When I wake up I can feel Katniss beside me. Everything seems normal, peaceful, comfortable. For the first time I feel well-rested and, strangely, all the pain in my body has disappeared. I sit up tiredly and see that the swelling in my leg has reduced dramatically, and what used to be a large gash is now a clean scar. That’s when I notice the large needle laying on the ground next to me, empty of its medicine, and the throbbing in my arm where it was injected. The memories from the moments before I was knocked out suddenly flood back to me. I turn to see Katniss beside me. She is lying in a pool of blood; it’s source: a deep cut on her forehead. I fumble out of my sleeping bag and kneel next to her, nudging her softly. I whisper her name, but she shows no signs of hearing me. For a second I think she’s dead, but then I see the slow rise and fall of her chest, and I put my hand an inch away from her mouth and can feel the hot breath escaping it.
As my heart rate quickens and my mind struggles to comprehend the situation, I run through the facts in my head. Katniss gave me sleeping syrup to knock me out. Against my will, she’d gone to the feast. She got my medicine. She was hurt in the process. She made it back. She fixed my leg. She’s passed out but still alive. I have to help her, like she helped me.
Katniss’ clothes are soaking wet, so I gently remove her jacket, boots, and socks, and lay them out on a rock in the cave. There’s no sunlight in the cave to dry them, and when I hear a clap of thunder outside, I figure it wouldn’t be much better out there. I take the sleeping bag and carefully tuck her into it, pulling it up to her chin and laying a backpack beneath her head. The medical kit that Katniss had once used to patch me up is laying beside the sleeping bag, and I open it to find the fever medicine, the leaves she used to treat my stings, burn cream, and a small roll of gauze and bandages. Mimicking Katniss’ procedure, I shove a handful of the leaves in my mouth and begin to chew. In the meantime, I escape outside and lift our water bottles to the sky to collect the rain that is pouring down. The downpour seems unnaturally intense, and I know that no weather in the arena is inflicted on accident. The Gammemakers must be trying to torment us, or at least, someone out there who hasn’t been lucky enough to find a cave like ours. Once back inside, I clean Katniss’ wound with water and apply the glob of chewed leaves to the cut.
“It’s going to be okay,” I whisper softly, though I know she can’t hear me. “You took care of me, now it’s your turn.” I hold her hand in mine, and it’s ice cold. I massage to improve the circulation and hold it up to my mouth, blowing hot air onto it. Before I let it go, I kiss the back of her hand and tuck it back into the sleeping bag.
Once the leaves have somewhat dried, I remove them, clean the wound again, and slowly lift her head to place it on my lap. I place a square of gauze on the wound and wrap bandages around her forehead. Sitting there, arms around her, I watch the slow rise and fall of her chest. I hope and pray that she wakes up soo; I’m longing to see those mesmerizing grey eyes bore back into mine.
As I sit there, I notice a steady drip of water leaking in from the roof of the cave. I dig into Katniss’ pack to find something to jam the hole, but all I find is a small square of plastic. It’ll have to do. I unfold it and, like a canopy, secure the corners of it in the crevices of rock in the ceiling to catch the droplets. I make a mental note to keep an eye on it and change it out before the water weighs it down.
Even with the thunder and rain, I can just make out the sound of the Anthem. Giving Katniss a kiss on the forehead, I move to the entrance of the cave and peek my head out. I know that Katniss must’ve run into other tributes at the feastーsomeone had to have cut herー but I also know that feasts almost always result in fatalities. That’s the whole point, after all. Katniss made it back, but that leaves Cato, Clove, Foxface, and Thresh. Who faced their demise at this year’s feast?
My question is answered immediately when the death recap is projected in the sky. Clove’s face stares back at mine, that cold glare and evil grin so familiar to me. She has always been relentless, and she’s certainly not the one I would’ve expected to see die today. The fact that I knew her, whether I liked her or not, leaves a pang in my stomach. Could she have been the one to cut Katniss? My mind flashes back to her showing off her knife-throwing skills during training, immediately flagging her as a lethal opponent.
Then it occurs to me that the tribute pack I’d once spent night and day with has been whittled down to one. I wonder where Cato is now. Is he grieving the loss of his fellow tribute from District 2, especially with the new rule allowing two tributes from the same district to go home? Now, Katniss and I are the only remaining team, and with my leg miraculously healed with whatever medicine the feast offered, I feel a surge of hope rush through me. We could go home. That is, if Katniss wakes up. My flutter of hope is soon replaced by a pang of worry.
