Last Time in Brand New Breeze:
Peeta’s clutching at his thigh. “I think I’m gonna need help back to the cave,” he says. His face is ashen.
I fall to my knees, pressing my hands against the wound to try to staunch the blood. It’s bad. The knife has cut through muscle almost to the bone and Peeta’s in real danger of bleeding to death. “We need my mother!”
“Is he gonna make it?” Gale asks, his eyes frantic.
“I’m fine,” Peeta says, right before he slips into unconsciousness.
He doesn’t respond.
“Peeta wake up!” I shake him lightly, praying he’ll respond.
He doesn’t move.
Gale comes up behind me. “Katniss, we need to get him back to the cave.”
“How?” I ask, my voice betraying my fear.
“I’ll carry him, but I’m gonna need you to keep pressure on the wound. Can you do that?” His tone is calm, the same tone he uses when approaching a wounded animal. He’s trying to keep me from becoming hysterical.
I feel the urge to laugh burble up within me, but I tamp it down ruthlessly. Peeta needs me. They both need me. I can’t fall apart just yet. I nod my head in answer to Gale’s question, not trusting myself to be able to speak.
Gale carefully lifts Peeta into his arms, carrying him bridal-style, his injured leg facing me so I can keep pressure on the wound. It’s not perfect and I can see drops of red staining the ground between Gale’s feet. We have to go. Now.
We start back to the cave, moving slowly to avoid jostling Peeta. It feels like an eternity. Take a step. Readjust my hands. Take another step. And on and on. As we get closer, Gale and I both start calling out for help.
Rory’s the first to answer. “Is it safe?”
Gale calls back, “We need Katniss’s ma!”
“Why?” He sounds suspicious.
We don’t have time for this. “Stop arguing and just get her!” I shout.
“I’m not arguing!”
“Dammit, Rory! Get her now!” Gale roars before I can.
My mother calls down a minute later. “What’s wrong?” I hear her crashing down from the cave heading toward us.
“Peeta’s hurt!” My voice catches and I can’t say anymore. I’m having trouble seeing, everything seems to be distorted. Like through a glass of water. I’m crying. When did I start crying?
Gale answers since I can’t. “Very!”
“Can you get him up to the cave?”
I can tell Gale is starting to feel the strain of carrying Peeta’s weight. “We - we need help!” I manage to get out. I don’t think Gale can carry him any further.
Gale gently sets Peeta down and shakes his arms out, trying to restore his strength. “It’s gonna be tough getting him up the hill,” he admits. “I’m not as strong as Peet is.”
I scrub at my face with the back of my hand, trying to force myself to think rationally. “Do you need the travois?”
He nods. “I think that might help.”
My mother joins us, paling at Peeta’s wound. “Give me your shirt,” she orders, holding out her hand.
Gale and I both strip our shirts off immediately, holding them out to her.
My mother grabs Gale’s and motions for me to put mine back on. “I only need one.” She looks back at Peeta’s injury, before murmuring under her breath, “I hope.”
My heart sinks.
My mother starts giving orders. She sends me up to the cave to start preparing the bed in the kitchen for Peeta. She also tells me to send Prim down with the rest of her medical supplies and Rory with the travois. They’re going to need Gale’s strength to get Peeta back to the cave, and I’ll just be in the way.
I’m grateful for something to do to keep my mind off of just how ashen Peeta’s face was. I’m so afraid I’m going to lose him I can’t even think. I go through the motions of making the bed, pulling out the blankets in a daze. Somehow I manage to put a pot of water on, but I don’t remember drawing water from the spring or stoking the fire.
I don’t know what I’ll do if Peeta dies. He can’t die. I need him. We need him. I wish he and Gale were here right now to comfort me, but they’re not.
I slip to my knees, wrapping my arms around my body.
I hear the faint mew of Dandelion and I scoop the kitten up to my chest and cry into her gray fur. The kitten I rescued has taken to following me around ever since her recovery, rubbing herself against me and trying to make a nest in my lap. It’s annoying. But right now I’ll take the comfort that the kitten provides. She purrs against my chest, happy that her chosen person is giving her attention. The cat helps a little but not a lot.
