There has been just a small rule change, Tributes, Claudius Templesmith's voice booms down from the shielded sky, the previous rule saying that only one tribute can stand and be crowned victor has been taken away. Two tributes will be able to win, if one is a female and the other is male.
My heart is thudding in my chest so hard I'm sure that everyone else in the arena will be able to hear it. The immediate thought is Clove. I didn't exactly take well to the small girl from my District in the beginning, but I admit she has grown on me. I know everyone sees me as Brutal Cato, the heartless killer, and I was a good actor. No one would ever guess I was just pretending, trying to shut out my emotions. I like the idea of saving even one more life. We will win this, Clove and I. The only other people left in the arena aren't much competition, except for the large, dark skinned boy from District 11, Thresh. He's huge, muscular, strong, but he won't stand a chance against Clove's speed and her knives. There's the red headed fox-like one from 5, who everyone knows as Foxface. The dark haired, stormy eyed Katniss Everdeen – although quick and agile – is no match for me and Clove. When we find her, we will find Lover Boy; it's like killing two birds with one stone. How convenient. I have to say I'm surprised he's stayed alive this long after my sword stabbed him in his thigh. I think of how much fun Clove and I will have teasing and killing Girl on Fire. She's strong minded and stubborn, and it's certain she won't go down without a fight.
I want to run from our camp at the lake to find my District partner and celebrate Claudius Templesmith's announcement, but I know she will be waiting next to the cornucopia for the feast at sunrise. We had argued for a while about the decision to go to the feast, me determined that there isn't anything we needed, but Clove is curious to what could be in the bag.
The Capitol Anthem starts playing and the sky is lit up with the picture of Rue, a small wide eyed girl from 11. Her image flickers for a while before it changes to a photo of a blonde haired, blue eyed boy. Under his face, is the number 12. Excellent, I think. Lover Boy is already dead.
I hear a strangled scream and shoot upright in my sleeping bag. "No! Cato, Cato!" I know Clove's voice when I hear it. She doesn't seem very far away, probably at the cornucopia still. I don't do anything except grab a belt of knives and a spear before I'm running so fast the trees are all a blur. I stop dead in my tracks when I see Clove lying on the ground next to the golden horn, her expression far away. Thresh, the one from District 11, is running into the field and I take one more step before throwing my spear and watching it sink into his back. This time, I don't feel regret or sadness or guilt about killing the boy as the cannon goes off and I cup Clove's small head in my blood stained hands. She looks at me sadly, and memories rush through me. Her hopping around the obstacle course in our training centre, throwing knives from thirty metres away and hitting the target perfectly each time, smiling at me as we shook hands at the reaping.
"Cato," she manages to whisper. "Win this for me. Go home and t-tell my-y-y fam-mily I l-love them," she slurs, managing one last sob before her chest stops rising and falling.
"I will, I promise," and then I gently push her eyelids down so her eyes are closed, and kiss the top of her head.
I'm still screaming for them not to take her away when the hovercraft comes into view and extends its sharp, taloned claw out and picks up Clove's small body.
"Never let go, Clove, ever," I manage to whisper, removing my grip from her hand as it pulls her up into the sky.
I should be worried about the two other tributes seeing me like this, like the boy I was before I started training for the games. Selfless, heartbroken, miserable… Human. I was so caught up in my own emotions, I almost didn't hear the quiet moaning and sobs coming from the other side of the cornucopia.
Katniss Everdeen lies curled in a ball on her side, blood and tears staining her face.
"Peeta, I'm here. Peeta, Peeta, please, I'm here," she mutters and continues to choke as blood from a deep gash across her forehead enters her mouth.
She's a mess, sure, but I can't help noticing her natural beauty. Unlike Glimmer, who caked her face in makeup and wore a foul smelling perfume, Katniss's face was gentle and she smelled of pine trees and berries.
Wait, what am I thinking? District 12's are not beautiful. It's not possible.
