I held her as she wept.
When she was done she stood, broken and numb. She gathered flowers and laid them around Rue's body, taking great and gentle care as she wove them together. I watched her give Rue a proper burial, unsure of what to do, but, also, this is what she herself should do alone.
Once she was done, we looked at the little girl, faint sunlight playing on her face.
You wouldn't think she was dead at all.
Katniss was reluctant to leave but we wanted this image imprinted in our minds instead, before they came to collect Rue's body.
It was hours before we stopped to rest somewhere; the moon had come out but she wanted to keep going. There was an emptiness in her eyes that disturbed me. I reached for her shoulder, and she let me. I was both reluctant and hesitant to offer her the initial comfort I gave before. Where she was comfortable nestled into me.
But she's next to me now, close, no longer another person between us, yet the small space never felt emptier.
I move forward quietly, cautiously. She still hasn't fallen asleep, so I want her to be aware of what I'm doing. She'll feel more at ease.
She inches closer, the distance shut. Her forehead brushes my chin.
There's a quiet and deep sigh escaping her. She turns her head, hiding half of her face. She shuts her eyes before slowly opening them, one eye staring at me, bleak and reaching for something at the same time. It's sad and beautiful.
She reminds me of home.
Where everything is superficial, pretending to be fine, but deep down something isn't.
Something isn't fine…
"Do you…?" she murmurs, suddenly quiet. Then she says, "I miss her."
I pull her nearer, "I miss her too."
She snuggles into me, making me wonder why she does and why my heart beats too fast. She's soft and warm, despite her thinness and she curves into me in a way that feels so right it's disturbing.
I remember her singing—beautiful music filling the air as Rue died between us.
This is how Peeta fell in love but it can't be the only reason why.
There's still so much I don't know about her, her past, her likes and dislikes, anything. But, somehow, I feel this is enough for now. Even though it'll never be enough and it shouldn't be.
I don't hate her.
I don't love her either.
I don't think…
There's only one way to know for sure.
But it's stupid.
Because despite what I might be developing or already feel, it has to reciprocated.
It's the way most things work, right?
It's as Peeta said—her voice draws people in. There are probably only a handful of people who could say it wasn't amazing to listen to, remarkable and true.
Yet I go in, knowing our world is watching; Katniss' face is still, eyes closed. She's beginning to fall asleep, because her mouth parts softly…
My lips brush her forehead instead, not wanting to break the few fragile things between us left.
I look into gray, surrounded by warm brown skin and thick black hair.
I hover, lost, unsure.
She buries into me, sighing.
I regret not going for the goal—I've always gone for challenges.
And there she was, waiting to be tested, and I couldn't do it.
She is grieving and so am I.
Despite what President Snow told me to do, everything must be delicately stepped on. One wrong move could be seen as betrayal.
You haven't fallen in love with her, have you?
But how could I be in love with her?
We were warned in the Academy of those things. How our bodies run deeper than we could possibly know. It's why physical contact was not encouraged. We may not have had much back home involving the earth but we had science—and our brains are this interconnected world where everything plays a part, from something as lost as a memory to as simple as a touch, bodies can remember. We had to know this manmade magic. It's partly how we're so good at understanding people and winning, not just skill with weapons alone.
So, it could be because she is the only girl I've ever been near in this way. I barely know her—we've only known each other these past few weeks, which are quickly going down in number. Games never last long, the Capitol gets too bored. That must be why that monster showed up. She and I need to talk about that in the morning.
But I can't deny that, maybe… I have been looking at her since before then: her sacrifice for her sister, her speech in the interview, her body clothed in black as flames flickered behind her.
I've lost so much because of her too. This forged alliance caused me to lose the closest person I had to a friend of many years. And I killed Peeta, who she would never forgive me for. I only know his side of the story, but she and he looked remarkably close. He loved her, and she never really refused his declaration…
It seems too fast, too sudden, and too sad.
She's suddenly heavy in my arms, a dead weight that I can't seem to be rid of. I pull her closer anyway because I don't want to.
I'm becoming a fool and I can't bring myself to care.
I fall asleep with my face buried in her hair.
When the sun comes up, she nudges me as she leaves my embrace.
"Hey, get up," she whispers.
I do as she says. We rise and look around.
"Which way should we go?" she asks.
"Left," I answer.
She smiles, a little sadly, "Left it is."
For the first hour or so we're both quiet, lost in thought, too used to Rue's chatter.
"Thresh and Foxface are still out there," she says.
"Maybe they'll kill each other first,"
"No," she replies, "Thresh would go after the ones that matter—you and me; and Foxface is too clever to get caught."
