Five Times Katniss Caused Gale Pain
April 4th, 2012
A/N: … and One Time She Didn't. Everyone else has one of these fics… so I had to write one as well. The problem was coming up with something that wasn't already done and something that would fit in with canon. As much as I write AU, I really appreciate a well done canon story. So here's my attempt to add to some of the fabulous one-shots that are out there. As always, reviews greatly appreciated!
She didn't know any better, he tries to remind himself.
She's still learning and didn't he get the raw end of the deal a lot when he first started trading?
Still he can only see red when he eyes the tin of paraffin in her hand. She curls her fingers around it and drops her hand. Shame colors her face and her bottom lip trembles slightly before she clamps it hard between her teeth.
Oh hell, he thinks. He didn't mean to make her upset.
"Listen," he says, and he thinks he should put his hand on her shoulder, but doesn't because they only just met and well, he just doesn't. "Paraffin for that fish wasn't the best deal…" She looks at him with wet gray eyes. "But I've done far worse. At least you got a tin!"
"You've done worse?" Of course she would focus on that.
"Yeah, I…" he hesitates, hoping she thinks it's out of embarrassment and not that he's trying to think of a trade worse than paraffin for a catfish. Which is exactly what he's doing.
"I once traded a rabbit for buttons," he says, the words sounding ridiculous even to him. There's no way that she'll buy that. But he underestimates the amount of trust he's earned.
"Wow, that's pretty bad," she says.
He feels something hot flare inside, and bites his tongue against the denial he wants to spit out in his own defense. A defense he shouldn't need because it's not true. She didn't know any better, he thinks.
Then, Katniss reaches up and touches his shoulder, the same soothing gesture he should have made.
"I'm sorry, Gale," she says, fixing him with her most apologetic stare. "I'll do better next time."
When she walks away, he's still debating whether he's more upset over the failed trade or that he lied to her… and she believed him.
The snare line leaves them excruciatingly empty-handed. When they come to the end of the run, he turns and looks back in the opposite direction, his hand coming to pull on the back of his neck. The disappointment gives way to frustration and he huffs angrily. It's not like he doesn't know how to go hungry so his family can eat.
She mistakenly interprets his discontent for something else and holds out the lone rabbit she shot on their walk back. It takes him a moment to understand that she's offering it to him.
"You need it more," she says. The complete lack of regard for herself shatters his heart and he swallows hard against some emotion that simultaneously warms him and destroys him. It is exactly that emotion that makes him push her hand away.
"No, you keep it," he says, not meeting her gaze. Ever since he teamed up with Katniss, those days where they went without were starting to become few and far between. He doesn't want her to see the displeasure in his eyes as he tries to resign himself to the idea of another night with no dinner.
"Gale!" she protests.
And he knows it's coming. The logic of his family being five and her family being three and how three can survive on a salad of weeds for one night more easily. That he really should take the rabbit for himself. But he blocks it out, brushes past her when she holds out the game again and pretends not to notice the defeated look on her face.
"We have some preserved."
It's not entirely true. He knows that they have a small squirrel in their icebox and that might be bad anyway, gone rancid in this sweltering summer heat. But he has to believe it so she'll take the rabbit home and have a decent meal tonight.
It might hurt to offend her feelings now, but it would hurt far worse to know she was sleeping with an empty stomach.
"Come on, Catnip. I'm not joking."
Though she hears the appeal in his voice, she reaches for the next branch above her head, rising slowly. Her booted feet balance precariously on the limb and she knows the branches this high up thin rapidly. But there are eggs in that nest and if she could only just stretch… a little… more…
He can't even warn her again when the limb snaps and suddenly she's plummeting to the ground. There's nothing he can do but watch her fall. Wince at the way her right leg connects awkwardly with a lower branch, spinning her to land squarely on her back.
He's there in an instant. His hands hold her face, alight uncertainly, worriedly on her body, as she gapes from air that won't come. When she does suck in a tortured breath, she gasps, groaning harshly and though it hurts his ears to hear that sound she makes, he smiles, relieved because she's breathing.
"You're all right," he says. And he wonders whether those words are meant to soothe her or him.
She nods, struggling to sit up, not resisting when he slides an arm behind her shoulders and helps her. But she's already trying for her feet and he isn't there to catch her when her right knee collapses, sending her sprawling across the forest floor.
"You're not all right," he says. The anger in his tone is more annoyance at himself for not realizing this sooner. They're partners after all, he should've known better.
"I'm fine," she lies.
This time he is there to stop her fall when she stubbornly attempts to walk again. He scoops her up into his arms and pretends not to notice the peevish look she gives him. She struggles to get down.
"Stop!" he says. Then, softly, "Please."
