Peeta Mellark wiped his eyes, hoping that the tears welling up would not fall, that he would be able to stop the fear and the sadness that was about to explode inside of him. But he couldn't, and they didn't stop. He closed his eyes tightly, and suddenly his knees buckled and he fell, knocking a vase to the floor in the process. He pushed himself to sit, wrapping his arms around his knees. Tremors and sobs racked his body, and he covered his mouth in an attempt to stifle them. His mother was right—he had no chance of coming back. This was it. The end.
He wasn't sure if his family was even sorry to see him go. His mother had all but told him that he would die in the games. His older brothers had said nothing, the younger of the two wasn't even able to meet Peeta's eyes, since he had not been willing to volunteer. His father had shaken his hand and hugged him briefly, and then they were gone. None of them had shown much emotion when they said goodbye. They had looked upon him sadly, like they had all done when his grandmother had fallen ill a few months ago. There had been no hope for her either.
He gasped for air and breathed in and out for several seconds. It felt like he had been in this room for hours, even if it had only been for a few minutes. He wondered how many people were saying goodbye to the female tribute, Katniss. She had a loving family, close friends. He exhaled slowly. Katniss, he could never hurt her. How could this have happened to her? So many people loved and depended on her. He was disposable. Nobody needed him. But he needed her. Ever since he was little he had been in love with her. The one thing that could have given him drive enough to survive in the area was Katniss. Now all he could do was get out of the way and get killed, so that she might win.
Peeta's breathing had slowed to a normal rate now, and he pushed himself up. He looked at himself in the antique mirror. His face was blotchy and red. He wiped his nose and the fresh tears from his cheeks. Since there was no escaping this, he was going to do whatever he could to help her. That was the least he could do, the very least.
They rode to the train station together. They looked at each other, Katniss only for a moment before turning away. She was so stoic, so cold, yet soft and beautiful. And all he wanted was to protect her, to keep her alive. Only this time, it was going to be harder than tossing her a few loaves of burned bread.
She glanced at him again, and he was still looking at her. "What?" she demanded.
He blinked, slightly taken aback. "I'm sorry, Katniss," he finally said.
She kept her eyes on him for a moment, and then turned away. "Me too."
He took another breath in, and let it out. That was it. He was done being afraid. Now it was time to be strong. No more fear.