Everyone was waiting for Emily to react – to scream, or cry, or pass out, or punch somebody. Even Thomas was holding his normally hyperactive tongue. Her mind furiously worked through all the implications of Thomas's words: Minho had been stung by a griever. He was still in the Maze. He was alone. And there was nothing Emily could do to help him.
"Go," she whispered, eyes finally returning to Thomas's. The word was all it took to spring everyone into action. A party of six of their strongest and fastest took off through the gate. Even though he was hurt and weak, Thomas managed to lead the pack by a sizeable distance. It was already well into the afternoon; depending on how deep into the Maze Minho was, they might not even have time to get there and back before dark. And Minho would be dead weight – even with six pairs of helping hands, their return wouldn't be nearly as quick as the first leg. And this was all assuming that another griever hadn't already come along and finished the job.
Newt, who had stayed behind to maintain order in the ensuing chaos – and perhaps to keep an eye on the unbalanced girl they'd left behind – slung an arm around Emily's shoulder. "How is it that we're the ones who always end up stuck on this side of the wall, waiting with bated breath for the return of our loved ones?" He asked, only half-kidding. "Couple of drama queens, if you ask me," he joked, letting out a mirthless laugh.
Emily spun in his grasp and circled her arms around his waist, pulling herself tight up against him. Newt hesitated a moment – taken off guard by the sudden closeness – before wrapping his arms around her shoulders, drawing soothing lines up and down her back with his fingertips. "Hush, now. It's alright. Minho would survive anything for you."
"It's not just survival I'm worried about," she mumbled into his chest. Yes, they had a serum that could heal the body of griever poison, but it could never truly repair the mind. Whatever the toxin did to them – their memories, their nightmares – left them forever changed. A kind and gentle boy could become paranoid and violent; someone good-natured and honest might turn cold and untrusting. "Newt, what if he's… different?"
"He might be a little confused at first, but Emily… he'll still be Minho." He didn't know what exactly she was asking, but he was certain that no matter what weird klunk the poison was doing to Minho's brain, nothing would ever change how he felt about Emily.
Emily nodded into his chest, but it was an empty gesture. She kept picturing the way Ben's feral eyes bore into her before he attacked, the mercilessness with which he had attempted to take her life, the way – even now – he sneered at her when they crossed paths.
A loud crash rung out through the Glade as three boys – in the middle of a spontaneous brawl – slammed into a stack of freshly washed dishes. Frypan was rolling up his sleeves, getting ready to knock some sense and discipline into the unlucky trio, and Newt cursed under his breath. "Sorry, love. Duty calls," he groaned, giving Emily's cheek a little peck before storming over toward the dining hall.
There was no sense in standing there for hours, waiting on pins and needles. Emily needed something to do – a distraction. Running used to clear her mind, but to her now disproportionate body and easily expended energy reserves, the activity seemed frivolous and wasteful.
She could wait in the infirmary – no doubt they would bring Minho there when (she refused to think if) they arrived – but the small shack held so many painful memories already. She could go to the Homestead and soak up the small reflections of her missing love, but in his absence they would only bring misery.
Emily found herself wandering the woods until she came upon the place they buried their dead. Dozens of names – far too many – were carved in memoriam on the stone wall. She ran her fingers along the crude markings until finally they found a blank space, and she dared to wonder whose name would fill it next.
The trees immediately surrounding the area were fuller, healthier, having been vitalized by the rich material being absorbed by their roots. To some, this might be comforting, this circle of life; but the trees – and, by extension, the entirety of their cruel prison – were feeding off the ones she loved, made stronger by her grief and loss and pain. Emily resented them. She traipsed back out of the forest, purposefully plucking leaves and snapping branches as she went.
Though the sky hadn't begun to change colors, the sun was already partially obscured by the high walls of the Maze by the time Thomas led the team to where Minho had been stung. When they turned the last corner, everyone ground to a halt. There was a pool of darkened earth in the center of the path, but no body in sight.
"Is Minho… did he…?" Alby swallowed and tried to verbalize the questions on everyone's minds.
Thomas examined the scene. It was very similar to the one he had left, minus the unconscious runner. "I don't think it was grievers."
"But… the blood," one of the other boys commented.
"That was there before," Thomas explained with a grimace. It wasn't just Minho's blood that stained the ground. "I don't understand. What could have happened?" If the grievers had found him, Thomas was sure the surroundings would be much more… grisly.
"The poison affects different people differently," Jeff explained. Though he was the less experienced medic, Thomas had brought him along because he was much faster than Clint. "Some people, just knocks 'em out. Others… well, you remember what happened to Ben," he finished, looking down at the ground.
