It's his face; always his.
His hands with their perpetual roughness and warmth, a possession and a command which could never be replicated. His heartbeat, stronger and deeper than mine could ever grow, as it surges vitality throughout every inch of his body and surges it onward. His lips; bizarrely warm and soft in stark contrast to his everything else, careful and almost hesitant in his approach as if I'd pull mine away at any moment. But he knows I never would, and am always in need of him.
Him and only him. That's why I've always envisioned him when Peeta loves me.
I go to that place beyond thought and reason, a transcendental plain eclipsed in white. It's there that I forgive him and I embrace him, and I let him embrace me in turn. It's almost like dying; a disconnection of mind from body, of pain from memory, of past from estrangement. I let him in as he was and only as I remember him, and he becomes the lover I will never love, except for in my memory. I remember the love I felt for him, and with every haggard breath, every rise and fall of our bodies as they grind together in unspoken passion, I relive that love again. Only my love for him is what spurs me. Try as I may, and take what I can, I will never be ready to love Peeta.
Sometimes, that place is the woods. It becomes my safe haven as once it had, a warm expanse of rock beneath my bare back that heats me through and brings me to boil, the tartness of berries burst across my tongue and I taste him, who tastes of them in turn. The wilderness – our private expanse of everywhere and anywhere – stretches beneath us, unrestrained and unjudging. I never smile except when I am here.
I never smile at all.
There was once a time when I still believed I was in those woods, and those arms around me were as warm and cleansing as the brightest fire. I lingered there long enough to still smell the faintest hint of woodsmoke, and thought for sure that heartbeat was the strong, untamed rhythm I had always been dancing to. So when I hear those words - "You love me. Real or not real?" – I close my eyes and return to the woods, where Gale, and only Gale, will hear me say, "real".