The First Time Gale Kissed Madge

It's morning and it's hot.

Both of these facts are communicated to her by sunlight, one in her eyes, the other on her skin. Heat and light burn away dreams she can just barely remember. Dreams of him

The wooden floor is blessedly cool against her bare feet as she slides out of bed and nightgown and into her day dress.

Despite it long being morning, there is no noise in the merchant district from man or animal. Even the wind holds it's breath and the verdant green summer leaves are eerily still. So even though Madge is expecting the knock at the door it still startles her from her chair.

"Coming."

She hates herself for the strained excitement that pinches her face into a smile. Today is the Reaping, she has no use for the eagerness that makes her fingers fumble with overlarge buttons of her dress as she walks, still barefoot, to the door. She stands in front it for a second straightening her hair, adjusting her pin.

The door vibrates with a third knock.

Before she can stop it her hand darts out to the handle and tugs. With a groan the door opens.

"Hello."

"Good day Ms. Undersee."

He is all starless dark hair and moonless dark eyes. Even though he's looking at her straight when he replies, she doesn't believe he's seeing her. In his hand is semi-transparent ivory hankerchief through which she can see the curves of strawberries.

She fishes out two coins from her pockets and holds them out to him. It's far more than the strawberries are worth, even far more than she usually pays him and she usually pays him too much to begin with.

She tries to catch a color of emotion in the shadow of his eyes, but Gale's iris's are monochromatic too dark for color.

He takes the money and pockets it. "Thank you."

Madge is pretty sure he doesn't mean it. "You're welcome."

His shoulders are wide and his posture almost painfully upright. As he turns the eggshell light of the morning sun illuminates the curves of his muscular arms.

He is a boy who has worked.

Madge stares down at her pale feet, smooth hands, and the perfect red of the strawberries, and feels ashamed. She gives him the money willingly, but it doesn't feel like it.

"I don't feel sorry for you," she blurts out.

He turns his head, so she catches his profile, and the furrowing of his brow. "What?" All of his "good days" are gone. There's more of the seam in his voice, drawl and bite. Anger like a thrown stone or a wild animal's speech, simple and wild.

"I just-" She has to say it. "I'm not giving you the extra money, because I feel bad" She could die today. Her name could be picked.

He turns back all the way to face her, his fists half-clenched. "Well, you should."

Madge doesn't know what to say, and her silence isn't capable or mysterious like Katniss's is. It's girlish. Maybe it's because of her eyes, emerald and jade, they aren't withdrawn like Katniss's cloudy ones. No, her eyes sparkle and dream and yearn.

"But I don't. I'm giving it you because you earn it, because you're good."

"That's a lie," he spits.

"No!" She steps forward. "You go hunting and-"

"Say it louder," he hisses, glancing around the empty alleyway of the mayor's back door, "and you won't be getting strawberries next year."

When she speaks next it's hushed, embarrassment a low hanging fruit on her cheeks. "You're brave. Looking out for your family, Katniss, everybody."

Me, she thinks, you bring me strawberries.

She looks down, afraid that if she looks at him she'll see something worse than anger in his face. She doesn't think she can take silence is so long that she finally does look up, expecting him to be gone. Her stomach plummets when he's not.

He's looking at her, really looking at her. She can tell because she can feel the coldness in his gaze like winter come early. She can tell because she wants to cry. No, she is going to cry.

"I do what I have to." He grits his jaw like the words are stones he's trying to chew.

It hurts, not just because it's obvious she's made a fool of herself, but also because he's thorny and being around him is painful and dark, and she wants it so bad she'll be bare-naked honest and bleed."Just because you have to do it doesn't make it any less spectacular."

The sun's a little higher now, the light more corn silk than eggshell, and it turns Gale's eyes a different shade. He's still winter, but now he's all sun on snow. "No one's ever told me that."

"Really?" Madge knew for the fact that lots of the girls thought he was spectacular, but maybe they weren't as stupid as her to tell him. "Not Katniss?"

"Katniss says I'm entirely lacking in charm."

The smile on Madge's lips feels like only of a fraction of the giddiness thrashing in her chest. "I may agree with her."

He laughs, and she can smell his breath, apples and woodsmoke. The laugh doesn't last long, but nothing does in District 12. Already, she can hear people in the square, leaving their houses, already the warmth of morning is turning to the oppressive heat of mid-day. Already the cameras are being installed on the square and the stage raised. Already their names are in a bowl.

His brow furrows like he's angry, but his eyes stay clear and soft. Madge has no idea what he's thinking.

He kisses her with soft lips and hands that gently cup the back of her neck. The kiss is so slow she's not really sure he's doing it. Her eyes flutter shut like butterflies going to sleep. By the third kiss she's breathless, and presses closer and closer.

She wants so much of him, and there is so little of him to give, so she gives herself, kissing harder and harder, hoping that she can make up for the smallness of him.

Even though her eyes are closed there is so much light. She has heard that is what death is like. Endless light. The old God had a heaven like this, the forbidden God. The summer light has become so bright it's shown through her eyelids.

But, even as every bit of her feels hot the closer she presses to him the tighter and colder her lungs get. She needs air more than she needs him.

When she pulls away, she's flushed.

Even though she can still feel the gentleness of him on her lips, and wants him there again, her lungs ache for air. But more than that when she looks at him, her heart aches with the hope that there will be color in his eyes.

There is none.