I walk to the door. For some reason, it is very important that I keep myself composed. I can hardly stop the tears from streaming down my cheeks. I close it behind me and look for an exit. I desperately run, trying to open a few doors. I know I only have a few moments before Peeta will decide to follow me. And I can't face him. Not right now.
Finally, I throw open the door to a bathroom and collapse to the floor. I sit next to the toilet afraid I might throw up. I try to keep quiet, but I feel like I am choking for air. Thoughts race through my mind. Anger. Fear. Hate. How could he do that to me? After what happened with that man. And Prim. How could he do that to me? How could he…How…I sob.
I can hear the noise from the party below. The happy chatter, joyous laughs. It seems like something from another planet. I need to get out. I know it will be impossible for me to make it out the front door unseen, so I throw open the window and jump below. Not a smart idea when wearing heels, I realize. I stumbled a bit, twisting my ankle, but the pain is not enough to stop me. I start to run…like a mad woman, to the only place I felt safe: the woods.
I have no plan; I just know I need to get away. I am determined to run until I feel nothing. I tear my dress as I crawl through the fence. I cry and kick at it like it is an attacker. Thorny bushes slice my skin and I'm not even sure I realize. All I know is that I need to keep running. I see a vague light to my left and hear a voice. I panic; certain it is going to hurt me. I turn, sprinting in the opposite direction.
I don't know how long I go before I trip and fall. I try to get up, but my dress is caught. The light is getting closer to me. I tear at the fabric, desperate to get away before it reaches me. I free myself, but as I tried to run, I collapse. I am not aware I am in any pain, but for some reason, my legs refuse to work. I struggle to get up again when someone touches me.
"No!" I scream. The light is in my eyes, blinding me. I can't see who is there, but I can hear him talking. I don't understand his words though. He tries to touch me again, and I again scream.
I howl and fight. I try to claw my attacker and throw some stones at him. "Leave me alone! No!" but I am too tired to keep fighting. He grabs me and pulls me up off the forest floor. I struggle, clawing at his face, but pins my arms and is much stronger.
"Please…Don't hurt me." I sob still squirming.
He tries talking to me again, but I don't register any of his words. Now that I am standing again, I kick the man and break free. I am about to run when I heard my name.
"Katniss." The sound of my name slowly triggers my brain to work. "Katniss," I hear him say again.
I turn and look back. In the dim light, I make out the familiar features of Gale Hawthorne.
"Gale?" I don't believe it is him.
"What the hell, Catnip?" He picks up his light and moves closer to me. It is then he must see the state I am in. As the light hits me, he freezes. I see his eyes searching. They look shocked and I don't understand why.
"Gale?" I repeat.
"Oh my god, Katniss, what happened?"
My brain finally realizes it is him and I rush into his arms. I bury my face in his chest and start to cry. He tries to return my hug, but I scream. "Don't touch me!" He throws his hands up, as if surrendering, uncertain what to do. To Gale's credit, he kept them up for minutes as I sobbed uncontrollably into his shirt.
Finally, I collapse and he has to reach down to catch me. We sink to the ground together, and he pulls me on to his lap, cradling me as I continue to cry.
I don't remember when I stopped, but I am suddenly aware I am covered in Gale's jacket and can hear his heart beating in his chest.
"What are you doing out in the woods this late at night?" I ask him.
Gale looks down at me curiously. "Checking on my snares. I don't have time to do it during the day any more now that I'm working in the mines."
"Sorry." I've no idea why I say it.
"Don't be." Gale shifts me in his arms. "What are you doing out here so late at night?" he returns the question. I don't answer.
He rocks me a bit, wanting a response. "Running" is the only thing I can think to say.
Gale shifts me again and moves me up so he can look me in the eye. "Katniss," he begins to probe. He knows he can get the truth out of me if he looks me in the eye.
But I can't face him. I mutter, "no," and bury myself in his chest again.
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I realize Gale is carrying me and we were almost out of the woods. I don't know how he got me through the hole in the fence, but he somehow did and I watch as we pass the sleepy houses of the Seam pass by in the bright moon light. He carries me all the way to Victors Village, and I beg him to enter my house quietly. He takes me to the kitchen, closes the door, and turns on the light. Gale's eyes widened as he looks at me. I have twigs and leaves in my hair. My dress is tattered and my legs are covered in dirt and blood.
"My god, Katniss. Do you want to tell me what happened?" He asks as he pulls my mom's medical kit from one of the shelves and grabs supplies.
I can hardly process my own thoughts. "He threatened Prim." I say. "And Peeta," I choke.
"Someone threatened Peeta and Prim?" Gale asks, alarmed.
"No!" Why doesn't he understand me?
"Peeta threatened Prim?"
"No." My tone was frustrated. "No." I stopped and tried to think. "Snow sent someone to threaten Prim."
"How?" Gale asked, dabbing one of my wounds.
"A reporter. He told me I was inspiring, and how unfortunate it would be if Prim's name was called again. It was clearly a threat." I explained.
"Of course." Gale agreed. "And what about Peeta?"
And what about Peeta? I don't even know the answer to that, and thinking about it makes me want to cry again. Gale seems to realize this and doesn't push any further.
"Well, Katniss, I think we're going to need to wash you off before I can really treat any of these wounds."