Ben had been like a rabid animal, half crazed with hallucinogenic nightmares. After Minho had beaten him unconscious, he was given the serum and recovered. Every so often, Thomas still noticed a feral glint in his eye, like at any moment he could snap; Thomas gave him a wide berth.
"So, if Minho's not unconscious, or dead, and the grievers didn't get him…" Alby trailed off, working through the possible scenarios.
"Shuck," Thomas muttered, tearing off back in the direction of the Glade. Minho was a beast by nature, fueled by innate power and rage; Thomas couldn't even imagine how terrifying he would be hopped up on griever juice. He pushed his already burning legs even faster.
Emily emerged from the woods, turning to give a swift kick to a tree stump for good measure. When she pivoted back around, she gasped in surprise. Standing, not twenty feet away from her, was the man whose name she had feared, just moments ago, she'd have to engrave into the cemetery walls. She took a step forward – her body quicker to react than her mind – before registering his uncomfortable stance, his strained expression.
On some level, Minho knew he was looking at someone he loved. The only thing that kept him from separating her head from her body was that initial instinct that told him to protect, not to destroy. She hadn't seen him, and he easily could have overtaken her. His consciousness was flooded with horrors – sterile rooms and failed experiments, friends that were enemies and enemies that were gods. His mind screamed at him to attack, insisting that everyone and everything in this place was a lie, a threat, an abomination, and he wanted nothing more than to tear it apart piece by piece. His head was warring with his heart, and his body shook as it attempted to reconcile the conflicting desires.
Emily wanted to believe that Minho would never hurt her, that there was no reason to fear him. She was rooted in place, working through a similar internal struggle, both desperately wanting to throw her arms around him and sensing the need to flee as fast as her feet could carry her.
A panicked thump beat frantically inside her womb, and Emily took an involuntary step back, the safety of her child trumping anything else she might be feeling. Her foot landed on the ground and caused a twig to snap, along with any control Minho had been clinging to. She could see the shift in his eyes, could feel when man became animal, when was overtaken by instinct. He was predator, she was prey.
Minho launched himself at Emily, closing the distance in two impossible strides. She dodged to the side and Minho slammed into a tree with enough force to snap the trunk in half. Instead of slowing him down, the evasion seemed to fuel Minho's fire. He scurried up a thicker tree and danced from branch to branch, matching in the air Emily's pace on the ground.
She wasn't running toward safety – no such place existed for her at the moment – only away from Minho. Debris was raining down around her from thick branches straining to hold up the enormous mass that catapulted from them. Emily made a hard right away from the tree line, hoping to gain some distance in the delay it would take Minho to climb back down.
Instead, he somersaulted off the branch, flipping in midair and landing directly in front of Emily. Normally she could have ducked and rolled to the side, continuing on her path without losing any speed. She couldn't do that now, but also didn't have enough room to stop, and her forward momentum caused her to plow directly into Minho; it was like hitting a brick wall.
Minho didn't even budge, but spun into the impact, grabbing Emily by the collar and slamming her onto the ground. "You did this!" he bellowed, pinning her arms above her head with one of his massive hands.
"No!" she cried. "Minho, please! It's me. Please, come back to me," Emily begged, though there was no hint of the man she loved behind the wild eyes of the creature on top of her.
Minho backhanded her across the face, reddening her cheek and causing her lip to split open. "Quiet, traitor," he hissed, closing his other hand around her throat and cutting off her air. Emily writhed in his grasp, coughing and kicking, but his grip never loosened. Her lungs burned and spots danced in front of her eyes as the oxygen quickly dissipated through her rapidly pulsing arteries.
"Jesus, Minho!" Newt exclaimed, though it came out as more of a question; he knew rationally that Minho would never be suffocating the love of his life, but that was what was unfolding – rapidly – right before his eyes. "HELP! Everybody!" Newt shouted, and it resonated across the Glade.
It would take the others precious seconds to get there – time that Emily didn't have. Minho was going to kill her. Newt grabbed one of his massive arms and pulled. It was enough to get Minho to release his hold on Emily's arms, but in the process Newt got flung to the side. Emily used her newly freed fingers to pry Minho's hands away from her throat enough to take a few ragged gasps, but he soon had control of her once again.
"Damnit, Minho, you're going to kill her!" Newt yelled. Minho either couldn't hear, or didn't care. "And your baby, Minho. What about him?" The mention of his child was not enough to get Minho to let up, but he hesitated, and the pause was long enough to allow a horde of Gladers to arrive.
