Title from Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machine.
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The woods of the arena are cold at night. It's an all-encompassing, aching kind of cold, the sort that bites into your fingers and toes and latches on tight, refusing to let go until you have practically crawled inside the fire. Because they do have a fire - the others might not be willing to chance detection, but Cato and Clove aren't afraid of anything. They're the predators, not the prey. In fact, it would be a downright treat should another tribute be drawn to them by the billowing smoke and flickering flames.
But no one dares. Everything around them is still and silent. Even the wind hardly dares disturb the trees. When Clove finally speaks, it's too loud in the quiet. "So," she says. "What's the plan?"
Those big green eyes blink at him, orangeish light reflecting across her face in a way that makes her seem inhuman, demonic. The look suits her.
"Keep killing," he says, almost a joke but not quite, and they share a fleeting smile before Clove pushes to her feet, knife swinging absently from the hand it never leaves.
"Fire's going out," she explains, off-handedly, like she knows she has to tell him what she's up to but also like she doesn't want to seem as if she's answering to him. "Gonna get some more wood."
He should probably be the one to do it, or he should at least go with her - it's a dangerous place out there, and no matter what Clove likes to think, she's not invincible - but he thinks she'd probably bury that knife in his skull should he imply she's weak, so he lets her go. He listens to the way her boots crunch against fallen leaves. It's a comforting noise, really. He sits back and stares into the fading fire, losing himself in the way it flickers and dances until she returns.
There are no logs in her hands when she trudges back, no thick branches to pile up and relight. All she has to show for her venture are two handfuls of green stuff, the kind that will smoke up a storm the second it's aflame. That's how they were tricked last time by that damned District 12 girl and her pitiful little ally. Clove should know better.
He's just about to chastise her when he catches sight of her face in the fading light, and what he sees there stops him short. He knows that look – one of determination, the kind of expression she dove head-first into the Bloodbath wearing. Something about setting these handfuls of greenery ablaze has her as invested as killing off the other tributes, and he doesn't understand why.
Before he can ask, she looks at him over the fire, a different kind of light shining in her eyes this time. She reaches up to give him a better view of the tufts of what he assumed to be grass or weeds - but no. It's actually a handful of small flowers, white and delicate, like lace. They're quite pretty really, a nice change from this world of leaf-green and blood-red. He doesn't know why she wants to burn them.
The question must reflect on his face, because she answers it. "Beauty doesn't belong here," she tells him simply, and drops the flowers into the fire. The heat ruins them on contact, and in seconds they're nothing but smolders, falling into the pile of ashes like they weren't anything special at all.
The imagery of this (coupled with Clove's statement) strikes Cato right in the gut.
He thinks of Glimmer before he can help himself, pretty perfect Glimmer, with her pretty hair and perfect smile. She didn't belong in this ugly, blood-stained arena, either, and now she's dead. She's dead and she's gone and she might as well be another pile of ash beneath the flames between Cato and Clove.
He also thinks, again without meaning to, of the star-crossed lovers from District 12. Neither of them are dead yet, but it won't be long until Cato has his hands around that traitor lover-boy's neck, or Clove has slit the throat of that idiot Girl on Fire, and then it'll be over. That will be it. There will be no more what-ifs, or maybes. They will be dead, and so will their love.
Love doesn't last in the Games, because it's a beautiful thing. And beauty, as Clove said, does not belong in a place like this.
It's then, in that very moment, that Cato realizes Clove - sultry, sneaky Clove - is going to die.
She'd deny it, of course, would call him an idiot and probably throw a knife in his general direction - not with the intent to hurt him, not really, though she could if she wanted to. She would just try and prove that she DOES belong here.
But she doesn't. As she herself said, nothing beautiful does. And Clove is a lot of things, but she is, above all else, beautiful.