I stare at him blankly for a moment before I understand. "Oh. The downstairs bathroom," I say, "I don't want to wake my mom or Prim." Gale nods and carries me in. He sits me down on the edge of the tub and leaves. I don't even think to ask where.
"I just put some water on the stove, it will be ready in a few minutes."
"Oh no." Gale looks at me confused. "You don't need to do that," I explain. "We have hot water from the faucet here." And I turn on the tap. Gale looks a little embarrassed, and I wish I knew something to say to not make him feel so awkward, but I don't. He reaches in the tub to plug in the drain.
"Wow," he says at the steaming water. They don't have this in the houses at the Seam. "That's nice."
I nod, hardly aware. Gale puts his hand in to check the temperature. Once there is a decent amount of water in the tub, Gale motions to hike up my dress, exposing my legs almost entirely. His action catches me off guard, and I jerk away. "Sorry," I say when I see his look of concern. But Gale doesn't respond. He then lifts my feet and places them inside the tub. He takes a sponge and begins to squeezes it over my legs, washing away the blood. I wince at the pain, but Gale is slow and gentle. Soon, the water is red. Once he's done this several times, he slowly starts to clean the wounds. This contact is more painful than just the water, but I don't say anything. He softly dabs around the open cuts, picks grass, rocks and other dirt away, and runs water over my legs again. He empties the tub and fills it with fresh, hot water, and then moves to clean my arms and hands, which are significantly less damaged. I stare detached as I watch him repeat the process. He rinses the sponge again with fresh water and looks up to my face. He brushes my hair aside, picking a few twigs and leaves out in the process. There is a look in his eyes I simply don't understand.
"What?" I ask him.
"Nothing," he shakes his head, "just thinking."
"About how stupid I am?"
"I wasn't thinking that at all," he says, gently wiping the cut on my face. We are silent for a few more moments. "What are you thinking about, Katniss?"
"The water's red," I say staring at it blankly because it is. Gale only nods.
"All done." He says with a slight smile. He gets up of his knees and stands back. "Do you want to take a shower before I bandage the wounds?" I think this might be a good idea. "Katniss?" he repeats. I must have not responded.
"Yeah, I guess." He drains the water again and rinses the tub before refilling it. As it fills, he starts to unpin my hair and pull out some of the twigs. He then clumsily takes out my earrings and off my bracelet. When he finishes, the tub is nearly full. He turns off the tap and tests the water. "I don't think that's too hot." He puts a towel next to the tub and looks around. "I think that's everything," he says. "Do you need help taking off the dress?" I feebly nod. He unzips the back for me. "Call me if you need me, okay?"
I don't remember if I responded. Or how long I spend in the tub. I lay there until the water is dark with blood and getting cold. Sometime must have passed because Gale finally knocks on the door. I tell him to come in. He looks at me strangely as he enters.
"It's okay," I tell him. "It's red again," I say as if it happened by some strange phenomenon. Concern is written all over his face, and I realize I haven't made any sense. I correct, "it's okay that you come in because you can't see me because the water is red." Gale nods. I guess that time I made more sense. He crouches down next to the tub and looks at me.
"Katniss," he begins.
"No, Gale," I know his question before he even has to ask it. "I'm not okay." I pull my knees up under my chin to stay modest as he reaches in the tub to unstop the drain. I tell him to pull the shower head down and turn it on. He follows and he washes out my hair and my legs again. When he finishes, he puts the shower head up and grabs the towel. He sets it next to me and turns away.
"Why are you being so nice?" I blurt without thought.
Gale chuckles and turns around once I've wrapped myself. "Do you really need to ask that?"
I look at him confused. I understand nothing. "I've been so horrible to you."
I don't know how to respond. My head is in such a funny place. "I'm horrible to everyone." I finally say.
Gale shakes his head, almost looking bemused if his eyes weren't so serious. He picks me up and sets me on the sink counter. "Here," he says, "I'm going to grab your mother's kit."
He returns and carefully and tenderly cleans all my wounds. First with alcohol, which stings horribly. Then with some sort of cream. Finally, he bandages the deeper cuts. When he finished, he looks me in the eyes. I have such an inability to read him. I try to puzzle out what he might be thinking, but I've no idea. "Do you want me to get you some fresh clothes?" I nod and he quickly goes up stairs and fetches me some pajama pants and a shirt. He sets them next to me and exits, softly shutting the door. I stare at the clothes for quite some time before I understand what to do with them. I finally figure it out and put them on. I then go out in to the living room to look for Gale. I see him in the kitchen. He's put away my mother's medical kit and is drying the pot he started to boil water with. I shuffle over and sit at the table. I watch him as he dries his hands and puts the pot away.
"I'm sorry to do this, Katniss, but I need to get going to the mines soon."
"Of course." I say.
"Is there anything else I can get you?" I shake my head no. He walks up to me and takes my face. He kisses me on the forehead. "I'm glad you're back." I try and respond, but I can't find any words, so instead I look up at him confused. He walks over to the door. "Katniss?"
"Hmm?" I respond without looking up.
"Peeta didn't hurt you, did he?"
"No," I say, and I'm not sure if I am trying harder to convince Gale or myself. I hear Gale start to walk away and call after him. He swings around when he hears his name. "Please, help yourself to breakfast." It's the only thing I can think to say. Gale walks over and grabs an apple from the fruit basket on the counter.
No, thank you, I think. But the words never make it to my lips.