Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games. This is my first ever Hunger Games fic, so please, take it easy on me.

Cato lay on the ground, breathing shallowly, wincing with every breath he took.

The pain that pulsed through his body was too much to bear.

He felt the open wounds on his bloody skin, blistering and searing, torn away from him in chunks.

He felt something wet seeping into his clothes from the ground and through the armor he was wearing; he didn't have to look to know that he was drenched in a pool of his own blood.

His sword lay on the grass a few feet away from him; it, too, was covered in the muttations' blood, and for a brief moment, he was fairly proud that he was able to damage those beasts, to some extent.

His hands clenched into fists, and he let out a tiny groan of pain as something sharp quickly ran from his shoulder down; it was his ruined muscles, retching and begging him not to move anymore due to the extensive damage done by the mutts.

He didn't need to see himself to know that he was now nothing more than a bloody hunk of meat, mangled and ruined beyond repair. Every part of him was shredded and ripped, and the physical pain he felt was too much.

Cato's lower lip quivered with sadness and intense pain; he shut his eyes tight, and in the corner of his mind, he saw himself, and how he used to be.

His heart was still beating - thump-thump, thump-thump - but deep inside, he screamed at it to stop.

Just stop fucking beating already...

Was it worth it? Was everything he did - all the hours he spent decapitating training dummies, all the nights he went without sleep because he was too busy practicing with his sword, all the necks he snapped, all the lives he took...was it worth it?

Was leaving everything behind worth it? His family, his friends, his sister?

What about her?

If Cato could shake his head, he would've done it.

What about her? Cato growled inwardly, an agony he couldn't identify overwhelming his heart.

If Cato could chuckle, he would've.

How impossibly like you, he told himself bitterly, still trying to harden your heart just for the sake of these stupid Games.

The moment he realized this, the feelings he'd been trapping inside him finally came out, tearing at his insides, threatening to rip him apart just like the mutts.

Tears filled his eyes and spilled out, and he let out a hiss of pain as the salt came in contact with his wounds.

In the darkness beneath his lids, he could just picture the exact features that would've made his ruined heart pound, his bleeding lips go dry, and his tired hands sweat.

He saw the beautiful, violet-blue eyes that sparkled like the sun reflecting in the sea, huge and round as they looked up at him.

He saw that smile - dammit, that smile - that made his heart melt, usually resulting to him being pinned down in less than a second during their sparring sessions.


He knew he made a mistake when he chose to leave her.

She was his every hope, his every dream, and the answer to all his prayers.

Cato let out something between a groan of pain and a chuckle, and dim memories flooded his mind.

Many people knew that Cato was not the sentimental type; to him, what's past is past, so just forget the hell about it.

But now...it didn't matter to him. He couldn't smirk, but he wanted to so badly as he thought of the irony of it.

Memories wouldn't do him much good now that he was in pain and dying, but that was it.

He was dying.

He could feel it; his vision dimming, despite the effort he had to keep them open, his extremes going numb that no matter how hard he tried, his brain could no longer function...

And yet, that single part of his brain, that single damn part, the one that held all those memories, all those happy times, it seemed to be pushing itself so hard to show him what his life was like.

Cato never believed in cheesy, poetic-like stuff, stuff you would probably read in books, but this was literally his life flashing before his eyes.

He saw himself at five, and he remembered the awe that welled up inside him as he looked up at the Academy doors for the first time.

His father stood with him, hand planted firmly on his son's shoulder as he said, "This is the Academy. This is where you will train for the Hunger Games, and learn how to use your abilities to bring honor to District 2. This is where you will hone your abilities, Cato."

He remembered his father getting down on his knees so he was level with him, and how firm and strong his father's grip was on his shoulders as he told him, "I'm counting on you, Cato. Make us proud, son."

He remembered the first day of his training, and how excited he was for it. He wasn't able to get much sleep the day before, and his mother would continually try to put him to sleep. He remembered how he'd forgotten to eat breakfast, and how he was practically bursting with joy, so eager to make it through the doors of the Academy.

He remembered how he leaned against the glass doors of the Weapons Room as one of the Peacekeepers took his class on a tour around the Academy, wondering what it would feel like to hold one of those swords.

And then, he remembered the little girl that stood next to him.

