When he shouts, I jump, never having heard him speak above a mutter. “What’d you do to that little girl? You kill her?”
Clove is scrambling backward on all fours, like a frantic insect, too shocked to even call for Cato. “No! No, it wasn’t me!”
“You said her name. I heard you. You kill her?” Another thought brings a fresh wave of rage to his features. “You cut her up like you were going to cut up this girl here?”
“No! No, I—” Clove sees the stone, about the size of a small loaf of bread in Thresh’s hand and loses it. “Cato!” she screeches. “Cato!”
“Clove!” I hear Cato’s answer, but he’s too far away, I can tell that much, to do her any good. What was he doing? Trying to get Foxface or Peeta? Or had he been lying in wait for Thresh and just badly misjudged his location?
Thresh brings the rock down hard against Clove’s temple. It’s not bleeding, but I can see the dent in her skull and I know that she’s a goner. There’s still life in her now though, in the rapid rise and fall of her chest, the low moan escaping her lips. When Thresh whirls around on me, the rock raised, I know it’s no good to run. And my bow is empty, the last loaded arrow having gone in Clove’s direction. I’m trapped in the glare of his strange golden brown eyes. “What’d she mean? About Rue being your ally?”
“I—I—we teamed up. Blew up the supplies. I tried to save her, I did. But he got there first. District One,” I say. Maybe if he knows I helped Rue, he won’t choose some slow, sadistic end for me.
“And you killed him?” he demands.
“Yes. I killed him. And buried her in flowers,” I say. “And I sang her to sleep.”
Tears spring in my eyes. The tension, the fight goes out of me at the memory. And I’m overwhelmed by Rue, and the pain in my head, and my fear of Thresh, and the moaning of the dying girl a few feet away.
“To sleep?” Thresh says gruffly.
“To death. I sang until she died,” I say. “Your district… they sent me bread.” My hand reaches up but not for an arrow that I know I’ll never reach. Just to wipe my nose. “Do it fast, okay, Thresh?”
Conflicting emotions cross Thresh’s face. He lowers the rock and points at me, almost accusingly. “Just this one time, I let you go. For the little girl. You and me, we’re even then. No more owed. You understand?”
I nod because I do understand. About owing. About hating it. I understand that if Thresh wins, he’ll have to go back and face a district that has already broken all the rules to thank me, and he is breaking the rules to thank me, too. And I understand that, for the moment, Thresh is not going to smash in my skull.
“Clove!” Cato’s voice is much nearer now. I can tell by the pain in it that he sees her on the ground.
“You better run now, Fire Girl,” says Thresh.
I don’t need to be told twice. I flip over and my feet dip into the hard-packed earth as I run away from Thresh and Clove and the sound of Cato’s voice. Only when I reach the woods do I turn back for an instant. Thresh and both large backpacks are vanishing over the edge of the plain into the area I’ve never seen. Cato kneels beside Clove, spear in hand, begging her to stay with him. In a moment, he will realize it’s futile, she can’t be saved. I crash into the trees, repeatedly swiping away the blood that’s pouring into my eye, fleeing like the wild, wounded creature I am. After a few minutes, I hear the cannon and I know that Clove has died, that Cato will be on one of our trails. Either Thresh’s or mine. I’m seized with terror, weak from my head wound, shaking. I load an arrow, but Cato can throw that spear almost as far as I can shoot. Only one thing calms me down. Thresh has Cato’s backpack containing the thing he needs desperately. If I had to bet, Cato headed out after Thresh, not me. Still I don’t slow down when I reach the water. I plunge right in, boots still on, and flounder downstream. I pull off Rue’s socks that I’ve been using for gloves and press them into my forehead, trying to staunch the flow of blood, but they’re soaked in minutes.
Somehow I make it back to the cave. I squeeze through the rocks. In the dappled light, I pull the little orange backpack from my arm, cut open the clasp, and dump the contents on the ground. One slim box containing one hypodermic needle. Without hesitating, I jam the needle into Peeta’s arm and slowly press down on the plunger.
