Disclaimer: Just a poor teenager procrastinating on her 12.5 hours of homework left.
This was meant to go up Sunday, but this is literally the only time I've had in the past four days to go over it and edit (best friend's bday, mucho time consuming). But at least it was only a week and two days this time, right? … :)
Happy (early) Birthday Laura! This chapter's for you. :D
Hope you enjoy!
When I wake up the smell of blood is pungent in the air—the sick, metallic odor choking my throat and nose and making it hard to breathe. My hands fan out and hit something warm and sticky. Realization dawns on me, and I have to hold myself back from throwing up.
Memories from the other day—or at least I think it was just yesterday—rush back to me. The sugar berries that weren't really sugar berries at all, but sleeping serum. The feast. Katniss.
And then I sit up abruptly because the smell of blood can only mean one thing. Katniss is back and something went wrong.
The sky is rosy, the setting sun providing enough light to be able to see the surrounding forest for miles. The light also illuminates the inside of the cave, giving a picturesque feeling to the image of Katniss sprawled in a golden halo of her own blood.
My heart stutters and then pounds harder than I've ever thought possible. "Katniss?" I call out quietly, hopefully. The blood rushes in my ears, and everything becomes still.
I crawl forward until I'm sitting next to her. With a shaking hand, I reach my fingers for her pulse, wishing—desperately hoping—that I will find something there. Because if I don't it's all over for me. There'll be nothing left.
My relief is so great that I feel tears prick my eyes as my fingers find a beat and then another. Slow and unsteady, but there.
"Oh, Katniss," I choke out, my throat closing up. "What have you done for me?" I push back her hair, the sticky, soaked strands clumping together, and try to make out where the wound is located.
And it's nearly impossible. My hands are slick with her blood in a matter of seconds, and the sun is setting, and the light is disappearing, and I'm just too flustered to function, let alone try to save a life.
But then I force myself to breathe, to calm down. To think. Because I have got to staunch the blood flow, and I've got to save her.
I stumble toward her backpack by the entrance of the cave, barely registering that I feel almost no pain in my leg, and rip out the first aid kit. I stay in the opening, where the light is the greatest, and sort through what I have.
A roll of bandages, the fever pills, the burn ointment, and some of those magical green leaves. Not much at all.
I crawl back to Katniss and grasp her waist, gently maneuvering her out of the pool of blood. With her flat on the dry ground, I begin to work quickly. Night is coming, and I know I can't afford to lose anymore time.
Who knows what happened at the feast. Cato and Clove could be on our trails this very second. I can't imagine that whoever gave her this wound would let her run away, unless…unless—I don't want to think about it. But the thought lingers at the back of my brain. Dark and sinister.
I use the water canteens to wash the blood from her face and from the strands of hair around her forehead. I don't dare wash out more of her hair, knowing that there'd be no way for it to dry before night set in.
With the blood gone, I can see the cuts on her face. A deep one right above her right eyebrow that looks like it came from a knife, and then a small knick at the corner of her mouth.
It's the first one that is causing all the blood loss, even now, hours later it is still steadily gushing blood. I try to remain calm, and to think rationally. Head wounds always bleed more profusely than other body wounds. There's nothing to worry about. I wrap it up tightly with the bandages, and the whole thing looks a lot more manageable covered in the white gauze.
Her boots are sopping wet, and I chide myself for not noticing earlier. I take them off quickly, as with her socks, and pile them in the corner of the cave, spreading them out to dry. Her feet are a frightening pale color, so I try to rub some warmth into them. Frostbite is not an option here. It would be a death sentence. When her toes start to turn pink again, I wrap them in my jacket, and then slowly—I'm still weaker than I want to be—I'm able to get her into the sleeping bag.
It's then with the imminent danger passed that I finally notice the lack of pain in my leg and the used needle on the ground by my feet. So she did manage to get the medicine.
That's just great. Now when she wakes up—because she will, I tell myself, she has to—she'll just be even more encouraged that she did the right thing. I sigh and roll my eyes, knowing that it will be nearly impossible to argue with her now that the Capitol medicine saved my life.
