and Buttercup," there isn't a dry eye around the table.

We drink to our fallen friends and comrades and family members, the silent weight of their presence permeating the room, settling on our skin, sinking into our bones.

"As much as it aches to remember our dead, we must also remember what they died for. For this," Ma's gesture encompasses everyone at the table. "For our freedom and for each other and for our future. I cannot express how grateful I am for all of you in this room. And of course, for my son Gale," she turns towards me with a beautiful smile; it is content and tranquil and makes her look so much younger.

"My dear, dear son Gale. My son. You are the backbone of this family. My first born. My strong, brave, lovely Gale. We are all so proud of what you've accomplished and what you fought to achieve. The years you were gone..." her voice breaks. She takes a deep breath and continues, swiping a tear away, "Well let's just say you're back now, and my heart can finally rest easy. This is for you, Gale."

"For Gale," the room rumbles.

I try not to squirm but instead gaze around the room at all of my friends, the survivors of this appalling, bloody, gruesome war. And I swear out of the corner of my eye I can see the ghosts of the dead glimmering and flickering in the candlelight along the shadowed fringes of the room, just out of sight. But for once they don't seem accusing or hateful or blaming me for their deaths. I don't feel their anger or despair, but more like they are hopeful for our future and satisfied that they didn't die for nothing. I still feel sad, but somehow, something shifts and I don't feel so bad, so ugly inside.

"And now," Ma finishes, "let's eat!"

Part III

Gale walks me home silently after that beautiful dinner, his step slightly ahead of mine, our fingers entwined. I can tell he's pensive though, his eyes dart anxiously and he keeps running his hands through his hair like he does when he's nervous.

His unease seems to flow down his arm straight into me, and I feel dread spread through my blood like a virus, insidious and terrifying and cold. I was with Gale for only a few weeks before he left for the war, eighteen months of blood and loss and separation and the occasional letter. He said he was glad to see me when he landed, but something has shifted and changed since then. My old insecurities prick and mock me, whispering that he has come to his senses, that he's realized I'm not what he wants, that maybe…maybe he's changed his mind.

When I first received Gale's last letter, my mind raced with all kinds of thrilling, giddy scenarios. I imagined him holding me, kissing me, whispering impossible words of love and lust and devotion, worshipping me with his delightful, adept fingers, transforming me in the dark, passion and longing and fearless joy.

I never imagined him tense and stiff and scared to meet my eyes.

My hand trembles as I silently fumble the key card into its reader.

My room is cool and pleasant, a gentle breeze wafts from the vents, a reminder of Gale's first gift to me.

We stand apart in the room. I try to meet his gaze, but I'm too afraid. Instead I shuffle my feet nervously. Gale runs another telltale hand through his hair and clears his throat.

I hear Gale inhale deeply and my stomach flips. He suddenly stills, and then in two silent steps he's in front of me, gripping my hands.

"Madge…I'm…I'm so happy you were waiting for me today. I wasn't sure you'd come."

Startled, I lift my eyes to his. I stutter, fumbling for words and then suddenly Gale is holding me, his arms wrapped around me and clutching me to his body so tightly, his breath ragged and harsh in my ear.

"I kept them all. Your letters," his voice is a whisper in my hair. "They kept me alive, Madge. You kept me alive. The thought of getting back to you. I was sure I was going to lose my mind out there. Or die. But remembering you. I swear it kept me sane."

I pull back because I want to see his face, but Gale clutches me close, his grip unyielding.

"The years before I met you, my heart, it was…broken. A broken heart beating in a dead chest. You gave me life again. I wanted to live because of you." Gale's voice is so soft and so anguished, and my heart fractures. I can feel his pain like a palpable, throbbing thing, a bone-deep, aching well of sadness.

This time I bring my hands to his face and force him back, raising my eyes to his. They are red-rimmed and hollow, the beautiful ridged planes of his face desolate and stark with despair, dark shadows under his eyes, purplish like a bruise.

"The fact you're here, Madge. As happy as it makes me…it's not right. I don't deserve you. The things I did…"

"Gale, no. Stop!" I can hear the tears and panic in my voice, clogging my throat. But he presses on in that same bleak, destroyed voice.

