Katniss leaves the cave, and I lay alone in the darkness thinking about… thinking about everything. There’s not a single thought that I go over in my brain, but a series of several thoughts. How can I pick one? Everything is so overwhelming, so confusing, so perfectly perfect while also dreadfully dreadful.
My lips still prickle where Katniss’ met them just a minute ago, but it could be the fever. I can tell by the random rounds of icy chills that send my stomach trembling that I’m sicker than Katniss is acting. Why else would I feel like my body is being torn into a million pieces and growing tighter together all at once?
I try and sleep to shake all of the contradicting feelings from my body and mind, and let my eyes fall shut. I slip into a cold, unsteady sleep. I’m not sure how long I lay this way before I feel something warm and soft against my mouth, and my eyes fly open. Katniss draws back, her eyes gleaming.
I beam up at her, wishing she could sit there looking down at me forever. I’d be content with that.
“Peeta, look what Haymitch has sent you,” she says, holding up a silver bowl. My heart somersaults, and I wince at the thought of food, but I smile to please Katniss.
She unscrews the top and scoops some up in a small spoon. She blows on it, before lowering it to my lips. I open them slowly, but realize as the broth reaches my tongue that I can’t.
I spit it out before I can stop myself, and Katniss frowns.
“I’m sorry,” I say quietly. “I… I’m really not hungry now.”
“You’re going to eat,” Katniss says sharply.
“Katniss,” I plead.
She glares at me so hard that I wince, and she gathers up some more broth on the spoon. The scent fills my nose and I turn my head away. No matter what I feel for Katniss, she can’t make me. She can’t.
But she can.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Katniss says after the first twenty minutes, and a mischievous smile plays on her lips. “For every three bites, you get one kiss.”
My eyes narrow on her face. “You’re so manipulative,” I say in mock disgust, but my heart is pounding and my mind racing. She only stares at me, so I sigh.
“Alright, alright. I mean, I’ll try.”
The first few bites are agonizing, but after a while my stomach seems to settle and I find myself enjoying the soup. I drain the whole bowl before Katniss lets me sleep, and I find drifting off into a comfortable slumber is easier with a belly full of good food.
When I wake up the following morning, Katniss is gone. I search the cave frantically with my eyes, looking in the shadowed corners, but there’s no sign of her. I think of the remaining careers, Cato and Clove. Could they have gotten her?
I struggle to sit up, not sure of how I’ll fight them off but sure that I’ll find a way. And if they’ve killed her, they’ll have to kill me too.
I won’t see her face in the sky tonight, I tell myself.
I can’t seem to get into a sitting position. Even if it weren’t for the pain, I don’t think I have the strength. I feel better than I did yesterday, but still not well enough to move much on my own.
Katniss appears suddenly at the entrance to the cave, her eyes trained on me.
“I woke up and you were gone,” I say breathlessly. “I was worried about you.”
Katniss laughs and lowers me back down in the sleeping bag. “You were worried about me? Have you taken a look at yourself lately?”
I give her a hard look. “I thought Cato and Clove might have found you. They like to hunt at night.”
“Clove?” Katniss repeats with a frown. “Which one is that?”
“The girl from District Two. She’s alive, right?” I ask, relaxing a bit. Katniss is safe. That’s all that matters.
Katniss nods. “Yes, there’s just them and us and Thresh and Foxface. That’s what I nicknamed the girl from five,” she adds. She studies my face. “How do you feel?”
“Better than yesterday. This is an enormous improvement over the mud. Clean clothes and medicine and a sleeping bag…” I trail off and meet her eyes. “And you.”
Her eyes gleam, and I catch her hand in mine as she reaches to touch the side of my face. I press her fingers to my lips, my eyes not leaving hers.
“No more kisses for you until you’ve eaten,” Katniss says, a laugh in her voice.
She helps me sit up against the wall and feeds me mushed up berries, which taste awful- but of course I don’t say so. She offers me some groosling, which I shake my head at.
“You didn’t sleep,” I observe, watching her slow, tired movements as she packs up the remaining food.
Katniss shrugs. “I’m all right.”
“Sleep now,” I tell her. “I’ll keep watch. I’ll wake you if anything happens.” She doesn’t respond, so I add, “Katniss, you can’t stay up forever.”
By her expression, I know I’ve won even before she speaks. “All right. But just for a few hours. Then you wake me.”
I nod, so Katniss smooths out the sleeping bag beside me and lays down on it. I sit leaning back against the wall watching the cave’s entrance, and when I glance down at Katniss a moment later her eyes are open. “Go to sleep,” I whisper, brushing her hair from her face. She closes her eyes, and I continue to run my hand through the dark hair that’s no longer in its signature braid.
She looks so peaceful in slumber, with the even rise and fall of her chest and the slight flutter of her eyelashes when distant sounds enter her ears. I don’t stop caressing her hair for maybe half an hour, and when I do it’s only because my arm has grown tired. I don’t look away from her face, though. No, that would be harder than almost anything else I’ve faced in the games. I don’t want to look away and risk losing another moment of watching her. Watching the girl I’ve marveled at for so long, the girl I’ve wished knew me for all these years. And now she does. And I think that maybe, just maybe, she feels almost as strongly as I do.
I think I might love her.
No, I don’t think. I know.
I love Katniss Everdeen.
When she wakes, it’s late afternoon. Katniss’ eyes fly open and she turns sharply toward the cave’s entrance, taking in the change of the sun. “Peeta, you were supposed to wake me after a couple of hours.”
“For what? Nothing’s going on here. Besides-” I say softly, looking into those beautiful gray eyes of hers “-I like watching you sleep. You don’t scowl. Improves your looks a lot.”
Katniss scowls at this, which makes me smile. She reaches out to touch my cheek, and for a moment I think it’s a romantic gesture, before I see her frown. “Have you been drinking water?”
I hesitate. “Yes.” I only say it so she won’t be angry at me; water never crossed my mind.
Katniss lifts one of my water containers and tests its weight, her expression a show of skepticism. She reaches into her backpack and hands me some fever pills, and doesn’t look away until I drink two quarts of water. I feel like I might explode, but at least Katniss is happy.
She applies some of those chewed-up leaves to my stingers and cream to my burn, before carefully unwrapping my leg.
Her mouth falls open, and I’m not surprised. I know what she sees.
“Well, there’s more swelling, but the pus is gone,” Katniss says hesitantly.
My eyes soften. “I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss. Even if my mother isn’t a healer.”
“You’re just going to have to outlast the others, Peeta,” Katniss says firmly. “They’ll cure it back in the Capitol when we win.”
“Yes, that’s a good plan,” I say lightly.
Katniss nods. “You have to eat. Keep your strength up. I’m going to make you soup.”
“Don’t light a fire,” I say as Katniss stands to leave. “It’s not worth it.”
Katniss turns and eyes me steadily. “We’ll see.”