The trumpets blare, startling me, and I move quickly to the entrance of the cave. I have no idea what to expect. There's been no canon since I woke up, but then again, I was unconscious for twenty-four hours. You never know, maybe Cato and Clove and Thresh all simultaneously destroyed each other while fighting at the Cornucopia. Hey, it could happen.
But then Clove's sneering face appears and stays, and I'm disappointed but still curious. The cuts on Katniss' faces were definitely from a knife, and the only person I know to carry one beside myself is Clove. They're her specialty.
And I doubt Foxface—or whatever her name is—would take the offensive and attack Katniss. And Thresh, I guess I don't know much about him, but he seems like he'd rely more on brute strength over anything else. Cato, I know, favors the spear.
So it had to be Clove that Katniss fought. It's really the only thing that makes sense.
I turn to look back at her, and she looks so small and helpless that it's hard to imagine her being capable enough to kill a Career, let alone anyone for that matter. She shivers, as if to enforce her helpless image, and I move back beside her.
The bitter wind bites into my skin, and I start to miss the protection of my jacket.
Honestly, I swear that the Gamemakers have started to play around with us. Ratcheting the heat up during the day to insanely hot temperatures, and then to near freezing point during the nights. Just another warning of how close to the end we are.
I realize that now that I'm one of the top five tributes left, my family must be in the limelight, as will be Katniss' mother and sister.
My father must be so proud—I think happily—that I finally have what I've always wanted. Although I hope he refrains from telling all of Panem about my patheticness during his interview with Claudius Templesmith.
I wonder what my brothers think, I mean, I never had a girlfriend back home or anything, nor did I ever tell them about Katniss. They always joked around and said they feared that I might be playing for the other team—if you get what I'm saying—because all I liked to do was decorate cakes and draw. Well, I think smugly, look who's talking now.
I smile to myself, thinking about my family. But then Katniss gives a particularly violent shudder, and I'm instantly back in the Games, back in the cold, dreary cave, and back with a badly wounded, unconscious girl who doesn't seem to comprehend the fact that losing her would kill me too.
Her teeth chatter loudly in the silence, and I glance at her worriedly. Even with the sleeping bag she seems to be freezing. I consider risking a fire but then decide against it. I'm still too weak to fight off Cato or Thresh if they were to follow the smoke here, and plus, I have nothing to start a flame with.
I quickly come to the conclusion that the only way either of us is going to make it through the night is if I get in the bag with her, and I feel my cheeks redden as the realization sinks in.
It seems too personal, like I'll be invading her space and she'll have no say in it. But then I remember that she's completely out of it and that the weather is simply freezing and that, well, maybe I've always wondered what it would be like to sleep next to her—either way, I swiftly get over my discomfort.
It's slow work maneuvering myself into the sleeping bag without disturbing her, but I manage. She's still shivering, and her lips look almost blue in the dark. I place her face to my chest, and wrap my arms protectively around her waist, pulling her closer to my warmth.
My heart's beating fast, and it's not because I'm scared for her—though I am, a lot—it's because I've never been this close to someone before. And it's new and exciting and terrifying and so many other things that I don't know what to think anymore.
Katniss sighs loudly and snuggles closer to me. I stare down at the face of the girl who has changed my life in so many ways and can't help but feel at peace. Despite the cold and the danger and the wounds, I feel happy. Whole. Complete, even. Like nothing could go wrong.
Wrapping my arms tighter around her, I vow—once again—to never let anything harm her, before allowing myself to drift off to sleep.
I wake up to the splatter of rain drops on my face and then groan quietly. Of course, it would start to rain. It's early morning, the sun not even over the horizon yet, and bitterly cold. Another raindrop falls on my head, and then drips onto Katniss. Her eyebrows clench together, before smoothing out.
Slowly, I manage to untangle myself from her arms without waking her up. I grab a long piece of plastic from Katniss' bag and wedge it between the holes in the rocks above the sleeping bag. Satisfied that she's safe from the water, I pull the covers more snugly around her sleeping form, and then go about finding food.