Nothing’s going to make me feel better until Peeta’s back in my arms.
“I need you to move, Katniss,” my mother says, annoyance and amusement mixed together in her tone.
I look up from where I’m sitting on the floor holding Peeta’s hand to see both Prim and my mother staring down at me impatiently. Peeta’s been unconscious for over six hours and it’s now late afternoon. It feels like an eternity rather than less than a day.
I nudge Gale with my foot; he looks over at me confusedly from where his head is resting on the sickbed, his hands wrapped around Peeta’s and mine.
“We’ve gotta move,” I say.
Gale blinks. “Why do we gotta move?” He holds my and Peeta’s hands a bit tighter.
My mother’s had enough. “I need to check on my patient, and I don’t think either of you want to stick around while I’m changing Peeta’s bandage.”
“Already?” I say. “You just wrapped it a couple hours ago.”
“We need to keep it clean and check to make sure there’s no infection setting in. We don’t want him to lose his leg, or worse.” My mother lets Gale and me draw our own conclusions.
Reluctantly, Gale and I stand up to let my mother and sister work, but we linger, unable to bear leaving Peeta. He’s not dead, but he still hasn’t woken up from the attack earlier.
“You’re hovering,” my mother says without looking up.
“I don’t want to miss Peeta waking up.”
She sighs. “You won’t, I promise you. Peeta’s not going to wake up anytime soon.”
“Why not?” I can’t keep the panic out of my tone.
“Because he’s lost a lot of blood and the medications I’m able to get him to swallow make him sleepy,” she explains patiently. “But it also means he’s going to need a little extra care and unless you feel like changing his underwear, you two don’t need to be here.” She sighs and pushes the hair that’s escaped from her bun out of her eyes. “Look, why don’t you two go help Rory?”
I’m confused about the subject change. “Where is he?”
Prim pipes up. “He’s dealing with the mess down by the river.”
“Are you sure?” As much I don’t relish seeing what my mother and sister are doing with Peeta, I want to stay for Peeta’s sake and my own.
“I promise you he’ll be fine. If he wakes up, I’ll send Prim to go get you.” My mother sounds exasperated.
“Don’t worry, Katniss, he’s in good hands,” Prim says, trying to soothe me. I’m not sure I want to be soothed, but Gale and I head out anyways.
We find Rory by the smoker. He looks up and motions to Gale’s and my bows which are sitting next to him. “You dropped these,” he says. “I figured you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them.”
Gale looks over at his brother. “Thanks.”
“How’s Peeta doing?” Rory asks.
“Does your mom think he’s gonna make it?” he asks me.
I shake my head. “I don’t know. She hasn’t said either way.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s those fucking raiders!” Gale clenches his fists.
“Speaking of, I think we should do something about the bodies,” Rory says, taking in his brother’s stance. “They might have some stuff on them we can use. Plus we really don’t want to attract scavengers.”
Rory’s right. We don’t want to attract scavengers and they might have things of use on them.
Seeing that we’re not going to object, Rory leads us down to where the raiders fell.
The bodies are starting to bloat in the warm sun, clouds of insects flying over them. Their eyes have been pecked out by crows, but so far there hasn’t been too much other damage. Still, it’s disgusting.
We start with the blond-haired male who injured Peeta, stripping the body of its weapons and clothes. Pinned to the man’s vest we find a gold mockingjay pin that’s the sister to the one Madge gave me. It’s facing the opposite direction, the wings are higher, it’s not holding an arrow, and there are twelve spokes connecting it to the outer circle, but the bird itself looks very similar and it was clearly made by the same person.
Gale unpins it and holds it up to the light. “I guess we know what happened to the Donners. Looks like this bastard took it as a trophy.”
“Well, probably not him,” Rory points out, motioning to the dead young man. “He’d be, like, a million years old. But you’re probably right. Maybe his grandfather or something stole it.”
