. . . . .
"Wait, Gale," I finally say, "we need to be careful." I look around.
"I know," he sighs with a deep breath, leaning his head against mine, taking my chin in his hand, but he leans in and kisses me again. It's like he's pulling my breath out of me and putting it in to me at the same time.
"Gale," I smile, I put my finger to his lips this time. He even kisses it softly. "Gale," my voice sounds less determined now. I like how he's kissing my finger. I never thought I'd like kisses on my fingers. "Really, Gale," I look up to him, eyes pleading for I don't know what.
"I know," he says in a voice that shows he's in control of himself again. He exhales again and takes my hand in his hand this time and leads me home.
We quietly enter and go up to my room. Once I've safely shut the door I fall into him, on top of him, around him-I could use almost any preposition. Gale holds my face in his hands and lets his lips slide over me, each kiss taking a piece of me with him and giving me something back—something hot and alive. How can feeling so warm make me want to shiver? I don't know how that's possible.
You'd think that after all the hours I'd spent with Gale—watching him talk and laugh and frown—that I would know everything there was to know about his lips. It turns out, I didn't know a thing. They were warm and soft and delicate and strong, and they kiss my lips and neck and ears—I never thought I'd want someone to kiss my ears before or that I'd like it. It turns out, I do.
"Oh, Katniss," he says my name like he never has before, in a way that somehow pulls me into him. Another thing I learn his lips can do.
"Why didn't you ever do this before?" I ask him, I almost accuse him as I'm straddling him, my legs across his, his hands at my back, my waist, mine on his shoulders, his arms, his cheeks.
"Because you didn't want me to, remember?" He chuckles softly, holding my face. I look deep into his eyes and know he's right.
"Well, I didn't know it'd feel like this," I confess, wishing I had. I lean in and kiss him softly. His kiss seems like he's trying to hold on to me, but he lets me pull away and holds me tightly as I lie on his chest and listen to the strong beat of his heart.
I'm not sure at first if I want the sound to drown out my thoughts or if I want to let them in.
"Are you okay?" he asks, rubbing me slightly with his arm.
I nod my face across his chest and am not sure what to say. "I thought about you, a lot, in the Games," I say. "If it matters…"
"Of course it matters," he says, holding me tighter.
"Are you going to leave?" I ask, trying not to sound desperate.
He lifts my face up to his eyes and looks at me seriously. "You know I have to be at the mines in the morning," he says almost apologetically, "but I'll stay as long as you want until then."
I nod as if I understand and nuzzle myself closer as he holds me tighter and I wonder how much time we have until light.
. . . .
When I wake up, light streams into my room and I feel rested, though I startle for a second when I realize Gale was here and again now that he's gone. But I know he's working in the mines. He must not have woken me at all when he left, and I imagine him silently stealing away and slipping through the town, walking like a shadow in the dark.
I hear my mother downstairs so I go to shower to avoid her and I don't come out of the bathroom until the house is quiet. I go into the kitchen and am glad it's empty. I make myself some food before heading out. There's nowhere I have to be, nothing I have to do, so I find myself in the woods.
I've done my best all morning not to think of Gale. What I mean is, not to think about what Gale means, or more specifically, what kissing Gale means. Instead, I focus on how the kisses felt, and how I liked them, and how I want more. I think about his hands also, his beautiful, capable fingers, scarred, but strong and skilled and safe. Hands I want to hold me. Hands I want to have me. The only hands, I think, that can help me. I think of moments, memories, and not one bit about what any of it means. Because I don't know what any of it means, and trying to figure that out will only lead me to thinking about how it will all get messed up. I force every other name out of my brain but his and just think about how I want Gale with me to make everything feel not only right but good.
. . .
I'm already in bed, having insisted that I was too tired to get out of dinner with my family, when I hear the knock at the door and my mother and Prim friendly greet him. There's warmth and laughter sounded from the downstairs, and I realize how close they all must have gotten while I was gone. I'm almost tempted to get out of bed and peek when I hear Gale ascend the stairs. He rasps softly on the door and pushes it open.
"Hey," I say, suddenly realized I'm shrouded in the dark.
"Hey, Catnip," he sits beside me on the bed and I get up and curl next to him. He wraps his arm around me and I take one of his hands tightly in mine and he kisses me on my head. "What were you up to today?"
