Despite the silence, Cato's ears were ringing. Could it be true?
He looked at Clove, who was positively shining in her evening gown. He choked many times, but he managed to stammer, "Wha—what did that mean?"
"That meant I love you, too," said Clove, in between sobs.
"What?" Because that was certainly too much information.
Clove replied by launching herself upon him. She collapsed in his arms, her head on his chest and her arms around his neck. She cried like a little fountain, soaking Cato's shirt. But he did not care. In fact, he was not capable of anything much. He just stood there, still as a rock, numb from head to toe, as the girl he loved proved that she loved him, too. Did she kiss him? He wasn't sure. But he felt amazing.
When Clove detached herself from Cato, red in the face, she asked, "Do you believe me now?"
And he embraced her with all the force in his body. His every cell was screaming. He was on fire.
This was bliss. This was a point in time when reality blended with imagination, when lies ceased to exist, when uncertainties faded to dust. He could not speak, but when he could, said. "I might want to hear that again."
"I. Love. You." Clove smiled. "That's the last one, though. Any more than that and I think I'd start puking, idiot."
"You're an idiot for loving me back," he said, beaming.
"That makes two of us."
They went inside the room and sat on the bed, staring out the window. When glorious ecstasy devolved into simple, indescribable joy, Cato asked, "So when did you know that you loved me?"
Clove was still looking at the sky outside. "I've known it all along. I just did not know what 'it' was until now. You?"
"Hmm, I don't know. Maybe since your sixteenth birthday, when I gave you that book."
She laughed. "Oh, that. Next awkward question. Why me?"
"I would have chosen anyone but you, but my gooey little monster of a heart has other plans."
"You sound like you're regretting it."
"What do you think?"
Clove smiled. Cato still could not believe it. Clove looked so beautiful, even more now, just because he knew she loved him, too.
"Sorry for being such a dick," Cato said.
"No, it's fine. Especially now." Clove finally looked at him. "But I think I need an explanation."
He shifted uncomfortably and chose his words carefully. "I wanted to let you win," he said. "I still do. I want to protect you; that's why I volunteered. God, I thought that was obvious. But if I told you the truth, I thought, maybe you'd try to do stupid things, like protecting me back. That would get you nothing but trouble. There's going to be one victor, and it has to be you."
Clove opened her mouth to complain, but he cut her off.
"So I wanted to make you despise me. I wanted to make you hate me so deeply that the first thing you'd want to do in the arena is get rid of me. And I thought I was succeeding, until, of course…" He let the words trail.
He gazed at the floor. He felt relieved that he now had nothing to hold back.
"You're really an idiot, Cates," Clove mumbled, reusing that old nickname.
"That was stupid."
"Did you honestly think that I would be able to kill you?"
He did not. He trusted Clove with his life. But he was also desperate. He thought, if he pushed her hard enough, she would push him off a cliff; if he wounded her bad enough, she would cut his head off. He simply shook his head, finally branding himself stupid.
"I could not kill you, even if I had to," Clove said with finality. "I realized that just now, but yeah. I guess I love you that much." She sighed. "Yuck."
"I'm sorry I made you cry."
"It doesn't matter. I'm sorry for retaliating."
Cato shook his head again. Too much of this would lead to discussing the Games, and now that they knew what each other felt, the concept of one victor would only be more painful. "Let's just pretend that this is the beginning. No more lies and pretention and hate. We'd both start with a clean slate, okay?"
If this was the beginning, the end would be too soon, but none of them brought that up. This was their final night of freedom. They would not be wasting it on thinking too much.
Clove nodded. Then she smiled, and began retelling a long string of memories from District Two. Cato chimed in, cracking jokes at all the right places. He knew her so well, he could complete her sentences. They laughed until their midsections hurt.
Clove suddenly stood and asked Cato to unzip her dress.
She laughed a great deal about that. "Please? This dress is too tight. I can't breathe."
Cato wasn't sure what to do.
"Oh, come on, Cates. And do you have an extra shirt there somewhere?" She pointed at his closet.
Cato stood, pretty nervous, and managed to get Clove a set of clothes.
Clove was still laughing. "Do you remember one time, that day with our Swordsmanship trainer, whazhisname?" And she began telling the story from beginning to end, in perfect clarity, until Cato was relaxed again.
He threw her the clothes and unzipped her dress. Clove inhaled. "Yeah, thanks. That's much better."
Cato's heart was beating much too fast. But Clove looked really casual about it. She put on the shirt over the dress, kicked of her shoes, and slipped on Cato's big training shorts under the skirt. Then she pulled off the dress. She managed to do it in less than a minute. Then she threw the dress in the trash bin. She broke the high heels of her shoes with her hands, and tossed them away, too. She padded to the bed, barefoot.
"Okay, what was I saying?" She sounded really talkative.
"Uhh-" Cato could not find the words.
"What's wrong? Why are you blushing?"
Clove laughed again. She doubled over and laughed harder. "Really, Cates? Did you really think I was sending you signals?" She seriously thought that was funny, noticed Cato. "Oh, puh-lease," she said, "I wouldn't really do that."
"Ohh-kay," Cato said, ashamed.
"I'm conservative," she said. "So please don't get any ideas."
"Sure. Who said I was?"
"No lies, bad boy."
Cato laughed. "I guess I'm conservative, too."
Clove joined him, and they were both laughing at such a ridiculous subject. "Yeah. Conservative killers."
And they guffawed even more. When the subject was finally deleted, they found other things to discuss. Nothing too cheesy, because their kind of people repelled that sort of thing. Nothing too serious, because they were approximately a week away from their final resting place. They just pretended tomorrow would never come.
No one was going to die. They were getting married someday. They would be growing old together, these conservative killers, on that same night. They would be alive in that moment forever.
The rest was history. All throughout the night they talked, laughed, and remembered. There was no one to watch them but the moon.
But for us curious spectators, it would suffice to say that they owned the night.