“I’ll keep it, give it to Peeta later. He earned it.” Gale tucks the pin into his pocket.
Rory nods in agreement, wisely choosing not to argue with his big brother.
We strip the rest of the bodies then follow their footprints back to where they first noticed us to pick up several packs and large baskets dropped there. When the bodies are stripped and we’re sure that we haven’t missed anything useful, we turn to the now naked bodies.
What are we going to do with the corpses?
“Why don’t we just throw them in the river?” Rory suggests in answer to our unspoken question.
“It’s not a bad idea, but they’ll just wash up on shore over there,” Gale says, nodding towards the oxbow. “We need to take them further downstream. Maybe even across the river to the other side.”
Rory groans. “But they’re heavy! And they’re naked!”
“Just try not to think about that,” Gale says, but I can tell that he’s just as disturbed as Rory is. I am too. We killed five people. Technically only Gale, Peeta, and I did, but Rory still played a part and his life was in just as much danger as the rest of ours. The woman tried to kill him. She didn’t succeed, but she could have.
Gale grabs one of the bodies while Rory and I struggle with another. We drag them downstream and toss them in on the other side of the oxbow. The water moves swiftly, but not as fast as it did earlier in the season. Hopefully they’ll be carried far downstream away from us before attracting any bears or wild dogs.
“This feels wrong,” Rory says. “Like it’s disrespectful.”
“What do you want us to do?” Gale asks. “You’re the one who suggested throwing them in the river.”
“I know, but… that doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.”
“We can’t bury them,” Gale points out.
“And we can’t burn them.”
“I know!” None of us can stomach the smell of burning flesh and we had our fill in District Twelve during the flu.
“Look, this is the best option.”
“I know, but it doesn’t mean that I have to like it,” the boy says, shifting uncomfortably.
Gale and I share a glance. We know what he means. We don’t like it either. But it’s the only way we can protect our family.
With our gruesome task done, we pack up all of the supplies we’ve managed to recover and return to the cave.
We don’t even bother going through it all. We’re too exposed out here in the open and Gale and I want to get back to Peeta.
Peeta’s not awake when we get back. But before my mother lets us hover at Peeta’s side again, she requests a family meeting. Prim stays in the doorway of the kitchen in order to keep an eye on Peeta but the rest of us gather in the main room.
“What’s this about? How’s Peeta? He’s not dying, is he?” My tone becomes higher pitched and more frantic with each question.
My mother opens her mouth to answer.
I cut her off before she can say anything. “Oh no, that’s it! He’s dying! You’re gonna tell us he’s dying! Please, I don’t know--”
“Peeta is not dying!” my mother interrupts. “Well, not yet anyway. He’s lost a lot of blood and it’s going to be up to him to heal.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Gale asks, his voice full of concern.
I realize, guiltily, that I’m not the only one affected by Peeta’s condition.
My mother turns to Gale. “The most we can do is make sure he keeps sleeping and keep him full of fluids. It’s probably going to be a little messy and we’re going to have to make sure that leg of his stays clean and uninfected. We don’t have any drugs from the Capitol to fight infection so the best we can do is make sure it stays clean.” She sighs, and I realize just how exhausted she is. “I’m just grateful we were able to get the wound cleaned.”
“So what did you want us for?” Rory asks.
My mother takes a deep breath. “We need to talk about what happened out there.”
“We were attacked, we defended ourselves, Peeta got hurt, what else is there to talk about?” I’m confused. It seems pretty self-explanatory to me.
“Well, who attacked us for one.” My mother’s tone is deadly serious. “They looked like a fishing party or a hunting party. That means that they were were probably part of a larger group, and that group is probably nearby.”
I cross my arms. “We’re not moving.”
“I wasn’t suggesting we should,” she says mildly. “But we’ve been pretty careless, assuming that there was no one else out here. It got us into trouble. We’re going to have to be more careful now.”
“Careful how? We already have watches.” I start to pace, my mind racing. I can’t think clearly. Everything’s just a jumbled swirl of emotion and confusion.