Her eyes so wide, violet-blue even in the dim light, her dark, dark hair tied into two braids...she wasn't that special, but there was something so innocent about her that Cato found weird.

They were both still little kids, but he didn't think he'd find a little girl seem as entranced by the weaponry as he was.

He remembered how she smiled at him, so sweet and sincere, that the weirdness he felt went away, and Cato instead felt like he could trust her immediately.

"Hi," she had said, holding her hand out to him in a polite gesture older than Panem. "I'm Alix."

It was the first time someone did that to him, which he found strange, but there was something about her he instantly liked.

He knew he found a friend the moment he took her hand and said, "My name's Cato."

That was the day he first met her.

He saw himself at eight, when he failed in the yearly examinations. He remembered how angry his father was, and how he cried because of the things his father had said.

He remembered being curled up in a corner of the room, his father yelling at him, and Cato could see the vein in his father's forehead pulsing because of anger.

"I told you to try your best!" his father said, a club in his hand, ready to give Cato a beating. "How do you expect to bring honor to our District, to our family, if even now you fail to show your trainers that you deserve to win the Hunger Games?"

His mother had tried to pacify his father, and it worked, to some extent. His father's anger hadn't dissipated easily, though, because it was months before his father stopped muttering things like, "My own son, a weak runt" and "What a disappointment to the family".

He remembered how angry he became because of that, and he spent his training days focused only on being the best.

He had only broken down once because of her, and her constant prodding that there was something wrong.

He was practicing his punches, something that was compulsory for the younger students, when the bell had rung fifteen minutes earlier for lunch. All the other kids had left the training center, but he refused to leave.

Only Alix stayed with him, her eyes watching him as he angrily punched the air, breathing deeply to measure his timing, when she finally said, "Cato, there's something wrong."

"There's nothing wrong," Cato said, his eyes hunched together as he continued throwing punches.

"You don't always practice as hard as this," she pointed out, pulling one of her dark braids.

"So?" Cato snapped, performing an awesome throw technique.

She was silent, and that was what made him uneasy. He hated it when she was silent, because it only meant she was keeping something from him.

He stopped punching, and turned to face her.

Her lips were pursed together, her violet-blue eyes sparkling as she looked at him.

They stared at each other, Cato panting slightly because of the exercise.

Finally, her lips opened and the words tumbled out of her mouth. "Did something happen at home, Cato?"

Cato stiffened slightly, his bright blue eyes becoming hard. He turned away from her, went to the far corner of the room, grabbed a dummy and began punching again.

"Go away, Alix. You're being such a distraction," he snapped at her, hoping that if he hurt her feelings enough she'd leave him alone.

"Cato, you know you can tell me anything," she said matter-of-factly, crossing her arms as she leaned against the glass in front of him.

Cato stopped punching again, and looked at her irritably. "You wouldn't understand."

She sighed, pulling her braid again. "Just because you failed last year, doesn't mean you should wear yourself out like this. You're not old enough like all the other kids yet, Cato. You're gonna get yourself sick."

"I don't care, okay?" Cato told her, sending one punch toward the dummy due to his frustration. It fell down because of the impact, and the thud echoed in the room.

Both of them were silent, but Cato could already feel the anger and frustration bubbling inside him, and it was too much he wanted to cry.

He only realized that he already started when she came up to him, wrapping her arms around him and began whispering "It's okay, it's okay."

Cato remembered how ungrateful he was to that gesture, that instead of hugging her back like any other normal person would've, he pushed her away.

He saw her fall to the ground, he heard her cry of pain, but that was not enough to make Cato sorry. He wiped away the tears on his cheeks, turned and ran away from her, trying so hard to escape his feelings.

Cato snapped back into his senses as he tasted the blood gurgling in his mouth as he tried to choke back the pain.

She was perfect...so nice, so thoughtful, that even after he hurt her, she still went and approached him the next day, as if nothing happened. She still talked to him, sparred with him, ate lunch with him as if the incident in the training room was just another part of a dream. He remembered, though, the hurt that held in her eyes, and he couldn't help but feel guilty.

He remembered them at eleven, when during one of their training sessions, a group of older boys ganged up and began beating Alix.

