They're not in love. Dare to mention those words and she'll have a knife in your heart before you even realize she moved. No one ever taught her what love was, so even if she did love him she wouldn't know it. District Two isn't a loving place. It's hard and cold and builds character.
She isn't sure what she feels about him, but she knows it isn't love. Not the love that the Capitol gossips about, reading sappy poems and giggling like little girls. For years she's told herself that it's lust, something that everybody feels. She knows that's not true now. What they have is stronger than that, but she'll still slit the throat of anyone who dares to mention it. What they have belongs to them and no one else.
She knows some people – stupid people, weak people –whisper behind their hands and say words that sound a whole lot like love. She sees it when he wins a fight in practice and comes straight for her after. Sometimes, before he's reached her and everything else falls away, she sees them. Intrigued, but terrified to be caught staring.
They're there, too, when she wins a fight and he's watching. They see the mix of pride and desire on his face and their tongues start wagging.
She likes to think that it's a slap in the face for those stupid people when they fight. They step into the ring and soon everything is a blur of movement: his powerful lunges with his sword, her dancing around him with her knives spinning. When they fight nothing else matters, not even whatever is between them. Those people see the calm, collected rage on their faces, and they change their minds about love.
They've always able to do that – put everything aside when they fight. When she steps into the ring, she is nothing but a cold, emotionless warrior. Even when he follows her, when the mentors put them in the ring together, she's able to block him out. She focuses only on his movements, on where he shifts his weight, where he's going to go next.
But outside of the ring all bets are off. They don't talk about feelings, because that would be weak. But sometimes when she's upset, they come close. Sometimes when she's thinking about her father, how his last words will always slice into her heart, she can't help but think that maybe he cares. She pushes that thought away, because nobody in District Two cares about anything but the Games. But sometimes it doesn't stay where it's supposed to.
Sometimes she even fails to fight the thought that she cares. When she finds him raging against the Capitol, against being a pawn, against the world, sometimes she feels a little flutter in her heart that almost feels like caring. But that's stupid, because she doesn't care. Not about him. Not like that.
But when he volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games she feels nothing but pride, because he can win. And then everything she's ever known is shattered and she's up on that stage with him. She knows she should be happy, because isn't this what she's always wanted? But she can't feel that, because there's only room in her head for one word. Why?
Now she knows what it was like for the people who used to beg outside the Training Center gates, dressed in rags with nowhere to get warm. She never used to think much about being homeless, because as long as she worked hard they'd never throw her out. As cold and hard as it was, the Training Center was a place to sleep, a place with food.
But as she rises through the metal tube into the Arena that will be the death of one of them, she knows that she's one of them now. Even if she wins and moves into one of the huge mansions in the Victor's Village, she'll never be home.
Maybe it isn't love, but it's something pretty close. As close as two people like them can get, living where they live. In her weakest moments, sometimes she wonders if she'd feel the same if they lived somewhere else – anywhere else. Would she call it love then? But try as she might, she can't imagine living anywhere else because District Two is home. He is home.