For the first time in what feels like weeks, I actually am hungry. The emptiness in my stomach is painful, and I fish around in her bag for something. I sigh happily as I find some of the meat she had been trying to get down me for the past few days and a few dried apple slices. I force myself to eat it slowly, though all I want to do is stuff my face full.
The storm gets worse, and soon I can hear thunder crashing and I see lightning striking beyond the trees. Storms like these don't come without reason in the arena, and I can't help but be idly curious of who it is meant for.
When I'm done eating, I lean against the wall beside Katniss, and roll up the leg of my pants. I'm shocked by what I see, but then I remind myself that the medicine had been from the Capitol and so, of course, it would be able to work miracles. The red streaks that had ominously been working their way up my leg are now gone, as with most of the swelling. It actually looks pretty much healed, except for the jagged scar.
I attempt to walk on it, and am pleasantly surprised to find that it actually doesn't hurt that bad. In fact, it hardly hurts at all. I grab the empty water bottles and set them outside the entrance, letting the rain fill them up, rather than getting drenched by running to the stream. At least this way I won't need to purify them.
Katniss stirs in her sleep beside me, and I can tell she is close to waking up. Gently, I stroke the hair away from her face. "Katniss," I say quietly. "Katniss, can you hear me?"
Her gray eyes open abruptly, alarmed, before softening again. "Peeta," she says simply, her voice weaker than normal.
"Hey," I say smiling, happier than words now that I know that she'll be all right. "Good to see your eyes again."
"How long have I been out?" she questions sheepishly, not meeting my eyes.
"Not sure," I respond. "I woke up yesterday evening and you were lying next to me in a very scary pool of blood." I pause, fingering her bandage. "I think it's stopped finally, but I wouldn't sit up or anything."
Gingerly, she reaches forward to touch for herself. Noticing how parched her lips are, I reach behind me for one of the now full bottles of water, helping to pour some into her mouth. She drinks greedily, before her eyes wander up my form, slightly surprised.
"Much better," I tell her kindly. I had wanted to scold her as soon as she woke up, to explain to her that under absolutely no circumstances was she to ever risk her life like that again for mine, but I don't have the heart too. She looks so weak and pitiful, that I decide to wait until later. "Whatever you shot into my arm did the trick. By this morning, almost all of the swelling in my leg was gone."
She nods. "Did you eat?"
I look down at my lap, ashamed that I ate so much food when we don't have that much to spare. "I'm sorry to say I gobbled down three pieces of that groosling before I realized that it might have to last awhile," I say quickly. "Don't worry," I continue. "I'm back on a strict diet."
"No, it's good," she tries to reassure me. "You need to eat. I'll go hunting soon." Her voice is so tired and she is so weak, yet there she goes again trying to protect me. Like I'm the one with the head injury.
I grin at her. "Not too soon, all right?" I say lightly. "You just let me take care of you for a while."
Surprisingly, she allows me to feed her some dried fruit and a little bit of the groosling. I make sure she drinks a full container of water, and then laugh when she pulls a face at me.
"Hey, now," I say still chuckling. "You forced me to drink two full bottles of that stuff, so I'm actually being nice."
She humphs in mock anger and looks away. She's shivering again, even harder than last time, so I use my hands to warm up her feet .
"Your boots and socks are still damp and the weather's not helping much," I tell her as I pull the sleeping bag as high up around her chin as it will go. I watch as her eyes travel to the opening in the roof, and I look up also to see a bolt of lightning flash across. "I wonder what brought on this storm?" I think aloud. "I mean, who's the target?"
"Cato and Thresh," Katniss says instantly, a flash of pain swifter than the lightning shooting across her face. "Foxface will be in her den somewhere, and Clove…she cut me and then…" her voice trails off, and I fear I know what she's about to say.
"I know Clove's dead," I tell her softly, trying to reassure her that I don't care. "I saw her in the sky last night. Did you kill her?"
"No," she says, and relief fills me, though I try to squash it down. "Thresh broker her skull with a rock."
