I've seen more sick children in my lifetime than almost anyone. Coughs that can't be soothed, fevers that can't be brought down, aches that cannot be dulled. I may not be a healer, but when I look into the infant's eyes, I know that something is wrong. Gale must see it too, from the way he watches her. She squirms in his arms in an unnatural manner. But Peeta is the only one who does not show recognition to this fact. If he sees it, he has chosen to ignore it. I wish I could be so carefree.
She's wrapped in Peeta's shirt, so Gale offers him his jacket. Its not cold, but even swaddled tightly the baby shivers. Despite this, we all remain silent. I'm sure Gale and I are thinking the same thing, but we're both too afraid to say it out loud. It's not just Peeta I'm afraid to hurt. I'm scared that if I say it, it I break down and accept the truth, it will break me.
Peeta is the one to break the silence. And I'm glad it's him, knowing that he will not be the deliverer of bad news.
"What do we do?" He asks solemnly. At first I'm afraid he has figured out the condition of the baby, but when I see the gentle smile on his face, I know it's not so. Gale and I look to each other, and I swallow to try to rid myself of the lump in my throat.
"We can't just bring a baby back to camp." He adds, looking between both of us. And he's right. If what Delphi said is true, then something is happening in the Capitol. Something greater than we know.
"Then what else do you suggest?" Gale snaps, and Peeta is obviously startled by this. But he regains his composure quickly.
"I don't know," Peeta admits finally, and slumps down a little. I don't blame him for this. He was only trying to solve a problem. Of course, I don't blame Gale for the outburst either. It's taking all the strenght I have just to hold myself together-I can't imagine how he's feeling now, the infant, Luce, squirming in his arms.
I allow my eyes to drift to the side, where Delphi's body still lays. I look back almost immediately, and my stomach turns quickly. Gale had the decency to stitch her up again, and laying there, she could almost be asleep if I didn't know otherwise. The thought makes me feel sick.
"She can't go long without something to eat." Gale notes quietly, and I look up to him. Our eyes meet, and his jaw clenches. I wonder what he's thinking, if it's anything close to the thoughts that rush through my head.
She can't go long at all, I think, but it's a sick, twisted thought that I banish from my mind instantly.
"What do we do?" Peeta asks again, this time his voice is desperate. And I know it's not his intention to ignite Gale again, but it happens anyway.
"We don't do anything!" Gale exclaims, and Peeta's eyebrows tighten in confusion. "She's sick, can't you see it?" Gale adds, throwing his free hand in the air. An odd look covers Peeta's face.
"What?" He questions softly, but there's something dark in his voice. Something i've never heard before. It's not anger, though. It's something deeper. Dispair.
"She's barely breathing, she's got a fever." Gale explains, anger lacing his words. I lean forward to stop him, but ignores me.
"Then help her, do something!" Peeta shouts, standing. "Do something!" He repeats, but Gale stays still.
"Why are you just sitting there? We have to help her!" His eyes become dark and desperate, and he looks to me for help. My eyes meet his and he sees what I am trying to say. He shakes his head in refusal.
"No, no!" He shouts, shaking his head. His hands squeeze into fists at his sides and I know that not all of this anger is his own fault. I stand too, reach for his hand, but he pulls it away.
"You're just going to let her die?" He shouts, and Gale looks away.
"Katniss," Gale says, and I know what he's suggesting. I need to get Peeta away from here.
"Like you watched Rue die? Or Mags? Or Prim?" He screams, and I lash at him, grabbing his arms and pushing him away. He fights me, but not with enough strength to stop me. I force him away from Gale and Luce and Delphi. When he can't go any further without breaking down, he slumps to the ground. He's gasping desperately, and his eyes are red with tears.
"No," He murmurs, and I squeeze his hand. "No!" He shouts, and pulls away. My eyes are wet, but I force myself to stay strong for him.
"Why does it happen like this?" He asks, and I look to him for explanation.
"Why?" He begs, "Why does everyone always die?" He shouts, and a choke escapes from my throat.
And it's a good question. Why do people always die, or at least, before they've really lived? Combined we've lost more people than I can count. Our families have crumbled, our friends lost to a cause they couldn't help but fight for. And maybe I deserve it. Maybe I deserve to lose people, to feel that pain. But Peeta, he's different. He's better than the rest of us, and he doesn't deserve this pain. But in the end, it's not about who deserves to feel that pain. It's who's strong enough to feel it and not give up.
So when she dies a few hours later, her tiny body quiet and still, I'm not sure if any of us are strong enough. But it's almost as if a numbness overtakes me. I kneel next to Gale as he digs into the soft earth to bury her with her mother. It feels so wrong to lay something so seemingly alive into the ground, and I have to let Gale cover them with dirt until they entirely buried.
And for a while, I think that I might feel what Peeta feels. It's this ache in the pit of my stomach that screams for help. Everyone is gone. Everyone is dying and leaving and never saying goodbye. It's too much.
So when we wander back to the camp, our red eyes hidden only by nightfall, it's agreed that we will demand to be taken home. I cannot stay away from home any longer. Because even if it doesn't feel like home anymore, it's the closest thing I know.
I cling closely to Peeta that night, crying quietly into his chest. I don't have to worry about nightmares, because sleep never comes. By morning, I am exhausted and too broken to move.
It's Haymitch who intervenes on the arguments of Chance and Plutarch and allows us to go home again. He doesn't know of what we left in the woods, but he does know that we can't stay here anymore. And if the Capitol drops another wave of bombs, then at least I can be among those I love when it happens.
When the hovercraft appears, I hold Peeta's hand even when we're safely within it's cab. And I don't let go until we're home again.