A/N: Well, I actually updated earlier than I intended to-and that nearly killed me. Not only did you guys review for However Long the Night (thank you so much by the way) but you also reviewed for the author's note I had posted up, which was beyond amazing. You guys are seriously and astoundingly awesome. The reviews were my ultimate motivation for getting this chapter done.

So I'm thinking the next chapter will be the last one for this part before I go on to part three, which deals with the Mockingjay events and all that. I'm still pondering on whether or not I want this fic to have a happy ending. The thought of a tragic conclusion appeals to me as well... Anyway, this chapter is dedicated to all of those reviewers who initially thought I was going to discontinue the story when first seeing the author's note.


(IX.)
The little girl up in the tree couldn't understand what was so wrong about her sometimes. It was as though the students at school all collectively agreed not to associate with her at all, and the fact that she was from the Seam had made everything else three times as bad. She had a hard time comprehending why the kids at school didn't like her. After all, she had attempted to be nothing but nice to all of them. She wasn't that unapproachable was she?

Her father would sing to her whenever she felt particularly lonely—which was almost every day— making up as many ridiculous words as he possibly could as the song progressed to make her laugh, yet it always turned out sounding so beautiful in the end. Her father was working the mines like he did daily and her mother was busy playing with a four-year-old Prim, and since there was no school today, that left Katniss alone once again.

But rather than continuing to be morose about how she had a hard time making friends, Katniss had grown rather used to the concept, learning to accept that maybe solitude was better than companionship, and eventually preferring to be by herself than with a group of kids her age. Only eight and she had already given up on the prospects of friendship. She liked spending her days on a tree, listening to how the wind bristled the leaves on the branches. She liked hearing dried leaves falling to the ground, crunching so slightly as they shifted with the current of the breeze, tumbling backward—

"What are you doing up there?"

Katniss gritted her teeth and ignored the boyish voice that interrupted her peace. If it was another one of those merchant kids making fun of her, she was going to rip off one of the smaller branches and throw it right at them.

"Hey, I'm talking to you!"

"What?" she snapped, maneuvering her head around foliage of the thick tree to find herself looking down at a blond, blue-eyed boy. Katniss had thought it was that Mellark boy at first and was about ready to tear off that branch when she looked even closer to find herself staring at a stranger. "Who are you?" she blurted out, having never seen this boy around this district before.

"Cato," he declared with obvious importance, his chest puffing out a bit.

"That's a weird name." Maybe this was the reason why she had trouble making friends.

His face flushed red with anger. "Oh, yeah? What's yours?"

"Katniss."

The boy's eyebrows pulled together. "Cat's piss? What kind of name is that?" he blatantly pointed out with a self-indulgent smile. "That's an even dumber name than mine."

"It's Katniss," she growled back, her voice even louder to correct his mistake.

Just who did this insolent boy think he was—

Her skin felt as though it was being slowly punctured with a knife.

The experience brought back a memory to her—one where she had taken surprising initiative and dropped the nest of tracker jackers on the sleeping Career packs from last year's Games. Was that happening to her right now? Did someone up in the trees above throw a nest of mutant bees at them while they were asleep? Her thoughts were quickly proven wrong once she noticed there was a fog surrounding their group, infiltrating the air with a sickeningly sweet odor that prickled her nose. Wherever the droplets of mist touched her, she immediately blistered.

Cato was already up, tugging her up to her feet alongside him with one single pull. It didn't take too long before she figured out that the chemical-laced fog does a whole lot more than just burn skin. The fog must have created some negative reaction to her nerves because her arms have already started the first phase of twitching on their own accord while she felt hapless from the effect. She noticed that the same thing was happening to Cato, but his strength luckily prevailed over hers, and he fought the lack of control with tightly clenched fists.

"Come on, Haymitch!" she yelled over her shoulder, snapping her arms sharply to keep them from jerking. From where she stood, she saw Finnick was up ahead, carrying a slumbering Mags on his back.

Her mentor was easily the sluggish of the group to begin with. "Can't you see I'm trying, sweetheart?" he uttered through clenched teeth, proceeding to curse every foul word he knew when his legs moved spasmodically.

