This started off as an idea suggested by Leah Lodge (Hi Leah, are you still out there somewhere!?) of writing Cato and Thresh's fight scene, which kind of changed so many times to eventually turn into what it is now. I tried to write from Thresh's POV and then from Cato's but neither worked so I used some of my own made up backstory from my proper story 'A Fox's View' to write it this way, so anything that isn't from the actual book (probably most of it!) is taken from that. I'm not 100% happy with this because District 11 is all a bit different for the person used to writing District 5 or 2, but I have been convinced that I should post anyway (waves to be-nice-to-nerds - thanks for your support!)! Writer's block is a terrible thing...
As ever, I don't own The Hunger Games or any of it's characters that remain recognisable as the ones the fabulous Suzanne Collins created.
Today should have been the best day of my life. I had been waiting for this day to arrive for months, years really, but now that it's here I know that it will be the very worst and that I am powerless to change it. It should have been my wedding day, planned to be just less than three weeks after his last reaping, when we were both free of the Hunger Games at last, but that was not to be, and I know in my heart that instead today will be the day that I have to watch him die.
"Blossom! Blossom, I know you're here. Your Pa says to stop hidin' and come home before the Peacekeepers find you."
How I hate my name. I have always hated it, first wishing that my long-dead mother had chosen something a bit more grown-up, then, when I actually became a bit more grown-up, wishing that she had chosen something slightly less typical of District 11. A few years ago I used to dream of escaping from this place. I knew that to do so would be impossible because the Capitol would never allow it, but I had wished that I could anyway. My mother had been one of the orchard workers, one of the poor people who make up most of District 11's population, but my father had been one of the privileged overseers, and even though he never had much to do with me, he cared enough and was wealthy enough to make sure that I received a good education. So that is why I spent my young teenage years resenting my district and thinking that it was holding me back from doing what I wanted, from achieving something with my life.
It all changed when my father died. When he died I was fifteen, and the Capitol ended any dream I still held of gaining my freedom through education. The money stopped arriving and I was forced to work in the orchards with everyone else, and how I hated it. The others teased me mercilessly, refusing to allow me to consider myself above them, constantly mocking me for my accent and the words I used. I guessed at the time that they did it because they had so few other sources of entertainment that they had to take what they could get, but knowing that didn't make me feel any better. The work was so hard, and all the worse because I hadn't become accustomed to it at an early age like everyone else. I resented every second of it, suddenly finding myself alone and virtually penniless with no idea what to do. That was until I met him. One of the very few who didn't laugh at me, who didn't go out of their way to get me into trouble. I had ignored his attempts to make friends at first, but he had ignored my attempts to send him away just as stubbornly, and before I knew what was happening, I didn't want to escape anymore, I wanted to stay right here. Now it looks like the Capitol are going to put an end to my dreams once more. The call comes again and this time I have no choice but to answer.
"I'm not hiding," I reply, even though I know that I am. It still amazes me every time I am told to come home because 'Pa' is asking for me, as I never thought to have a place that I could refer to in such a way ever again. You see, both home and father belong to him, to the man I love, to the man whose family are as kind hearted as he is and have adopted me as one of their own before we are even married, to the man whose death I can't prevent and can't bear to watch.
I jump down from the tree to land lightly on the ground beside the person who had called me, and force a smile that must look as fake as it feels.
"You have to watch, love, as much as you don't want to. We all do. You know what'll happen to you if you don't."
If his mother can face it then so must I, so I allow her to put her strong arm around me and lead me back to the house.
When we get there I walk into the tiny, dilapidated front room and see that his father has not moved from the old and battered chair in front of the equally old television. He has barely moved since the battle began nearly three days earlier, waiting to see his son's fate, not caring that he will probably be whipped by the overseers because he refuses to return to the orchards to work.
"Come and sit with me," he says, and I obey him without speaking, sitting down next to him and feeling comforted by his presence despite my sorrow.
