"I can't find her," Gale says.
I just look at him for a moment; see the exasperation in his eyes. Katniss is missing. No surprises there then.
"I can," I reply.
The Training Centre is home to all manner of hidey holes and hidden nooks and, having hidden in most of them myself over the years, there are few that hold any secrets from me.
Gale, every bit the young solider now, looks at me, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"You were lucky," he states. "Once."
Effie watches us both, and though I don't cast my eyes her way, I can hear her hands wringing worriedly. Her jewels rattle.
"Sure I was," I say. "I'm a lucky guy."
The sour tone is not lost on Gale, whose eyes flicker away just for a moment. But then he squares me up again, and inwardly I know the reason.
He knows how I feel about her; he has a sense for this kind of thing. He was right about Peeta, after all.
"Ahem," says Effie, stepping into the palpable tension between us. "Perhaps we should let Haymitch start looking." She gives me an overly kind smile. "We're supposed to be taking her home tonight, after all. She needs preparation before we leave… the cameras."
And for a moment Gale and I are united our opinion of the tedium of the media, he with an eye-roll, I with a derisive snort. Effie ignores us both masterfully.
"The cameras," she repeats firmly, "Are not likely to be kind in the best instance. If she turns up looking like trash…"
"Fine," Gale cuts in sharply. He eyes me again with a steely glare. "Go then."
And that's me told.
I save any remark I might have made, because it doesn't really matter anymore. Instead I walk away, knowing there is more to his bitterness than a protective instinct over the girl who doesn't love him.
She's going home tonight, and he is not.
And guess who gets to be next door.
I could smile to myself if it weren't for her condition. She's so fragile these days, that any word from anyone can set her off into day-long hiding fits. Anyone but me, that is. I'd like to think it's because she trusts me, but I'm certain it's really because she doesn't care about a word I say.
I mean so little to her, that I'm the only one able to talk her round.
I trace her path to the last place I found her, sitting in a cupboard that used to house the tributes' training bows. From here the nearest hiding place she has yet to discover is a rather large wardrobe of uniforms two rooms down, so I try it.
And there she is, her foot sticking out of the open wardrobe door, only just visible beneath a sheath of leather. A tiny detail, like a cry for someone to find her. But only I or Gale would notice that kind of detail. It makes me wonder who she's hoping for.
The foot disappears into the wardrobe, so I guess it isn't me she wants.
"I'm not in the mood, Haymitch."
I sit down against the doorway, knowing this will take a while.
"You never are, sweetheart."
I hear shuffling within the wardrobe, then a clonking sound. She curses under her breath.
"You comfy in there?" I ask. "Capitol wardrobes are supposed to be the height of luxury to hide in."
There is a pause.
"Yeah. It's pretty awesome in here," she says flatly.
"Really?" I ask with an over feigned interest, and I crawl the short distance to the doors of the large wardrobe. I climb in on the opposite side to her and sit in the corner. A row of uniforms hides our faces from each other, but I can make out her crossed knees a few inches from my feet.
Slowly, deliberately, she touches my newly-shined shoe.
"Why are you dressed up?" She asks through the veil of clothing.
"We're going home tonight."
"You and me, kid."
She pushes the uniforms between us aside, and for the first time I see her tear-soaked face, white and puffy. Her face is so small; her features far too thin from her self-neglect. But her eyes are black and hard in the half-light.
"And where's home, exactly?"
I raise both eyebrows, letting out a sigh.
"You aren't gonna like it, honey."
She huffs out a smirk.
"I don't like much these days," she replies.
"'Cept sitting in dark places with me, huh?"
She considers my face for a moment, and I can see thoughts flashing past her eyes.
"Yeah," she says softly. "This is pretty much all I like."
I laugh, and she too breaks into a tiny, pathetic smile.
"So hit me," she says, edging a little closer and pushing the uniforms back further. Up close I can see the damage she's done to her skin. The scratches and the bruises from numerous episodes in the hospital. God help the prep team if they think they're going to make her pretty for the cameras.
"We're going back to Twelve."
Her face falls a little, and she hangs her head.
"To the Victors' Village."
She lets the clothes drop back between us and shuffles away again to show me that my news has hurt her.
"You have to come out and get ready to travel."
"Okay," she says in a small voice.
But she doesn't move.
"That kinda means now, kiddo."
I reach out through the clothes and collide with her weak little arm. I can feel the stickers where she's pulled out her drip as I take her hand. She complies, and we crawl slowly out of the wardrobe, where she blinks in the daylight unhappily. I help her to her feet, and begin to guide her to the door.
She stops, pulls against me gently, and when I turn to see what's wrong, she throws herself into me, a little arm round my waist.
"You're gonna be there with me."
"Yeah," I say, though I'm not sure if it's a question or not.
I put an arm round her shoulders, stroking her hair, and a stray selfish thought of Gale's angry face makes me happy. I'll bet he doesn't get these sudden hugs like I do, however borne out of desperation they are.
"I'll be right next door, if you ever want me."
Katniss pulls away abruptly, and I feel her hand trail my back as she goes. She leads the way with a haggard sort of saunter.
"Let's go then neighbour," she says. "Better give them some time to make me beautiful."
"Sorry honey, we don't have that long," I reply.
And she laughs, because it doesn't hurt her when I say it. And I quietly remember that, despite the way she clings to me for help, she doesn't care. So I follow her up the hall, back into reality, and I know that she'll never come to my door.