November 20th, 2011
Author's Note: So I decided to continue this story and it definitely takes an AU turn here. I'm kinda fascinated with the whole forbidden romance thing so at the risk of sounding like a total fangirl, I think that's what I'm going to attempt to explore here. As always, reviews are appreciated!
I should know better than to leave a question to myself, unanswered. It follows you around, demanding an answer. But I was extremely stubborn and refused it, though it drove me crazy all week. Anytime I had a moment to myself, it would jump out from behind the corner, hovering and staring at me. I nearly scared Prim half to death when I lost my temper in the laundry room, slamming the dryer door and making that strange gasping anguished noise from Sunday.
It was a terrifying thought and a welcoming balm all mixed into one confusing package. I welcomed the thought of another Sunday in the woods, time spent with Gale. I was also terrified of confronting Gale after our last Sunday, worrying incessantly over his reaction. Would he be mad? Would he want me to say something profound? Would he even want to see me again?
As soon as I started considering the future, my line of questioning turned from Gale to me. Was I mad? Was I supposed to wait for something more? Did I want to face him Sunday?
Being around Peeta only confused and upset me more. Though, he didn't question me, I could tell he felt the conflict bubbling just underneath my calm collected exterior. He and I had come to a semi-mutual understanding that I would play the game of adoring girl for the cameras, for his sake, but the words spoken a long time ago on a train ride back to District 12 hung like a cloud between us. I kissed him when it seemed appropriate, and everytime I looked into his eyes, I saw the hurt and the frustration and the overwhelming love in the blue. He could see that something had changed.
I tried to compare my kisses with Peeta to my kiss with Gale. To see if I could glean some kind of emotional calm by analyzing them like a third observer. Thoughts of Peeta's kisses sent a sickening plunge of guilt and despair through me, leaving me disgusted with myself and wondering if I was wrong to openly not want his unadulterated affection. Thoughts of my kiss with Gale left me staggering, my hands blindly searching for the wall, a twisting in my stomach not an entirely unwelcome sensation of heat roiling throughout my body.
In a moment of complete disorientation, I almost asked Madge what to do. She and I still visited often enough that I liked to consider her the close friend that she was before the Games. But I was afraid to confess what had transpired between me and Gale. Not everyone was willing to acknowledge the lies of our supposed familial connection. Also, the paranoia in me was increasing with every passing day.
I kept my promise to Gale, checking the snare line every day, hunting a little and fishing when I could. I delivered a lot of the game back to Hazelle, pretending not to notice how her eyes watched me sadly, smiling when she suggested I stop back when Gale came back from the mines. Only once did I shudder at the mention of my friend's new occupation, and though I blamed it on the changing season's chill, I knew I wasn't fooling Hazelle.
I lay awake most of Saturday night. The anticipation of the woods and the hunt was only a partial contributor to my tormented state. I was more anxious than anything. I slept in fits, waking from nightmares of the Capitol, the Games. The worst was when I woke with a start, clammy and sticky, so flushed and warm beneath my layers, that I angrily kicked them off, stormed to the bathroom and spent several minutes splashing my face with cold water. My lips tingled as I patted my face dry with a towel, and I touched them, recognizing only then that I hadn't had a nightmare – I was dreaming about Gale's kiss.
Sunday morning came after a long night, and I hurriedly threw together my game bag, some breakfast, barely remembering to ease the door shut to not awaken my mother or Prim in these early hours. The sun was barely peeking over the horizon as I marched toward my house in the Seam. I flew through the front door exchanging Capitol made boots – worthless things of stitching and faux ruggedness – for my worn reliable boots and my Father's hunting jacket. It was not quite cold enough for a wool cap so my braid bumped my shoulder in tandem with my long quick strides.
I was running on adrenaline by the time I slid under the silent fence, and sprinted to our place against the rocky ledge overlooking the valley. Gale was already there, and suddenly, I wished I had not come flying into the hollow like an animal of prey. His eyes ran once up and down my length, as I stood there blowing hard and feeling like if I spoke, my heart might come through my mouth.
"You came," I said, between pants. The way my breath hitched at the end made it sound like a question.
"Why wouldn't I have come?" Gale asks, his face breaking into a smile and I really wish he wouldn't fix that look on me the way he does. Something stirs inside me and I quickly sit, busying myself with breakfast before my legs wobble and give me away.
"I don't know," I huff, acutely aware of his eyes studying me. I hand him a canteen of tea without looking him in the eye. "I think I was just worried you wouldn't show up…" I left my voice trail off, afraid to mention the kiss, lest it start a fight.
My eyes snap up to meet his grey stare full on, and there's a sudden lurch to the ground beneath me. I am confused and unsettled at his apparent lack of understanding why I might think he wouldn't show. There's a tense pause between us, or at least tense for me, because Gale's smiling that crooked smile at me and biting into an apple with a crunch. It's the one he saves for me, just for me, and I'm completely melting inside which is ridiculous because I never used to react like a mess.
Shut up, I think to the voice in my head. It is ridiculous.
"I think I'm going insane," I say blankly. I'm not sure exactly what I mean by blurting out such a crazy statement, but Gale laughs and shakes his head.
"Well, I already knew that, Catnip," he teases. "Come on, let's go before the sun gets any higher."