After a few minutes, I summon up the courage to look over at the screen. It is still pouring with rain in the arena, the flashes of lightening and the crashes of thunder simply too bright and too loud to be the result of any natural storm. It has been raining since a few hours after the feast that sealed my man's fate.
The camera is showing the pair from District 12, still holed up in their cave, but it quickly returns to where the real action is. My head snaps around and I bury my face against the shoulder of the man who is my father-in-law in practice if not yet by law when I see Thresh crash to the rain-soaked floor and Cato stand over him with his sword raised.
A second later I return my gaze to the television, suddenly ashamed that Pa is strong enough to watch and I am not, and I see that, despite all of the odds being against him, Thresh has regained his feet once more and manages to raise his sword to meet Cato's just in time. This has been happening over and over again since they began to fight, Cato almost sealing his victory only for Thresh to find a hidden reserve of strength and somehow manage to fight back despite his lack of training. I breathe a sigh of relief then, because every time that he gets up, he lives for a little bit longer, and I can keep clinging to the small hope I still have that he will return to me.
As I stare unseeingly at the wall behind the television, I remember the day of the reaping, how I had clung to him until the Peacekeepers had forced us apart, sending him to the eighteen-year-old's enclosure and me to stand behind the barrier with the rest of the onlookers. He had clung to me as tightly as I did to him, telling me that he wasn't afraid, that it would all be okay, that he was happy because I was safe. My days of being in the reaping might have been over when I had turned nineteen earlier in the year, but the last thing I felt was safe. I think of this year's tribute girls, of Katniss from District 12, of the recently deceased Clove from 2, understanding that some women are strong and can look after themselves, but knowing enough about myself to know that I am not like them. I don't mean to imply that I don't love him, because nothing could be further from the truth, but I rely on him for more than that. When I am with him I feel protected, and the only time that I feel truly safe is when he is by my side.
My last words to him in the dusty office of District 11's Town Hall had been an instruction. After telling him that I loved him and that he had to come home to me for what might have been a thousand times but could never have been enough, I had told him to run and hide. Not because I think him weak and incapable of fighting, for how could I when he is as big and powerful as he is, but because I feared what becoming a killer would do to him. He may be a man of few words but he talks to me, and I like to think that I know him better than anyone else. And I know that if he took the life of another person then he would be changed himself, not for the better and probably for the rest of his life.
He had agreed to do as I asked, 'only 'cause it's you tellin' me', he had said, and the plan had seemed to be working. I had actually started to dare to hope that I would see him again, but that had been before the feast. My love has never done anything by halves, and nothing changed when he arrived at the Cornucopia for the first time since the Games began. I saw the look in his eyes when he watched the death recap on the day she died, so I am certain that he felt genuine grief when he saw the photograph of the little mockingjay projected into the sky, and when I heard what he was shouting to the girl from District 2, I knew that this was all about Rue.
I had shouted over and over again at the screen that he had got the wrong person even though I knew he couldn't hear me, but I had been forced to watch as he killed Clove anyway, possessed by a rage that I had never seen before, at least not in him. I was not surprised when he let Katniss go, as that is the sort of man he is, noble and good, with more principles than the people in the Capitol will ever have, and I still hoped that he would have time to run before Cato saw him, but when I heard the man from 2 calling the name of his dying lover as he raced towards her, I had known in my heart that time was running out for mine as well.
They have been fighting for nearly three days, pausing only when exhaustion finally gets the better of both of them, and as I look at the screen again I can see from the way he is moving that Thresh is feeling every minute now. He may be used to working long and strenuous days in the orchards, but he is not prepared for this. He does not have the skill to attack District 2 with any hope of succeeding in getting past his guard, so all he can do is defend himself in any way he can while he is attacked by his opponent, who truly fights like a man possessed.
