When the anthem begins that night, I don’t even bother looking into the sky. There won’t be any faces. The audience probably wants blood and the only reason the Gamemakers haven’t sent anything after us is only because of Beetee’s trap. Which we still have to set up. Around nine, we leave the beach and silently hike up to the tree. Once there, Beetee has Finnick assist him in wrapping his wire around the trunk. First, however, he unrolls about twenty or thirty yards of the stuff and ties it around a branch. I don’t know what this means, but I’m soon lost in the rhythm he and Finnick take on as they wrap it around the trunk in a way that looks significant, but I can’t really tell. I know as much about electricity as Katniss does, which is to say none.
When he and Finnick finish, he tells us the rest of the plan: Katniss and Johanna have to run the wire down to the beach and throw the coil into the ocean, then run back to the jungle before the lightning hits. If they go immediately, they should be safe in time.
“I want to go with them as a guard,” I say before anyone else can volunteer. After the discussion the two of us had at breakfast this morning, I want to stay as close to her as possible in case anyone suspects we might be breaking off the alliance soon.
“You’re too slow,” Beetee tells me, making me worried that he has some sort of hidden agenda. “Besides, I’ll need you on this end. Katniss will guard. There’s no time to debate this. I’m sorry. If the girls are to get out of there alive, they need to move now.” He hates the coil of wire to Johanna.
I glance at Katniss. I can tell she doesn’t like this plan any more than I do, but what choice do we have? My insisting to stay with her will, no doubt, cause suspicion among the rest of the group and the last thing we want them to do is wonder about what we’re planning. However, at the same time, I know that Katniss trusts Beetee and therefore I trust him, which is the only reason, besides the obvious, that I don’t argue the point any further.
“It’s okay,” Katniss tells me. “We’ll just drop the coil and come straight back up.”
“Not into the lightning zone,” Beetee reminds her. “Head for the tree in the one-to-two-o’clok sector. If you find you’re running out of time, move over one more. Don’t even think about going back on the beach, though, until I can assess the damage.”
Katniss takes my face in her hands. “Don’t worry. I’ll see you at midnight,” she assures me. Then she kisses me, probably thinking I’m going to argue some more, but I won’t. I close my eyes and enjoy the moment, before she pulls away, turns to Johanna and says, “Ready?”
“Why not?” she responds, shrugging. “You guard, I’ll unwind. We can trade off later.”
And then they’re gone.
“How long will it take them to get down to the beach?” I ask Beetee absentmindedly as I watch them disappear into the night.
I don’t get a response. I turn and see Beetee uncurling the wire from around the branch he’d tied it around earlier. He wraps it around the hilt of a knife that I recognize as my own. I wonder vaguely how he got ahold of it without my notice, but really I’m more concerned with what he’s doing. Finnick isn’t saying anything either. He’s only watching Beetee intently. Clearly, they know something I don’t and I’m about to ask one of the two of them what’s going on when the part of the wire that Johanna and Katniss ran off with goes slack. I hear footsteps in the trees below. I whip my head towards them and immediately take off in their direction. Finnick calls out to me as I go, telling me to come back, but I don’t trust him anymore and Katniss is in danger.
As I hurry down the slope, armed with only a knife I’d had hidden in my boot, I wonder what’s going on. Did Johanna and Finnick make a deal with the Careers before the Games? Did they tell them to come after Katniss when we were separated? And, if so, how would they have known when to do that? There isn’t any form of communication in the arena. They must have figured it out beforehand.
Suddenly, a canon goes off and I freeze. I try to remember how many there are of us left, but I’m panicking too much, thinking that it could be Katniss to count properly. I hurry even faster down the slope, not caring that the lightning is going to strike the tree soon, not caring that I could be making too much noise and be killed by one of the Careers. All that matters is getting to Katniss. I have to save her. I have to protect her. That’s my job. I made it my job after I gave her that burnt loaf of bread so long ago and it became even more of my job after the first Hunger Games we were in.
I’m shaking with panic, imaging Katniss dead and bleeding somewhere and unable to help her. I slump against a tree and try to gather myself, but I can’t. I feel like a child again, terrified that my mother is going to hurt me when I’ve done something wrong. Then, before I really know what I’m doing, I’m screaming, “Katniss!” I know I shouldn’t. The Careers could hear my location and come after me instead, but, if she’s dead, that doesn’t matter anymore. If she’s alive, it could help her. “Katniss!” I call again.
Only a few moments later, I hear her response, coming from the direction I’d come. “Peeta! Peeta! I’m here! Peeta!” She doesn’t sound well. Her voice sounds ragged and tired, but it’s strong enough that I know she’s alive enough to hold on, she’s alive enough that I can find her and save her from her attackers. She continues calling to me and I hurry in her direction.
“Katniss!” I call again. I race back up the slope, dropping my knife. If there’s anyone near her and she’s injured, I can just use her bow on them. I’m not a good shot, but if they’re as close to her as I think they are, then I don’t think I’d be able to miss.
Suddenly, there’s a bright light and a loud crack as the lightning strikes the tree. I freeze and look in the direction of it. There’s another light, too, one racing towards the forcefield. It takes me a moment to figure out what’s happened: someone was able to put the wire through the forcefield. They were able to get through the chink in the armor.
I’m just wondering what’s going to happen when there’s another bright flash of light as electricity from the tree reaches the wire. For a moment, all around me there is sky, there is more than the arena, there is life beyond this wasteland that they’ve put us in and all this time, if we’d just been smart, we could have reached it.
Then everything around me explodes.