The sun has barely risen and neither have her hopes. Every time for a long time now she has waited for the little bit of sadness that should come with bidding a lover goodbye; she hasn't felt it in a long time.
There's a single orange line of light across the bedspread, filtering through the gap in the too thin curtains. Gale sets his bag on the table and slips his phone into his pocket along with a packet of cigarettes he'll forget about later when he's queuing up to buy more expensive ones; apparently you can only get the best in Europe. He wants to fix his hair again but can't turn on the light in case he wakes his wife. It's 6 o'clock when he glances back towards the dressing table, he pads over softly and kisses Katniss, asleep and wrapped up in the sheets. She stirs and reaches out, threads fingers round his tense neck.
"You're going?" her voice is worn with sleep and cracks slightly; her mascara is smudged ungracefully - she obviously forgot to take it off again last night. Gale kisses her and grazes his nose softly against the soft skin of her cheek, breathing in the worn down smell of leftover perfume and soap.
"I'll be back before you know it."
He says the same thing every time and Katniss wonders why she even wakes up anymore for this.
Katniss manages a smile in the dark and runs her palm over the stubble she wishes was there - it reminds her of when they were 16 and Gale would let his beard grow for weeks. He said it was to annoy his mother but once she'd told him she thought it suited him, she was fairly certain he grew it for her.
She sees Gale's eyes glisten in the dark with the guilt that Katniss knows is there but that he shouldn't feel. She has suspected for a while what happens when he leaves. She turns her head away; to hide the emotion behind her eyes. Gale told her once he could read her like a book and she's afraid he'll see the guilt on her own face - he won't though. He stopped being able to read her a long time ago.
He shuts the door quietly and makes his way downstairs. She can hear the sound of the tap running in the kitchen before the front door shuts too and Gale's car drives away from the house.
Katniss doesn't realise that she's fallen asleep again until she wakes up and sees the clock blinking nine. She reaches for her book on the table beside the bed. She only manages a few pages before it ends up on the floor among a pile of discarded clothing. She opens the window and welcomes the cool summer breeze into the door; it wraps around the soft tendrils of hair escaping from her braid and makes them quiver.
She likes California - how the sun feels on her skin, the cheeriness that the lack of cold provides and the feel of the sand on her feet when she walks on the beach. It dawned on her some time ago though, that maybe it was the familiar squeeze of her hand in his, the feel of lips against her own as the waves crested over their skin, how the sunlight would catch Gale's hair just right and bring out the few threads of dark blonde, that it was all of these things that made her fall in love with California originally ten years ago. She had been so young, still only 18, her mind so fresh with new romance and caught up in the excitement of their new marriage.
"It's going to be great. You'll love California. And my new job will have us not wanting for anything ever again, I promise. It won't be like home. We'll have everything we ever wanted."
She didn't tell him then that all she wanted was him. A car accident had claimed the life of her mother and father and baby sister when she was only young. Her grandmother passed away just the day after Katniss 18th birthday and her arrival into adulthood, having raised her grand daughter from age 6. She had met Gale when she was just 15. He felt like the first true friend she ever had. When he kissed her on her 17th birthday she smiled and kissed him back. He was her chance for love, for permanency and stability and all she ever wanted.
Or so she had thought.
Gale likes Madrid better than anywhere else. He learnt to speak the language a long time ago, he likes the restaurants better, the culture and the people. When he steps off the plane into the Spanish sunshine he can't quite help but feel like he's been holding his breath the entire time and he's finally getting to exhale. He fell out of love with Los Angeles quickly the more they sent him to Madrid.
He takes off his sunglasses the moment he sees her outside the airport, her long blonde hair glistens in the sun. Most of the time he actually is in Madrid on business, and even when he isn't Katniss believes he is anyway. He still never looks her in the eye though when he tells over dinner about his latest business trip. Madge greets him in Spanish, kissing him quietly on the cheek before taking his darker, larger hand in hers. She starts talking enthusiastically about something that one of her students did that morning in class and he smiles, watching her expressive face and beautiful smile as they walk towards the cab. He couldn't help but compare them from the start, - she's so different to Katniss. Her open heart and welcoming eyes are truthfully what drew him to her initially, it was only later he noticed her beauty and the way she made his heart skip in a way Katniss never did. Katniss' eyes are grey and stormy and all they seem to remind him of now is the tension in their marriage, awkward dinner conversation and perfunctory love making. When he is honest with himself, his best memories of he and Katniss's relationship are from before they moved. Before he kissed or vowed in front of a room full of people to be true to her. Madge's eyes are glistening pools of blue and hold all the promise in the world of love and hope and second chances.
They always walk hand in hand in the streets of Madrid; the smart business man in his suit with the beautiful girl next to him in her sun dress. They shop in the finest places; jewelers designer clothing stores and vintage accessory shops. He always buys something in one of these places, rarely for Madge, which he has gift wrapped. He puts the parcel in his pocket or bag every time and she smiles at him and doesn't ask who its for. Everything they are is based on the things they don't say, or more pointedly, the things he won't say.
Katniss watches him her balcony, sipping her coffee and occasionally breaking off pieces of her breakfast. She flips carefully through her magazine, never looking at it though. This is her morning routine. She watches him as the muscles in his shoulders roll beneath his crisp white shirt and his friendly voice echoes up to the floor above as he interacts with customers. She catches him glancing quickly up; not enough for anyone but her to notice, and she does.
Not too long after she hears the knock on the door and inhales loudly and quickly without realising before opening the door. His blue eyes sparkle and he smiles before stepping inside and leaving the package on the tabletop. He's cut his hair she realises a little sadly. She liked how it started to curl a little as it grew longer, especially now in the summer when it was turning continuously more golden in the sunlight.