"Fuck," came Cato's rough expletive before he closed the gap between him and the older man, his body bent at an angle as he threw Haymitch over his back. Katniss knew that Cato's strength was incredible, but under the heady conditions they were in, this was complete suicide. She knew that Haymitch couldn't be a light passenger.

Katniss tried to go faster—because really, she didn't have the excuse of carrying anyone on her back, so she should relatively be faster than her entire group altogether—but part of her refused to leave her husband's side. She strayed somewhere in the middle of their alliance, following Finnick's lead yet consciously looking back over her shoulder to make sure Cato and Haymitch were still there. As the acidic droplets seeped deeper into the pores of her skin, her eyebrows furrowed together in frustration the moment she felt her right leg going stiff.

The ground came crashing to her face before she even knew it.

She heard a slight rustle by her ear. "Katniss? You have to get up."

"I know," she replied in an incoherent mutter, hitting her palm against the ground before throwing herself up to stand on her wobbly legs, looking like a stupid marionette on strings.

All of the sudden, the idea of this terrible fog made much more sense now. The arm-jerking, the trembling legs, the effects of the fog—these were all intended to make them look like manipulated toys and they were most certainly all physical descriptions of how the Capitol had the power to control them. Despite each tribute this year having won the Games before, they would always be the Capitol's mindless puppets.

Well, how clever of them to come up with this.

"Do you need help?" Although she probably couldn't do much, Katniss couldn't ignore the uncontrollable jerking Cato's arms were doing as they strived to hold Haymitch in place.

"Like you would be much help," Cato shot back at her sarcastically, mustering a small smile. "Just keep walking."

After stumbling to her knees four more times, the thickening fog ceased following them at what it seemed to be the chartered territory of the sandy beach that surrounded the Cornucopia, unable to follow the group in it's extent before gathering together and being forced to condense. A few seconds later, the fog spiraled upward towards the clouds, vacuumed out of the arena and into the skies, leaving no remnants behind. So the merciful Gamemakers have decided to keep them alive after all.

Finnick dropped the lightweight Mags near the wet shore of the beach, where the waters would lap up to her easily, before dragging himself into the waters. Cato, unable to obtain that luxury so quickly, threw Haymitch down right next to the still-sleeping Mags before being brought down unto his knees, breathing harshly through his mouth as his arms and legs quaked with poison. Because of Haymitch's added weight, the blonde male was forced to stray behind, receiving most of the dreadful fog. When Cato lied himself down on the sand, she wasn't sure whether or not he was unwilling or simply unable to go into the water.

Crawling a couple more inches, Katniss lurched forward, her arm flinging into the cool waters. The initial touch was painful to bear, but through the dark indigo layers of the water, she saw the milky substance leaking out of her wounds. Dipping her entire body into the water, she followed Finnick's prior actions and soaked all the poison out. Once deeming herself quite functional to help Cato, she spat out the saltwater out of her mouth before barreling back to the shore, moving swiftly back to the lethargic-looking male, taking the dagger from his belt and cutting away his jumpsuit.

She needed to save him. Katniss had lost count of how many times Cato had saved her both physically and mentally.

When her hands folded together to cup handfuls of water in her palms, Finnick's head popped up from the water, pushing two large shells towards her. "These work better."

"Thanks," Katniss replied quickly, filling them with water before soaking Cato's arms first. They happened to be the most damaged of his body, her eyes crinkling when white substance oozed out of his arms.

"Ow…"

His response sounded oddly light and carefree, and for a slight moment, Katniss felt as though she wasn't in the Hunger Games at all. She imagined herself in her backyard with Cato, having hit him playfully in the head to get him to say the soft 'ow' in the same way.

Strenuously working her way up, she detoxified him bit by bit, starting from his feet. By the end of it all, the aftermath is nearly a white puddle surrounding his imposing body. Once Cato's eyes were open and somewhat aware, Katniss slipped into the water again.

"Finnick," she called out, gesturing to Cato's prone body. "Could you gently roll him into the water?"

Nodding, the male from Four slowly pushed at Cato's side, mindful of the ache that still controlled the blonde's body as he languidly rolled the younger man to the shore before giving one last gentle push. As his body tumbled into the water, the silver-eyed girl's arms swooped down to catch him from drowning, able to do so since he was imminently less heavy beneath the water. Her wiry arms wrapped around his waist, drawing him in closer as she let his drenching head rest against her bony shoulder, waiting for the water to work it's magic and clean his wounds.