I grimace, because even if it was Clove, a ruthless killer, no one really deserves that slow and painful death. "Lucky he didn't catch you, too," I say with a relieved sigh.
She looks almost sick, "He did," she says quietly, and the sigh catches in my throat. I feel my heart stop, and then come back to life even louder. "But he let me go."
My chin drops, and she grimaces at my expression, as if dreading having to explain, but knowing that there's no way to avoid it. I stay silent as she starts her story, my mind still blown away at the thought that Thresh, a boy who's capable of smashing a Career's head in, would even consider letting such an offensive player like Katniss go.
"You know the night that the Careers had me trapped up in the tree?" she starts awkwardly, looking away.
I nod, wincing at the thought that I had been with them, and completely helpless toward helping her.
Her silver eyes are clouded, and the look on her face is so wretched that I reach out and grab her hand, twining our fingers together encouragingly. Her mouth twitches imperceptibly, but her eyes—when I look up at them—are gracious.
"Well," Katniss continues, a little stronger now. "Rue, the girl tribute from 11, was up there, too, in the tree next to mine. She was the one that showed me the tracker jacker nest, and well, you know the rest of that part."
I smile slightly at her, to express without words that I don't hold her to what she had to do to ensure her survival, but she's not looking at me again. I mean, her eyes are staring at me, but she's not seeing me, if that makes sense, she's too far gone in her memories.
I take a moment to really look at her. The dark bags she had under her eyes a few days ago are gone now, but she still looks exhausted, and that worries me. Especially now that she's injured.
My gaze falls down to our interlocked hands, and I can't help but smile remembering the first time I held them at the Reaping ceremony. It's only been a couple of weeks, but it feels like another lifetime ago, so much has changed.
"But what you don't know is that the poison knocked me out for a few days," Katniss says, pulling me from my thoughts. "And when I woke up, I wasn't in the best of shape. I couldn't remember what types of leaves drew out the tracker jacker poison; though I knew my mother had used them, so I was still very weak. "
"Honestly," Katniss says smiling softly for the first time. "Rue probably saved my life. She found me and treated my stings—"
"With those magical green leaves?"
She laughs, and I grin, achieving my goal. "Yes, Peeta, with the magical green leaves." Katniss pauses, the laughter slowly draining from her face. "During that night and the next morning," she says quietly. I stroke her wrist comfortingly with my thumb, though I don't think she notices. "We came up with a rough plan to get rid of the Career's food supply. You see, Rue had been spying on their camp for days before we allied together—"
Her previous words leave an impact on me, more so than the others. Only because I can remember times when I felt like I was being watched back at the camp, and I can't help but wonder if that was Rue. If it wasn't just paranoia I was feeling, but actually someone watching me. I let the thought slide, as Katniss continues to talk.
"Our plan was relatively simple. She'd light a couple of fires to distract the Careers, and I'd go to the camp and find a way to destroy the supplies. Only, when I got there, it turned out to be a little more complex than I had originally planned."
"You mean the landmines," I interrupt, nodding. "It's lucky you didn't try taking anything before you figured it out."
She shrugs. "Yeah, well, it wasn't too hard," she says modestly. "I watched Foxface maneuver her way through it carefully, and it was easy to guess that it was some sort of booby trap by the way she was acting. Rue had told me that the District Three boy had been working with them, so it was pretty much just putting two and two together."
It feels like a punch in the gut when she mentions Obel, and I have to breathe deeply to stop myself from attacking her with questions. Was Obel there? How did he look? Was he hurt?
But I manage to stop myself, because now is not the time for that, as much as I want it to be.
"I managed to shoot down a bag of apples," Katniss continues. "And, luckily, they hit the landmines just right and all of them went off. The only problem was I wasn't expecting them to be so powerful. The force sent me flying back and popped my left eardrum."
I look up at her, surprised. "Is it deaf?"
She nods, her hands clawing at it irritatingly, as if trying to force the sound through. "It's hard to get used to," she admits warily. "But I'm managing. Anyways," she moves on, her tone faster now, as if she just wants to get done with it. "I slept underneath a bush a hundred feet away from their camp because I couldn't make it away in time."