“And that’s good. But I think we need to make sure that nobody goes out alone and that all of us,” my mother turns to my sister, “that means you too, Prim - need to start training more for a fight. We’re lucky that Gale and Katniss are as good with the bow as they are, but the rest of us need to be able to pull our own weight.”
Prim grimaces but nods her head.
Rory pulls out his slingshot and hands it to Prim. “Here. You can have this.”
Prim looks relieved. A good shot wouldn’t be fatal to a human, but it could distract someone. It can also be used in a melee situation easier than a bow without the chance of permanently injuring or killing an ally.
My mother nods her head in approval. “Good. We also need to start thinking about defenses. Gale was right. This cave is nice, but we could use more.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere until Peeta’s recovered,” Gale says, crossing his arms stubbornly.
“I’m with him,” I say, stopping pacing long enough to mirror Gale’s stance. “We need Peeta.”
My mother sighs. “Then I guess I just have to work on making sure he gets better.”
Gale and I return to our vigil at Peeta’s bedside. After dinner, my mother shoos us out, saying, “Go to bed. He’ll still be here in the morning.”
“You can’t know that!” I argue.
“Yes I can. I’m a healer. Now scoot.”
We leave reluctantly, each of us casting concerned looks at our third.
We crawl into our bed and try to sleep, but something’s missing. Peeta. Both of us toss and turn, trying to find a comfortable way to sleep. But we can’t.
I flop onto my back and stare up at the ceiling, counting the stalactites. Maybe if I do something brainless I’ll finally be able to sleep.
It doesn’t work.
“You miss him too,” Gale says quietly about a half hour later.
I nod my head, not even trying to pretend I’m asleep. “Yeah. I’ve been sleeping with him for almost three months. I’m used to him now.”
“I know,” Gale whispers. “I haven’t been sleeping with him near as long as you have, but… it doesn’t feel right, not having him here.”
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
He rolls over to face me. “I don’t know. Not like we’re gonna get a lot of sleep.”
I shake my head.
“You think your mom would notice if we snuck back into the kitchen?” he asks hopefully.
I shrug. “Probably. But I’m not sure I care. I can’t sleep without Peeta.”
“Me either. Come on,” Gale says, getting up and grabbing the blanket off the bed. “Let’s go.”
We tiptoe back to the kitchen, noting that Rory is on watch at the cave entrance with his back to us. We peek into the kitchen, hoping we won’t get caught.
My mother is asleep in a chair next to Peeta’s bed and Prim must be asleep back in the bedroom.
Careful not to wake either my mother or Peeta, I climb into the sick bed and nestle down next to Peeta with my head against his shoulder and my hand splayed out against his chest so I can feel his heartbeat. Gale isn’t able to fit on the small bed, but he does his best anyway. He half-lies half-sits with his head on Peeta’s chest and one of his arms sprawled out across Peeta’s stomach.
“Think you can sleep now, Catnip?”
Feeling Peeta’s heart beat underneath my fingers, I nod my head. “Yeah. At least I can try.”
I wake up a few hours later to find another blanket has been laid across Peeta and me. Gale’s still asleep, so it probably wasn’t him. I look around the room and note my mother isn’t in the chair anymore. I guess she saw the two of us and decided that she didn’t need to sit vigil if we were there. That’s fine with me.
I listen to the sound of Peeta’s heartbeat and try to drift back to sleep. I can’t. My mind keeps slipping back to the attack yesterday. I killed two people. Granted, they were attacking my family, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier. I shift around, trying not to wake Peeta or Gale.
I don’t succeed in the latter.
Gale lets out a low groan and opens his eyes. “You okay, Catnip?”
I shake my head.
I sit up, shifting around so that my back is against the wall of the cave, and look down at Peeta. “It’s just... hard.”
Gale sits up, cracking his neck and wincing. “Tell me about it. I think my back hates me right now.”
“No, not that,” I say, smiling slightly.
“Then what?” He regards me seriously.
“We killed people,” I say, half to myself, half to him.
