“No. I’m staying here.” They’re the only words he can rally. Any actual articulation of their separation is beyond him. Telling her go, asking her to stay, telling her at the very least that he wished she could stay – the sentiments flutter around inside of him but they’ll never be spoken.
For him she is as beautiful and as dangerous as anything in the arena. His sense of self-preservation is the only part of him that pushes her away. He would be lost if she stayed. He doesn’t examine his feelings; it’s not his way. But he knows this much at least.
She suggests they sever their tie. “I don’t want it to come down to you and me,” she adds.
It’s almost a declaration of love.
Him being him, and her being her, and this place being this place - she knows how much power her words carry. He cannot match them: “Okay,” he answers simply.
He lets her go. He doesn’t even turn around to say goodbye to her. He can’t. He can’t stand knowing it’s the last time he’ll see her face. Better if it already happened. Better if it’s over.
He feels each footstep that takes her away.
His eyes are on the cliff but they are glazed over: even his initial disappointment and obstinate conviction that there is still something to find are not enough to take his thoughts off of her for even a second.
He imagines what her expression had been as she turned her back on his and headed down the hill. She’ll have been disappointed he didn’t give her more, didn’t open up even a little. He knows her well enough to know that, even though so few words have passed between them. But she’ll understand. They know and understand each so well. Too well. And yet they’ll never know each other enough. They’ll never have that chance.
A part of him wonders if it’s a mistake to hold back. It’ll be easier for the victor to not have those memories. And that’s what he’s thought of this whole time – the victor. But she’ll die, or perhaps he will, or they both will, and maybe it’s unfair to have been denied that flicker.
If she realizes he is unable to give voice to his feelings for her, it will tell her all she needs to know about their strength. He assumes that she does realize this. But a lingering doubt haunts him.
He peers over the brink, making another attempt at deciphering the arena, before his thoughts backslide to her once more. It’s been but minutes since she left and he already misses her. He thought he understood loneliness but he’s never felt this before. Then again he thought he knew what it was to be drawn to someone, and she proved him wrong. Is proving him wrong. She’s left him empty and if it hurts this much to be without her even as he can almost still hear her retreating footsteps then he’s not even sure he wants to win anymore. And that’s all he’s had, since the reaping – the winning. It’s what he has clung to. His mother and his brother, living, and seeing them again.
He is not thinking of his girl at home.
He senses when she leaves earshot, and it’s the third time since they parted that he’s been one breath away from calling out her name and asking – begging, really – for her to come back. Even if she couldn’t hear him, he could still run and catch her, he comforts himself. And if he couldn’t catch her, he could track her down. They were allies, and he knows where she would go and what she would do. He thinks he could find her anywhere…
He’s certain she would come back to him if he reached out to her. She would argue, protest, resist tamely - but her heart would make the decision and her heart would choose him. Technically she was the one who broke the alliance. But she took her cue from him. She’s smart; she agreed that it was time. She would have already been thinking that the end was near. But she broke the alliance because she sensed it was what he wanted. It wasn’t. But it was what he needed.
Unwillingly he digs around in the pockets of his mind where he has buried memories, sensations and feelings too painful to confront. In the arena he seals them with steadfast focus – someday with alcohol – but his methods fail him and in this moment there is only loss. An irrational resentment at how quickly and how easily she gave way nags at him in the back of his mind. He wishes she had fought harder to stay, or tried harder to take him with her. He has no right to wish this and he knows it.
For the entire duration of their partnership he was afraid he would not be able to keep his mind on the game. That she would be…a distraction. That he would be more alert on his own. But he’s less alert now than when he was asleep by her side, more distracted than ever, the sum of his awareness concentrated on the ache in his chest.
He glances around and feels a pang instead of relief when he sees no one, because “no one” includes her and he would almost rather see a threat walking towards him than be reminded of her walking away. Frustrated with emotions that have no place in the arena, he shuts them down and throws himself back into the game. But it’s by accident that he discovers the force field and the boomerang effect, and it’s enough to make him laugh because he has been investing in this since the Games began and it has finally paid off.
He wants to share it with her. It’s what he thinks before he even begins planning how to use it to his advantage. He wants to use it to their advantage. It’s the worst impulse he’s had yet. He’s almost figured out that he’s in love with her, that that’s what this is – a sort of desperate, impossible love that belongs to the two of them - when he hears her scream.
He knows it’s too late, knows she’s too far, even though the wind carries her voice to him, carries the cry meant for him because she knew he would come no matter what.
He holds her hand while she dies, and notices her cheeks are still wet with earlier tears.