It dawns on me. She hasn't mentioned Peeta. At all. Not in the past few times we've talked of tributes.
My heart pounds loudly in my ears, suddenly feeling sick. I glance at her, her gray eyes staring straight ahead, bow slightly shining.
Does she know? Has she assumed his death? Why wouldn't she be angry with me? Why would she have let me stay around her for so long if she knows? Doesn't she love him?
Or does she care for me more?
I don't know.
But as I stare at her, the desire to tell the truth swells up inside me so quickly and painfully I find my throat unable to swallow.
"Cato," she says, face concerned, "You alright?"
"I'm fine," I lie.
"You don't look it," she says, "Maybe you should sit down,"
"I said I'm fine, Katniss,"
"Then prove it by not looking sick." She answers, hand on her hip.
I'm cut off by the sound of cannons. Two shots.
We're both silent. Listening. Waiting.
"We are pleased to inform you," booms a voice, "that Katniss of District 12 and Cato of District 2 are the final tributes of the 74th Annual Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor!"
The thunder of people outside finds my ears, even though I know I can't really hear the crowd.
This is it.
This is the end.
I either kill her or allow her to kill me.
Neither option is pleasing for anyone.
She looks at me, face a mask of shock.
She wasn't expecting it and neither was I.
What is President Snow doing? It's as Katniss said earlier about what the remaining tributes would do. So the only plausible explanation would be that he removed them from the Games himself. There are plenty of ways to do it.
It's only me and her.
She doesn't point her weapon at me. Something in her eyes tells me she won't, she'll refuse to.
I give her a reason, "I killed Peeta."
She blinks, surprised, by my admittance or breaking the silence I don't know.
"I killed him."
"But…he was part of your group."
"It's the way the Hunger Games are, Katniss. You know that."
Marvel and Clove come to mind. I brush them away.
I make my voice harsh, uncaring, "He was stupid for not killing me before he had the chance. He could have and he didn't. That was his mistake. You knew that, eventually, I would have to kill you."
"I know that…" she murmurs, not getting angry.
Why isn't she getting ready to kill me? I push her over the edge, "He loved you, you know."
"Yes, I do." She doesn't fall. "And I knew you killed him."
This time I'm surprised. "How?"
"Who else would?" she murmurs, face lowered.
I've had it, the confusion, her lack of anger, Peeta's nobleness, everything, "I killed him, Katniss! You love him, don't you?"
She looks me squarely in the eyes. "No."
It's entirely honest.
"No, I don't. Aside from spending time at the Center, I barely knew him," she says, looking away, up at the Mockingjays, "He saved my life, once, when I was little, and he fed me. That was the only way I knew him—as kind and gentle, but I didn't love him…not the way he loved me."
"He sacrificed himself for you again," It kills me to say it.
Tears come down her face, "I know—he's that kind of person…and I'm sorry that I couldn't love him back the way he wanted." Her eyes wander back to mine and the tenderness aimed at me causes me to take a step back, holding onto my sword for support.
Peeta really was too good, too pure. He loved and helped the wrong people.
And so does she.
I turn to stare at the sky, "I will be your victor! Victors are allowed many things. But I am making a request. My district will have food. I want the Girl on Fire."
I turn to her again, watching her face crumble into emotions that move so fast it's dizzying. She doesn't understand but she will.
"Cato, this is not usually allowed." rings the voice of President Snow.
"I understand that," I say, keeping my gaze focused on those piercing stones, "But I'm only asking for her."
There's silence that stretches to eternity.
President Snow agrees.
The sky falls, Katniss staring at me blankly. As the world breaks, we hear the din of people outside of it, the ones who controlled everything we did.
"You were working with him…"
I have to get her out, protect her somehow. There has to be a way. Victors can make requests if they're well-liked enough—it's not unheard of, however it is an impossible idea, since President Snow can be unpredictable, as he proved today and many times before. But I give her a malicious grin, because the cameras still roll, to guard her and the promise made to Peeta.
I'll find a way for her to live, to escape, even if it kills me.
I don't love her, I don't think, as she reaches for my throat, seething with anger.
But I don't hate her either, as I move her hands away and press my mouth to hers; gentle enough to not scare her but hard enough to throw her off.
"Trust me," I breathe against her lips, which are more than I thought they'd be. It's funny, having this moment as I take her to the unknown. I don't know what will happen to us.
She doesn't answer. But she doesn't push me away.
She trusts me.
I know the cameras are gone now, so I pull her tight, her body unresponsive. Then her hands are on my back.
For now, it's enough.