Gale nods. “Yeah. I thought it was just me. You seemed so together, Katniss. After everything.”
I snort. “I was a crying mess.”
I shake my head. “Over everything.”
Gale looks down at Peeta. “I thought it’d be easier, you know. Like killing an animal. It’s not. Even though those people were attacking us, they were still people. They still had lives and loved ones. And we took that away from them.”
“How do we live with this?” He looks up at me and I can tell that he’s no longer talking about the raiders. “I mean, I almost killed one of the best things in my life. How was I to know this merchant kid was gonna be another part of myself?”
“You’re asking the wrong person,” I tell him. I’d have killed Peeta back then too if I hadn’t felt like I owed him. It’s still hard for me to bear sometimes, only Peeta’s continual forgiveness and love makes it any better. “I don’t know. But I’m glad we didn’t.”
“Me too. I wonder how long he’s gonna be out.” He regards Peeta with a mixture of worry and something else. “I need to talk to him. I need to say some things, get some stuff off my chest.”
I reach down to touch Peeta’s curls. “I don’t know. I just hope he wakes up soon.”
Gale reaches for my hand. “That makes two of us.”
The next three days are spent in the cave, with people traveling in pairs to the latrine or to check on snares. Nobody goes out alone and my mother and Prim have either Gale, Rory, or me with them.
When we’re not on escort duty, Gale and I stand watch over Peeta’s bedside. We take turns holding his hand and talking to him. He’s started to stir, but he’s still groggy and a little feverish. In response to the latter, my mother pumps him full of nourishing broths and teas to help aid the healing. Whatever she’s doing seems to be working because his fever breaks on the fourth day.
Prim is on Peeta duty since Gale and Rory went to check on the snares while my mother and I went down to check on the garden.
When we get back, Prim is bouncing on the balls of her feet excitedly. “He’s awake! Peeta’s awake!”
Gale and I don’t even bother to set our bows down before we rush into the kitchen.
Peeta’s sitting up, leaning against the wall of the cave. I sit down next to him and wrap my arms around him. “Hey,” I say, rubbing my face against his shoulder.
He drapes an arm around me and I revel in the warmth. “Hey yourself.” He looks up at Gale. “Hey to you too.”
Gale smiles, setting his bow down on the granite bench. “Good to have you back, Peet. I’ve missed you.”
“What? You didn’t like having Katniss here all to yourself?”
Peeta’s tone is light and teasing, but Gale’s reply is serious.
“Wasn’t the same without you. It didn’t feel right.”
Peeta wrinkles his forehead, confused.
“I’ve gotten used to you, Mellark. Couldn’t sleep without you snoring in my ear.”
“I do not snore.”
“You know what I mean.” Gale sits down at the foot of the bed and reaches out to take Peeta’s hand. “I owe you an apology, Peeta.”
Peeta’s even more confused. “For what?”
“What we did - what I did - to you back in Twelve, making you come along with us. That was wrong. I get that now.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I know now that you’d never have betrayed us. But I was an idiot and I couldn’t see past my own prejudices and fears. Thing is, I can’t be too upset about taking you along, cause you and Catnip here are the best things in my life. You’re my family. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“Please let me finish,” he pleads. “I’m sorry for almost killing you. I’m sorry for taking you away from your family and friends. I’m sorry for treating you the way I did. I was wrong and I’m sorry. Do you think you can forgive me?”
Both Peeta and I just stare at him.
Gale runs his fingers through his hair. “Fuck. I’m dumping this all on you and you’ve just barely woken up. What am I thinking?”
Peeta reaches out to him. “Hey man, it’s okay.”
“No.” Gale shakes his head. “I shouldn’t be burdening you like this.” He looks down at the ground like he’s ashamed to even look Peeta in the eye.
“No, that’s not what meant,” Peeta says, tilting Gale’s head up to meet his eyes. “I mean it’s okay. I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago. I guess I never got around to telling you. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that you were carrying all this guilt.”
