Into the Woods

Chapter Nineteen

I wake up the next morning and hear Gale cursing at the map machine outside. I come out to see what the matter is.

"There's no other water source besides the lake we were trying to head to yesterday." And we both know returning there is not a good idea.

"There's nothing else?"

"Not within a twenty five mile radius. We're going to need water soon," he tells me with a frown. "We only have one bottle left." Gale takes the last bottle and splits it in two. He hands one of the half-filled bottles to me. "This is going to have to last us three more days, if we don't find anything."

"Don't worry," I tell him, trying to be positive, "I'm sure something will turn up."

Gale questions my optimism, but I try not to let my smile falter. We split some dried meat for breakfast and try to wash it down with a tiny cup of water. Perhaps we shouldn't have eaten the salted meat, I think, trying to suck the taste out of my mouth, trying not to think about the little water we have left.

Gale packs up our supplies and checks the map. "All right, this direction," he points ahead. I nod, collect my bag, and follow him.

Today is an unusually warm day and we peel off our outer layers as we hike. I start to feel a little weak as my body tries to sweat. This is not going to be good, I think to myself, remembering too well the effects of dehydration. But I smile reassuringly whenever Gale looks back to check on me.

"Are we any closer to water?" I ask, trying not to sound too desperate when we stop.

Gale looks at the map and shakes his head. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah!" I say perhaps a little too brightly. Gale walks over to me and puts his hand to my face.

"You don't feel so good," he scowls.

"No," I dismiss him with a wave of my hand and heavy breath, "no, I'm fine."

I'm not though. Yesterday, I felt a little thirsty. My throat and lips were a bit dry, but it was nothing to worry about. Today, however, my whole body feels parched. My limbs all feel heavy and I've got a horrible headache.

Gale's brow crinkles the way it always does when he's worried. "Here, let's take a drink." He opens his bottle and takes a sip and I do the same with mine. I let a tiny bit of water fall into my mouth. I think I might be so thirsty that I just absorb it rather than swallow. "Drink more, Katniss."

"No, I'm fine," I maintain. His eye brow raises up, but he doesn't push the matter.

We park under a large tree for lunch. Gale pulls out some dried fruit, but I pass. I'm not hungry and think it will only make me thirstier. He gives me another funny look.

"I'm just not that hungry," I insist.

We sit and rest under the tree for several minutes. I close my eyes and try and enjoy the shade.

"It's really hot today," I say, trying to fan myself.

"Yeah?" I don't notice that it's a question. I nod. "Katniss, are you sure you feel okay?" His voice is more concerned.

"Yeah!" I chip again, trying to sit up and look normal.

"Here," he tries to hand me his bottle, "I want you to drink some more water."

"No," I push it away, "that's your water, Gale."

"You need it."

"So do you," I insist. But Gale is relentless. "Look," I finally settle the matter, "if you get too dehydrated and pass out, I can't carry you. But if it happens to me…" He knows I have a point.

"Oh, I get the pleasure of lugging your butt until we find water then?" he teases me.

"Yeah. And it's a real pleasure too," I add playfully.

We both sit and relax in the shade for a few more minutes before Gale finally gets up and extends his hand to me. He has to pull me up and I'm a little shaky at first, but luckily Gale is kind enough not to say anything. I wonder if he is secretly feeling as bad as I am, or if he's just stronger. I suspect the later as he looks okay.

"Do you ever have dreams about me?" I say out of nowhere after been walking for a bit.

"What?" he sounds stunned at the question.

"You know," I make a loopy hand gesture, "dreams…when you sleep."

"I know what dreams are, Katniss."

Well, why'd you ask then? "Well?" I'm not letting this go.

"I guess," Gale finally answers, "sometimes. Why?"

"Because I had a dream about you last night." I think my vision is starting to get a bit blurry.

"Oh yeah," he smiles, "what about?"

"I can't remember," I frown, trying to recall the details. I've got such a headache. "But I had a dream about you and Vivica once…She was feeding you grapes…I hated it." I'm not really sure what I'm saying any more. I'm starting to feel really sick.

"Really?" Gale seems a little happy when he says this. "Because she was feeding me grapes?"

"No!" I struggle to find a way to explain, "or maybe…you were feeding her grapes. I don't remember now..."

"Katniss?" That's funny. Gale's voice sounds so distant. Why can't I see him? "Katniss!

. . .

I open my eyes and see Gale peering down at me. I must be lying down. I reach up and poke Gale in the forehead.

"Hey there…" he says as he looks down at me.

"I just wanted to make sure you were real," I say. He accepts this. "What happened to you?"

"Nothing happened to me," he explains. "You fainted."

"I did not." I never faint.

"I'm afraid you did."

"No," I argue.

"If you say so," he agrees as he stokes my face. I like the way that feels. But then I think I remember fainting, so I change the topic.

"I had funny dreams."

"About me and Vivica?" he teases, shaking me slightly.

"No!" I scowl. "I hate that girl."

"Why? She seemed nice."

"Oh, of course you liked her."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just…she was all over you! It was so obvious."

Gale smiles. "Careful, Catnip, you're starting to sound like you're jealous."