Soft laughter rattles in him. "You make it sound like that was more exhausting than what I did."
I want to tell him it was, but I stop myself, though I think he figures it out anyway. His hands are caressing my face and he looks at me and I want him to kiss me and take me away from all this, but he holds me instead. I cling to him for a few moments as he strokes me and I can hear his heart beating, his lungs breathing, and I can almost hear his mind thinking, and I want him to stop, so I reach up and kiss him, trying to pull him into me the way he pulled me into him. He kisses me, but breaks away. I should have known I wouldn't be able to do that—or that he wouldn't want to come in.
"Come on, Gale, kiss me, please," I lean in let our lips brush, "help me—"
"Help you what?"
I don't know what to say. "Don't you want this?"
"That depends on what this is."
I guess he spent today thinking also. "What do you mean?" I ask.
"Katniss," his hand cups my face again, "I don't want...I don't want to take advantage of you."
I have to stop myself from laughing. Take advantage of me? I don't even know what that means any more.
"I just," he says, kissing me softly and leaning his head to mine. I can feel his breath and tell he's struggling to hold something it. "I've wanted this for a long time, and I don't…"
I take his face in my hands this time, and look at him. There's hardly any space between us, only inches, though it's also an entire, unwritten world—one we could chart and conquer or maybe get lost in. I wonder if that's what he's afraid of.
"Are you trying to ask me where this will lead? What this will become?"
He doesn't answer, but he might as well have. All the names that I forced out of my brain earlier today are now in his. I watch him wrestle with them, juggle them, try to carry them all. He shouldn't have to.
"Gale," I say, and I say again until he's focused on me and lets everything else fade away. I entwine my hands in his and bring it up to my mouth, kissing each knuckle and nail. "You know I'm complicated." He laughs, and I smile as I take his other hand. "And it's complicated. It's all very complicated."
He sighs, and I know that means he hates it, that means he'd do anything he could to undo it, to make it right. But he can't. I know it, and he does too. I think he hates that more.
I take his face in my hands now and gently kiss it. His forehead, his nose, his cheeks, his chin.
"But I want you. I want this. I like it and I need it and I love you." He seems almost surprised that I said it. But I mean, I do, and I think he believes me.
"I love you too," he says, finally letting himself go. I can feel the composure, the control seep from his body, like a chord has been cut, he moves freer now, more fluid. He takes me in his strong arms and turns me, pulling me beneath him as he gently positions himself next to me.
"I know," I saw, almost with a small laugh.
He smiles too and shakes his head, his nose almost rubbing mine as he does.
We're kissing and touching, all hot breath, fingertips and skin. I've climbed on top of Gale, almost sitting on him, my hands tight on his shoulders and soft on his face, trying to take all of him in. Gale's lips have trailed form my mouth and down my neck, each one like a splash, or a sizzle, and I somehow imagine both water and fire, and while they should cancel each out, they combine and build into one another.
His hands have roamed across my back and settle at my hips, and I can tell he's not sure what to do with them, not letting them roam freely. They dance around the top of my pants, the skirt of my shirt.
"You can take it off," I say in a heady voice as I go in to nibble at his ear.
It turns out Gale likes his ears nibbled. I feel him shiver beneath me. It takes a moment for him to find himself, and I smile, liking this power I have over him.
"Oh, god, Katniss," he breaths. He grabs my face and kisses me almost fiercely, wildly lost for a few moments until he finds his way out of that urge, "Katniss," he says again, this time a bit more slowly, a bit more aware. I smile as I look down at him. "Do you want me to?" he finally says, his voice almost normal.
"You said if I want to. But do you want me to?"
I see what he's getting at now. Instead of saying anything, I lift myself up and throw my shirt off. I'm glad I pulled myself away so I could savor the look on Gale's face. I'd never thought about it before, but I think I've turned him on.