Backwards and forwards they move, cutting down the tall grass that surrounds them to make strange patterns on the arena floor as they go. Are they all watching this in the Capitol? I'm sure they are, sitting there betting more money than I have seen in my entire life on whether my love will live or die. I wish they would all die, and even though I know it is treason to think such a thing, I don't care. If they found out my thoughts then they couldn't inflict more pain upon me than they have done already.
"I told you three days ago that you would regret killing her. Are you sorry yet, District 11?"
Cato's voice cuts through the deafening noise of the rain, the thunder and the clashes of their swords, and I physically cringe when I hear the depth of emotion that still clearly shows in his words. When he had reached the edge of the grass plains on the day of the feast and had shouted over and over for District 11 to stop hiding and face him like a man, I knew that it was his grief talking and I had hoped that that grief would have diminished after three days of hard fighting. All of my hoping was obviously in vain.
"This is the Hunger Games, Career. You of all people should know the rules," is Thresh's retort, and I feel such pride at his defiance that I am able to loosen my grip on Pa's arm and sit forwards slightly.
"There can only be one end to this," replies Cato harshly, and it is obvious that he doesn't want to talk as he charges forwards once more.
It is as if the camera crew can sense that the end is getting closer, as there are no more images of the other tributes, of the supposed star-crossed lovers in their cave or of the red-haired girl from District 5 hidden somewhere in the trees that surround the Cornucopia. I inhale sharply and then stop breathing completely as Cato slips and his sword flies out of his hand to slide along the muddy ground, allowing Thresh to bring his sword up in the direction of his throat. I am disappointed when I see that the Career's years of training have allowed him to jump back out of reach just in time, and the sword tears only the fabric of his shirt rather than his skin. The camera immediately zooms in on the silver chain that still hangs around Cato's neck, and I can just about make out the letters of Clove's name on the district token that rests over his heart.
I can tell from the expression on Thresh's face that at that moment he had thought that he had won, expecting his sword to slice through Cato's throat just as most of the watching audience surely did. Even when he sees that the sword did not quite reach it's target, he stares motionlessly at Cato for several seconds, shocked at finding his enemy so suddenly defenceless and at his mercy.
He is still wearing that same expression when Cato pulls a knife from his belt and drives it into his chest. Thresh falls to the ground, and the sound of the cannon firing continues to ring in my ears long after it should have stopped, mixing in with the collective cry of horror from his family who surround me. A second later, I run to the television screen, pressing my hand over the image of the man I love as he lies lifelessly on the waterlogged floor of an arena many thousands of miles away.
Through my tears I can just about see as Cato recovers his sword and approaches Thresh's body, and when Pa tells me to look away I do, not wanting to see what will happen next, but I quickly find that my imagination can provide me with images that are equally as horrific as reality, so I look back at the television. I am shocked by what I see, as the man from District 2 does nothing more than look down at Thresh, staring intently for several minutes at the ornately carved knife handle protruding from his chest that can only have belonged to the woman whose death he was avenging, before picking up the two black backpacks and walking away.
I try to keep myself together, to stop myself from falling apart at least until I can be alone, but I can't do it, I can't stop the tears no matter how hard I try, so I race for the door, ignoring the calls of my name that follow me, and don't stop running until I reach the side of the stream. I don't know why I am here, as coming to our favourite meeting place, the place where we first met, is not likely to make me feel better. I am almost surprised to find it unchanged, wishing that this beautiful, peaceful place would reflect on the outside the anguish that I am feeling within, but it's flowers are still blooming and the birds are still singing despite the fact that he is dead. As I sit down and allow my grief to pour out of me, I almost expect him to walk over to comfort me as he has done so many times before.
He doesn't, of course, but hours later, as my tears finally subside, I feel like I can hear his voice in my head, telling me that I have to be strong, and not just for myself. I have been trying to deny what I have known in my heart to be true for weeks, but as I run my hands over my still flat stomach I find that I do not want to deny it any more. I no longer feel shame at being with-child before I am married, I feel only pride and hope that our child will grow up to be half the person it's father was.