I press a hand roughly onto her shoulder and shake her. "Come on, Girl on Fire, wake up."
She stirs slowly and sprawls out on the grass so she's lying flat on her back, the perfect position for me to drive a knife through her chest right now and end the games. But her innocent, wide grey eyes make me hesitate. How many can I kill before I still to feel guilt and remorse? And how can I kill a small girl who's looking at me like she's just seen a monster? In her eyes, she probably has.
"Please, don't," she tries to scurry backwards but the loss of blood from her head has made her weak and she gives in, lying back on the ground.
I grind my teeth together. If I had the will to kill this one girl, Foxface and I could go home. And if I decide to protect Katniss and hunt down the read head, who's to tell me I'm not going to feel the same way killing her? "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you right now, Girl on Fire."
She stutters incoherently for a few moments before using all her strength to push herself into a sitting position and lean back onto the side of the golden horn. "You're not a monster, District 2."
Her words startle me enough to make me drop my blade that I had chosen from my belt. It drops to the floor next to my boot and I step on the handle, making sure the girl can't reach it. "Oh yeah? And how do you know that?"
"Because I saw the way you looked at Clove before she was taken away. Monsters don't feel upset, and by the look on your face, you were in a lot of pain."
Was I really that easy to read? I could see the life oozing out of her by the second as blood continues to flow from the cut on her head.
"It doesn't matter anyway. You're going home. I'm not going to last much longer. And yes, you're easier to read than you may think, if that's what you were wondering."
I don't know why I felt the urge to help Katniss Everdeen, because I knew that as soon as I got home, my mentor Brutus would be going off his head at me for being so weak minded. But she was dying. "I have something for that," I rummage around in the bag that I had collected from the feast and pulled out a small tub of dark brown ointment, a bandage, and some tingawa leaves. "I don't know why they gave us this stuff; we most certainly didn't need it. But now I'm thinking it's lucky they did." I pour the ointment onto a leaf and place it on Katniss's gash, wrapping the bandage firmly around her head.
Her body relaxes noticeably and she lets out a moan of happiness.
Her hand finds mine and I lace my fingers through hers without even thinking about it. "Thank you," she breathes.
I don't say anything, but can't help admire the look of satisfaction on her face. I stroke a few strands of loose hair back from her face and kiss her cheek. "Anytime, Girl on Fire, anytime."
The Gamemakers must be already getting bored, because they turn up the strong, cold wind and they sky in black in almost an instant, with dark grey thunder clouds looming above us. Water trickles down, slowly at first, and I try and wake Katniss up from her fitful sleep. We're on the edge of the forest, next to the golden horn, but the thin trees don't provide much protection from the rain.
"Fire Girl, get up," she slaps my hand away and tucks herself back into her sleeping bag. I sigh. "You give me no choice," I heave her onto my shoulder effortlessly and head to the cornucopia as fast as I can with a thrashing, kicking girl on my back.
"Cato, let me down!" she screams.
I dump her down on the sheltered floor of the cornucopia and chuckle, looking at the scratches and punches her fingernails made while I had carried her here. "That's going to leave a bruise, Spitfire. Did you do that to Lover Boy when he carried you into that cave of yours?" the second the words are out of my mouth I regret them, because as soon as I mention Peeta Mellark, she starts crying hysterically and I sit down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Katniss."
She pauses for a second. "That's the first time you said my real name," she smiles almost sadly, shivering like crazy.
"Are you cold?"
She nods and I smirk. "Move over then."
Spitfire gives me a puzzled look but moved into the corner of her rather large sleeping bag and I squash into it with her. It's a tight fit, but I manage to turn so I'm facing her and put both arms around her little body.
"You're so warm," she whispers.
"Don't get any ideas, Fire Girl," I warn playfully as she snuggles closer to me.
We fall asleep like that, enveloped in each other's arms, and if I could I would stay like that forever.