They were eleven then, but it had been years since that first day at the Academy, when he was just some little, five-year-old kid. He was taller, and bigger for his age, and he could easily beat those boys up.

The trainers didn't notice it happening, because it was one of those days when classes sparred together, and they all thought that it was just another sparring group of kids.

Cato had seen Alix spar; she was fast, efficient and strong, but it was not enough to overthrow three thirteen-year-old boys who were obviously bigger, stronger and more well-trained.

He had come to her rescue the moment the first boy had hit her across the face.

It was like being an eight-year-old all over again; his unresolved rage issue burned inside him, his thoughts only for his best friend, and how these boys didn't deserve to live.

He beat those kids up, and it was only then the trainers realized the commotion and broke the boys up.

Cato was difficult to restrain; and he remembered yelling at the boys, "If you were from a different district, you'd be the first ones I'd kill in the Hunger Games!"

His anger was such that he was sedated, and he woke up in the clinic next to Alix, who was busy mending the bruises she got.

He got on his feet immediately the moment he saw her, but sat back down feeling slightly woozy.

"Hey," she said to him, chuckling slightly. "Don't do that. You're going to hurt yourself."

Cato clutched his head, feeling a dull pain pounding at the back of it. "What happened?"

"You were sedated," she told him, wincing as she poked a bruise. "I don't know, maybe a tranquilizer or something."

Cato looked up at her. "Why?"

She pursed her lips. "Well, you were really something," she said. "The way you took down those older boys..." she shook her head, then smiled. "Real scary."

"If they hadn't hit you I wouldn't have done that," he grumbled, and she laughed.

"I know. Thanks by the way."

He looked at her curiously. "For what?"

She looked back at him, and her violet-blue eyes twinkled. "For saving me."

"You're my best friend," Cato muttered gruffly, like it was just some small deal. "Of course I'd save you. We're partners, remember?"

He remembered how beautiful her smile was when he said it...so wide and beaming like he just made her day so special.

He remembered them at twelve, when they were finally of age to have their names in for the Reaping, not to mention of age to finally train with a weapon.

From five to eleven, six years were spent learning the art of hand-to-hand combat, and although Cato was efficient at that, he had always wanted to hold a sword, so you can imagine his enthusiasm when he was finally allowed to hold one.

The moment they were allowed into the Weapons Room, Cato headed straight for the swords, picking the one in the middle.

It wasn't too long, or too short; it was neither too wide or too thin. It was just perfect for him; the feel, the weight. He began swinging it around slowly, and a thrill shot through his system.

This sword was his.

"Loving the swords, I gather?" a voice said to him, and he looked around to see Alix beaming her beautiful smile at him. In her hand was a sword similar to his, but very feminine in size. It was smaller, and it looked lighter than his.

"Yeah," he admitted, running his finger across the blade. He felt the sharpness of the metal against his skin, and he was careful not to cut himself. He brandished the sword at her. "Wanna spar?"

He saw the way her eyes lit up, and for a moment loved the way they sparkled. But as she lunged forward at him, he found he didn't have time to watch those eyes, and they began deflecting each other, back and forth, like a dance, laughing and learning.

He remembered his first Reaping, and how he stood with the rest of the twelve-year-old boys, and if he peeked to his left, he would see Alix.

She looked spectacular in her pretty red Reaping dress, finally giving up her braids and letting her hair down.

Cato felt slightly uncomfortable in his own Reaping clothes; a pair of black trousers and a nice red shirt thing, but it was probably because he had grown a lot over the year and he'd probably get new ones soon.

He remembered how the District 2 escort pulled that first name out of the girls' bowl and to his astonishment, it was Alix's name that was called.

He felt the thrill through his system, thinking that she was extremely lucky.

It was her first time to have her name in for the Reaping, and she was called already?

You lucky.

But as he looked over at her, the expression on her face was unreadable.

Could it be...was she scared? Of what?

She made the first step away from the line when someone - an older girl, probably seventeen - volunteered to take her place.

Suddenly, several more hands from the girls' line shot up, protesting to volunteer instead, and several Peacekeepers had to be called in to restrain the girls.

It was even worse for the boys. Two boys eventually ended up trying to murder each other for the sake of becoming a Tribute, and they had to be restrained by the Peacekeepers.

