Chapter Nine

I wake to Katniss prodding my shoulder. “Peeta, we’ve got to go now,” she says softly.

I puzzle at this, not having considered moving from the river. “Go? Go where?”

“Anywhere from here. Downstream maybe.” Katniss smiles sadly. “Somewhere we can hide you until you’re stronger.”

She helps me into my clothes, which are slightly moist in some places but mostly dry. She packs my socks and shoes in her backpack, explaining that she wants to walk through the river. She removes her own footwear before helping me to stand.

I feel the blood rush from my face as my leg takes on the weight of the rest of me. I take in a shaky breath, and look to Katniss with pleading eyes.

“Come on,” she says. “You can do this.”

I lean into Katniss for support, my arm over her shoulder as I hunch over and start off. I keep reminding myself that I’m supposed to be moving, but I have a strong impulse to drop to the ground and sleep. Exhaustion swirls in my head like a foggy whirlpool, and with the pain intertwined in the threads of misty thoughts it’s too much to handle. I’m not sure how far downstream we get before my vision starts spotting, and Katniss helps me to sit down on the bank. I sit with my head between my knees, rocking back and forth slightly as Katniss pats my back. I focus on this one thing instead of how overwhelming the pain is, and the steady rhythm of her palm on my back helps me to feel a bit better.

A few minutes pass before Katniss whispers, “Can you stand?”

I take in a deep gulp of oxygen and try my best- with Katniss’ help, of course- to get to my feet. Standing is a small victory; walking is the real feat. Katniss practically drags me along to a small, cave-like rock structure twenty yards away.

Cold chills seize my body all at once, and I feel the blood leave my face again. I take in a shallow breath, but try and keep up with Katniss’ movements. When we reach the cave, Katniss covers the dirt floor with thick pine needles and spreads out a sleeping bag. She helps me into it, and I lay almost comfortably in the warmth. I don’t think much about the actions as Katniss has me take more medicine and drink water, but when she offers me some fruit I push it away.

I watch as Katniss uses thick green branches and vines to cover the entrance of the cave, and ends up tearing it down. Her frustration is so painful to watch.

“Katniss,” I call quietly, and she comes to sit beside me. I’m vaguely aware of her brushing my hair from my eyes when I whisper, “Thanks for finding me.”

“You would have found me if you could,” she says, resting the back of her hand on my forehead. A sad look crosses her face as she studies mine.

“Yes,” I say weakly. “Look, if I don’t make it back-”

Katniss interrupts me, her gaze intense. “Don’t talk like that. I didn’t drain all of that pus for nothing.”

I try again. “I know. But just in case I don’t-”

Katniss puts a finger to my lips and I fall quiet. “No, Peeta, I don’t even want to discuss it.”

“But I-” I murmur when she draws her hand away, but once again my words are cut off. All at once Katniss is leaning down and pressing her lips to mine, and my heart gives a great leap against my ribcage. It ends as quickly as it began, and Katniss is saying, “You’re not going to die. All right?”

My head is still spinning. “All right.”

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