I hear it but I don't believe it. The cannon fire. The announcement of the winner. The bleeding form that's Peeta lying at the victors feet.
I notice Gale's hands on me. I acknowledge his voice speaking to me. But I don't feel his hands. I don't hear his voice.
The realization starts lapping at my brain, like waves. No. I think.
"No, no, no, no, no," I mutter. My voice vibrates in my throat. Gales arms are around my shoulders. All at once the waves of realization slap me in the face. I get it. He's dead. He's gone.
"NO!" I scream, jumping up. Gale hold me to him. "LET GO OF ME!" I scream. I thrash against his arms. "LET GO!" I loosen my arms and pound at his chest. The tears are pouring down my face.
"Katniss," Gale says calmly. "You need to calm down."
"CALM DOWN!" I scream. "YOU WANT ME TO CALM DOWN!" I'm sobbing now. The world is swollen. Everything feels distant and unreal.
"Everything's going to be okay, Katniss."
"NO GALE! NO IT'S NOT!" His arms are still trying to restrain me. He attempts to comfort me. But it's not Gale's arms I want. It's Peeta's. Now I can never have those arms; that comfort. "PRIM'S DEAD! PEETA'S DEAD! THEIR GONE! THEIR NOT COMING BACK!" I have to make him understand.
"I know, Katniss. But this is not going to help them. This won't bring them back."
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" I pound against his chest. "I LOVE HIM! I LOVE HIM AND HE'S GONE!" I said it. I said I loved him. My knees grow weak and I collapse. "I love him," I whisper weakly. "I love him and I've never told him." Gale is holding me to him. I feel horrible, telling him like this. I know how Gale feels about me. I know how much he must be hurting. But I'm not dead. Peeta is. Gale rubs my back. Tears are streaming down my face. "I can't believe he's dead."
A few days later, Peeta's body arrives in District 12. The cuts on his face have been stitched up. It almost looks like they weren't there to begin with.
I had talked to Peeta's family earlier that week. His father told me I was welcome at the funeral. We talked and cried for hours. His mother was in her room. She refused to see me.
The day of Peeta's funeral, I went to the meadow and picked a huge bouquet of dandelions, the flowers that gave me hope after he gave me that burned loaf of bread.
His entire funeral went by in a blur. I stayed until after everyone had left. I brought the dandelions to the pile of dirt that is his grave. He was buried under a tree. I spent some time carving his name into the tree with a nail. When that job was finished, I lay the dandelions on the dirt. I sit by his grave until the sun sets and the moon comes out. Finally, I decide it's time to go home. If I stay any longer my mother and Gale will worry. Gale's staying with us until we get over the loss. I don't think I ever will. Peeta and I loved each other. Now he'll never now. I kneel before his grave and do something I've never done before; prayed.
"Peeta, I don't know if you can hear me, but I love you. I love you more than I've ever loved anyone and more than I ever will love anyone. I wish you could have heard me say it. I don't ever want to stop saying it. I love you, Peeta. I love you, I love you, I love you." I kissed the tip of my fingers and touched his name, scratched into the tree. Peeta Mellark. My one and only love. I left to go home, then never left his side again.