Eventually, a pretty, seventeen-year-old blonde girl and a large, hulking eighteen-year-old boy became their District Tributes for the year, and they seemed so proud to be one.

It must be a great honor to become a Tribute, Cato thought to himself, and he couldn't help but imagine himself standing one day on that stage, people looking at him enviously as he became District 2's Tribute.

He could just imagine how proud his mother and father would be, and how great it would feel to come home, victorious.

He remembered himself at fourteen. He and his class had just reached the stage of puberty, and it became apparent to him that someone was becoming attractive.

His extensive training schedule had made him extremely fit; an hour of warm-ups, then two hours of hand-to-hand combat with a male classmate, or sometimes, Alix. After that they would move on to improving his strength or endurance in the obstacle course near the training center, sometimes trying to improve his speed by racing with Alix, although he knew she was lighter and faster than he was. After another two hours of this, they'd stop for lunch. To keep himself from getting stomach upset, he would hang out with some friends for another hour discussing fighting styles, after which he'd head for the Weapons Room to train with Alix in sword-fighting. Twice he also practiced with Clove, attempting to dodge the knives she threw, and Alix's brother, who was efficient with throwing daggers and axes, but he ended up with a small cut in his lower leg, so eventually they stopped that practice.

He was top of the class. The trainers loved him for being so fierce and such a quick learner, and every single boy wanted to have his graceful way of slashing a sword, or the strength of one of his jabs.

Girls began falling on their knees for him; he remembered this one girl who constantly brought him his lunch, her hazelnut eyes googly as she sighed his name. He thought it was funny, but he never really liked the girl, and, with Alix's annoyed prodding, eventually told that bit of bad news to the girl.

If anything, the one girl he was absolutely, positively sure he liked had always been Alix. The moment they turned twelve her mother must've stopped braiding her hair, because she always wore it in a messy side ponytail. They also managed to gather some other friends, like his District partner, Clove, who was at the time only twelve, and Alix's little brother, who was turning thirteen.

He almost laughed despite the pain as he remembered how he beat up Alix's first boyfriend; he never really liked the guy, and he knew that he was trouble. He remembered how she came running to him in tears, telling him how hurt she felt.

He didn't need to beat the dude up too much, since Alix had done a number before she went to him.

Unfortunately for the guy, Cato's rage issue had come to life, and it didn't matter to Cato that Alix had already hit the guy. Needless to say, that dude suffered a heavy amount of damage; he was too battered to attend the Reaping that year.

How dare that bastard try and hurt her: that was his exact thought when he beat him up.

She was his best friend. No one messes with her without messing with him as well.

And then, he remembered them at sixteen. It was a time when things were getting harder and more serious, and his father thought he was slacking off in his training.

"You don't train hard enough," his father said hardly during dinner, and everyone became tense. His sister, who was only three years old, looked up at her big brother with blue eyes just like his, wide and innocent, probably wondering what their father meant.

"I'm the top of the class," Cato would tell his father for the umpteenth time, but his father would wave that off.

"That is just a title, but what have you to prove it?" His father hissed, setting his fork down. "I hardly see you train; when I was your age I trained day to night, from the Academy to home, and look where it got me."

"I train as hard as I can when I'm at school - "

"It's not enough!" His father would say, and Cato could hear utter disappointment in his father's voice, and his rage would begin to bubble.

"How can you say it's not enough?" Cato answered back. "I train day to night with my sparring partner, and I always beat her at it!"

His father would look at him sharply, something he usually did when Cato mentioned Alix's name, and then what he said next had Cato on his feet. "If you had stopped befriending that useless girl - your so-called, 'sparring partner' - and focused more on your training, you wouldn't be like this!"

That was when Cato had first experienced losing control over his rage, and he remembered how he lunged at his father, and both of them had began throwing punches, and how scared his sister was, and how his mother screamed at both of them to stop.

He remembered how he left the house in anger, banging the door shut as he did so, walking away from them in the pouring rain.

He remembered how his rage couldn't be tamed, and how he started walking faster, and faster, until he was running.

Running he knew not where, but wherever his legs would take him.

He remembered being gone for two days, angry and enraged, hiding out in the woods, practicing his punches again on one of the trees. It was painful as the hard bark split open the skin on the back of his hands, but he didn't care. He remembered how he was burning with fever, but instead of making him weaker, it just made him less level-headed and more furious.

