Part II: The Victor
He and Clove collided, and he held her at arm's length.
"We're going to win," he breathed, and she did something he didn't expect; she hugged him. They stayed like that for a while, before going back to their cave.
The silence was deafening; Clove and Cato observed another cloud of smoke. But that wouldn't work this time.
"It was Katniss," Clove stated. Cato nodded.
"Think she's trying to find Lover Boy?"
"Definitely," Cato responded. "Let her find him. We'll try and find them later. We've still got to deal with Thresh," he stated, and she nodded. They both knew all the cameras were on Katniss now. It was just something too exciting for the Capitol to miss.
"Clove, all the cameras will be on Katniss and Peeta now," he said, hurriedly. "And I just wanted to say, thank you."
"For when we win this thing. Because you'll be the only one to understand me when I come to you for help. I'm not right anymore, Clove, I'm not."
He felt so vulnerable; so weak. She turned her eyes to him.
"Neither am I, Cato. It's just this. This whole thing, it's just -"
He cut her off. He didn't know why, he just did.
He kissed her. Briefly. But she didn't hit him, or stab him like he expected. She actually reciprocated. They broke it off long before any cameras would be back on them.
"I don't want to be star-crossed lovers," said Cato.
"Neither do I," responded Clove, though she couldn't hide the smile on her lips.
"When we win," he stated, and she nodded.
"When we win."
"Our children will be both beautiful...and good with knives," he stated, and she punched his shoulder, though she was still smiling.
"Right," she stated. "Of course."
They changed the subject to something more menial way before they were sure the cameras were on them; and every moment there was no cannon for Peeta, they were sure that the cameras were not with them. They were fatigued; days of being Careers had taken their toll, and they both dangerously dropped off to sleep.
They didn't wake up until the next evening, and Cato suggested they look for Thresh. Clove shook her head.
"No. Not at night. I don't like where he's hiding, and we don't know it. He could pick us off," she stated, and he nodded.
"Who's the other one?"
They both fell silent, before Cato remembered.
"Girl from 5," he stated. Clove shook her head.
"Let her come to us."
"Admit it. You're still tired."
"I feel like I could sleep for days," she stated, yawning. Suddenly, the trumpets flared up again, and they exchanged a look of confusement. They looked at the sky as Claudius Templesmith's voice boomed.
"A feast," Cato stated. As if in assent, Clove's stomach growled again.
"Now hold on. Some of you may be declining my invitation -"
" – Katniss -" both tributes mouth at the same time.
"- But this is no ordinary feast. Each of you needs something desperately."
Cato grimaced. Food. It was so pathetic – they just needed food.
"Each of you will find that something in a backpack, marked with your district number, at the Cornucopia at dawn. Think hard about refusing to show up. For some of you, this will be your last chance."
It fell silent again.
"Obviously we're going," Cato said, his stomach growling now. Clove nodded.
"We need a plan though," she added. He nodded.
"What, though? We can just go in at the same time, kill Katniss and 5, wait for Thresh, and get him," he stated.
"We can't if they're all there at the same time," she stated.
"Sure we could. You throw a knife at 5, I'd get Thresh, and you'd get Katniss. Then we go and find Peeta, and we're the winners."
"What if you get hurt again?" she asked, gesturing to his stomach. As much as he would hate to admit it, the wounds still caused him some pain. He shook his head.
"I'll be fine."
"You really think there will be two winners?" she asked, and he faltered for a moment.
She stared at him, in that strange way of hers.
"Fine. We'll do it your way. In the morning."
She drifted off, and he took first watch. He woke her up a few hours later, and she took second watch.
He woke up at dawn. She wasn't there.
His first thought? She'd gone to the feast by herself.
He was flying through the woods now, running as fast as possible.
Fuck it Clove, no. Why? We worked better as a team. We always have. No, Clove, no, Clove, no, Clove –
"Cato!" she screamed, "Cato!"
"CLOVE!" he bellowed, running faster, his legs screaming in discontent. He'd never know what happened. She'd known what she was doing all along; she was not sadistic. She knew what was going to happen, she'd realised it in the night, and now she just wanted Cato to get out of here alive. He could survive. She wouldn't. He'd never know that.
He arrived on the scene far too late; he knew it. She didn't reply.