My hands go to my head and then drop to my lap, slick with blood.
The last thing I remember is an exquisitely beautiful greenand-silver moth landing on the curve of my wrist.
The sound of rain drumming on the roof of our house gently pulls me toward consciousness. I fight to return to sleep though, wrapped in a warm cocoon of blankets, safe at home. I’m vaguely aware that my head aches. Possibly I have the flu and this is why I’m allowed to stay in bed, even though I can tell I’ve been asleep a long time. My mother’s hand strokes my cheek and I don’t push it away as I would in wakefulness, never wanting her to know how much I crave that gentle touch. How much I miss her even though I still don’t trust her. Then there’s a voice, the wrong voice, not my mother’s, and I’m scared.
“Katniss,” it says. “Katniss, can you hear me?”
My eyes open and the sense of security vanishes. I’m not home, not with my mother. I’m in a dim, chilly cave, my bare feet freezing despite the cover, the air tainted with the unmistakable smell of blood. The haggard, pale face of a boy slides into view, and after an initial jolt of alarm, I feel better. “Peeta.”
“Hey,” he says. “Good to see your eyes again.”
“How long have I been out?” I ask.
“Not sure. I woke up yesterday evening and you were lying next to me in a very scary pool of blood,” he says. “I think it’s stopped finally, but I wouldn’t sit up or anything.”
I gingerly lift my hand to my head and find it bandaged. This simple gesture leaves me weak and dizzy. Peeta holds a bottle to my lips and I drink thirstily.
“You’re better,” I say.
“Much better. Whatever you shot into my arm did the trick,” he says. “By this morning, almost all the swelling in my leg was gone.”
He doesn’t seem angry about my tricking him, drugging him, and running off to the feast. Maybe I’m just too beat-up and I’ll hear about it later when I’m stronger. But for the moment, he’s all gentleness.
“Did you eat?” I ask.
“I’m sorry to say I gobbled down three pieces of that groosling before I realized it might have to last a while. Don’t worry, I’m back on a strict diet,” he says.
“No, it’s good. You need to eat. I’ll go hunting soon,” I say.
“Not too soon, all right?” he says. “You just let me take care of you for a while.”
I don’t really seem to have much choice. Peeta feeds me bites of groosling and raisins and makes me drink plenty of water. He rubs some warmth back into my feet and wraps them in his jacket before tucking the sleeping bag back up around my chin.
“Your boots and socks are still damp and the weather’s not helping much,” he says. There’s a clap of thunder, and I see lightning electrify the sky through an opening in the rocks. Rain drips through several holes in the ceiling, but Peeta has built a sort of canopy over my head an upper body by wedging the square of plastic into the rock above me.
“I wonder what brought on this storm? I mean, who’s the target?” says Peeta.
“Cato and Thresh,” I say without thinking. “Foxface will be in her den somewhere, and Clove… she cut me an then…”
My voice trails off.
“I know Clove’s dead. I saw it in the sky last night,” h says.
“Did you kill her?”
“No. Thresh broke her skull with a rock,” I say.
“Lucky he didn’t catch you, too,” says Peeta.
The memory of the feast returns full-force and I feel sick.
“He did. But he let me go.” Then, of course, I have to tell him. About things I’ve kept to myself because he was too sick to ask and I wasn’t ready to relive anyway. Like the explosion and my ear and Rue’s dying and the boy from District 1 and the bread. All of which leads to what happened with Thresh and how he was paying off a debt of sorts.
“He let you go because he didn’t want to owe you anything?” asks Peeta in disbelief.
“Yes. 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 say.
“And don’t try. Obviously I’m too dim to get it.”
“It’s like the bread. How I never seem to get over owing you for that,” I say.
“The bread? What? From when we were kids?” he says. “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,” I say. “Why did you, anyway?”
