Cato's exhausted. He's wounded, too; half an hour ago a broadhead arrow as sharp as one of Clove's knives grazed him where his neck meets his shoulder. It's a long deep cut, and it hurts, and he's bleeding, and he knows damn well he's lucky to be alive. That arrow missed his throat by an inch, his jugular by less than that.
Her next shot wouldn't miss. Her next shot didn't happen.
Instead he got within a sword's reach of the girl from District 12 before she could nock the next arrow, and now she's lying on the grass in a sticky, spreading puddle. He's killed her with that thrust through the guts. She just hasn't finished dying yet.
She doesn't seem to know that. She's scrabbling backwards, away from him. Her hands are slipping in the wet grass. She doesn't even realize what she's slipping in, or, unbelievably, she doesn't care. She gropes for the silver bow and the arrow she just had in her hand. He isn't entirely certain that she couldn't shoot him, even now.
He reaches down to take the weapons out of her reach. She's staring at him fiercely; her eyes never leave his. She's furious. In the hot fake afternoon of the Arena, the smell is horrible.
Clove's running up behind him, panting; she's done a lot of the hard work of that long chase, keeping herself and her knives between District 12 and the woods. When she sees the girl, the puddle, she whoops with glee.
"You got her! And you saved me the best part! Let's give them something really entertaining. Maybe a couple hours' worth." Her eyes are gleaming. "You think she's up to that?"
That'd depend on Clove. District 12 isn't going to die from that wound in two hours; she might not die today. She could even hang on as long as Lover Boy did – the cannon didn't fire for him until this morning at the feast. What's going on in that puddle on the grass is slow and ugly enough to make two hours of Clove's knife work seem quick and clean in comparison.
He'd been trying to stab her through the heart.
There's something about Clove's giggling that's making him sick at his stomach, or more likely, it's just the horrible smell. It's hot out here, and the sweat that runs into the wound on his neck stings and burns. He takes off his jacket, but it doesn't help much. He's painfully thirsty, too. Suddenly he's conscious of just how tired he really is.
He wipes the worst of the mess off his sword and sheaths it. The sword is the wrong weapon for what he has in mind. Quietly he says, "I need a knife."
"Yes, you do. You really do. And you need me to use it for you. Right there," she says, touching the girl's mouth. "And there. And there." The dying girl jerks and moans.
"Clove, give me a knife. A skinny one, really sharp. Then go away."
Clove hands him the knife, but she isn't going away.
"Remember what I said? I kill her in my own way and no one interferes? I meant it. Go on. Get the hell out of here."
Clove pouts. "Fine. But you better bring my knife back. And you'd better clean it first."
He sits down beside her on the cleanest part of the grass.
Her gaze isn't so much fierce now as confused, as though she's forgotten what she's doing on the ground and how she got there. Her face is almost as gray as her eyes. Her mouth is moving; her pale tongue passes slowly over her pale lips. She's trying to speak. She's saying water.
Everybody calls out for the same two things when they're dying: water and mother. Always. Enobaria told him that once.
He might as well get his canteen out; he's thirsty himself.
There's no way she can hold the canteen; she's having enough trouble holding her head up. He'll give her a drink of water, but he's not going to cradle her head in his lap like Lover Boy. Instead he puts his wadded jacket under her head and holds the canteen while she drinks.
He has some things to say to her anyway.
"So, uhm… eleven," he says.
"Don't call her that. She had a name." Her voice sounds as though it's coming from a long way away. "None of you cared. You killed her anyway."
"Not District 11. I mean, not her. Not… Rue, right? I mean, you, in training. Your score – the eleven? They were right about that. Fair."
He thought maybe she'd smile. She doesn't. She's not even meeting his eyes anymore; instead she's looking off toward the trees where some black and white birds are singing a repetitive four-note tune.
"You're… you were really good. I wish… it would… if we'd been al—" He stops. "I mean, it was a good fight, you know?"
She doesn't say anything. Her attention is back on him, now, or at least on the canteen in his hand. He holds it for her and she drinks again. Water dribbles down her chin. When he moves to wipe it off, she tries to jerk her head away. There's still something fierce left in those eyes.
"It was a hell of a good fight," he says. "I wanted to tell you that."
He hopes she'll say something, or at least nod, but she doesn't. Her eyes are drifting toward the birds again.
He tries to make his voice gentle, kind. "I can give them a message," he says. "Tell your mentor and he can—"
"No," she interrupts. "There's nothing I want you to tell them." Her lip curls when she says you. "And don't be so sure you're going home. Thresh, Clove… they could still kill you."
"Yeah," he says. "They could. They'll try to win. Everybody does. You do what you have to do. That's how the Games work. That's all I did. What I had to do."
"Everybody does," she says. She's looking away from him, watching the birds again.
"I meant to make it quick and clean." He badly needs some water, but she drank it all. The canteen is empty. "I'm sorry that… I'm sorry it hurts."
"It really does," she says. She winces. She groans. Those first surprised moments are over. She's falling back into her body, the body that's leaking blood and worse into the grass. The real pain is beginning.
The last night at the Training Center, Enobaria took him aside. You and Clove are both very good; it could well come down to you and her, at the end. But I've seen you together. You put your arm around her shoulder. You ruffle her hair. When you have to kill Clove, you'll hesitate. Enobaria's face was calm and serious. Let me teach you how to kill a friend.
"I won't leave you to suffer. I owe you that."
She nods, or maybe she just winces again. He can't really tell.
"You were really good. I'm sorry that we… that this is how it is." Without even thinking, he reaches for her hand.
She pulls her hand away. "I'm ready. Go ahead and finish it."
"It'll be fast. You won't even feel anything." That was what Enobaria told him, anyway. He hopes it's true.
He puts his hand on her forehead, firmly, holding her head still. "Close your eyes. Think about something good. Like Lo— Peeta. You're going to be together, right? Or those birds. Or home, maybe. District 12. Something good."
When she finally manages a faint smile, he kills her.
He does it the way he was taught, with Clove's needle-sharp blade through the girl's eye and into her brain. It's as quick as Enobaria said. The cannon fires within a second.
He puts the silver bow into her hands. "Goodbye, Katniss," he whispers. "It was a really good fight."
He cleans Clove's knife before he gives it back to her.
Clove is being petulant and won't talk to him. Instead she's cooing at the knife as she puts it away. "So what have you been doing this morning, hmm? What have you and Cato been up to?"
He doesn't answer.
Clove giggles and twines her arms around his neck. "You have to tell me all about it."
"No," he says. "I don't."