Katniss looks up and sees my horrified face, and she spares me a smile. It does little to help my mood. "Don't worry. They weren't staying at camp. Cato led them off in the woods to try and find the person who wrecked their plans. Little did he know I was a mere spear-throw away from him the entire time," she says in such an uncharacteristically smug voice, that I can't help but chuckle. She grins back at me and I have the sudden urge to kiss her. But she starts talking again and the moment is gone.
"By morning, I was well enough to walk again, and I made it to the spot where Rue and I were supposed to meet up. She wasn't there, but I didn't think much of it," she says softly. "I figured she was stuck in a tree, but after a few hours I decided to go after her."
She stops talking for a second, her eyes dark with memory, her hands—I think unknowingly—are gripping mine tighter. I'm reminded of the Opening Ceremony, and when her touch was the only thing keeping me grounded; and I hope that right now that's what I'm being for her. I don't say anything, and I don't think she wants me to.
Eventually, after just a few more moments, she removes her hand from mine and rubs her face tiredly. "When I found her…it was too late. The boy from One—"
"Marvel," I say in distaste. Katniss ignores me.
"—was there, I watched him put a spear through her. I killed him, but…but the damage was done. She died in my arms," she says it so quietly and so defeatedly, that I feel myself break. I hold my arms out, and she leans into me, pressing her face against my neck. "It was terrible, Peeta," she whispers in my ear, too low for the cameras. "She was just like Prim, so innocent." I press a kiss to her forehead, trying to console her.
"They sent me bread," she says a little while later. "District 11. I remembered from that lesson you gave me on the different types of bread." Inwardly, I grin at the memories of our awkward, forced lunchtime chats. Outwardly, I continue to stroke her hair and stay silent.
I've never heard of it before, a District of a dead tribute sending a gift to a remaining contestant of another District. I bet it was unprecedented, a matter of great gossip for all of Panem. But that's exactly what I've been trying to say for the past few weeks.
Katniss has an effect on people. She always has. Even back home and being from the Seam, everyone she knew looked up to her. Even some she didn't know. Because she was the girl who had nothing, yet lived like she had everything.
After a few minutes, I feel and hear Katniss take a deep breath, as if forcing herself back to reality. She pulls away, her face emotionless, as if that brief moment of weakness had never happened.
"At the feast," she finally starts again. "Clove managed to stun me. I don't know how she knew about me and Rue being allies, maybe she guessed from my expression that it was a sore spot, either way, she was about to kill me before Thresh pulled her off. He had heard her talking about Rue, and thought she had been the one to kill her. Clove tried to deny it, but he smashed her skull in once she started calling out for Cato. "
Katniss looks down at her lap. "And so Thresh asked me if it was true, if we had really been allies, and I told him we had. And he let me go so that we would be even, and so that he wouldn't owe me anything anymore."
I can't help but stare at her in disbelief. "He let you go because he didn't want to owe you anything?" It just doesn't make sense. We're all here to fight to the death on live television. There's no room for debt. It's kill or be killed.
"Yes," Katniss says dismissively. "I don't expect you to understand it. You've always had enough. But if you'd lived in the Seam, I wouldn't have to explain."
I bristle at her comment, annoyed by her assumption that because I come from the town that it automatically means I had some sort of pampered life. "And don't try," I say scornfully. "Obviously I'm too dim to get it."
Katniss sighs, her hands wringing in her lap. "It's like the bread," she says finally. "How I never seem to get over owing you for that."
"The bread? What?" I'm confused for a second, and then comprehension crashes down on me. "From when we were kids?" My anger disappears as memories from that rainy day come flying back. I push them away, not wanting to relive them over now. "I think we can let that go," I say. "I mean, you just brought me back from the dead."
She shakes her head. "But you didn't know me. We had never even spoken," she pauses, as if regaining her thought. "Besides, it's the first gift that's always the hardest to pay back. I wouldn't even have been here to do it if you hadn't helped me then." Her eyes travel to mine, catching them, searching them. "Why did you, anyway?"
