The morning of the reaping starts where most days end.
The battle to stay awake and safe from nightmares has become the battle to keep dreaming, lest the nightmare begins. I keep my eyes closed and breathe in the scent of Annie's hair. My hand finds hers on my chest and my fingertips trace the thin twine looped around her finger. When I'm gone, this will be her reminder that she has someone who loves her, someone she'll see again someday. When she reaches for a pill or searches Mags's cabinets for a rare cube of sugar, when she scratches at her skin, she'll see the twine and think of me, and maybe she'll remember that she's okay.
I hold on to the moment for as long as I can before I open my eyes and join the others downstairs. Plans can't be discussed here, but the looks in their eyes affirm that we're all together on this. On the train, Pisces, Isla, Mags, and I will use the replays to complete the final steps of determining which of the tributes will be mine and Mags's allies in the arena. Vessel will be at Mags's house, making sure that Annie doesn't try to leave it. We can only hope that Beetee and his team in three were able to spread the message to more districts than his, ours, 7, 11, and, of course, Haymitch in 12. It's so hard to know who to trust.
In town, Peacekeepers quarantine the six of us into pens. They're separated enough so that Annie and I can't reach each other. All I can do is lock my eyes on hers and drown out the world around us. Annie chews on her bottom lip, badly reddening it, but she fights to keep her eyes on mine. For as long as I can hold her attention like this, she'll be fine. It's this task of keeping her distracted that keeps me sane.
I wish I could tell her that I love her, and I tell myself that she knows this. Annie knows that I love her. Maybe she's always known.
Will she always know?
I watch Annie search the sky, as though maybe it was a seagull instead of a loudspeaker that called out her name. Mags waves her hand in front of Annie's face and points directly at me, a reminder for Annie to stay here, to stay in the present with me for a few seconds longer, before raising her own hand up and signaling that she will be taking Annie's place.
I know our time is limited, and I clench my jaw until it hurts, until my name is called, too. And for some reason I'll never understand, I smile. Through the tears, Annie smiles back. Then I look away, knowing that so much as glancing in her direction again will end me. Five minutes, I tell myself. Less than five minutes until you're off the stage and on the train and it will start to get easier then.
In the Justice Building Mags puts her bony little hand in mine as we're told that we won't be afforded further goodbyes. This makes no difference; Vessel had instructions to bring Annie home as soon as he was allowed to do so. What does matter is Mags and her words that I catch in fragments. "Such a good boy." "Be fine." "So proud." Nothing of arenas or arrangements to put our cause above each other's lives.
I squeeze her hand tightly in mine and let her words, like a lullaby, sooth me until we board the train.
I hope you are all as satisfied with the conclusion as I am. This story has been my life for so long, and while I am heartbroken that it has come to a close, I am also incredibly proud of what I have created.
Thank you to everyone who has read this story. I can't emphasize enough how much your support has meant to me. Without you, I doubt that I would have made time to write when work seemed to take over my life last year.
Please add me to your author alerts if you haven't done so already, as I plan on releasing some new stuff that will be directly related to this story in the near future.
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All my love to Adrenaline Write, jensonluvsu, caisha702, KRK the JRK, here at the end, TheSeamGirl, The Other Perspective, raiseitup, Total Witch 17, PK9, SmartKookie, xparamorexbabex, Blue, Hahukum Konn, Shar, tell it to the sky, Whisperheart, Sputnik, Desmonda-Sight, lilangel, mockingbird-manikin, Max Alleyne, Black Coyote, Forsaken Dreamt, IoriKonaN, bella-sk8er, KraftDinner, RandomGeek, Sublime Skies, Cheaward, page, melliemoo, anonymous, Saber, epoc823, LouisaC, Stina Whatever, Finnick Odair Kicks Ass, Velma627,Curiously Cinnamon, justalittle l o o n y, littlespark, Where the Story Ends, TrappedInHerOwnWorld, PeetaMellark'sKatniss, brooke13243546, LexidaLou, cindella204, Bethan jackson-Jones, haleighlynn, buttercrumbs, SmurfLuvsCookies, lila, gibrelina, Anilem Atarih, I love the hunger games, PEEVSY, Anon, nakocheese, Dance Elle Dance, sunshinemeg82, Shay-of-Awe, VampGurl82, Henrietta Francis, Canadian-Girl14, Snufkin, all I need 22, darkangelgirl262, Supreme cookieeater NANCY, laughingismyhobbie, Howlynn, Annalise Jones, lifeiswow, Emily, bexzilla36, urstory, Katie, CrashAgainstMySkin, AxBeautifulxDisaster, ColumbiaUniversityPrincess, DCdreamer55, raspberrybubblegum, Dessmonda, Coz I'm Goffik, me, numbah435spiritsong, Cymru na Alethaira, justbreatheslowly, and keniamunguia13, for your words of encouragement.
Happy Holidays. See you in 2012.