After the anthem plays again in closing, I return to Katniss’ side in the cave. I’m suddenly aware of how hungry I am. Over the past week I’ve eaten little more than a few nibbles of dried fruit and a couple bowls of stew or broth. For the first time, I’m ready for a feast like the ones we receive daily at the Capitol. My stomach rumbles at the thought of it: warm carrot soup, buttery rolls, juicy lamb chops, chocolate lava cake. I push the thoughts aside and tell myself that if, no, when, we get out of here, I will never feel a hunger like this again.
I rummage through Katniss’ pack again and find the groosling that she’d offered me so many times before that I’d rejected. Now, I could easily eat the whole bird for myself. I start with one piece, trying to conserve our food supply, but that one piece soon turns into three. My stomach, receiving solid food for the first time in ages, begs for more, but I resist. I crawl into the sleeping bag beside Katniss, allowing her heat to become mine and mine to become hers, and I will myself to sleep.
When I awake, I inspect my leg again and see that the swelling and redness has reduced even more. It’s incredible, like Cato’s sword had barely left a mark. The red lines indicating blood poisoning have retreated, and the feeling has fully returned.
I look over hopefully at Katniss but see that she is still unresponsive. I check her boots and clothes that I’d laid out and find that they’re still damp. The rain still hasn’t seized, and pours hard as ever outside. The canopy I’d created with the plastic sheet has collected water, and I tip it out and onto my hands to rinse them off. I take a chug of water and again go outside to refill the bottles, knowing that as soon as Katniss wakes up she’s going to need to drink.
Now I know how hard it must’ve been for Katniss when I was so close to death. Looking at her, still as a stone, my heart aches for her to come back to me. I wonder if she felt the same way towards me, wondering how in the world she could ever go on if I never opened my eyes again. She must’ve felt something, otherwise she wouldn’t have risked her life at the feast. Or was she only doing that out of obligation and guilt, not out of love?
I return to her side and brush the hair back from her forehead, stroking her cheek, my heart telling myself that she’ll wake up soon, but my mind trying to come to terms with the possibility that she might not.
Her eyes move rapidly behind her lids and, ever so slightly, she begins to stir. My heart leaps.
“Katniss,” I whisper. “Katniss, can you hear me?”
Those eyes flutter open and for a moment Katniss’ body tenses up, and she looks like she’s forgotten where she is. Her eyes, more beautiful now than ever, meet mine, and her body relaxes. “Peeta,” she whispers.
“Hey,” I say, stroking her cheek. “Good to see your eyes again.”
“How long have I been out?” she asks, disoriented.
“Not sure. I woke up yesterday evening and you were lying next to me in a very scary pool of blood,” I tell her. “I think it’s stopped finally, but I wouldn’t sit up or anything.”
Knowing she must be dehydrated, I reach for the bottle of water that I’d filled and lift it to her lips. She guzzles it desperately.
When she’s finished, she takes a good look at me, noticing for the first time that I’m moving about without hindrance in my leg. “You’re better,” she observes simply.
“Much better,” I say. “Whatever you shot into my arm did the trick. By this morning, almost all the swelling in my leg was gone.”
“Did you eat?” she asks, still concerned about me, like she has no idea that she’s in need, too.
“I’m sorry to say I gobbled down three pieces of that groosling before I realized it might have to last a while,” I tell her, guiltily rubbing my stomach. “Don’t worry, I’m back on a strict diet.”
“No, it’s good. You need to eat,” she says. “I’ll go hunting soon.”
“Not too soon, all right? You just let me take care of you for a while,” I say, rummaging in the pack to retrieve some food for her. I remove the groosling and a handful of dry fruit, and she eats a few bites and drinks the water I offer her again. She’s shivering, and I unzip the sleeping bag and remove my jacket to cover her bare feet. I massage warmth back into them as best I can before zipping her back up.
“Your boots and socks are still damp, and the weather’s not helping much,” I say, and a clap of thunder and flash of lightning verifies my statement. The storm has been going on for almost a full day, and it’s only getting worse.
“I wonder what brought on this storm? I mean, who’s the target?” I wonder out loud.
“Cato and Thresh,” Katniss answers immediately. “Foxface will be in her den somewhere, and Clove… she cut me and then…”
That explains the gash on her forehead, as I expected. But what happened after that? “I know Clove’s dead. I saw it in the sky last night,” I fill her in. “Did you kill her?”