"Why?" I ask, my eyebrows raised, surprised. "You know why."
Katniss shakes her head once sharply.
I sigh, and roll my eyes, immediately remembering the conversation I had with Haymitch right before the Games started. "Haymitch said you would take a lot of convincing," I mean to say it to myself, but she still hears it—which is pretty surprising considering she's deaf in the left ear.
"Haymitch?" she asks out right confused by now. "What's he got to do with it?"
"Nothing," I say, shaking my head in defeat, and deciding to just let it go for now. "So, Cato and Thresh, huh?" I change the subject quickly, ready to move on to a less awkward conversation. "I guess it's too much to hope that they'll simultaneously destroy each other?" I smile, attempting a joke.
She doesn't laugh like I expect her to. Instead, she says in a small voice, "I think we would like Thresh. I think he'd be our friend back in District Twelve."
I would agree with her, but that would be pointless. It's wishful thinking, something that's never going to happen. "Then let's hope Cato kills him, so we don't have to."
Her entire demeanor changes to one of sadness. Not obviously, of course, for all of Panem to see. But I can see, and that's all that really matters anyways. Wetness pricks at her eyes, and then I'm really concerned, because I can't remember ever seeing her cry before, and it scares me. A lot. If Katniss is breaking, someone who's always seemed unbreakable, what hope is left? But then I push that thought away because it's ugly and wrong and something that will never happen. Katniss can't break.
"What is it?" I ask her gently. "Are you in a lot of pain?"
A tear leaks out of her eye, and I feel my heart break a thousand times. "I want to go home, Peeta," she says, and she sounds so much like a child, so lost and scared, that I want to wrap her in my arms and never let go.
"You will," I tell her instead with mighty conviction. "I promise." And leaning down, I place a soft kiss on her lips.
Katniss frowns, unsatisfied with my answer. "But I want to go home now," she whines.
"Tell you what," I smile. "You go back to sleep and dream of home. And you'll be there for real before you know it. Okay?"
She seems a little bit more reassured. "Okay," she whispers back. "Wake me if you need me to keep watch."
"I'm good and rested, thanks to you and Haymitch," I say, letting her know that, for now at least, I won't be harping on her for knocking me out. "Besides," I continue, motioning to the rain and the brief respite it gives us. "Who knows how long this will last?"
I lean back against the wall as Katniss falls asleep beside me, and think about how close we really are to the end now. How in just a matter of days, everything could be totally different. We could be in the Capitol, the first pair of District winners ever. Or, you know, if you wanted to be extremely optimistic, we could even be on our way back home to District 12.
I sigh, and for the first time since being Reaped, I allow myself to think about returning home and actually living. It's a nice change.
When I wake Katniss up again, a few hours later, the storm is at its worse. The rain is torrid and icy and leaks through the small holes in our ceiling.
It's dramatic weather for a big finale.
I don't envy Cato and Thresh right now. It must be nearly impossible to see, and I wonder how much longer they can drag the inevitable on.
Katniss wakes up as soon I shake her shoulder, more alert and conscious than she's been for the past couple days. Slowly, she starts to sit up, and I quickly reach to steady her. She smiles at me gratefully before leaning against the cave wall, breathing a little too hard for comfort.
"I'm starving," she says after a few seconds.
I sigh in relief because I am absolutely famished. The past few week of eating hardly anything finally catching up with me. Eagerly, I set out all the food we have left, and am disappointed with the result.
There's hardly anything. Two pieces of groosling, a handful of dried fruits, and then an assortment of small roots.
"Should we try and ration it?" I ask, hoping she'll say no. I don't think I've ever been so hungry in my life, and idly, I wonder if that is true. At least at home, even in hard times, there was always left over bread to eat.
"No," she says tiredly. "Let's just finish it. The groosling's getting old anyway, and the last thing we need is to get sick off spoiled food."
