title: and here comes after
fandom: the hunger games
ship: cato/clove
summary: Cato, Clove, and after the Games. Or, Cato finds Clove in some after-life and for once she doesn't have a knife in her hands.

A/N: Written because Crissy's birthday is coming up so HAPPY BIRTHDAY CRISSY! Also, Clato just gives me a lot of feelings okay? Okay.

Cato wakes up, and the first thing he's aware of is that there are no bite marks all over his body like he expected there to be.
The second thing he's aware of is that it's very peaceful here- wherever he is.
The third item he clues himself in on is that there is a girl laying next to him, and the wind is blowing softly through her hair, causing it to tickle gently on his face.

Cato sits himself up and rocks back on his hands, looking at the girl over his shoulder.
It's Clove, and he doesn't think he's smiled so genuinely since…well, ever.
"Clove…Clove, wake up. It's time to find out what's waiting for us".
Her hand swipes at him, and it's due to force of habit that he dodges out of the way. There's no knife in her hand though, and a part of him doubts that she'll find any here- wherever 'here' is.
"Where the fuck is my knife!" she snarls at him, accusing him with her eyes of disarming her.
Cato knows that underneath her bladed exterior, she is frail and sometimes weak, weaker than Glimmer or the girl from District 12 could ever be. The knives are her out and make her strong. When they are stripped from her, Cato is reminded of the girl he loves to be with.
He was always just another tool to Clove, though. Just a piece in her games.

"Clove, wake up. We're dead. Don't you remember dying? There are no knives here- there's no need for them. We're safe. We're alive"- except they're not, not really. Their hearts lay still in their chest and Cato wonders how he can feel so much love when there is no blood coursing through his veins.
Clove shakes her head and backs away, murmuring "No...no. We won the Games. We're in District 2 again".
Cato approaches her, grabs her hand, and places is on her chest.
"Now tell me we're actually home and breathing, Clove. Look me in the eyes and tell me I'm lying".
Her screams and cries could be heard for miles, he thinks, if only there were other people around.

He doesn't see Clove for three days (at least, that's what he thinks, but he doesn't really have a sense of time here, because nothing ever changes), and quite honestly, he's glad for the reprieve from her and her games. It gives him the chance to think and explore where they are.
Cato's been walking for what seems to be forever when he finds a lamp post. He gets excited; maybe there is something more out there than just the emptiness that he has been trying to fill with his own thoughts.

There's nothing, though. He feels desperate and empty and he needs Clove.
He needs Clove.

Finding her is harder than he thought it would be. She's hiding underneath a bench (so it turns out there is more to this place- he refuses to call it heaven- than he thought there was), and she's a mess. Her hair is in knots and tear stains are covering her face. Clearly, she's not handling the whole "being dead" thing very well.
"Hey," he says to her softly, as if she were a deer he's trying to lure out of the woods. "Clove. Come here".
She slowly extracts herself from her hiding spot underneath the bench, and together they sit on the bench. Cautiously, he wraps his arm around her.
"It's going to be okay, Clove. I've got you, and you've got me".
She recoils and hisses at him:
"You were nothing. You've never been anything to me. And if it came down to it, I would've rather been the sole victor than share it with you".
She didn't need a knife to stab him, he's learning now. Her own coarse words puncture and wound him as their meaning sinks in.
I would've killed you. Even if I didn't have to. I still would.

As if she could read his thoughts, she said:
"And if I could now, I would, Cato," and she says his name with a sort of venom. It's the final blow, and she gets up and walks away.
"Leave me the fuck alone".

He wants to shout after her: "Stay. I need you". It's hard to do that when he feels like she's stabbed straight into his heart and that he's bleeding out.

Cato remembers dying all too vividly some nights. He reminds himself, once again, that there are no nights here- just periods of respite where his nightmares take over.
The mutts tear him to pieces in some nightmares. On the better nights, Katniss ends his misery by shooting an arrow straight into his perifrontal cortex. Usually, though, he is left to suffer until his head is torn off by a mutt or his heart just simply stops beating.
When he wakes up, he laughs at the irony because his heart still isn't beating. He's a walking paradox- he shouldn't be able to function, but he does because apparently normal rules don't apply wherever they are.
Then there are the nightmares when Clove dies. The rock comes down on her head, and he's running but he seems to stay in the same spot. Clove screams for him and he tries to get to her, but he can't. He wakes up in a cold sweat after these nightmares.
His worst nightmare, though, is the one existing solely in this life.
He never finds Clove in these nightmares. He sees glances of her hair as she turns around corners, but he can never get to her in time to grab her, to shake her by the shoulders and tell her how much he needs her, loves her.
He would die all over again for her. Cato has to satisfy himself with waiting for her to come to him instead- not seeking her out is pain enough.

On the first year anniversary of their waking up, she comes to him.
It has been the most trying year of Cato's (after) life. He has come to terms with the fact that he is dead, and he's never really going to know where they are. More than that, he is convinced that this place is not heaven, because to him, heaven means peace and Clove; he has neither here, in this quiet place he has called home for the past year.