“No,” she says, recalling a bad memory. “Thresh broke her skull with a rock.”
I cringe at the thought of the pain, thinking of Thresh with his giant-like strength. He’s the only other tribute that stood a chance against the Careers, and it’s clear he’s not going down without a fight. “Lucky he didn’t catch you too,” I say, wondering how in the world Katniss escaped.
“He did,” she says softly, reflectively. “But he let me go.”
“He what?” I ask, perplexed. People don’t let other tributes go in the Games. Not this late, at least. Everyone wants to get home, and no matter who you are, you’re in this to win it at this point, and nothing stands in the way of that. “Why would he do that?”
Katniss sighs, searching for the answer. “Do you remember Rue?”
I nod, my heart suddenly dropping at the thought of her innocent spirit being gone from this world.
“Well, she and Thresh, they’re both from Eleven,” she says. “I’m not sure how well they knew each other before all of this, but from what I saw, he treated her like his little sister. Even during training they would eat together.” I remember them sitting at the tables in the dining area, laughing together as if they were best friends on their lunch break at school.
“Anyway,” Katniss continues, “Rue and I ran into each other in the arena. Actually, she was the one who gave me the idea to drop the tracker jacker nest.”
“Ah yes, how could I forget?” I say teasingly, recalling the excruciating strings.
“Yeah, erm, sorry about that by the way. I really thought you were on their side,” she says.
“It’s okay,” I assure. “I’m glad you did. I thought it was really clever actually. But go on,” I say, urging her to continue her story.
“After that, I suffered quite a few strings myself, and I…” she trails off. “Well, I can’t quite remember. The tracker jacker venom made it hard to know what was real and what was all going on inside my head.” She searches for the memory. “Did you… save me?”
“I told you to run,” I recall, the distorted memories flooding back to me, too. “You took the bow and arrow from Glimmer, but you weren’t moving. I knew Cato was coming back, and I couldn’t let him find you.”
“Well, evidently he found you,” she said, glancing at my leg. I wince at the memory of the pain inflicted by Cato’s wayward sword. “I’m so sorry,” she says, feebly.
“It’s okay. I’m all better now, thanks to you.” She gives me a weak smile. “Anyway, go on with your story. You were saying about Rue?”
Katniss goes on, telling me about how she and Rue became allies. How Rue took care of her while she was passed out from the tracker jacker stings and taught her about the leaves that draw out infection. I remember the two of them hitting it off at the edible plants station during training, and I close my eyes as she talks and hold her hand, trying to picture their friendship forming in the arena.
“Rue told me about the Career’s stockpile of supplies by the lake, and we decided to take it out. She would set off a series of fires to create smoke and draw the Careers away from the lake, and I would go in. They set up a sort of booby-trap around the supplies and left the boy from District 3 to keep watch. Apparently he’d dug up the twenty-four mines from underneath the tribute pedestals and set them up to keep others out.” I nod, remembering Cato pridefully telling me about their sinister but genius plot.
“Foxface actually figured out the pattern,” Katniss adds. “She snuck in there and stole supplies while I watched from the forest. We can’t forget about her, either. She’s still out there, too.
Anyway, long story short, I shot an arrow at a sack of apples and they spilled out, setting off one mine after another. All the supplies blew. I lost hearing in one of my ears and felt really disoriented, so I camped out in the trees overnight. Cato killed the boy from Three after he saw what happened. I saw how upset they were and I knew I did my job well, I mean, they’re probably out there right now, wishing they paid more attention at the survival skills stations during training. I bet they have no idea how to make a matchless fire, how to hunt, or how to tell the difference between a blueberry and a nightlock berry.”
I give her an impressed nod, acknowledging the cleverness of their plan and soaking in the hope that comes from knowing Cato is out there, probably in even worse condition than us for the first time since the Games began. “Do you think that’s what they needed from the feast?” I ask. “Supplies that they lost during the explosion?”
“Could be, I’m not sure. But Thresh took their bag, so maybe Cato will have to find him and fight him for it.” District 2, who must be so used to winning year after year, might be getting ready to kiss their last tribute goodbye.
“Only if we’re lucky,” I observe.”So what happened after that?”
“The next morning I went looking for Rue. Before we parted ways we decided to signal each other through the mockingjays,” she lets out a soft four-note tune that sends chills through my body. “I heard the signal and knew that meant she was okay. But as I got closer, I heard screaming, and I started to run. When I found her she was tangled in a net, and before I could reach her, the boy from District 1 threw a spear that pierced her body.”
