Secret Hollows


. . . . .

Gale's gone when I wake up, and I vaguely recall him saying good bye and kissing me, though I must have been mostly asleep when it happened.

The sun is high in the sky now, and I stretch lazily as I get out of bed. I've almost made it to my door when I realize I'm clothesless. Memories of the night suddenly come flooding back to me: falling asleep in his arms, how he carried me to the bedroom, wrapping my legs around him in the tub, seeing each other naked before we got in…

Gale and I saw each other completely naked last night. I have to sit back down on my bed to process the thought.

I'd never seen a naked man before, I don't even think I'd ever really thought of it, but now that I have, I can't get the image out of my mind.

I've seen Gale...All of Gale...He looks...amazing...And he's seen all of me.

I instinctively pull my arms across my chest to hide myself even though no one is around to see me now. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I feel a smile break across my flushed cheeks as I remember his sharply defined muscles. I'd seen Gale shirtless a few times before, but I think he's put on more muscle working in the mines. I feel guilty for a second, realizing I'm reveling in the hard labors he's forced into, and I'm not sure if it's the shame I'm feeling or excitement that's beginning to burn within me.

I grab my shirt and pajama pants of my floor and throw them on before going downstairs. Images of Gale are playing before my mind: the slope of his shoulders, the hard line running down his chest, the shape of his abs, the curve of his hip bone… I never thought hip bones could be attractive, but I feel something rise within me as I remember tracing my finger along their edge, wanting to dip it deeper into their shadow, and I reach out slightly, remembering their curve when I practically run into my mother.

"Katniss," she says, jumping back a bit.

I have to take a deep breath and shake my head to reclaim the moment. "Oh...Hey...Sorry…"

"It's okay dear," she says as she looks me up and down. "I didn't hear you coming."

"Oh...ahh…" I stammer, looking for something to say as the image of Gale fades from my mind.

"Are you okay?" My mom asks, suddenly raising her hand to my forehead, "you seem flushed."

"Um, yeah," I say, suddenly recovering myself, "I'm fine, I'm just…"

I don't know what I am, and leave the sentence hanging. My mother looks me up and down, and I hope I'm not being transparent.

"I'm just about to go out to the woods," I say, turning to walk away and trying to appear nonchalant.

"In your pajamas?" she asks, luckily, before I get to the door.

"No," I say after I put a bit of distance between us, like she's crazy, "I'm going to have breakfast first." Obviously.

I don't wait to see how she reacts before spinning into the kitchen, not that it matters much, I reassure myself. I've certainly done weirder things.

. . . .

My aim has never been so lousy. After missing several squirrels, I finally hit one and call it a day.

. . .

When I get home, I have dinner with my mother and Prim. It's less awkward than I feared, and it's good to spend some time with my sister again.

. .

As I wait for Gale, my mind turns from sizzling with excitement as I remember his touch to shriveling with nerves as the questions that I've been avoiding all day swarm me.

Am I ready to sleep with Gale?

Technically, I've already slept with him.

Am I ready to make love with Gale?

I certainly know I love him.

Am I ready to have sex with Gale?

I do like everything we're already doing.

And isn't sex better than that?

Isn't it? Isn't it?

I don't actually know the answer to that and wish I hadn't slunk away whenever my classmates started to talk about it. Everyone always seemed so excited about it, and I remember Madge rushing from the lunch table to go hear her friend Lilah gossip about being with her boyfriend. "Do you want to come, Katniss?" She'd asked me, eyes dancing with some sort of light. I didn't understand much, but I knew by they way they said with that I didn't want to know more.

Now, I wish I'd went with them.

I'm able to convince myself that all their excitement and how good everything else feels,

Then what are you so nervous about, Katniss?

The question knocks me cold. I'm still trying to sort it out when I hear Gale come in.

"Hey," he say, his voice soft and sweet and deep, as he takes my face in his hands.

"Hey." I place mine over his and lean in to him. His kiss is soft and sweet and deep as well. "How was your day?"

He huffs, clearly not wanting to think about it.

"Is everything okay?"

"It is now," he says, kissing me again. I wrap my arms around his shoulders and our tongues entwine. My hands mess through his hair as his roam my back and eventually slide down to my waist. I feel his fingers flicker across my skin and building a flame within in me. I'm about to lie down on my bed and invite him on top of me when he pulls away, his lips leaving first and then his skin.