"I did things, Madge. I made a choice to do things that were wrong. That were cruel. I don't know why…God knows I tried. I tried so hard. But…I'm just a man." He grimaces and screws his eyes shut and I think he might be holding back tears or memories or the pain.

When his eyes open again, they are the conflicted and swirling grey of a spring storm. And with a start I realize that perhaps this is where his name comes from. Gale. The boy with eyes like a tempest and the strength of a hurricane. But at this moment he doesn't look strong. With his broken eyes and shock of dark hair falling in his face, he looks tired and afraid and terribly young. And in a shocking moment of clarity I remember that Gale is not yet twenty four, not much more than a boy. A frightened, fatherless boy still searching for his way. And my heart breaks for his pain.

"Stop," I say firmly, my voice thick with tears. I take his hands and press them between mine. "You don't have to explain anything to me."

"I do," he sighs, a bleak and pained sound. "And when you you hear what I've done, you'll change your mind about me." And his voice is so soft, so sad, so horribly sincere. He believes it. He actually believes I will leave him.

"No I won't, Gale," I say firmly with a quick shake of my head. "There's nothing you can say that will change my mind about you." And this at least I know is absolutely certain.

"It's too late, Gale." I press his hands hard into my heart. "You're already in here and you can't get out now. That's not how love works."

"Love?" Gale croaks, his eyes desperate and searching on mine.

"Yes. Love, Gale. I love you. And you're stuck with me now."

A hesitant light comes on in Gale's eyes and he smiles, slow and gentle and slightly lopsided. The effect on his face is startling. It's bright and warm and fiercely hopeful. The first ray of sun in the quiet gray after a storm.

His smile and his hope and his desperate beauty take my breath away. And that's when I know in my bones that it's true. He's stuck with me now.

Part IV


The word goes off like a starburst in my mind.

"I love you too, Madge, so much," I can hear my voice crack. She wraps her fingers into mine, dark and pale intertwined.

"I never knew happiness until I met you, Gale Hawthorne," she says softly, smiling through her tears. "I…I never had a real family. I've been alone my whole life. But now…now your family is my family. And you…you're my home, Gale."

And her eyes, her beautiful clear blue eyes are swimming with tears and sincerity. Her voice is kind and gentle…and true. I'm shattered. Floored. That somehow through war and desperation and social upheaval and all the anger and despair, this shabby boy from the wrong side of town, the boy with a cracked, bleeding, irreparable heart, is holding hands and sharing words of love with the untouchable, gilded angel from the mansion on the hill. An angel that is crying at the thought of losing him.

"I will be worthy of your love, Madge," I choke out, though the words don't encompass the depth of my feelings.

Her eyes soften.

"You already are, Gale," and she gives me a smile so sweet that my chest tightens and my heart bursts and I pull her close and bury my face in her hair.

"Madge," I murmur with a hope and a prayer. "Move back to Twelve with me."

She stiffens and I tense. I pull back and see doubt in her eyes.

"Or not," I panic, searching her eyes to see if I've said the wrong thing.

"I thought you'd want to go to the Capitol," Madge says slowly, "help organize and rebuild. Set up the new government."

I run a hand through my hair, "I know I should. But I can't. What I mean is…I don't want to. I just don't have the stomach for it. Haymitch and Heavensbee and all those political guys have it under control, I think. I do want to rebuild but…maybe a little closer to home."

Madge looks thoughtful so I continue in a rush, my secret plans and dreams finally given free rein, "I've thought about it for months now. You, me, mom, the kids. I've talked to other survivors. They want to go back, build a settlement in the woods. The District needs someone to organize cleanup; I mean, that's your specialty."

"You've really thought this through," she says, raised eyebrows and a smile.

"Yeah," I chuckle, "I had a lot of free time in those trenches."

"And where would I live in this scenario?" Madge asks with a grin.

My heart stutters. "Well…I thought…with me."

Madge blinks slowly. She doesn't say anything so I go on.

