I want to run away. Disappear into the woods like I did that day they brought the burn victim to our house. Go and hunt while my mother and Prim attend to what I have neither the skill nor the courage to face. But there's no one here but me. I try to capture the calm demeanor my mother assumes when handling particularly bad cases.
"Pretty awful, huh?" says Peeta. He's watching me closely.
"So-so." I shrug like it's no big deal. "You should see some of the people they bring my mother from the mines." I refrain from saying how I usually clear out of the house whenever she's treating anything worse than a cold. Come to think of it, I don't even much like to be around coughing. "First thing is to clean it well."
I've left on Peeta's undershorts because they're not in bad shape and I don't want to pull them over the swollen thigh and, all right, maybe the idea of him being na**d makes me uncomfortable. That's another thing about my mother and Prim. Nakedness has no effect on them, gives them no cause for embarrassment. Ironically, at this point in the Games, my little sister would be of far more use to Peeta than I am. I scoot my square of plastic under him so I can wash down the rest of him. With each bottle I pour over him, the worse the wound looks. The rest of his lower body has fared pretty well, just one tracker jacker sting and a few small burns that I treat quickly. But the gash on his leg. what on earth can I do for that?
"Why don't we give it some air and then. " I trail off.
"And then you'll patch it up?" says Peeta. He looks almost sorry for me, as if he knows how lost I am.
"That's right," I say. "In the meantime, you eat these." I put a few dried pear halves in his hand and go back in the stream to wash the rest of his clothes. When they're flattened out and drying, I examine the contents of the first-aid kit. It's pretty basic stuff. Bandages, fever pills, medicine to calm stomachs. Nothing of the caliber I'll need to treat Peeta.
"We're going to have to experiment some," I admit. I know the tracker jacker leaves draw out infection, so I start with those. Within minutes of pressing the handful of chewed-up green stuff into the wound, pus begins running down the side of his leg. I tell myself this is a good thing and bite the inside of my cheek hard because my breakfast is threatening to make a reappearance.
"Katniss?" Peeta says. I meet his eyes, knowing my face must be some shade of green. He mouths the words. "How about that kiss?"
I burst out laughing because the whole thing is so revolting I can't stand it.
"Something wrong?" he asks a little too innocently.
"I. I'm no good at this. I'm not my mother. I've no idea what I'm doing and I hate pus," I say. "Euh!" I allow myself to let out a groan as I rinse away the first round of leaves and apply the second. "Euuuh!"
"How do you hunt?" he asks.
"Trust me. Killing things is much easier than this," I say. "Although for all I know, I am killing you."
"Can you speed it up a little?" he asks.
"No. Shut up and eat your pears," I say.
After three applications and what seems like a bucket of pus, the wound does look better. Now that the swelling has gone down, I can see how deep Cato's sword cut. Right down to the bone.
"What next, Dr. Everdeen?" he asks.
"Maybe I'll put some of the burn ointment on it. I think it helps with infection anyway. And wrap it up?" I say. I do and the whole thing seems a lot more manageable, covered in clean white cotton. Although, against the sterile bandage, the hem of his undershorts looks filthy and teeming with contagion. I pull out Rue's backpack. "Here, cover yourself with this and I'll wash your shorts."
"Oh, I don't care if you see me," says Peeta.
"You're just like the rest of my family," I say. "I care, all right?" I turn my back and look at the stream until the undershorts splash into the current. He must be feeling a bit better if he can throw.
"You know, you're kind of squeamish for such a lethal person," says Peeta as I beat the shorts clean between two rocks. "I wish I'd let you give Haymitch a shower after all."
I wrinkle my nose at the memory. "What's he sent you so far?"
"Not a thing," says Peeta. Then there's a pause as it hits him. "Why, did you get something?"
"Burn medicine," I say almost sheepishly. "Oh, and some bread."
"I always knew you were his favorite," says Peeta.
"Please, he can't stand being in the same room with me," I say.
"Because you're just alike," mutters Peeta. I ignore it though because this really isn't the time for me to be insulting Haymitch, which is my first impulse.
I let Peeta doze off while his clothes dry out, but by late afternoon, I don't dare wait any longer. I gently shake his shoulder. "Peeta, we've got to go now."
"Go?" He seems confused. "Go where?"
"Away from here. Downstream maybe. Somewhere we can hide you until you're stronger," I say. I help him dress, leaving his feet bare so we can walk in the water, and pull him upright. His face drains of color the moment he puts weight on his leg. "Come on. You can do this."
But he can't. Not for long anyway. We make it about fifty yards downstream, with him propped up by my shoulder, and I can tell he's going to black out. I sit him on the bank, push his head between his knees, and pat his back awkwardly as I survey the area. Of course, I'd love to get him up in a tree, but that's not going to happen. It could be worse though. Some of the rocks form small cavelike structures. I set my sights on one about twenty yards above the stream. When Peeta's able to stand, I half-guide, half-carry him up to the cave. Really, I'd like to look around for a better place, but this one will have to do because my ally is shot. Paper white, panting, and, even though it's only just cooling off, he's shivering.
I cover the floor of the cave with a layer of pine needles, unroll my sleeping bag, and tuck him into it. I get a couple of pills and some water into him when he's not noticing, but he refuses to eat even the fruit. Then he just lies there, his eyes trained on my face as I build a sort of blind out of vines to conceal the mouth of the cave. The result is unsatisfactory. An animal might not question it, but a human would see hands had manufactured it quickly enough. I tear it down in frustration.
"Katniss," he says. I go over to him and brush the hair back from his eyes. "Thanks for finding me."
"You would have found me if you could," I say. His forehead's burning up. Like the medicine's having no effect at all. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I'm scared he's going to die.