"Katniss…" she heard an unintelligible mumble against her shoulder.

She stroked his hair tenderly. "Feel better?"

"No. I still feel like shit." There was her Cato again. She had thought she had lost him for a moment.

Ever so slowly, Cato was starting to regain most of his strength back. His head turned and pressed a soft kiss to the side of her neck, probably his way of silently thanking her for healing him, before extracting himself from her and beginning to lazily swim around, pushing forward until he was physically himself again.

At least it started out that way. But then Cato began doing all these impressive tricks he had learned from all those years at his academy, and when he winked at Katniss from where she was sitting on the shore and drying herself out, she couldn't help but scoff loudly and roll her eyes at his display.

He's definitely himself again alright.

(X.)
Katniss suddenly remembered she was 'pregnant' when Cato kissed her stomach.

He was a better actor than she had credited him for—at least way better than she was. His fingers gingerly stroked her flat abdomen with utmost care, pretending there was actual budding life there before resting his chin atop her head. Hopefully, the Gamemakers would be kind enough to let them sleep in peace for one night. Ignoring the intrusive eyes of the world, she nuzzled her face at the corner of his neck, her arms snaking around him tightly.

"What do you think it's going to be?"

"Hmm?" she found herself asking, suffering from a small case of insomnia like he was.

"The baby." His long fingers were fondling her stomach again. "You think it'll be a boy or a girl?"

His whispers were loud enough for the Capitol's cameras to catch this, causing Katniss to think that Cato was far better at this than she was, even though she was involved in the plan firsthand.

She rhythmically rubbed at the protruding muscles in his back. "What do you want it to be?" the female questioned back, pecking his lips just for the Capitol's entertainment. However, Cato hadn't directly answered her.

"You know that bastard—I mean, my father—was a complete fuckhead, right?" Katniss involuntarily closed her eyes, leaning her head against him more when she felt him twirl a piece of her black hair around his forefinger. The male had the habit of doing this whenever he needed some form of comfort, but was too arrogant to admit it. Sometimes he would twirl and twirl until the straight strand of her hair became surprisingly curly.

"Yeah." For some reason, she knew that this wasn't just for the enjoyment of the Capitol anymore, that Cato was being serious right now at a time like this. "I hated him, you know."

Cato chuckled, the notion sounding acerbic. "So did I," he agreed amicably. "Even after he died, since he's always leaving his shit to someone else, we still had…financial problems." With their friendship prolonging back to the young age of eight, of course Katniss would know this information. The Capitol, on the other hand, did not. "That's why I was so willing to volunteer. I figured it would help out the family," he added with a small shrug.

"You never told me this," Katniss decided to play along.

"I didn't matter."

"Of course it does, Cato."

His light-hued hair shook, dismissing her response "I promise I won't be like him. I wouldn't—I wouldn't dare lay a hand on our child, you have to know that, Katniss. I would never touch the kid like that." His dark pupils were largely dilated and solemn, and at the moment, she couldn't tell whether or not he was acting.

Cato would never willingly show weakness in front of all Panem, would he? But then there was that grieving smile he threw to the Capitol before his interview with Caesar Flickerman—that was a sign of his wavering strength. Before Katniss could truly divulge and analyze her husband's uncharacteristic motifs, a familiar beeping noise alerted their attention. Attached to the silver parachute was their first sponsor gift, a small basket filled with enough bread for all of them. It was Capitol-quality bread, so the gift must have cost a minor fortune.

The gift was sent from Effie, who controlled the sponsorship for District 12 since Haymitch was competing. Katniss couldn't help but feel intrigued that there was a note attached to the basket:

You two are so adorable! – E

Trust someone like Effie Trinket to comment on something like that during the Games. Nevertheless, she still silently thanked Effie for the basket anyway. The others of their alliance were all asleep, but the both of them weren't all that hungry during that time, so they saved the food for later. It must have been Cato who mainly contributed to that basket of baked goods. If he hadn't said anything about his determination on being a better parent than his father ever was, they would have never got that gift to begin with.

"He's going to have your eyes," Cato suddenly piped up again.