Neatly, she divides the pile between us. I try to eat slowly, but hunger overcomes my will, and in a matter of minutes I'm done. So is Katniss, her stomach making empty, growling noises. I look at her concerned, but she waves it away.
"Don't worry, I've had worse," she says evenly, and I instantly feel bad that I have anything to complain about when this girl in front of me has faced so much harder things and survived.
"Tomorrow's a hunting day," Katniss declares a few minutes later.
"I won't be much help with that," I say sheepishly, feeling like a weak link. Which I am, but still. "I've never hunted before," I try to explain.
She takes it in stride. "I'll kill and you cook. And you can always gather."
I nod agreeing. "I wish there was some sort of bread bush out there," I say wistfully. Then at least I'd have a standing chance at not making myself look like an idiot.
Katniss gets a look in her eyes, and reaches for her backpack. "The bread they sent me from District 11 was still warm," she sighs longingly, instantly sparking my hunger with her words. She digs around in her bag, before pulling out a handful of small leaves. "Here, chew these," she tells me, popping a few into her own mouth. Cautiously, I copy her movement, and recognize the taste of mint. It does nothing for the angry knot in the middle of my stomach, but it does help in making me forget about its presence a little.
The trumpets blare a while later, and I help Katniss to the cave entrance, because she refuses to miss it for herself. I keep my arm around her shoulders, partly to keep her stable, and partly because her touch soothes me. The projection is hard to see through the downpour, but it's easy to distinguish that there were no deaths today.
"Where did Thresh go?" Katniss questions once we're sitting down again. "I mean, what's on the far side of the circle?"
"A field," I say, shivering at the memory of the wide, openness. "As far as you can see it's full of grasses as high as my shoulders," I pause. "I don't know, maybe some of them are grain. There are patches of different colors. But there are no paths."
"I bet some of them are grain," she says with certainty. "I bet Thresh knows which ones, too. Did you go in there?"
"No," I reply, thankfully. "Nobody really wanted to track Thresh down in that grass. It has a sinister feeling to it." Goosebumps crawl up my flesh just thinking about it. "Every time I look at that field, all I can think of are hidden things. Snakes, and rabid animals, and quicksand. There could be anything in there."
Katniss looks outside, a thoughtful expression on her face, I pick at the bandage still wrapped around my leg, waiting for her to break the silence. She does, a few seconds later. "Maybe there is a bread bush in that field," she says jokingly. "Maybe that's why Thresh looks better fed now than when we started the Games."
I try to remember what Thresh looked like during the Interviews, and all I can remember is thinking how huge he was in his costume. I can't imagine him getting any bigger, and I don't want to. Once again, though silently this time, I hope that he and Cato both take the other down somehow. It'd be a lot easier that way.
"Either that or he's got very generous sponsors," I say regretfully. Something I wish we had. Sure, I mean, Haymitch is great and all. But I just wish he'd wake up from his apparent nap, and see how we're slowly starving down here. "I wonder what we'd have to do to get Haymitch to send us some bread," I think out loud, inwardly contemplating shouting to the screen, or, I don't know, throwing my shoe in a general direction and hoping it hits a camera. Something drastic.
Katniss' hand wraps around mine, pulling me from my thoughts. I smile up at her, happily surprised. "Well," she says mischievously. "He probably used up a lot of resources helping me knock you out."
That instantly sobers me up. "Yeah, about that," I say, trying to find words to express my feelings. I thread my fingers through hers, gaining strength through the contact. "Don't try something like that again," I finally say.
She's still grinning. "Or what?"
"Or...or..." I desperately search for something that will make her understand. Something that will make her see, but the words escape me. "Just give me a minute."
"What's the problem?" Katniss asks innocently, her tone light, mocking.
"The problem," I say honestly, the words finally coming out. "Is that we're both still alive. Which only reinforces the idea in your mind that you did the right thing."
"I did do the right thing," she responds stubbornly.
"No!" My hand grips hers harder, tighter than I meant to, but I'm too overcome with emotion to let them go. "Just don't, Katniss!" I say with intensity. "Don't die for me. You won't be doing me any favors," I stop, a little winded. And gauge her expression. She looks at me startled, her eyes wide. "All right?"
