This is the third one in my sort-of series. Chronologically, it comes after Scared and Determined, but it's pretty easy to understand without reading those.
When the trainers and mentors and important people back in District Two told him he would be a Victor, he believed them. When the other tributes and the Gamemakers told him through fear and a high score that he would win the Games, he believed them. He has always known he will win the Games. It is a fact of his world, a truth universally acknowledged.
But he never imagined sharing it with anyone. How could he, when the Hunger Games can only have one Victor? Only now that's not true, because they can go home. Together. Both of them can go home. And he has to admit that if he has to share his victory with anyone, she's the best person. After all, she is the only one who even comes close to his obsession with winning. She's the only one who might understand that all-consuming determination to wear that crown, even if it means taking out the other tributes along the way.
Things are different after the rule change. They are different. The bloodlust and violent tendencies are still there, of course, but their eyes are different. Sometimes he catches himself staring at her and has to look away before she sees him and he pays for it. And even though that cold, calculating look is still in her eyes when she looks at him, he wouldn't have it any other way.
He has always heard that the Arena changes people. He doesn't doubt it. If – when – they leave, he knows he'll never be the same. As much as he's trained for it, as much as he's wished for this moment, he's surprised by how the killing affects him. He isn't supposed to think of the other tributes as people, but he does. And once he starts to do that, he can't seem to stop. Suddenly they're not numbers, they're victims. And he doesn't like it.
He'd be lying if he said they didn't need anything. Even if they didn't, not taking a chance to kill a few tributes would make them a disgrace to their district. So they go to the feast. He doesn't like sending her alone, but he trusts her. They only person he knows she can't beat is himself, so he doesn't worry.
He doesn't tell her he'll keep watch, because she'd make him pay for it. They both know he won't be hovering around, watching her do all the killing. The implied weakness on his part would be an insult he couldn't take. Even though neither acknowledges it, both of them understand that they can take care of themselves.
At least, he thinks they have that understanding. But when he's chasing District Five and hears his name, he knows he was wrong. Suddenly he's running faster than he's ever run before because she needs him. She needs him, and he isn't there. And yet again he seems to have no control over his thoughts, because it's there before he can stop it. She's dying.
He knows it's true when he sees Fire Girl and District Eleven running away. But they don't matter. Neither of them holds any importance to him anymore, not when compared to the figure on the ground, the figure that only moments ago was screaming for help. Screaming for him.
It's the hardest thing he's ever done, making himself move once he sees her. He knows it's too late, but he finds himself shaking her, screaming at her to stay with him. He knows it makes him weak, but just this once he doesn't care. He wonders if he'll ever care again.
The fiery, slightly unhinged look that was in her eyes so often is still there. It's softened, not as obvious as the look of excruciating pain, but he doubts anyone who doesn't know her would see the pain in her eyes. She has too much control, even when she's dying. Dying, because he wasn't there. Because he broke a promise, one that she probably never even knew.
He promised himself she wouldn't die. That he would die for her. But maybe it's punishment for all the broken promises in his past that the only one he can't keep is the one that matters most in the end.
It's raining, but he doesn't care. He doesn't bother to wipe the water from his face, doesn't bother with anything. There's only room in his mind for one thought. Eleven will die. And he will make sure it is a death the Capitol will remember, because she deserves nothing less.
His fight with Eleven is the kind of fight he imagines the people in the Capitol expect from a Victor, but he doesn't consider himself one anymore. Even if he wins, it won't feel right.
He tries at first, he really does. He even manages to take out a few of them, but it's no use and he knows it. There are too many of them, and he isn't at full strength. He doesn't let himself think that it might be because he doesn't want to fight.
He remembers what Fire Girl said. "It's them." He didn't understand it at first, but now he does. There's no mistaking those eyes. They have the same calculating, defiant look as they always did, and suddenly he knows he can't fight this one. He can't fight her. Somehow he knows he never would have.
As he lays dying, bleeding out onto the floor of the Arena that they were supposed to leave together, he wonders if the firing of her cannon was when he lost it all. The will to fight, the little hope he had left, his sanity. The Games.
He knows it makes him pathetic, a disgrace to his district. And he knows that somewhere in the Capitol, his mentors are seething with rage when he turns his gaze to Fire Girl and Lover Boy and manages to choke out one last word. A plead.
As he sees Fire Girl take aim with her bow, he realizes he isn't scared. Fear. Maybe he lost that, too, when she died.