The force of his plea stops her, and she looks at him stunned. There's a heated moment that passes between them, their eyes communicating more quickly than words. For a second, she swallows, unnerved by the intimate way he's holding her, carrying her. She wonders what's going through his mind because she certainly has a lot going through hers.
"I'm sorry," he says.
"I shouldn't have let you climb that high," he says. "I should've… ahhh…"
She watches him shake his head, frustrated, exasperated, and it baffles her to see him beat himself up for something she did. He told her not to, begged her not to, and yet, she pushed forward as stubborn as ever. Gale's not big on rubbing it in; she knows she won't ever hear him say "I told you so". She wants to apologize, absolve him of his undeserved guilt, insist that she's to blame. But he's already wallowing in some unmentionable mood and arguing with him – even against his screwed up rationale – would only aggravate him more.
So instead, she weaves her arm around his neck, tucks her face into his neck, and lets him carry her all the way home.
He really shouldn't stare this way. But when she slips her shirt over her head, shimmies out of her pants, and turns to face him with an enticing smile, he's helpless. He doesn't know when the knobby knees of the skinny girl turned into long slender legs. Or when the angles of her thin frame filled out with soft curves. Or when her stomach flattened with alluring tautness.
The only thing that he can think about is that Katniss is standing before him, in only her underwear, and all he knows is that it's still too much clothing.
"Gale," she says, "are you coming?"
His mouth goes dry and it's clear she doesn't understand the inadvertent cruelty of that sentence, because she splashes deeper into the water. Though, she moves away from him –and it's undeniably space that he needs to regain some control – he doesn't like how the lake seems to swallow her, hiding her from his view. When she turns away, he strips down and dives in after her.
The cool water instantly brings some clarity to his mind, brings his body back to tepid, so when he surfaces and she is less than a foot in front of him, he doesn't panic. Then Katniss moves forward, her hands resting gently on his shoulders for support as she floats. Her toes don't quite reach the bottom like his do, her legs bumping against him when the water tosses her gently in the wake of their splashing. He reaches out, his hands finding the slight dent near her hips, holding her away. He can't let himself think about her body bumping against him that way too…
He's simultaneously grateful and horrified at her oblivion. This situation would be tremendously awkward if she knew what he was thinking right now. But now she's staring at him staring at her, and their faces really are sort of close, and did her eyes really just flicker to his mouth? There's a rushing in his ears. His heart pounding so loud that surely she can feel what this proximity is doing to him.
Gale knows Katniss is less versed in these things, but he's not naïve enough to believe she wouldn't understand if she knew how badly he wanted to press his lips to hers, to hold her against him, feel her legs around his waist.
He must have leaned in because he thinks he might just kiss her when she gives an anticipatory gasp, the breathy sigh sliding across his wet cheek and he thinks it's really ridiculous how something that simple can make him so hard.
He ducks out from under her, swimming a few feet away, and trying to think of only the slight chill of the water and nothing else when he surfaces again. Gale treads water as Katniss frowns at him slightly and walks back out of the lake. She makes no move to cover herself and lies back letting the warm summer sun dry her, water rivulets tracing paths on her skin that he wishes he could too.
He waits until she's contently dozing, and follows her lead, differing only to lie on his stomach. Just in case.
Katniss had twenty slips, he thinks. Katniss had twenty slips and her name had not been called.
But Gale knows the one slip that doesn't have her name is more damning than all the rest.
He's trying to get to her. Thinks that maybe if these people would just move he could haul her away, his hand over her mouth, stopping the words he knows she's going to scream. She'd be furious with him, and he can already imagine the bruises her fists would leave on his chest. You would have done it for Rory! her voice yells.
When he finally pushes through the last of the youngest boys, her voice rises up.
And he's too late.
At first he thinks he's dreaming. Her hands trace his forehead, his cheeks, his nose. The soft pad of her thumb brushes his lips. This can't be real. Katniss doesn't touch him like this.
But oh how he wants it to be real.
"I'm sorry," she says, her voice thick, her fingers still against his skin.
He wants to shake his head, whisper back "No, don't be", but his muscles won't move and the best he can manage is a sigh. It's enough, he thinks, because she's looking at him like she never looked at him before. Even with tears spilling over her cheeks, even with the purplish swelling, he still thinks it's the most beautiful Catnip he's seen yet.
She leans forward then, hesitating as her hands fall from his face, and Gale wishes she wouldn't let go and then wishes for that wish back when her lips just barely touch his. She tastes of salt and heat, and something else, but the drugs are making his head swirl and he struggles to open his eyes. He's not sure what he's fighting more, the allure of the narcotics or the headiness of her kiss. His eyes flutter with focus.
"Hey," she whispers, her hand finding his and curling their fingers together.
"Hey Catnip," he says.
The relieved smile that breaks across her face completely numbs the burn of his back. And it's enough.