Victory is hollow. If I've learnt anything, it's that.
At first, the sweetness of relief hit me so hard I mistook it for happiness. I had forgotten what it felt like to be anything other than terrified.
Sometimes I find myself wanting to go back to that. Terror. Something definite, tangible. Because anything would be better than this gaping emptiness. I may be back in my own district, but I've never felt so cut off. Not even my family can understand me any more. I know they hear me screaming in the night, but come morning, they just avoid my gaze and talk about something else.
Ironically, the last time I had a friend was in the arena.
"I guess so."
I suppose that's why I came to find you, to ask you how you cope. Because you're the only one alive who knows how this feels. Emrys Lockward, the first ever victor of the Hunger Games.
You mentored the two District 1 tributes this year, didn't you? Angelo and Krista. Angelo had one brown eye and one green. I know, because they were wide open when he died.
"Ada? Are you all right, did he hit you?"
"Yeah. It's not deep, don't worry about me. Is he dead?"
"Yeah. I think I surprised him."
I suppose I'll have to be a mentor too, next year. I'm dreading that more than anything - preparing two children to die either a fast, bloody death in the arena or a slow, miserable one as a victor. Because that's what we're doing, aren't we? You and me. Dying. This is victory: keeping your life but losing your mind.
"Ada. You've lost a lot of blood."
"I'm fine. Stop fussing, we've got to keep moving."
You drifted out of the public eye soon after your tour. Now I can see why. Your skin is tinged yellow, cheeks sunken. Morphling, then. Morphling is your escape, your answer. Not the words of wisdom I was hoping for, but I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. If, in a year's time, the third victor comes to talk to me, I will have no words, either.
"Please, Ada, you've got to stay awake."
"Bye, Cas. Going to...sleep now. Win for me."
"Don't talk like that. You're not going to die. You're not. You're not you're not you're not."
Because there are no words for this. There is no advice to offer, no secret way of dealing with this. We will exist this way until our bodies perish, until we are finally released from the nightmares.
"Don't leave me, Ada. You can't leave me.
I can't carry on without you. I can't.
I love you, Ada.
Please don't go."
I am Caspian Fine, victor of the second annual Hunger Games. I am sixteen years old and I have killed as many people. And living with that is killing me.