I spew the berries from my mouth, wiping my tongue with the end of my shirt to make sure no juice remains. Peeta pulls me to the lake where we both flush our mouths with water and then collapse into each other’s arms.
“You didn’t swallow any?” I ask him.
He shakes his head. “You?”
“Guess I’d be dead by now if I did,” I say. I can see his lips moving in reply, but I can’t hear him over the roar of the crowd in the Capitol that they’re playing live over the speakers.
The hovercraft materializes overhead and two ladders drop, only there’s no way I’m letting go of Peeta. I keep one arm around him as I help him up, and we each place a foot on the first rung of the ladder. The electric current freezes us in place, and this time I’m glad because I’m not really sure Peeta can hang on for the whole ride. And since my eyes were looking down, I can see that while our muscles are immobile, nothing is preventing the blood from draining out of Peeta’s leg. Sure enough, the minute the door closes behind us and the current stops, he slumps to the floor unconscious.
My fingers are still gripping the back of his jacket so tightly that when they take him away it tears leaving me with a fistful of black fabric. Doctors in sterile white, masked and gloved, already prepped to operate, go into action. Peeta’s so pale and still on a silver table, tubes and wires springing out of him every which way, and for a moment I forget we’re out of the Games and I see the doctors as just one more threat, one more pack of mutts designed to kill him. Petrified, I lunge for him, but I’m caught and thrust back into another room, and a glass door seals between us. I pound on the glass, screaming my head off. Everyone ignores me except for some Capitol attendant who appears behind me and offers me a beverage.
I slump down on the floor, my face against
the door, staring uncomprehendingly at the crystal glass in my hand. Icy cold, filled with orange juice, a straw with a frilly white collar. How wrong it looks in my bloody, filthy hand with its dirt-caked nails and scars. My mouth waters at the smell, but I place it carefully on the floor, not trusting anything so clean and pretty.
Through the glass, I see the doctors working feverishly on Peeta, their brows creased in concentration. I see the flow of liquids, pumping through the tubes, watch a wall of dials and lights that mean nothing to me. I’m not sure, but I think his heart stops twice.
It’s like being home again, when they bring in the hopelessly mangled person from the mine explosion, or the woman in her third day of labor, or the famished child struggling against pneumonia and my mother and Prim, they wear that same look on their faces. Now is the time to run away to the woods, to hide in the trees until the patient is long gone and in another part of the Seam the hammers make the coffin. But I’m held here both by the hovercraft walls and the same force that holds the loved ones of the dying. How often I’ve seen them, ringed around our kitchen table and I thought, Why don’t they leave? Why do they stay to watch?
And now I know. It’s because you have no choice.
I startle when I catch someone staring at me from only a few inches away and then realize it’s my own face reflecting back in the glass. Wild eyes, hollow cheeks, my hair in a tangled mat. Rabid. Feral. Mad. No wonder everyone is keeping a safe distance from me.
The next thing I know we’ve landed back on the roof of the Training Center and they’re taking Peeta but leaving me behind the door.