She pauses for a moment, staring glassy-eyed straight ahead of her, and she lets out a sigh before continuing. “I shot an arrow at the boy and he was dead instantly. I held Rue’s hand and sang to herーthe same lullaby I sang to Prim when she was a babyーuntil she died.”
Katniss’ voice sounds weaker now than when she began her story, and I can see the wetness arising in her blank stare as she holds back tears. I grip her hand tighter, rubbing the back of it with my thumb.
“Having you there with her must’ve made all the difference,” I offer, not knowing what words to use to comfort her. I want to tell her there was nothing she could do, that it wasn’t her fault, and I want to hold her until all the pain from that moment has disappeared. But I know that nothing I say or do will take away the hurt that comes from reliving that memory.
She collects herself enough to continue. “I covered her in wildflowers and held up that three-finger salute, wanting to give honor to that little girl and to her family grieving her loss back home. That night, District 11 sent me a gift. A loaf of bread, the small crescent roll sprinkled with seeds like you showed me during training, still warm. It was like they were thanking me.
And that brings us to now. At the feast Clove and I started to fight, and she pinned me, ready to carve me with her knife. Then Thresh showed up. He overheard Clove taunting me about Rue, how they killed her, my ‘little ally,’ and now I was next. He lifted her off of me and smashed her skull with a rock. I closed my eyes and braced myself because I thought I was next. But instead of killing me, as he so easily could’ve, he asked if it was true that Rue and I were allies, like Clove said. I told him we were, that we blew up the Careers’ supplies together, that I was too late to save her, that the boy from One got to her before I could, but I killed him. I told him that I sang to Rue until she died and buried her in flowers, and I told him that District 11 sent me bread. I asked him to kill me fast, but instead, he let me go.” She searches her memory, still in disbelief. “I remember his exact words. ‘Just this one time, I let you go. For the little girl. You and me, we’re even now. No more owed.’ Then he told me to run, and I did. I got out of there as fast as I could before he changed his mind.”
I sit there, soaking in everything I’ve heard. “He let you go because he didn’t want to owe you anything?” I ask, trying to make sense of this situation, something so absurd and unheard of this late in the Games.
“Yes,” she says. “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.”
“And don’t try. Obviously I’m too dim to get it,” I say, half offended, half knowing that she’s absolutely right.
“It’s like the bread,” she continues. “How I never seem to get over owing you for that.”
“The bread? What? From when we were kids?” My mind flashes back to that rainy night so many years ago. “I think we can let that go. I mean, you just brought me back from the dead.”
“But you didn’t know me. We had never even spoken. 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… why did you, anyway?”
“Why? You know why.” Haven’t I made it obvious enough? I meant what I said during my interview with Caesar. Or does she still think this is all an act to keep us alive? “Haymitch said you would take a lot of convincing.”
“Haymitch?” she asks, confused. “What’s he got to do with it?”
“Nothing,” I say, brushing it off and deciding to change the subject. “So, Cato and Thresh, huh? I guess it’s too much to hope that they’ll simultaneously destroy each other?”
Katniss seems unsettled. “I think we would like Thresh. I think he’d be our friend back in District Twelve.”
I picture myself being the reason Thresh doesn’t go home to his family, and it creates a pit at the bottom of my stomach. “Then let’s hope Cato kills him, so we don’t have to.”
Katniss doesn’t respond, but I can see tears welling up in her eyes.
“What is it?” I ask, inching closer, holding my hand gently to her forehead. “Are you in a lot of pain?”
“I want to go home, Peeta,” she says, holding back tears. This is the first sign of weakness she’s shown me, and the hard-shelled Katniss that I’ve seen since we left on the train is suddenly wearing away.
“You will,” I say, confident that what I’m saying is true. “I promise.” I lean in and give her a gentle kiss, suddenly remembering that the world is watching and probably hanging on to every vulnerable word and romantic gesture.
“I want to go home now,” she says bleakly.
“Tell you what,” I begin. “You go back to sleep and dream of home, and you’ll be there before you know it. Okay?”
“Okay,” she whispers, nestling into her sleeping bag. “Wake me if you need me to keep watch.”
“I’m good and rested, thanks to you and Haymitch. Besides, who knows how long this will last?”
Katniss has already closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. I listen to the storm rumble outside and sit stark upright, watching the cave entrance for any danger. All I can think is that I have to keep my promise. Katniss has to go home. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to go with her.Add to favorites