He looks me deep in the eyes and tucks my hair behind my ears.

"So, Catnip," he says, my eyes taking in his lips before my ears his words. He's crouching in front of me, his hands running up and down my arms. I link my fingers in his so he can't pull away. "Let's talk."

I huff a deep breath and look away. I'm still not sure what I want to talk about. "Would you believe me if I told you I don't want to talk?"

Gale laughs and leans in to kiss my forehead before taking a seat on my bed next to me. "Yes, but that doesn't mean we don't need to talk."

"What do you want to talk about?" I say, resigned.

"What you want."

I look at him accusingly. "Do you really think I know what I want?"

I hear laughter shake in his chest, and look up at him as he puts one of his strong arms around me. I hook my hand in his and he takes it up to his lips and kisses my fingers gently. I close my eyes and sigh. That feels so good.

I want him to continue, but he stops after he's placed a light kiss on each finger.

"What you want physically and emotionally..." he explains. The way his body moves, I know he's looking down at me, though I keep my eyes glued to our hands in my lap. "...from me."

"I don't know what you want me to say," I finally huff, getting a little annoyed because there are better things our lips could be doing.

"I need you to tell me what you like, and what you don't like," he says, scratching my scalp softly as I lean into him.

"I like everything we're doing," I respond, still not wanting to have this conversation, and I'd rather be doing that now, I think.

"But some things make you nervous," he says.

Technically, he's right, but since I haven't figured that out yet, I don't know what to say. "Yeah," I grumble. I don't know why he's insisting on focusing on the things I don't like when there are things I do like...

He waits, clearly wanting me to expand, but I remain silent. I don't know what he expects from me, he's had more experience with this than I have, he knows what he's doing, he knows what he wants. I don't know what he thinks I can tell him.

"Katniss," he finally says, his voice careful and measured, "has it occurred to you that I might be nervous too?"

No, actually, it hasn't. "What are you nervous about?" I ask, looking up at him.

"That I might make you uncomfortable or do something you don't like. That you won't tell me because you think you're doing what I want or that you owe me…"

It never occurred to me that that would bother him, and now I feel a little bit bad. "You're really worried about that?" I ask him.

"Of course I'm worried about that, Katniss." His words are rushed, sounding all the more urgent, more true.

I lean in and kiss him, deeply and fully on the mouth, pressing tightly against him and holding to him desperately. I, of course, know Gale loves me, but I need him to know how much he means to me, how much this means to me. I don't think anyone in my life has ever worried about me like that. Not my mother, who, for all her flaws, probably loves me. But that love has never stopped her from letting me get hurt. And not Peeta, who definitely says he loves me, though its never made him stop and question what I want. What I might Gale.

When I'm able to pull myself away, I tell him, "I love you," I say, and I struggle to keep my voice from breaking. "And I need you," I kiss him, messily this time, my mouth crashing into his, "and I want you," I say through another struggled breath. He wraps his arms around me, sensing my unease and giving me strength, stability. Someday, I'm going to have to ask him how he does this.

"Gale," I say, recovering myself, "I know you would do anything for me, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything for me, okay? I need you to trust me when it comes to us..."

As I look deep into his eyes as I twist myself in front of him, taking his hands in my face.

"I promise I'll tell you. You don't have to worry. You don't have to doubt or second guess me."

I see his eyes searching mine. They flinch at the words doubt and second guess. He doesn't think that's what he's doing. He'd probably use the words protect and look out for. But since he doesn't' say anything, he knows he can't refute me.

"You do trust me, right?" My tone is playful now, and I lean in and kiss his cheek, his forehead, his neck, everywhere but his lips. "Because, you know, you shouldn't have sex with people you don't trust."

"Is that so?" Gale's body shakes with quiet laughter, and he scoops me with one of his strong arms and turns me beneath him. His actions aren't exactly forceful, but commanding, and in a kind of way that causes a rush of excitement to pulse through me.

I bite my lip as I look up at him, anticipation building about where he'll touch me, where I want him to.

"I trust you," he say, his dark eyes burning, and he leans in to kiss me. "I just don't want to hurt you," he says between another kiss.

"You won't," I tell him because it's true. Everything else in this world might, but I know he never will.

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