Under a nurse's supervision, Peeta and I polished off two large bowls of stew. At first, I only picked at mine, but one stern glance from the nurse had me swallowing it down as fast as I could. Not long after she left, Haymitch and Rory arrived together.
"Hey kid," Haymitch greeted Peeta, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. "Did you and Hawthorne play nice with Dr. Aurelius today?"
Peeta chuckled and pushed Haymitch's arm away. "As always," he affirmed.
"Good," said Haymitch. "We need to get you home before Effie has a fit. She thinks you need more beauty rest."
Rory snorted as he took a seat beside me. "I really have to meet this lady," he said.
"Oh, you will," Peeta assured him. "Sometime when I'm late for an appointment, she'll come rushing in, ready to save the day."
"She always does," Haymitch agreed sarcastically. "Grab your stuff, kid. You can come back in the morning after you get some sleep, if there's time before Snow's execution."
"What?" I demanded. "That's tomorrow?"
"Yes," Haymitch said. "No one told you? Katniss is apparently going to pull herself together enough to shoot him."
I shook my head in disbelief. Rory was nodding as though this was old news, but Peeta seemed similarly confused.
"No one told me, either," he said quietly, staring hard at Haymitch.
"How have you been?" I asked Rory after Haymitch and Peeta left, and a nurse set up my IV for the night. "Is it lonely living by yourself?"
Rory smiled mischievously. "I'm not lonely. I met a girl."
I raised my eyebrows in mock horror. "A girl? Rory! Who is she?"
"Her name is Rae," he said shyly. "She's from District 5. Beautiful, quiet. Orphaned during the rebellion and fled to the Capitol in the hopes of joining the rebels. She cares for a bunch of the younger children now, and wants to be a teacher someday."
"I'm so happy for you," I told him, and I meant it. Just talking about Rae had put a light into Rory's eyes that I hardly knew.
"I miss Elizabeth," he said, "but I think she would have wanted me to move on and be happy. And she would have liked Rae," he added with a smile.
"I look forward to meeting her," I assured him. This time, Rory, I want to be there.
In the middle of the night, I was woken by a siren. Ambulances were a new concept to me in the Capitol, and although I understood their benefits, I didn't think that I would ever adjust to the noise. Rory, who had fallen asleep leaning against my bed, rose groggily and wandered out into the corridor to find out what had happened. I tried to close my eyes and return to sleep, but my curiosity won out, and I waited up for Rory to return.
Nearly an hour later, Rory was still gone. Worried that something might have happened to him, I carefully stopped my IV drip and removed the needle from my arm. I eased myself out of bed and into the corridor, but there was no emergency in sight. Light trickled out into the hallway from one room at the end of the hall, and I walked toward it, wondering if Rory might have gone there. As I neared the door, I could make out whispered voices. Afraid of interrupting, I turned to head back to my room, but then I heard a gruff tone that could only have been Haymitch's.
"At that point, I called the ambulance..."
I flung open the door. Haymitch, Dr. Aurelius, and Rory stood in the middle of the room, surrounding a table. I walked slowly into the room and gasped when I realized that an unconscious Peeta had been laid out on the table.
"Gale!" Rory exclaimed, stepping out from his place near the wall. "Peeta is fine. I'll be back in just a moment. You should be sleeping."
"What happened?" I demanded, approaching the table. Peeta seemed unharmed, and I scanned his body, searching for the problem. And then I saw the blood, dried in trails down his arms. His wrists were wrapped in thick bandages. "Haymitch?" I asked softly. "Did Peeta do this to himself?"
Haymitch's silence confirmed my suspicion. I looked back at Peeta. His unconscious expression seemed peaceful enough, but his hair was wild and his face was covered in dry sweat. He had on the same clothes that he had worn to my therapy session.
"He had an episode," Dr. Aurelius explained. "We just brought him up from the Emergency Room. The last thing he needs right now is to wake up to more trauma."
Why, Peeta? You seemed fine earlier. Happy, even.
Beside me, the color had drained from Rory's face. "I'll be back in your room," he said quickly to me before slipping out.
"You let him do this to himself?" I asked Haymitch accusingly. At first, Haymitch looked taken-aback. But then his expression softened to one of regret and sympathy.
"No," Haymitch replied. "I left to look after Katniss for a while. When I came back, he was rocking back and forth in the middle of the floor and muttering to himself. Blood everywhere. I sedated him and called an ambulance to bring him here as fast as possible."
Dr. Aurelius looked thoughtfully at Peeta. "I wonder what set him off," he mused. "I think Gale and I would both agree that he seemed to have himself together pretty well all day. We've been working through Peeta's major triggers in his therapy sessions, but there are so many smaller ones that we haven't identified yet."
"This was a major trigger," Haymitch said quietly, and I realized what must have happened.
"Snow's execution," I said harshly. "What were you thinking, Haymitch? I mean, I understand how I ended up in the dark, being here all the time. But Peeta should have had time to process all of this."
"Do you really think that's what he needed?" Haymitch argued back. "More reason to dwell on what he's been through?"
"Gale is right," Dr. Aurelius said softly. "Peeta should have had more warning. But it's not entirely your fault, Haymitch. We both should have discussed it with him."
I shook my head in disgust. "What kind of therapist are you, if you can't discuss Snow with him?" But as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wished that I could take them back. Dr. Aurelius looked away, but I could see the regret and guilt written all over his face. He's doing the best that he can. This is hard for him, too.
I walked over to the sink and soaked a soft cloth with warm water, then squeezed out the excess. I carried it back to Peeta and wiped the sweat from his face and the blood from his arms.
"We probably ought to lock him up again so that he can't hurt himself like this," Haymitch said slowly, and I could tell that locking Peeta up was the last thing he wanted to do. "But he's just spent so much time that way... it seems cruel to keep him caged."
Dr. Aurelius nodded. "He needs to be able to face the real world. He's going to relapse now and then. If we put him back in a mental health facility..."
"He can't live that way." I finished.
All three of us looked back at Peeta, limp on the table with his bandaged wrists. He didn't deserve this.
"Well then," Haymitch said, "can you meet with him for therapy tomorrow morning, before the execution?"
"First thing," Dr. Aurelius agreed.
"Good," Haymitch replied. "And Hawthorne, I'm assuming that you've done some boneheaded thing like remove your IV?"
"Yeah," I admitted, grinning. "I'll stop by the nurses' station on my way back and get someone to help me with it."
"I'll stay here with the kid," Haymitch said, placing a hand on Peeta's shoulder. "Doctor...?"
"Call me in as soon as he wakes," Dr. Aurelius instructed. "We'll... we'll make this right. Somehow."
When I returned to my room, Rory was sitting beside the window. Dawn was beginning to spread over the Capitol, and the early risers were trickling out into the streets to open their shops.
"Crazy place, the Capitol," he said, shaking his head. "But I think I could stay here."
"Now, you can," I said, although I knew that I could never do the same. I wasn't sure if I could return to District 12, either. Maybe if that was what Katniss wanted, if she chose me. But with everything that Peeta had given up for her, the thought of leaving him behind in the Capitol seemed terribly unfair.
Thank you for your readership and support! It's been awesome to hear from so many new folks. I hope that you're all enjoying the story!