Not conventionally, perhaps. She doesn't have the high cheekbones and bright smile of Glimmer or the sleek sexiness and charming grin of Finnick Odair. In reality, she's just this small, sly girl with a bloodthirsty attitude and deadly aim. It's hard to see past her knives and that wicked gleam behind her eyes, and yet Cato has done just that - he has seen everything she has to offer, and some things that he doesn't think she means to show. He knows her, back and forth, cover to cover - she's his favorite book, his favorite song, and he could recite the words hidden within her unthinkingly. It's not so much that he loves her – honestly, he's not quite sure what that word even means – but when he's not thinking about how he's going to get rid of the others, he's thinking about her. Not about killing her, no. He doesn't consider that inevitability too much. It has to happen, of course. There can only be one victor, and he'll be it. There is no other option. But he'll worry about her when absolutely necessary. Until then, he'll consider her in every other way – like how easygoing she can be when it's just the two of them, how much he loves watching her handle those knives, what she's thinking behind those big green eyes.
Right now, her thoughts must be puzzled, because when she looks at him again, she's visibly confused. "Cato?"
There's a question there, and he knows what she's asking, but he pretends he doesn't. "Wanna take first watch? I'm tired," he says instead, avoiding her eyes by dragging a backpack closer and rifling through it for something to rest his head on. Something about the realization that she must die has him rattled.
"Sure," she agrees, but the way she looks at him is calculating, like she's trying to figure him out. Good luck, he almost tells her, because even he doesn't know what all his whirling thoughts mean. He lies down on his back, watching the smoke of the fire float idly into the sky, and allows himself to drift along with it, his mind working relentlessly even as his body shuts down.
When he falls into a sleep that is full of death dreams and cold sweats, it's Clove he's thinking about. As he lies there, lulled by the crackling of the fire and the sound of her breathing, it's her face that fills his mind. She's looking at him, dark and dangerous, and she's lying down in a field, surrounded by thousands and thousands of those sweet, delicate flowers she so wanted to destroy.
He doesn't remember the dream until later. Later, when she is screaming his name. Later, when he is racing to find her. Later, when she's lying half-dead in the field surrounding the Cornucopia, Thresh and Katniss abandoning her as she fights to breathe. There are no flowers here, but then again, in his dream there was no blood. Strangled by the weight of her injury, she is taking these small, half-choked breaths, chest rising and falling rapidly, but seeing her there, so helpless and hurt, his own lungs stop working altogether. He falls to his knees beside her, taking her hand. "Come on, Clove," he says, heart thudding desperately against his ribs, almost like a countdown. He knows it's nearing zero, but he can't bring himself to accept it. This isn't how it's supposed to happen. He has always known he would win, and she would die, but not now, not so soon. Hands shaking, he grips her fingers tighter and touches her face. "Clove, come on, stay with me."
Her lips tremble as she looks at him, green eyes bright with tears. Clove doesn't cry, but this broken shell of her body does, and he watches, helpless, as a lone tear leaves a thick track through the dirt smudged on her face. He wants to wipe it away, but it's so close to the dent in her skull, and she's already so impossibly hurt – he can't bring himself to worsen it.
It's then he realizes that he never would have been able to kill her himself.
And it's then he realizes that he still doesn't know what love is.
But he thinks he might finally understand heartbreak.
Beneath him, Clove makes a soft, pained noise in the back of her throat, eyelashes fluttering together. She's leaving him. He grips her hand tighter still. He thinks she might grip back, if only for a second, but it's enough. It's enough.
"Go on, Clove," he whispers, for her and only her. All of Panem might hear him, but for the moment, there is no one but him and her and there is nothing that matters quite like this girl dying in his arms. "It's okay. It's like you said, right?" She peers at him through her lashes, curious even as the life leaks out of her. He bends down closer, close enough to kiss her, though he doesn't. He wouldn't disrespect healthy, headstrong, hedonistic Clove by kissing this broken, beaten, battered memory of her. Instead, he allows his breath to ghost along her cheek and his words to seep into her skin:
"Beauty doesn't belong here."
She manages a smile. He can't bring himself to return it.
And the cannon booms.