Gale still looks stricken. “It’s not your fault, Peet. I didn’t realize until you were lying here just how much I fucked up and how lucky I am to have you in my life,” he looks over at me, “to have both of you in my life.”
I nod my head, not really sure what to say. I feel like I’m an intruder in something private and personal between the two of them.
“Hey, I feel the same,” Peeta soothes. “It’s okay. I forgive you, Gale. I forgave Katniss so the least I can do is forgive the other person I love.”
The relief that floods through Gale is visible. He smiles gratefully at Peeta.
The former merchant returns it with one of his own. “So what happened while I was out?” Peeta asks, changing the subject.
I’m grateful. This is something I can feel comfortable talking about. “There hasn’t been much. We called the salmon run quits early so that we could stay near the cave and you.”
Peeta smiles and squeezes Gale’s hand.
Gale scoots forward on the bed so that he’s closer to the two of us. “Katniss’s ma suggested we start setting up some kind of defenses and maybe a few traps in case any other raiders come by, but I told her we needed to wait until you got better.”
Peeta looks at us, clearly confused. “You didn’t need to wait for me.”
“But I wanted to wait,” Gale says. “This is your home too. You should have a say in how it’s protected.”
“What happened with the raiders?” He wants to know next. “We got them all, right?”
“Yeah, we killed them all.” I don’t remind Peeta that one of them was his kill. He doesn’t need that burden. “We were able to salvage a few things from the bodies and even more from their packs.”
“We have a lot more nets and we were able to recover most of their weapons.” I pause, blushing a little. “They had a tent with them.”
Gale pops in. “I figured we could use it the next time we want to have a romantic getaway.” He waggles his eyebrows at the two of us.
“They had a bunch of huge baskets.” Gale tries to show how big using his hands, supplementing my explanation. “One of them seems to be watertight, so Prim’s been studying it, when she hasn’t been taking care of you, to try to figure out how to create one of her own.” I take a breath before continuing. “They were pretty well-provisioned. Like really well-provisioned. And it’s pretty clear they were planning on hanging out in this area for a while.”
“Do you think they’re from around here?” Peeta asks, his eyes full of concern.
“I don’t know,” I answer honestly. “It’s possible. But now that we know that there are other humans out here, we should probably prepare for them no matter what.”
Peeta nods. “Sounds like a good plan.”
“That’s not all,” Gale says, taking a deep breath like he’s gathering his courage. He leans forward and gently kisses Peeta on the lips. It’s tender and gentle, and I can’t help but stare at the two of them in shock. Gale pulls back. “I’m sorry. I know we agreed not to do that without permission. But I couldn’t stop myself.”
“What was that for?” Peeta asks before I can.
“I realize just how much I love you.” Gale runs a hand through his hair. “I just couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t show you.”
“Pffft,” Peeta snorts. “You’re just saying that so you can have your wicked way with me.”
Gale laughs. “In your dreams, bread boy.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls the mockingjay pin out and holds it out to Peeta. “One of the raiders had this,” he says, the serious tone he’d used before returning. “It’s just like ours. Like it’s a sign or something mushy like that. Figured it belonged to you. That way each of us has one.”
“Gale…” Peeta tries to push it away.
“No.” Gale shakes his head, pinning the brooch onto Peeta’s shirt over his heart. “I want you to have this. In fact, I got something else I want to say to you.” He meets my eyes. “To both of you.”
Peeta and I share a look. We’re both confused and unsure of what’s about to happen.
Gale slips off the bed and gets down onto one knee. He reaches back into his pocket and pulls out two rings. “I just don’t think I can go on without letting you know how I feel. I’m in love with you. It may not be the kind of love most people understand but we get it. I love your soul and that’s enough. Marry me, Peeta. Be my man bride.” He holds out the larger of the two rings to him.
Peeta takes it with a smile.
Gale beams at him, then turns to me. “I may not have been in love with you as long as Peet here, but I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You’re my stubborn, beautiful, wonderful, sexy piece of my soul. Marry me, Katniss.”
He holds out the smaller ring to me and adds, “Marry us.”