I think maybe, just maybe, I made her understand. But then she's shaking her head. "Maybe I did it for myself, Peeta," she says slowly. "Did you ever think of that? Maybe you aren't the only one who…who worries about…what it would be like if…"
Her face closes up, as does her mouth. She flounders, at a loss, and I'm surprised by the emotions flickering across her features. I lean in closer, trying to make them out, twining our fingers together tighter. "If what, Katniss?" I say softly.
The air is so emotionally charged that I swear that even if Cato came tearing in here with a bomb I wouldn't be able to move away from her. Because something's changing between us, right now, something huge. Monumental. Earth-shattering, even. And I think she senses it, too.
"That's exactly the kind of topic Haymitch told me to steer clear of," she says quietly. Subconsciously, at least I think, her gaze flickers down to my mouth, and then back up to my eyes, and the expression there is so…different, so amazing, I actually feel my heart start pounding faster. And I swear she can hear it also.
"Then I'll just have to fill in the blanks myself," I say, my voice low and husky.
And then I'm leaning forward, and our lips are connecting, and it's so much better than the others. So much more wonderful.
Everything disappears except for her. And me. We're no longer in the Games, no longer being watched by millions. It's just me and Katniss, discovering something brilliant, something real, something big.
It feels like hours pass before I finally have to pull away, gasping a little for air. Her breath swirls around me, her presence warming me to the core. I kiss her nose lightly, needing the contact again, before finally noticing the little bit of blood around her temple. "I think your wound is bleeding again," I say, still catching my breath. "Come on, lie down, it's bedtime anyway."
Regretfully, I move away from her arms and grab her socks. They're not completely dry, but they're better than nothing. I bring them over to her, and she sits up, unzipping my jacket I've been letting her wear.
"No, no," I tell her, though secretly I'm bitter cold. "Really, Katniss, I'm fine. You keep it."
She shakes her head at me. "Don't be ridiculous, Peeta. It's freezing."
It's pointless to argue when I'm shivering so hard, so I take it and then fetch the sleeping bag from the corner.
"I'll take first watch," Katniss says. I'm about to argue, but she beats me to it. "You haven't slept all day. Besides, I'm not even tired yet."
"Do you really think anyone will be coming through this weather?" I ask her.
"No," she says, looking out at the rain. "No, I really don't. But it's safer to be prepared, than be sorry for it later."
Her teeth are chattering, and her body is literally shaking from the cold. "All right," I say finally. "If you want to take the first watch, at least stay in the bag where it's warmer, you'll freeze to death out there." She looks like she's about to say something, but I interrupt her. "Come on, Katniss," I say slowly. "You're already shivering and it hasn't even been a minute."
She relents finally, climbing into the bag with me. As we lie down, I pull her head onto my outstretched arm, and wrap my other hand protectively around her waist, pulling her small frame closer to my body.
Unlike the other night when I was embarrassed by her close proximity, it feels natural now. Like I could sleep like this every night and never want for more. I pull her closer and sigh deeply, my eyes fluttering shut.
And the only clear thought swirling around my brain as I drift off to sleep, is how I wish I could pause this moment and relive it over a thousand times. Because it's perfect, and honestly, who knows how many more perfect moments I will have.
The end is coming however much I wish it weren't.
A/N: Well, there you go. And I was wrong before, now there are four chapters of the Hunger Games left. At least, I think. Chapters always end up getting longer than I plan, and sometimes there is just a natural ending and I take it. Like this one for example. I had planned for this chapter to go up until Foxface died, but I liked this ending better.
Anyways, I just watched Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue on some Olympic site—and am now a huge fan. They're amazing. For some of you who don't know, they recently just one gold in ice dancing for Canada. And they're both super cute (especially Scott) and super talented. (And I'm not even Canadian! Nor do I like watching figure skating!)
Four more chapters to go...and then on to CATCHING FIRE. Whoo! :) Anyways, leave a nice little review and you shall be my favorite.