He holds out his hand to help me up and I take it, wondering if maybe I really am going insane when I feel his fingers twist in mine before he drops my hand and begins clearing our breakfast remnants.
We hunt most of the morning and are rewarded with a few squirrels and a rabbit. Gale's just about to suggest we walk the snare line when a maniacal laugh from a roving wild dog pack makes us reconsider on lingering in the woods. They usually don't bother us but this late in the warm seasons, wild dogs become less and less preoccupied with selective hunting. We head for the relative safety of the river to avoid any unwanted encounters.
In the valley, the sun is bright and I have to raise my hand against its glare as we emerge from the forest. The canopy overhead, still thick with leaves, does a remarkable job at shielding the forest floor from the brilliant rays. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust, but the warmth washing over me is welcome and I feel my tense muscles start to unwind. Turning my face toward the light, I close my eyes, basking in the final few moments of summer and feeling for a second like the Katniss before the Games.
Until I open my eyes to find Gale considering me in a way I have never seen him look before. There's an intensity to his gaze, a wildness of stormy grey that makes me uncomfortable and intrigued simultaneously. At first, I'm not sure he even notices that I notice, but it's only a second or two before he snaps his head around and walks to the water's edge to fill his canteen. I stare at his back a solid moment and then move to join him, wary and apprehensive.
We drink in silence, the cool river water soothing against my parched throat. I think I'll never be more grateful for water since I nearly dehydrated to death only a few short months ago. It's funny how time can change your perception. Before the Games, I always appreciated the river and its supply of refreshment and fish, but this is a different sort of appreciation. A newfound respect.
"If you frown anymore, Catnip, your mouth might fall off," Gale teases.
I look to my side to see him lying on his back, stretched out on the sandy bank. He reminds me of Buttercup after he's caught a mouse, when he cracks one eye to look at me and smiles a sleepy content smile. I keep frowning.
Gale's face becomes serious at the lack of change in my expression and props himself up on his elbows, squinting at me and asking, "Catnip?"
I swallow hard, frowning back across the river, because I'm not sure I can say this next thing while looking at him.
"I don't want anything to change between us." It sounds good until the end, when my voice wavers. I hear him sit up, more than I see it out of the corner of my eye.
"Nothing's changed," Gale says. My lower lip trembles and I can't believe I'm trying once again not to cry. "What's going on, Katniss?"
"You kissed me, Gale," I whisper.
He doesn't respond right away and I have to look at him to see if he's angry. Gale's looking at me, unsure and searching, his eyes darting back and forth, seeing my wet gaze staring back. We stare at each other for a long time, and I am starting to think he's not going to say anything at all, that he's going to continue to pretend the kiss never happened when he says the one thing I'm not expecting.
"I had to," he says.
My look of confusion is my question "Why?"
"I've been wanting to do that for a long time." He looks away, embarrassed. I know, because of the way he's wringing his hands between his drawn up knees, the way his face scrunches and unscrunches as he replays his words in his head. "I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry?" Now I'm confused.
Gale rises in exasperation and paces a few steps, before turning to face me.
"Because it obviously upset you, Katniss!" He attempts to say something more than looks down at his feet. "I can tell it's been bothering you all day."
"I'm not upset," I say, standing with him. I'm a little unnerved by the way he towers over me and though I don't even come up to his shoulder, I feel a little better with a smaller height difference. "I'm just… confused."
Gale raises an eyebrow at me.
"I didn't think you wanted that," I say. "At least, not from me."
I'm hoping that Gale might explain himself more, but his silence actually cements into my head the gut feeling I have been carrying around all week. Gale wanted - wants - to be more than friends. With me. My acceptance of the fact spins my own world out of control. My stomach flutters and my heart sounds loud in my head. The voice that speaks does not sound like my own, nor does it say what I think it should.
"If I asked you to kiss me again," it says, "would you?"
I do not miss the way Gale's eyes flare with that same dark emotion I'd caught him watching me with before. This time, I do not miss the flare rising within me as well.
"Are you asking me to?" he says, guardedly.
I nod weakly, and he fixes me with a stare, eyeing me warily like an animal sensing a trap but not strong enough to stay away from the bait.
"Yes," I say. "I'm asking you to."
Gale closes the distance between us, hesitating only a moment before leaning down and pressing his lips to mine. I feel his nose gently pushing against my cheek as he kisses me softly, adding more pressure with every pass of his lips. Something tells me to get closer, feel more, and I do, drawing my hands up to twist in the hair at the base of his neck, pulling him toward me. I don't have to think, don't want to breathe, but necessity makes me pull away.
We stand there, gauging the other's reaction, hot breath fanning across each other's flushed faces. I know I should relax my grip and back out of his embrace, but I don't want to. Instead, I raise my face and softly draw my lips against his. Gale makes a low sound in the back of his throat that sends a shiver straight down my spine and if it wasn't for his arms holding me tightly against him, I would've collapsed at his feet. We kiss with a bruising force and I feel like I am trying to crawl inside Gale, his touches and his kisses setting my skin ablaze. This is not gentle and naïve like my kisses with Peeta, and while I hate myself for thinking it, I am beginning to think I like this kind more.
Gravity does not shift when I kiss Peeta; the world is on fire when I kiss Gale.