He remembered when he was found by a small search party two days later composed of his parents, a few school friends, and Alix.

The moment he saw her, it was like he was slapped in the face.

Her violet-blue eyes were wet with tears, and her nose was red from crying. Her ponytail was coming down, and he could tell how frantic and panic-stricken she was.

His mother had the same expression, and when they found him, murdering one of the trees in his attempt to calm himself down, he heard his mother sob loudly and embrace him from behind.

He stood stiffly, not wanting to turn around and face her, even if he felt a wetness seep into his shirt from his mother's tears.

He shrugged her off, feeling hard and cynical. He walked away from her, stopping only when he came face to face with Alix.

She was standing a large distance away from the rest of his family, and as he looked over his shoulder, they didn't bother following him, so they were alone.

Tears were pouring down her face, and it was so painful that for a single second Cato totally regretted going missing, before he became hard again.

"What?" he snapped at her, and pain shot across her face. "What do you want me to do? Hug you? Tell you 'I'm fine'?"

For a moment, Alix stood there, completely and totally shocked.

She recovered a second after, and her reaction was something Cato totally did not expect.

She ran at him, and he thought she was going to embrace him, when he felt something hard hit his face.

Alix had punched him, really, really, hard, and it was strong enough to make him stagger.

He remembered the exact words she screamed at him: "You jerk! You absolute IDIOT! Do you have any idea what you put me through?"

He stood up, and then she began hitting him like crazy. She wasn't as strong as he was, but she was strong, and it sort of hurt.

"Fuck you!" she screamed, punching his chest and slapping his face, but instead of defending himself like he normally would, he decided to let her. "Fuck you, Cato! Do you have any fucking idea how worried I was when you didn't come to school? And then what? You just decide to walk away from me? You decide to pretend not to care? Like I don't fucking matter to you? WELL, FUCK YOU, CATO, FUCK YOU!"

Alix began to sob loudly, and her punches became weaker and weaker until she broke down on her knees, unable to stand.

Cato watched her, and wondered why she cared so much about him.

He wasn't worth it. She didn't need him, and yet she cared so much. Why?

He remembered kneeling down in front of her, not knowing what to say, so he did what he thought was the right thing to do.

Carefully, he wrapped his arms around her, giving her a warm embrace.

"Why..." Cato began, but a lump was rising in his throat. He swallowed it back. "Why do you care about me so much? I was only gone for two days...but..."

"Because you're my best friend," she told him in a whisper. "I care about you, Cato. It's always been you and me since we were little, and it'll always be you and me."

Cato felt a sharp pain in his legs as they tingled. The skin was too mangled, and he couldn't move them anymore.


He remembered when they both turned eighteen, and how persistent he was to practice that year, more persistent than he was in previous years.

He was always in the Weapons Room, trying the different swords, slashing the dummies and stabbing it deep into them.

He stayed there until eleven in the evening, sometimes midnight, practicing his sword fighting skills for when he became a Tribute.

He remembered the last day before the Reaping, and how he practiced longer than usual.

Alix was watching him, sipping a water bottle, her violet-blue eyes twinkling in the moonlight.

Cato focused himself on hitting the dummies, because he knew every time he'd look into those eyes, he'd just get distracted.

"Why do you practice so hard?" she asked, and it reminded it of the time ten years ago when they were still eight, and he was practicing his punches.

"I don't have time to answer that," he said tersely, and in one swift movement, he cut off the head of the dummy. He stood up straight, flexed his muscles, and dragged another dummy to the center of the room.

"Cato," she said seriously. "It's almost done. We're eighteen. You don't have to practice any harder, because by the time the Reaping is over we're done, and we don't have to join the stupid Games - "

He remembered throwing his sword at her, and it dug itself into the floor next to her. She looked at him in shock.

"The stupid Games?" he had hissed. She looked at him with wide eyes, and Cato felt his heart skip a beat.

"Yeah," she told him, her eyes narrowing. "The stupid Games."

Cato felt his rage begin to bubble again. "How dare you think the Games are stupid."

"How dare you think the Games are important!" she snapped at him. "More important than your own life, Cato? Is that what you think?"