"No…well…maybe."

"Really?" Gale seems excited to hear this.

"She thought you were really good looking."

"I am really good looking," Gale says playfully.

"Yeah, but, she wanted you."

"So? That doesn't mean I wanted her."

I pause and try to think about this. It's hard because I still have a headache. "Really?"

"Katniss if I liked every girl who thought I was good looking, I'd be in a lot of trouble."

"Yeah," I laugh, "all the girls like you…"

"Not all the girls," he says, looking at me strangely.

"Gale – "

. . .

I feel cold this time as I wake up. It looks like it's getting dark out. But that could just be my vision.

"Gale?"

"Yeah?"

"Oh, I thought you left me." I'm suddenly aware of his arms around me. I start to reach up for his face again.

"Never."

Everything fades out.

. . .

"I can't see."

I hear Gale's voice. "It's night time now."

"Oh." Well then, I might as well go back to sleep.

. . .

I can hear birds chirping and everything looks gray. I blink several times, trying to bring the world into focus. I pull myself up and look around. We're inside the tent and Gale is sleeping next to me. My throat doesn't feel as dry now and I don't have as much of a headache. But trying to move makes me feel a little dizzy. I lie back down.

I remember having many strange dreams. Images swirl before me.

I am running through the woods desperately searching for Gale. Then Peeta comes and finds me. He tells me we are still in the Games. I try and tell him the Games are over. "No, Katniss," he says with a gravely, "the Games aren't over." I my face wrinkles into a frown. Peeta extends his hand and tells me to follow. "But what about Gale?" my voice fades. Peeta leads me back to the Capitol and I'm in some prep room. People are fluttering all about me. Whispering. Haymitch comes in. He tells me I have to put on a very good show. "You're in love, remember?" He repeats this as he leads me out to a stage. I walk out, in a frilly, dollish dress, and Peeta is waiting for me. I'm blinded by flashing lights and deafened by a roaring crowd. I don't know what is going on. I get nervous and want Gale. But Peeta is the one waiting for me, with outstretched arms. He takes me in his arms and kisses me. I return it, but coldly. The crowd boos me. I hear someone yell, "you call that a kiss!" I turn and yell, frustrated, "I don't want to kiss Peeta!" Then Vivica comes out of the shadows, wearing a very seductive dress that makes me feel silly in the girlish one I'm wearing. She has a wicked smile on her face, "Well, you can't have Gale."

I frown as I remember the pieces of the dream. I'm confused and angry and try to forget about it. I look down at the sleeping Gale next to me. I scoot closer to him, possessively. Vivica can't have you, I think. Gale must sense me because he shifts in his sleep, opening his arms to me. I can't help but snuggle closer. He pulls me to him and I rest my head on his shoulder, curving my body around his. I look up at his sleeping features and think I like the feel of our two bodies so near. I think that if I ever have to kiss anyone again, I hope it's him…

"How are you feeling?" Gale asks me when I open eyes. I don't know if it's awkward us being this close. But I suppose it's the same as a hug, just on the ground.

"Better," I say, looking at Gale suspiciously, realizing there's only one way I could feel better.

"What?"

"You know what I'm thinking," I accuse him.

"You think I force fed you water?"

My answer is written across my face.

"It's hard to make someone drink while they are asleep," he tells me. "Go ahead, look at your bottle."

I find it and see that it's still almost half full. I nod, accepting this, and take a swig from the bottle. But as I do and look at him, I realize. "You didn't!"

Gale averts his eyes.

"Gale! Tell me you didn't give me your water!"

"I didn't give you my water." I want to slap the smirk off his face. This is no joking matter.

"Don't lie!" I scream and throw my bottle at him.

He dodges it. "Hey!"

"We've got to last three more days, Gale!"

"I know."

"Yeah? And what am I supposed to do when you pass out, Gale! Did you think of that?"

"You needed water, Katniss."

"I would have been fine," I roll my eyes.

"No, you wouldn't have. I know how dangerous dehydration is."

"Obviously you don't! Or you wouldn't have given me your water! I'm not going to drink another drop," I insist, tossing the bottle back at him one more time. I can't believe his did this. I'm so upset I have to turn away from him, just looking at him makes me want to cry. But the tears still fall anyway.

"Hey, Katniss, it will be okay." I feel him come next to me and reach for my shoulders. He tries to massage them gently.

I swat him away and bury my face in my hands. Crying is such a waste of water, I scold myself, trying to fight back my tears.

"Please don't be angry," he says, taking my shoulders again and folding me into his arms.

Why doesn't he understand? "I'm not angry!" I choke, the tears are coming now. "I'm…" I hate admitting this, "…I'm afraid!" Gale's look suddenly changes. "What if something happens to you? What am I supposed to do?!" My voice is breaking. Gale reaches over and grabs me. He pulls me close to him, and I curl up in his arms.

"I couldn't let anything happen to you either," he whispers into my hair. There is no end to this fight. We both know it. We both know the other is right.

We silently sit and have breakfast. More dried food. I only pretend to take a sip of water before I pass the bottle to Gale. I'm not sure if he does the same.