It took no less than nine people to hold Minho down – two for each limb and one sitting on his lower back. Even then it was a struggle to contain him long enough for Clint to administer the griever serum. The effect was immediate; Minho's body went slack and his eyes dulled to a tame dark chocolate, but his breathing was still labored.
As soon as Minho looked under control, Clint rushed over to Emily, who was still on the ground sputtering and rasping. Newt knelt next to her, staring with concern at her injuries, but uncertain how to help.
"Emily, look at me," Clint instructed, and she did as she was told. "Good. Now I want you to take deep, controlled breaths through your mouth," he said, imitating how she should breathe and then continuing the practice along with her. It was several long inhalations before she could finally take a breath without choking, but slumped in relief as soon as she did, the panic subsiding. "Now, I want you to lie still, but tell me if anything hurts. Does anything feel broken? Cracked?"
Emily took a deep breath, but winced as her rib cage expanded. She gently twisted and stretched, testing out muscle and bone. "Ribs. Wrist. Skull," she informed the Med Jack, voice shaking. "Don't think anything's broken though."
Clint's hands made their way around her bruised body, closely testing each of the areas she'd identified. He tightened a compression wrap around her wrist and put an ointment over various open wounds, leaving the rest to heal with time. "How about the little one?" he asked, trying and failing to sound casual.
Emily's eyes shifted toward the subdued Minho. He was fading into unconsciousness as his mind and body fought to rid itself of the poison that had overtaken it, but an unmistakable veil of pain and regret radiated from his very core and pierced through his groggy features. Minho would never be able to forgive himself. Emily glanced away, unsure that she would ever be able to forgive him either.
"I think he's okay," Emily said, placing her uninjured hand over the spot she could still feel the baby kicking furiously. Even in his unthinking assault, it seemed Minho managed to unconsciously avoid harming their child. It was little consolation, but at least that particular nightmare would not plague his unconscious mind as his world finally went black. "Better than the kidney he's trying to punch a hole through," she continued with a laugh, which morphed into a gasp and then a coughing fit, which in turn aggravated her bruised ribs.
"Easy there," Clint warned as Emily squeezed her eyes shut and attempted to control her breathing using the technique Clint had modeled for her. He smiled when he felt the strong thump against his palm on her unscathed abdomen. "So you think it's a boy?" the Med Jack mused.
Emily shrugged, then hissed as a jarring pain radiated from her shoulder. "Don't really know, but it's better than 'it'," she explained as Clint tested the mobility in her arm.
"Well I think it's a girl," Newt chimed in, excited to finally be able to participate in some way. There were some grunts of agreement among the other boys. "See? Only a kid that takes after her mum could be stubborn enough to survive in the Glade," he said, winking.
Clint frowned. "I still think you should take it easy for a while. I'm sure Newt won't mind taking over your garden duties for a few days?" He said it like a question, but meant it more as a command.
"Not a problem, love," Newt said, patting Emily's good arm affectionately. "The fruits need to be handled with care, and you've got about as much delicacy as a slicer with a grudge," he finished, laughing at his own joke. Emily tried to laugh, but the motion was too much and started another painful coughing fit.
"Alright, alright, enough," Clint determined. "My patients need their rest." Four boys began to haul Minho's now completely limp, heavy frame toward the infirmary. "Let me know if anything changes, alright? Anything," he said, serious eyes boring deeply into Emily's. She nodded, though her most dangerous wounds were not ones the Med Jack could heal, and Clint jogged after the group.
Emily was still on the ground, Newt sitting cross-legged beside her; they were finally alone. She wanted to cry, but crying hurt. She wanted to forget, but she would forever see Minho's haunted eyes. She wanted to be strong, but fear made her weak.
"He's going to be different now," Newt finally spoke. Emily clenched her jaw and nodded – they both were. Newt brushed the hair from her bruised cheek, and a single tear fell from the corner of her eye and disappeared onto the ground. "But I meant what I said before. He still loves you. And the baby." And that was probably the only reason the two of them were still alive.
Emily finally let go of a torrent of sobs, which wracked her already aching body; the pain they inflicted was nothing compared to the emotional agony that fueled them. Even if the love remained, the trust between Emily and Minho was gone. Rebuilding that trust – if it was even possible – would take time and energy, but they were on the clock and both so very, very tired.
Had they been fighting a battle that was already lost? Predetermined by the Creators to eradicate any joy, any hope, any peace – and only delaying the inevitable, bloody end? The movement in her abdomen that had slowed to a gentle flutter reminded Emily that no, this could not be all there was; that somewhere outside the Glade, outside the walls of the Maze, there was a place where the game was not rigged, where the players could set their own rules. There had to be. She was betting their lives on it.