He has made lists for Clove for when she eventually returns. There is one thing he likes about this place- whenever he needs something, it appears. Sometimes he gets food, even though he doesn't need it. It's a consolation, that he can still eat and pretend he's not dead some days. But his true solace is writing these lists. The first one is called Reasons why I love Clove.

Her tough attitude
The way her eyes light up when she sees lilacs.
How she was around young kids- the only people who got to see the real Clove.
The way she smiles at me.
How her hand fits in mine perfectly.
How she doesn't need anyone but wants company- wants me.
He adds to that list every day.

Another list is short, and it's named Reasons why we died.

He can only think of one reason:

Because you refused to love me, Clove.

Her eyes are still red-rimmed from crying when she comes to him on that days.
She looks a mess, and Cato wonders if she's figured out that this place will provide whatever she's asked for- obviously not, or else she would be clean.
He gestures for her to come closer, but she remains closed off to him, her arms wrapped around her protectively.
Cato can tell already that he knives have been dulled, and she has no idea how to sharpen them.
They both open their mouths to speak, but he lets her go first.
"I'm sorry," she says, and she's weak and soft and so vulnerable. He supposes her year in solitude has had a similar effect on her as it has on him.
"I'm sorry that I ran away when we needed each other. I'm sorry that I told you that you were nothing to me. I need you, Cato. I was so selfish and young," and here is where he has to stifle an ironic laugh, because they don't age here, at least not physically.
"It's not funny!" she squeaks out and Cato lets her hit him, just this once.
"I spent an entire year being here, wishing I had reacted differently that day, feeling guilty for making you feel worthless! And you chuckle?"
Cato gets up and walks toward her.
"I laugh because there is so much irony and paradox in our situation. You called yourself young, but we can't age. We're stuck like this. Forever. And you can either accept that, or run away again. I want to love you Clove, but you won't let me. You never let anyone love you, except if they weren't able to be a piece in your games. If you couldn't hurt them".
She breaks down, and cries, even though she thought she had nothing left to let loose from her eyes.
"I'm sorry I used you. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to live- and I don't feel alive here. I exist in some sort of...quietness, I guess. I feel incomplete,"
Cato hopes it's for the same reason he feels incomplete.
"Why don't we form an alliance to survive here, Clove? Then, maybe one day, you can let yourself be loved."
She nods her head calmly. "Okay. I'd like that."
He smiles, and his face didn't really remember how to form it, and it hurts to be happy a little bit, but Cato feels it'll be worth it.

They soon discover that they can change the scenery of this place. It's like the Gamemakers arena, except they are completely in control and there is no fear of dying here.
Cato morphed one section into a beach, since being from District 2, he and Clove had never been to one. He traces the outline of the sand and the ocean from the pictures he's seen in his textbooks at school. It's sad because he'll never really know if this is what an actual beach is like- is sand cold? Does the ocean normally seem this large?

Those are questions he'll never have the answer to; questions meant for another life.

He gently wakes up Clove; today is good. Today she does not try to swing at him with a knife that isn't there. She smiles at him gently and takes his hand that he has offered out to her. He takes her to the beach, and she actually looks happy.
It hits him that this is the first time he's seen her be purely happy- either here or back in their old life.
They sit down on the blanket he has set out, and they both have this unspoken agreement that yes, this is a date, but no, they won't call it that.
"What do you want to do, Clove?"
She whispers:
"Race me," and she takes off like a rocket into the wide open ocean, leaving Cato with no choice but to run after her. He finally catches her around the waist, and he thinks that the beauty of the ocean is nothing compared to her.
"Is this what it would've been like, if we were alive?" he whispers into her hair.
She tenses up.
"I love you," he asserts. "I know you love me too. Just say it," he pleads.
She's silent, and then says.
"Let's just sit near a campfire, okay?"
So, because he loves her, he draws one up in his mind and then morphs some of the land to suit her needs.

She nestles her head in the space between his shoulder and his head, and wraps her arms around him. She doesn't speak, and he doesn't want to invade the sanctuary that is her mind. So he lets her be.
Then, out of the blue:
"Cato, what would you've done if we were alive? If we got to go home? What would you have done with the rest of your life?"
He shifts in thought before answering.
"I guess I would've lived comfortably off of our victors' winnings. Tried to marry you. Hopefully succeed one day, I hope. Maybe I would've been a father. I would've done anything to keep my kids from going into the arena. What about-" but here she cuts him off.
"How long have you been in love with me?"
He laughs because this is such an easy question, but the answer is anything but.
"I guess when I saw you training with your knives back in District 2. You were in a field with trees and just throwing knife after knife into their bark. You saw me out of the corner of your eye-"
"And I turned and just barely missed your head, on purpose of course. I never miss," she says, with a smug smile on her face.
"Ever since then, I just knew that you were the girl I wanted to spend forever with," he finishes, and mentally kicks himself for being so cheesy and lame.

"Why me, though? And don't say it's because I nearly lodged a knife in your skull".
Here he knows to proceed with caution, because even if she doesn't have a knife, she can still destroy him at any moment.