"That's exactly what I damn think!" he told her. "I've spent my whole life training for the 'stupid' Games, and I won't let it go to waste."

He huffed, picked up his shirt from the floor, hung it over his shoulder, and walked away from her.

"What is that supposed to mean?" she said, calling him back. "Don't tell me you're volunteering!"

He turned around again to face her. "That's exactly what I'm going to do," he said viciously. "I've trained so hard for this, Alix. I've had enough of my father's disappointment, and I'm going to make him proud. I've been mediocre in his eyes for far too long, but I'm not going to be that way anymore."

Her eyebrows bunched together, and her lower lip quivered. "But Cato - "

"I don't care what you have to say," he told her. "I'm eighteen. This is my last chance. I didn't volunteer all those years because I wanted to be ready, and now I am."

"You can't do that," she said, her voice shaky. "Don't do that, Cato. Please. Don't volunteer."

"I don't care," he spat at her. "I'm volunteering tomorrow, Alix. There's nothing you can do or say to stop me."

He took his sword from out of the floor, and he turned to leave.

Before he could get away from her, however, she blurted out something that made his rock-hard heart start pounding.

"I love you."

Cato blinked, and his hands began to sweat. His sword slipped from his fingers, and it made a loud clang as it fell to the floor.

The way she said it was loud and clear, and yet he could hear the slightest quiver in her voice. "Cato, I love you."

He swallowed the lump in his throat as he turned to face her.

Tears were pouring down her face, but the rest of her expression was calm. "Don't volunteer, Cato. Please."

Cato swallowed again, and his eyes hardened. His voice was firm as he repeated, "There is nothing you can do...or say...to stop me."

Every part of him told him that it was only right not to feel anything, but his heart didn't seem to want to cooperate, especially when he saw the way she bit her lip to keep from crying.

"Don't..." she said, her voice beginning to crack, "Don't leave me here alone. I...I need you, Cato. You're my best friend, remember? You're my partner in crime, right? You and me."

Slowly, he walked toward her until he was standing right in front of her. He took her gently by the shoulders, and said softly, "Not this time."

He let her go and walked away, turning a deaf ear to her sobs.

He remembered that fateful day of the Reaping, the final Reaping of his life.

He stood with the rest of his age group, dressed handsomely in his red shirt and black trousers. Carefully, he peeked to his left, and he saw Alix.

Her eyes were unbelievably red, and her cheeks were puffy and swollen. Her hair was tied into two braids, exactly like when they were kids, and his heart gave a lurch, which he shook away.

They followed standard procedure, and the escort dug out from the girls' glass bowl the name of Clove, who was sixteen. No one dared volunteer to take her place, and she looked confident and menacing as she stepped onstage, her green eyes flashing meanly.

When they read out the name of the Tribute for the boys, however, it was not Cato's name. He huffed angrily, and before the boy could leave his line, Cato lunged forward and said in a loud voice, "I volunteer."

Clove beamed at him, and he smiled back. They had gotten along pretty well before, and if she was his District partner, they'd be a great pair of Careers - what with her knife-throwing skills and his sword-fighting. He never saw anyone so precise.

He saw several hands shoot up to volunteer before he did, but once he volunteered, they lowered. He knew that no one would dare to go up against him, because he could snap their necks in a trice.

He marched proudly up onstage, joining Clove and the escort, looking at the sea of faces beneath him.

His eyes landed on Alix, and tears were cascading down her cheeks as she stared at him, hurt and disappointment in her expression.

For a moment, he wanted to run down the stage and hug her, but he knew it was wrong.

Tributes were supposed to be strong, and he was from District 2. He wasn't just a Tribute, now...he was a Career.

Cato's lips burst out into a smile as he thought about it.

Finally...all those years of dreaming and hard work were going to pay off.

This was his dream, and he was going to fulfill it.

He was a Tribute. A Career Tribute.

And he would win, and bring honor to his District.

He would come home for her.

Cato coughed, and he felt the blood gurgle back in his throat, as he realized what a stupid mistake he made.

He remembered when it was time for the goodbyes in the Justice Building. He didn't even know, or think, that that would be the last time he'd see his family.

The last time he'd see her.

He remembered how teary his mother was, and she didn't seem to want to let go of him.