I help him pack up the tent and the rest of our supplies. Even though there are few of them, both of us think that they feel heavier today.

I pay a lot of attention to Gale as we hike through the morning. I know he can't be feeling well. He's had less water than I have, is working harder, and is bigger than me. He hides any pain or discomfort well though. They only thing different I can notice is that his pace is a bit slower than normal.

"I need a break," he finally says, wiping the sweat from his face. He stops to lean up against a tree.

"Are you alright?" I ask urgently.

He nods and takes a sip of water. "Don't worry, Catnip," he smiles between heavy breaths. I'm not sure I believe him though. He drops his pack to the ground and slides down against the tree. I monitor him carefully, watching his chest heave with labored breaths, the sweat drip off his cheeks, the flutter of his eyes behind closed lids…

I tell myself not to worry and try to keep my heart calm. Not to think about how little water Gale's had over the past few days. How much a man his size needs…

I nearly jump out of my skin when I hear the sound. Gale is up and at attention in a split second too. The fighter in both of us is alerted. Our eyes frantically search around. Gale's already positioned himself protectively in front of me with a weapon in hand when we hear the sound again. We think someone is firing at us. But who? Where? From What direction?

Just then the sky cracks and it starts to pour. The sound wasn't shooting, but thunder. In only seconds we are drenched.

Gale laughs, running out into the rain.

"Woooo!" He cries, opening his mouth and facing the sky. He spins around, excited, like a kid. I can't help but laugh as I watch him. "Come on, Catnip!" I drop my pack and run over to him.

"You're crazy" I yell to him.

"What?" he says with a huge grin on his face.

"YOU'RE CRAZY!" I scream louder so he can hear me over the torrential downpour. Gale shakes his head like a dog after a bath, and smiles. He grabs me and twirls me around until we both fall laughing in the mud. Gale tried to catch me as I fell. I pulled him under and somehow landed on top of him.

Our eyes lock and we look at each other for a moment, our faces so close our noses are almost touching. My eyes flick down to his lips and I remember how I thought about kissing them, and now I want to kiss them, and I wonder if Gale is thinking about kissing me as he pushes some of the hair out of my face and his fingers trace the curve of my cheek. And I think I just might lean in and kiss him, when a bolt of lightning sizzles across the sky, and a dangerous clap of thunder breaks the moment for us both.

And then I remember that Gale has never wanted to kiss me. That he's the most beautiful boy from District 12 who can have any girl he wants, and that would never be me.

"We better take advantage of this water," Gale says, getting up and offering a helping hand. He picks up a few sturdy looking branches and pulls one of our thermal blankets from the pack. He devises a type of trough with the sticks and lines it with the blanket, which is more or less water proof. A little pool is already filling the bottom. This should collect plenty of water for us.

We're both soaked through and muddy as well. I've got dirt and leaves in my hair, and I can feel the mud wet earth in my shoes.

"Do you feel as gross as I do?" I ask him.

"Yeah," he looks around with the start of a grin tugging at his mouth. Some plan brewing in that clever mind of his. His eyes land of a nearby tree. "Maybe we should wash off our clothes."

My brow shoots up as I question him. But Gale is already peeling off his shirt. I can't deny that he has an incredible body. And I feel bad about thinking of him this way.

"Come on, Catnip," he says as he continues and takes off his pants.

When we were younger, we'd often throw off our outer clothes and swim in our underwear to escape the summer heat. It seemed natural and would have been strange to think anything of it. So much is different now, including our bodies. Back then, I was a flat chested, bony girl. And Gale was a lanky boy with arms and legs that were too long for him. His body never did seem to grow proportionally at the same time. Every piece separately in spurts, until they all caught up.

"Catnip?" Gale questions me, returning me to the moment. I see how he is hanging his clothes in a tree so that the water can run down it, hopefully cleaning away most of the dirt. Gale's done this with his shirt, his pants, and his socks. It actually seems to be working, I think, trying not to look at my friend standing in his underwear as the water falls off of his defined muscles.

I realize it's a good idea, and begin to strip off my clothes. Gale respectfully turns away and stands out in the open, trying to shower himself some. I wonder if he thinks this is as awkward as I do. Or, if he nothing of it, as I practically have the body of a kid, especially when compared to some of the other girls from back home. Of course, I've developed some, but being under fed and over worked for most of my life, I can't say I have a beautiful body. It was something my prep team often fussed about, wishing they could "alter" me, as they called it. I'd never even thought of it before. Being a woman seemed such a hassle, I was happy to be a late bloomer. But since, it has made me a bit self-conscious. Cinna had padded bras and other things to make me look curvier, more womanly. But out here in the woods, in my utilitarian hunting suit and sports bra, there is nothing womanly about me.

I hang my clothes in the tree like Gale did, and go and stand in the rain to try and wash myself some as well, with my back towards Gale. When I finish, I turn and see Gale has filled all the water bottles.

"Here," he hands one to me. "Drink all of this." I happily comply. We both drink all the water we can hold. Gale pitches the tent and we spend the rest of the evening huddled inside, but the rain shows no sign of letting up.

"Great," Gale huffs, "if it keeps up like this, we're going to have to start worrying about food…"


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