"I think I started to fall in love- real love, not just the type where I think we could become something more- with you when I saw you with the younger kids. You let yourself go when you were with them; it was so enthralling to see you that way. You looked happy. I wanted to make you happy".
She's silent, and then says:
"I wish you will make me happy. Someday," and then Clove gets up, brushes the sand off of her legs, and walks away.

Cato tilts his head up toward the sky and wishes for the nighttime sky to come, complete with stars.
He doesn't wish upon stars, anymore. It's only been up to him.

Clove finds the lists one day.

"What the fuck are these, Cato?" she hisses, and her voice is laced with venom.
"I see you've found my lists," he replies, and his tone is even and calm.
"Yes, I found your fucking lists! Reasons why we died? Because you refused to love me, Clove?" and she is screeching, she is livid, and fuck he's messed up badly this time.
"Clove, I know this looks bad, but please let me explain!"
"I'm done giving you chances, Cato! You and your fucking lovesick teenager act are intolerable. God, you know, I could've love you if you'd only-" but he silences her with his lips and all he can think is finally as she starts to kiss back.
He pulls away, and she recoils in shock.
"Tell me that was just an act, Clove. Tell me that the second list there is a lie. Then tell me I'm intolerable. I love you Clove. Why can't you just let yourself fucking love someone else? It's you and me for the rest of eternity. It's time to face the reality that we're in. We're dead, Clove. This is it. You can spend forever loving me or hating me. But I'm done trying. The knife's in your tree. You decide what you want to do with it".

Fuming, he storms back to the beach where they had their first date, and throws rocks into the ocean.
He can't morph this place into rocks fast enough, can't spread out the beach to suit his needs, and so he just pulls at his hair in frustration and cries for the first time since he's died.
Eventually, he curls up into a ball and closes his eyes. It's only a matter of time before sleep takes him in its grasp; as he drifts off, he thinks:
"How is it possible to be so emotional when we aren't alive?"
The answer is clear:
Emotions- love- reside in your soul. That's why you keep them when you move on.

Clove starts to morph a garden out of her area of nothingness before she goes to find Cato.

She fills it with lilacs and sunflowers, and flowers she's only seen in books. The hedges stretch for miles, and she adds in a holly bush for good measure. She briefly wonders if they could've created this type of garden together in their other life- would they have spent it together? Again, questions for another lifetime. She has to make the best of the one they have.

It takes her quite some time to find Cato, but she isn't surprised where she does find him.
Of course he's on the beach where he told her why he loved her. It makes sense- in the paradox that is their world; so maybe it doesn't really but Clove can't really be bothered to care right now.

She shakes him awake, as he has done so many times for her.
"Cato. Cato, I'm sorry," and she flashes back to red-rimmed eyes and promises to try. Her heart sinks when she realizes she didn't try; at least, she didn't try nearly as hard as Cato did.

"Cato, can you come with me?"
And maybe it's because he's forgiving or because death has soften him up, but he comes with her to the garden.
"So what do you want, Clove?" he asks, and he just sounds tired and defeated.

"I made a list," she replies, simply, and she hands it over to him.
"Reasons why Cato should give me another chance," he reads aloud. He reads the list silently, and then asks, quietly:

"I want a chance at forever, Cato. I...I love you..."

There is a flash of blinding light, and suddenly they are no longer in the garden. Cato reaches out for Clove and they cling tightly onto each other as they are transported somewhere else- and Cato laughs internally because he was so convinced there was nothing else in this afterlife for them.

They wake up holding hands. They are surrounded by a forest, and Cato is convinced they are back in the arena, and he can tell by the tremor in Clove's voice that she thinks so too.
"Where are we, Cato?"
"I don't know, Clove," and his hand goes over his chest to make sure his heart still isn't beating. It's odd to him that he is now comforted by this fact, but nearly two years of being dead (at least, he feels like it's been two years, there is no real way of knowing) distorts your perception of what is real and what belongs to another life.
"We're not alive, Clove. This isn't the arena," but that leaves the obvious question:
"Then what is this?"
The boy from 11 comes out to meet them, and Clove cringes in terror.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Clove. My name is Thresh. I see you have moved on," and he waits for their questions patiently.
Cato is the first to speak.
"Where did we move on from, exactly?"
"You were in a waiting place. There was something you didn't accomplish in your life that you were supposed to; the point of the waiting place was for you to realize what that was. The waiting place will give you whatever you need to move on; it cares about you. It's no arena, and this isn't either".
Clove and Cato exchange glances, and then she asks:
"So...the whole time we were there, I just had to admit that I loved you?"
Cato shakes his head.
"I don't think it was admitting that you loved me specifically. I think you had to discover that you were capable of loving someone who you had once used".
"Then what was your purpose?"
Thresh smiles, because he knows his answer already.

"I guess, in order for me to move on, I had to stop being so selfish. Letting you take the lead was how I did that".
He squeezes her hand gently.
"I'm glad we got to move on together," he says, smiling at her.
She smiles- genuinely happy- and responds:
"Me too".
Thresh gestures around him with his hands.
"Welcome home".

And this, Cato knows, is what absolute bliss is.


Review pretty please?