The anthem ends, and immediately Katniss and Mellark are marched off to the Justice Building and disappear inside. An alarm goes off in my head, and I panic.
Will I never see her again? Will I never be able to tell her how much I love her?
As the crowd begins to disperse, I run up to a passing white-uniformed Peacekeeper.
"Hey, Darius," I say, breathless. "Are the tributes allowed visitors?"
Darius knows what I'm asking. He raises an eyebrow. "If you want to see her, I'd best go as fast as you can."
I thank him, promptly taking his advice.
Unfortunately, there's already a line there. Already Mrs. Everdeen, Prim, Mr. Mellark, and Madge are waiting to go in. Seems Katniss is pretty popular for a tribute. The idea brings a smile to my face as I recall how many little moments we'd shared in the woods. It disappears as I remember that those moments are over.
No! I tell myself. No more of that. You had promised to be strong for Katniss, remember?
I know, I did promise. And I will. I just don't know if I can...
You can, my subconscious reminds me. As long as you know she's alive, you can. She is what gives you the strength to carry on. You can only give up when she does.
Sometimes I think I'm smarter than myself.
I sit in silence, head bowed. After a while, Prim and her mother come out. With a sympathetic look, Mrs. Everdeen holds my hand in both of hers, giving it a squeeze. I return her gaze, asking how are we going to go on?
No words are needed. In a few moments, they depart.
An eternity passes. What was I going to say? I had promised to be strong. Well, pretending to be what I'm not has always been something I'm good at. I had to start on a survival basis. Remind her how good she is at hunting. Focus on her skills. Get a bow. Get out. Be safe.
And for my sake, come home.
Finally, I am allowed to go in.
I see her, my Katniss, looking so pretty and disheveled with her hair done up and in that blue dress and tears threatening in her eyes. Just like a little girl. She'd been put through so much so quickly, with so many new emotions that she couldn't possibly begin to deal with, and all I could do was open my arms.
She rushed into them, and I held her fiercely close, wishing I could communicate my urgent feelings through thought. Do you even know how much I love you? Do you know how hard it will be if I lose you?
I noticed she had on Madge's mockingjay pin, and a handkerchief full of cookies sat on the couch. So many gifts today. Well, here is one more, Catnip. Here, in this embrace, I give you my heart, my love, my life, and my devotion. I hope you can detect that. I hope that you can cherish that.
Back to being strong. Releasing her, I say, "Listen. Getting a knife should be pretty easy, but you've got to get your hands on a bow. That's your best chance."
"They don't always have bows," she replies.
"Then make one. Even a weak bow is better than no bow at all."
"I don't even know if there'll be wood."
"There's almost always some wood. Since that year half of them died of cold. Not much entertainment in that."
"Yes, there's usually some," she concurs. Gosh, why does she have to be so darn beautiful?
Focus. "Katniss, it's just hunting. You're the best hunter I know."
"It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think," she says. Always doubting herself.
"So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice. You know how to kill," I shoot back.
Here comes the worst part: "How different can it be, really?"
We lock eyes, in each others' thoughts. Suddenly, the door bursts open and three Peacekeepers rush in. Cursed white Peacekeepers. "Excuse me, but could we please have more ti-"
My sentence comes to an abrupt stop as they grab me roughly, but I somehow manage to keep hold of Katniss' hand, and squeeze it. I feel panicky again. We had so little time, and there's still so much I have left to say. I will hold on to you as long as I can.
There are tears in her eyes. "Don't let them starve!" she cries desperately.
"I won't! You know I won't! Katniss, remember I--"
The door slams in my face. The Peacekeepers release me, and I am left alone in the hall of the Justice Building.
"Love you," I whisper, heartbroken.