Katniss rolled on top of him in response. "He?" she repeated with an arched eyebrow as she settled into her favorite resting position with him.

"We've been over this."

"Fine," she let a quiet laugh slip past her pink-colored lips. "I'd like him to have your eyes though. A lot of people have grey eyes in my district and after seeing so many of them every day, they tend to lose their touch."

With one arm cradled against her back, Cato gently brushed back the strands of hair that fell forward, covering part of her iridescent face that looked beautifully prominent under the full moon. "But I like your eyes. They have a strange color—"

"Well put, Cato," she muttered, sarcasm laced in her voice. "Very romantic."

"You do know it's rude to interrupt, don't you?" Cato flicked her nose lightly, eyes narrowing because on more than one occasion, Katniss had the tendency to do that to him all the time. "As I was saying, the colors of your eyes are odd, but that's only because I've never seen that type of hue before," he paused, taking in Katniss' subversive stare at him before taking the time to roll his eyes. "They're fucking gorgeous, alright?

The girl blinked. "Are you joking with me?"

What is wrong with her? "No," he tilted his head, eyeing up at her. "Most normal girls would take that as a compliment actually."

Sometimes, he wished Katniss would see herself the way he saw her. Every inch on every surface of her was simply and utterly magnificent to stare at. After looking into her face day after day, one would have thought that he would have grown used to the way she looked by now. Yet all Cato felt was newly bewitched each time he looked at his wife, candidly gazing at her with some tame hints of salaciousness as his eyes took in their healthy dose of her.

Cato's head inched closer, his lips pursing at the bottom of her chin. "Our son's going to be hardheaded just like you," he brushed his lips teasingly over hers just to get her riled up by the lack of ardorous touch. Judging by the way Katniss was looking at him with surmounting irritation, he could tell it worked. "What a nightmare that's going to be."

"You're the stubborn one," Katniss instantly argued back, glaring at him.

"And he'll take after my body structure, of course," Cato continued as though he hadn't heard her. "I'll have to train him—bulk him up a bit. Can't have him inheriting your perpetual skinniness. That would be pitiful. And I'll also have to—"

Katniss swatted at his head guiltlessly. "Don't insult me, you idiot."

"What did I say about interrupting?"

The male could not contain the surprise he had in him when he felt another pair of lips collide heavily against his. He was caught in a zealous kiss that left his mind completely blank. He had absolutely no time to properly respond, no time to equally match the intensity Katniss was pouring into before his mouth was abruptly released of its brilliant hold and the winds of the night now only grazed his scorching lips. He looked up at her wide-eyed, struggling to regain what breath he still had in him.

Shaking out of his short-timed stupor, Cato glowered harmlessly. "That was mean."

Katniss merely hummed, her index finger skimming his soft lips. She grinned when she felt kisses being pressed against that wandering finger. "Payback's a bitch," she murmured idly, implying of his earlier provoking of her.

Her husband opened his mouth to respond back to that, and Katniss thoughtfully prepared herself for it, but she was quite stunned when it never came. She patted his cheeks, hoping to draw out the response, but she realized that Cato wasn't even paying attention to her at all. His blue eyes had lost all emotions of their banter, and he didn't seem to be looking straight at her. Instead, his orbs were staring past her shoulder, up to the blacken shades of massive trees that belonged to the warm and wet jungle that was their arena.

Curious, Katniss turned her head around and quirked it up in Cato's direction. Hanging by the vines provided by the jungle, there was not one, not ten, but scores of orange masses dangling above them. Her body froze, wondering when the hell these animals had surrounded their alliance without any of them noticing. It disturbed her how silent the monkeys had managed to pull this feat off. Their hideous fangs were bared, tremendous hackles raised for violent intentions, and claws ready to be used as dangerous weapons.

With a thunderous screech, they all shot out like bullets.

To be continued...


Another A/N: Ah, one of those darn cliffhangers. Because let's face it- deep, deep down, we actually enjoy them. I've added a little snippet of how Katniss and Cato met, but the whole thing is still a little vague. I didn't want to give too much away, like what the hell is Cato doing in District 12, you know? Don't forget to review because this story lives and thrives off of them :D

Man, I'm so tired... Hate high school. Can't wait to graduate already.