"You be careful, Cato," she whispered, embracing her son tightly. "You be good out there."

"Make us proud, son," his father added, giving him a hug. It was the kind of hug he long forgot from his father, because his father had never hugged him like that in a long time.

"Bye-bye," his little sister beamed at him, and he bent down to ruffle the top of her blonde hair. She embraced her older brother, and he couldn't help but see himself in her.

She was only five. She'd have to start school soon.

"Promise you'll be there when I start school?" she told him, holding out her pinky.

Cato chuckled, and made the pinky swear with her. "I promise, kiddo. I'll be home sooner than you think."

As he stood up, he caught a glimpse of her, waiting behind his parents, her face pale and tear tracks visible on her face.

He pushed his parents away, and embraced her tightly.

"Hey," he said, chuckling slightly, stroking her hair. "Hey, don't cry."

She hiccuped, sobbing into his shirt. He could feel her fingers twist tightly into his shirt, pulling him as close as she could toward her.

"Listen to me," he said firmly, pulling back to hold her by the shoulders. "I won't die out there. I'm too strong, and I'm well prepared. Don't worry. I'll come home. I'll be back soon."

Alix looked up at him, and he looked into her violet-blue eyes, so pretty and so bright. "You come back," she said fiercely, hugging him tightly. "You have to fucking come back to me, Cato."

He stroked her hair again. "I promise, I'll come back."

The Peacekeeper broke in, "One minute."

Suddenly, Alix started breathing hysterically, and she clutched at Cato like he was a lifesaver.

"Hey, hey, Alix," Cato said softly, calming her down. "Alix. Look. At. Me."

She looked at him, hiccuping again as he held her tight. He held her face between his hands, and rested his forehead against hers. "I'll come home, okay? Every minute in the arena will be every minute fought for you, okay? I'll come home, and then we'll be together again. We're best friends, remember? We're partners in crime, right? You and me. Okay?"

Alix sniffed, and she held Cato's hands tightly. "Okay." She looked straight into his bright, pure blue eyes, and whispered, "I meant it back there when I said I love you."

Cato smiled, then kissed her on the forehead. "I know."

That was good enough, he thought. He knew he'd come home victorious, and then he'd have plenty of time to gather up the courage to tell her that he loved her too.

But...just not now.

Cato coughed again, a searing pain enveloping his whole body. He felt so weak and drained, and all the wounds on his body began to pound.

How could I be so stupid?

He failed, and he knew it.

He failed his father, disappointing him in everything, and then failing to bring honor and pride to his family and to District 2.

He failed his mother, becoming a ruthless and brutal killer when she clearly told him to 'be good'.

He failed his sister, and he hated the fact that he couldn't be there on her first day, or during any other part of her life when she needed a big brother.

And, he thought, when the pain began to reach a peak, he failed her.

He failed her, and he failed in his promise that they were best friends. Always together.

You...and me.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered, the pain becoming too much for him. Tears welled up in his eyes, and they poured down through his wounds.

I failed.

His vision began to dim, and he knew he was slipping away.

He saw the girl from 12 look down at him from the top of the Cornucopia, the expression on her face unreadable as she loaded her bow with another steel arrow.

"Please..." he mouthed, and he saw her head nod infinitesimally.

I'm so sorry, Alix.

Dimly, he could see her pull back the string of the bow, aiming straight for him, and Cato knew that he would die.

He wasn't afraid, but he had so many regrets.

I didn't even get the chance to tell you how much I loved you.

The last thought in Cato's mind was her, violet-blue eyes, dark hair tied in a ponytail, that beautiful innocent smile always on her lips, before Katniss let go of the arrow and shot it straight into his head, and Cato slipped away into the blackness, where he knew he could never go back home.

A/N: So how did I fare? This is my first-ever Cato fic, and I was pretty nervous because I was soooo unsure of its reception.

This simple one-shot is just an introduction to another Cato fic I have coming up - a multi-chap - and an insight into the character of Alix. If this fic receives a warm welcome into the fanfic world of the Hunger Games, I'll be glad to write for you guys again. But even if it doesn't...I don't think I'll have any regrets, because I loved Cato anyway. :)

Still, reviews are greatly appreciated. Please leave one!

A/N: I just edited out missing words and grammatical errors as of today. Thanks!