“Why? You know why,” Peeta says. I give my head a slight, painful shake. “Haymitch said you would take a lot of convincing.”
“Haymitch?” I ask. “What’s he got to do with it?”
“Nothing,” Peeta says. “So, Cato and Thresh, huh? I guess it’s too much to hope that they’ll simultaneously destroy each other?”
But the thought only upsets me. “I think we would like Thresh. I think he’d be our friend back in District Twelve,” I say.
“Then let’s hope Cato kills him, so we don’t have to,” says Peeta grimly.
I don’t want Cato to kill Thresh at all. I don’t want anyone else to die. But this is absolutely not the kind of thing that victors go around saying in the arena. Despite my best efforts, I can feel tears starting to pool in my eyes.
Peeta looks at me in concern. “What is it? Are you in a lot of pain?”
I give him another answer, because it is equally true but can be taken as a brief moment of weakness instead of a terminal one. “I want to go home, Peeta,” I say plaintively, like a small child.
“You will. I promise,” he says, and bends over to give me a kiss.
“I want to go home now,” I say.
“Tell you what. You go back to sleep and dream of home. And you’ll be there for real before you know it,” lie says.
“Okay,” I whisper. “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?” he says.
What does he mean? The storm? The brief respite it brings us? The Games themselves? I don’t know, but I’m ion sad and tired to ask.
It’s evening when Peeta wakes me again. The rain has turned to a downpour, sending streams of water through our ceiling where earlier there had been only drips. Peeta has placed the broth pot under the worst one and repositioned the plastic to deflect most of it from me. I feel a bit better, able to sit up without getting too dizzy, and I’m absolutely famished. So is Peeta. It’s clear he’s been waiting for me to wake up to eat and is eager to get started.
There’s not much left. Two pieces of groosling, a small mishmash of roots, and a handful of dried fruit.
“Should we try and ration it?” Peeta asks.
“No, let’s just finish it. The groosling’s getting old anyway, and the last thing we need is to get sick off spoilt food,” I say, dividing the food into two equal piles. We try and eat slowly, but we’re both so hungry were done in a couple of minutes. My stomach is in no way satisfied. “Tomorrow’s a hunting day,” I say.
“I won’t be much help with that,” Peeta says. “I’ve never hunted before.”
“I’ll kill and you cook,” I say. “And you can always gather.”
“I wish there was some sort of bread bush out there,” says Peeta.
“The bread they sent me from District Eleven was still warm,” I say with a sigh. “Here, chew these.” I hand him a couple of mint leaves and pop a few in my own mouth. It’s hard to even see the projection in the sky, but it’s clear enough to know there were no more deaths today. So Cato and Thresh haven’t had it out yet.
“Where did Thresh go? I mean, what’s on the far side of the circle?” I ask Peeta.
“A field. As far as you can see it’s full of grasses as high as my shoulders. I don’t know, maybe some of them are grain. There are patches of different colors. But there are no paths,” says Peeta.
“I bet some of them are grain. I bet Thresh knows which ones, too,” I say. “Did you go in there?”
“No. Nobody really wanted to track Thresh down in that grass. It has a sinister feeling to it. Every time I look at that field, all I can think of are hidden things. Snakes, and rabid animals, and quicksand,” Peeta says. “There could be anything in there.”
I don’t say so but Peeta’s words remind me of the warnings they give us about not going beyond the fence in District 12. I can’t help, for a moment, comparing him with Gale, who would see that field as a potential source of food as well as a threat. Thresh certainly did. It’s not that Peeta’s soft exactly, and he’s proved he’s not a coward. But there are things you don’t question too much, I guess, when your home always smells like baking bread, whereas Gale questions everything. What would Peeta think of the irreverent banter that passes between us as we break the law each day? Would it shock him? The things we say about Panem? Gale’s tirades against the Capitol?
“Maybe there is a bread bush in that field,” I say. “Maybe that’s why Thresh looks better fed now than when we started the Games.”