I know I've turned him on. He pulls himself out from under me and now we're both now sitting upwards in my bed. He looks at my like he's seeing me for the first time. His first touch is gently, tracing the line of my collar bone, trailing down my ribs, teetering at my hips, and turning back up across my stomach. He stops at my bra, and looks at me for permission. I nod desperately for him to take it off and he does. He smiles and moves in to kiss me, taking one of my nipples in his mouth. His other hand quickly finds my other breast, and he lets out a sound of deep satisfaction as he holds it, squeezing it slightly, as if introducing himself. Meanwhile, his tongue is flicking across my other nipple, and I wonder how this could be feeling any better for him than it is for me. My fingers run though his hair, and I have to be careful not to press him to tightly too me.
Once he's gotten to know my breasts, he hooks me with is arm and lays me down. I smile, looking up at him, and bit my lip as I tug the tail of his shirt, which is still unfairly on. Gale smiles and nods, as if conceding to my point and quickly rips his shirt off. I reach up slowly with a tentative finger, almost afraid to touch. I don't know why I imagine this skin will feel any different than his hands of face or arms. I trace the muscles on his chest, more defined that the last time I saw them, some summer ago when we were by a creek, I guess from working in the mines. His chest is too, as are his shoulders and arms, all stronger, harder. I wonder how he can be so soft with me.
I don't know how long I study his body, but my eyes finally go up to his eyes, and I bit my lip, as I seeing how patiently, yet desperately, he gave me my moment. I reach up for his face and he comes quickly down to me, out lips working frantically on the other.
Gale runs one of his hands up my arms, pulling one above my head and then back down to my breasts. His touch is so soft—I barely feel it on the top of my skin. I'm not even sure when he's touching me, yet somehow, I also feel it somewhere deep within me. Some secret space in my body I never knew existed before, a space I want to name after him.
His lips soon follow his hands, and again, my skin falls with sizzles and splashes, and I finally see how the fire and the water go together—to make steam. I can almost feel it rising off of me. I'd swear I could see it if I opened my eyes, mixing with our breath, coming in and out of us until we're all lost in this haze.
I'm already lost in it, I think—boundaries disappear and things all fade into one another. It's all breath and bodies. I'm not sure where Gale is touching me, only that he is, and my fingers are feeling his hair and the hard lines of his body.
"Katniss," he calls my name, both a suspiration and an invocation, making me look up at him. "Katniss," he says again, guiding me back from the field of sensation. I reach out to him, and his cups my hand against his face and smiles. "Katniss," he says again, almost as if it's difficult, "how much do…how far do you want to go?"
Oh, I hadn't thought about that, and I think he sees that on my face. My eyes run from his face down to his chiseled chest and then to his belt and then below, and I suddenly see something I've never seen before, or never noticed at least, and somehow I know what that means even though I never recall learning about it.
"I think I'm ready," I tell him, eyes back to his.
"You think?" he says softly, and I nod. He smiles and exhales, giving himself a moment. He takes my hand, still in his, and brings it to his mouth and kisses it softly. "Why don't we wait until you know so, okay?"
I turn, looking at him like I don't quite understand. I'm not sure if I'm angry or thankful.
He scoots off of me gently and lies down next to me, kissing my shoulder and folding me into him. His arm drapes across my chest, bringing my back tightly to his chest, and he pulls the hair off of my ear and kisses it softly while one of his hands dances across my chest, stirring up sensation on my skin, in my stomach. I finally turn to face him. I am thankful.
I lean in and kiss him, our lips hot and heavy and soft at the same time. I then pull myself to his chest and nuzzle, as I could tuck myself into the space between us and disappear.
"You should probably get to sleep soon…since you have to work in the morning?"
He huffs and looks like nothing is less important to him in the world.
"Wake me up before you go?" I can tell he doesn't understand why I want him to, his natural instinct being to let me sleep. "Promise you will?" I say, shaking him slightly as if show the importance.
"Yeah, of course." He tilts my chin to him and kisses me again, deeply and completely.
He then pulls me on him, and our legs and other limbs entangle, his thumb brushing across my arm and my fingers tracing circles on his chest as we both fall asleep.
I feel Gale move and open my eyes to see the shadows only slightly muted in the faint pre-dawn light.
"I've got to go," he says, crouching next to me, one hand stroking my cheek and the other in my hair.
"Did you get enough sleep?" I ask as if it mattered.
He leans in and kisses me and his mouth is wet and hot.
"I'll be back tonight, okay?"
I nod, trying to hold his breath in me as he leaves.