"Thanks," He says quietly, taking the offered glass of water from her and draining it, "it's so damn hot out there." She smiles at him and takes the glass from him, their fingers brushing and a gentle blush breaking out over his cheeks as she watches him.
"Away. Like always." She interrupts. He clears his throat and stands, watching her, arms twitching by his sides as though he can't decide what to do with them. He clears his throat and opens his mouth, anything to break the thick tension in the room.
"So I just brought you your usual ..."
He reaches for the parcel on the table but is stopped by her fingers wrapped around his wrist pulling tighter by the second. Katniss kisses hard him, presses him against the counter and threads her fingers through his hair and thinks she can faintly smell cinnamon today before she stops thinking altogether.
"I wish we could do this all the time." She smiles and runs her fingers throug his dark hair before trailing her fingers down and running her thumb over the smudge of her pink lip balm on his jaw.
Gale smirks and takes a drag of his cigarette.
"I'd only break your heart."
Madge makes him feel like he is a teenager again sometimes; his stomach feels funny when he catches her gazing at him, her eyes filled with something he has never saw in those of his wife. When he runs his hands over her breasts and her waist and down the curves of her hips he can hardly believe his luck. She always laughs lightly and writhes when he strokes her inner thigh and he can't think of any sound he loves more. She lets herself be wrapped in his arms, him stroking her hair and pressing his nose into it. She makes him feel needed in the best way possible.
He puts out his cigarette and kisses her softly before they lay down to go to sleep.
Katniss could settle for his this she thinks, if one day Gale were never to return (that thought scares her but not in the way that it should), as Peeta moves above her. The air from the now wide open window wraps itself round their naked bodies as they move in rapture. Peeta's breath vibrates against Katniss's shoulder as she comes quietly, she can hear his breathing grow ragged and his movements less steady as he groans into her ear before finishing with a final push. He rolls off of her and sits up reaching for his jeans.
She watches him as he awkwardly puts his clothes back on, pale skin flushed pink and blonde hair sticking up in all directions as he pull his Mellark's bakery shirt over his head. Peeta turns round and grins at her, carefree, wistful and something else and Katniss is momentarily jealous. He leans over to kiss her, awkwardly pausing before pressing his lips shakily against hers. She smiles at him, his shyness despite what just transpired.
"I order a lot of bread and buns for such a small girl," She says after as they stand in the kitchen.
Peeta frowns and takes the cup of tea she hands to him.
"That's what Gale said to me a while ago."
Peeta smiles sadly and glances guiltily at the floor. She reaches for his hand and strokes his fingers. She tells him not to think about it too much, though she knows he does. She catches him looking at her sometimes, the look that makes her stomach feel something that's not quite fear but not quite excitement either.
"You fancy going to see a movie tonight or something?" Peeta looks hopeful and Katniss feels his hope break as she declines him politely.
"I...I'm sorry I couldn't."
Peeta smiles a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes, chants a polite "never mind then" and Katniss feels awful. Not for turning down the offer, but because she wants to go but can't. The though of going is just too much for her, because they aren't friends or anything even close to that. Peeta is just the man who works in his brother's bakery, who deliver's goods every single day with a smile and a laugh, who fucks her sometimes everyday for a week until her husband returns. Truthfully Katniss didn't have a proper conversation with him until after the third time when she got a phone call while Peeta had his head between her legs and she had to explain that it was her husband calling her.
He kisses her softly on the mouth like he always does before he leaves but just as she thinks he's about to pull away he tilts his head and pulls her tighter against him, his tongue slipping into her mouth steady and passionately as the fire from it licks its way through her body.
"I'll see you soon," he smiles as he says it before he leaves.
She meets him that evening after all. They watch a movie and go out for dinner and have one too many glasses of wine and end up back at his apartment. It's the first time shes ever been there but she doesn't get much of a look at it as he pulls her through it, kissing her frantically as she tries desperately to unbutton his shirt.
They make love on cool blue sheets that smell of him, her on top of him gripping the headboard and rolling her hips as he presses his fingers into her soft flesh. He comes with his mouth on her breast, his fingers pressing into her clit as she pants his name and falls over the edge with him. They do it twice more after that. Once when Katniss goes to wash up and ends up sitting on the bathroomcounter with Peeta's tongue licking her to ecstasy before turning her over and fucking her over the sink. A second time when he tries to fall asleep and her tickling him awake ends up with her legs over his shoulders as he thrusts into her with wild abandon. She stays the night and is gone before Peeta wakes. She presses a kiss to her fingers as she is leaving, presses them against his heart and smiles. She feels it then, the sadness that comes with bidding someone you love goodbye.
She strips off all her clothes the second she gets home and washes them, panicking that some trace of her deceit will remain. No amount of water and soap can erase it from memory though.
Madge bids Gale farewell at the airport kisses him desperately, her small hands clutching the lapels of his jacket. Gale's heart stops when she whispers "I love you" against his mouth. He wants to say it back so badly but he can't. Not yet. He kisses her again, pushing all his emotions into the pressing of his lips to hers, gathering all his strength to convince himself to walk through the airport doors. When he glances back at her from inside the terminal she's still watching him, waiting already for when he returns. He smiles back.
Gale returns in the early hours of the morning, just like when he left. He finds Katniss asleep as though she's never moved since he left. His heart contracts painfully and he climbs in with his clothes still on, wraps his arms around the sound body. Katniss exhales in her sleep. They lay close, their dreams filled with hopes and thoughts of the next time they are apart.