"I've always wanted to move out into the woods, you know. Build my own cabin, have a pack of babies. I always thought I could build a separate home for mom and the kids…"

Madge makes a sound in her throat and her eyes are wide. I've gone too far, I think in daze. I've scared her off. I think of her alone in her big house growing up. When we would come to her back door all those years ago, I remember her standing there, her kitchen stretching endlessly behind her, that one room larger than my entire home. And the hallway beyond, a quiet, infinite stretch to other rooms and floors and areas. My own cabin in the woods is a dream to me. But to Madge…my God, that is probably a nightmare of dirt and discomfort and cramped unease.

"We don't have to," I expel in a rush of alarm, feeling the need to backpedal furiously. "It's just an idea. We could stay here. Or the Capitol. Or wherever you want to go," my voice lifts in a question.

Madge remains silent, rolling some kind of thought around in her mind.

Finally she meets my gaze.

"I grew up in a fancy house, Gale. It was huge and luxurious and clean. But it was all echoes and shadows and empty spaces. There was love, but no life. No laughter or joy."

Suddenly, her eyes seem to sparkle. It takes my breath away.

"A house full of your babies sounds just fine to me."

"What?" My mouth falls open in absolute shock. Yet my heart feels light as a feather.

"Let's move to Twelve and have a pack of babies together, you gobsmacked oaf."

And then she laughs. This ringing, dazzling, carefree laugh that spreads like a balm from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, and I can't remember when I heard such a perfect sound.

"Really? You mean it? It's not too fast?" I ask, hoping it's not another one of my hallucinations.

"Gale, you are the love of my life," she places her hands on my chest. "And we lived. You and me in this mess of death and despair…somehow we lived and somehow we found each other. I want to start a life with you. Why in the world would I hesitate? Why in the world should we wait?"

I place my hand on her cheek.

"You're perfect," I breathe out in wonder.

And she is.

I stare, looking into her eyes and something clicks.

"We are alive," I realize with a start. "How did that happen?"

"I'm not sure," she answers with a grin.

"We're alive," I repeat in awe.

"We're alive," she nods.

"We're alive. Actually alive." It doesn't seem real.

"A lot has happened, but yes, Gale. We're alive. And I love you."

"Say it again."

"We're alive…and I love you."

Astonishment crashes through me like a wave. And in that wave I feel a burden lifting, a weight shifting, and it feels like an answer to my prayer.

And then there's Madge. Strong, graceful, exquisite Madge. She's right, what the hell am I waiting for?

I run a finger from her cheek down her neck, trailing between her breasts…and I pause.

My hand rests on the heart-shaped pendant I had given her so many months ago.

"It's the necklace I made," I say with a thrill. "You're wearing the necklace I made you."

"Of course I am," she says like it's the most obvious thing in the world. She pulls the simple wooden pendant out of the neckline of her dress and places it in my hand, the thin pink ribbon holding it still looped around her neck.

I remember the day I carved that heart. I was sitting in the sun waiting for Katniss to meet me so we could check the snares. Birds chirping, the sound of my knife gently shaving and shaping the wood, thin curls of pine falling to my feet like sawdust. Stillness and tranquility captured, crystallized, and distilled into that one blessed moment of peace. I see my younger self reflected and refracted back through the years. Tan and youthful and unhurried, he seems so innocent. Not scarred, not angry, not knowing what life would be. How damn hard it would be.

I blink and there is Madge. And now that I have her, now that the war is over, I realize maybe life doesn't have to be so hard anymore. Maybe we can move back to those same woods and sit in the sunshine and create something beautiful and peaceful and joyful together. And maybe then life could be…wonderful.

Our eyes meet. Madge reaches for me. Her hands are so gentle and her smile so sweet, it makes my heart ache.

Then I kiss her, her lips are so soft and unbelievably tender, the necklace presses between our hearts like a promise. My hands in her hair, hers curling delicately on my chest, our lips touch and our bodies merge, and I realize Madge is right. Being with her—

It feels like coming home.


The End.


Once again thank you for all the support. Reviews are always appreciated and adored!

PS: I actually found an outline for another Gale/Madge one shot in my old notes for this story. I'm wondering if I should write it. Are there still Gadge fans out there? Do people still read this stuff? Let me know!

Much love to all,