Approaching the river bank, the girl blinks once… twice. A hazy figure focuses in the distance. Under the blazing glare of the sun, his bright yellow hair catches the light, causing the girl to blink once more.
“Peeta,” she whispers to herself.
Crouching behind a nearby bush, she hastily considers the situation at hand. The boy. With his kind words and gentle eyes, he poses the greatest threat to her. The others, with their strong, able bodies and proficiency with weapons, seem insignificant compared to the fair-haired danger before her.
Running a hand through her hair and down the tail of her braid, she recalls a thought from a different time… A kind Peeta Mellark is far more dangerous to me than an unkind one. She moves her hands towards the ground, positioning herself for another glance at the unsuspecting body before her. In a nearby tree, a mockingjay repeats a familiar four-note melody. Then as if brought back to her senses, the girl ducks back behind the shrub, and, while sitting, quietly pushes her head into her hands in frustration. She sighs inwardly and gathers her bow.
A twig snaps under her footfall.
The boy, still oriented towards the water, turns his head sharply to face the shocked girl behind him. Noticing the bow in her hands, he smiles sadly and turns once again towards the river.
“You here to finish me off, sweetheart?”
The comment freezes her, both body and mind. Still taken aback, she retorts sharply, “I might as well. You out here in the open, someone’s bound to anyway.”
He chuckles and gestures toward the pebbled ground next to him—an invitation.
“You just couldn’t keep away, could you?”
“What do you mean?” she asks, now sitting beside him.
“The lure of an easy kill. Wounded prey,” he says, lazily gesturing towards the garish cut on his leg. Fatal, definitely. She knows from years of watching her sister and mother tend to wounds of the miners. If not now, then sometime soon.
She stares wide-eyed at his leg then back at his face. She’s speechless. By both the sight of the blood and the blatant insult to her morality.
“It’s okay,” he says, chuckling softly again. “I understand. Anything to get home, right?”
“Who’s to say you won’t kill me right now? Suppose you take that and run me through,” she says pointing at the wicked knife next to his hand.
Blond curls fly as he throws his head back in hearty laughter, causing the girl to question his sanity. As if acknowledging the confused look on her face, he speaks.
“I will never kill you, Katniss.”
“But you can! I’ve seen you wrestle at school with your brothers! You could easily overpower me… And at the Cornucopia, I saw—”
“I didn’t say I can’t,” he pauses to run a hand through his wavy hair. “I said I won’t.”
She considers his words for a moment and comes to a conclusion of her own, “You know what? I don’t think I’ll kill you, either. But call me ‘sweetheart’ again and I won’t even hesitate.”
They both laugh; the cheerful noise hangs oddly in the air around them. In the midst of the Games, laughter seems wrong… alien, even. They both remember where they are and stop, provoking a long silence. The boy speaks first.
“Whatever you say, sweetheart.”
She lowers her head slightly and raises her eyes through a squint, producing a deadly glare. Her icy gaze is relentless until a small, unwarranted chuckle escapes her—shattering the glassy facade. The boy begins laughing uncontrollably now, rolling on the river bank clutching his stomach as he tries for air.
A small gasp. He has stopped laughing. She turns to see him clumsily grasping at his leg as blood runs freely from the newly reopened wound.
“Death by laughter. Not a bad way to go, I suppose.”
“You are not going to die,” she says with a determined severity in her voice.
“It’s okay, sweetheart.”
“That is not funny.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’ll never call you that again…” he drops off as he comprehends the inadvertent meaning behind his words. He was going to die, and soon.
The girl scoops up his head and places it gently in her lap. “C-can I…” she asks, reaching for his hand.
They stay there, hand in hand, listening to the mockingjays in the nearby forest.
After a while, the girl speaks, “Peeta?”
“Hmm?” he strains, his strong body growing weaker by the second.
“I-I wanted to… to, uh, thank you.”
His eyebrows stitch together in confusion, “For what?”
“For what you did. For me and my family…”
She looks down at his face for a response, but he doesn’t oblige so she continues.
“Peeta, thank you for the bread.”
“No,” he whispers, barely audible, “thank you.”
“Me? For what?”
He raises his gaze to meet hers, moving her face down slightly with his hand. A small, knowing smile spreads across his lips as his blue eyes meet her grey ones and his body becomes still. The ghost of his last smile, a smile for her, still etched upon his face.