"CLOVE!" he shouted again, the Cornucopia in sight, though he was behind it. A stray spear littered the ground, and he grabbed it just in case. He rounded the Cornucopia, and his heart dropped.
Clove lay there. So pathetic, lifeless, small. Thresh ran off with their pack, and Cato couldn't stop his lip trembling. He fell to a kneeling position beside her, the spear still in hand, and he pressed his forehead to hers, gently. She was still alive. Broken, but alive.
"No. We were going to win," he stated.
"No," she whispered. "You are."
She was fading fast, and he shook his head.
"Stay with me, Clove, please stay with me," he repeated, over and over, his mental stability slipping away with her life force. "Stay with me, Clove."
There was a trace of a smile on her lips, and a tear leaked from her eye. "Beautiful, and good with knives," was all she could utter, and he couldn't help but laugh sadly, just for her. That one trace of hope had disappeared, and the moment her eyes snapped shut a cannon rang out.
He stood quickly, anger blazing across his face as he realised he was now really, truly alone. Thresh had what he needed, and he knew he should have killed him as soon as he saw him in the Arena. But he didn't. And now Clove was dead.
The idea didn't sit well – no. No, she couldn't be dead. She just couldn't. They'd talked last night. She just couldn't be dead.
The hovercraft lifted away her body, her head misshapen.
He turned and ran after Thresh, so fast it surprised even him. That wasn't Katniss' style. That had to have been Thresh. No, Clove would have killed Katniss easily. Thresh was just far stronger, physically, than Clove was.
Cato slowed down when he made it to the edge of that freaky ass field – he remembered the girl from 4 telling them about it. He traversed it carefully, slowing him down considerably. It was long past nightfall when he stopped, hunching down and trying to sleep. But he couldn't. So he waited out the night, before plowing on again the next morning. Thresh was in there somewhere. And Cato was going to find him.
The day continued like the one before, and Cato was starving now. He still had some water to keep him going, and some of the grasses seemed edible. He risked chewing a few to try and keep his stomach calm, and some of them seemed like grain. He didn't know. He was district 2, not 11.
The night was just as terrible. No sleep. All those faces, now accompanied by Clove's. Dead. She was dead. He was alone.
The rain was torrential. He was soaked, and he couldn't stay still for long. The sun had set, but the anthem hadn't played just yet. He could barely hear his own thoughts; he was almost grateful.
Almost, until a strong arm locked around his throat.
He thought fast, ramming his elbow into the other boy's stomach – solid. Thresh didn't loosen his grip, and Cato sank his teeth deep into Thresh's skin. That was when he dropped Cato, and Cato drew his sword. Thresh was quick, and the rain was starting to weigh on Cato, combined with hunger and fatigue. Thresh had both bags with him; he was probably moving. Thresh was probably in a better state than Cato, and Cato knew Thresh would just have to wait until Cato tired out.
Cato was angry though. This was the person who killed Clove.
"You killed Clove!" he shouted, loud enough to hear, "You killed Clove!"
"Yeah? And how many others did you kill?" Thresh shouted back. Cato's face contorted; pain. Terror. And he lunged. He shouldn't blame Thresh, but he did.
The blow was quick and slick, completely ripping open Thresh's stomach. He tumbled to the muddy ground, never once crying out. He was strong. He really was. Cato would have admired him. Cato would have given him a quick death. But he killed Clove, and Cato had lost it.
Cato gathered the bags, as Thresh's blood mixed with the mud, and he headed back the way he came. Towards the Cornucopia. Towards confrontation. He was going to win now.
He never heard the cannon shot; the downpour was too torrential, too loud, washing away the blood and soaking Cato to the bone. He ate as he walked, the food soggy but welcome. He also found body armor in the bag, which he quickly put on. Perfect. He walked all through the night, the rain stopping somewhere around midnight. The moon was full and beautiful, too calm a mistress to oversee all the death this Arena provided. Cato knew it was just him, Katniss, Peeta and 5 left, and he knew what that meant.
It was somewhere around midday when he broke through the field and back to relative safety for the time being. Around an hour or two later – he'd lost track of time – a cannon rang out. It was either Peeta or 5, and he was pretty sure it was 5. Peeta had the medicine.
He saw the hovercraft in the distance lift off a body – too thin to be Peeta, even from this distance. He took off in the direction. He wanted out of this Arena. Now.
They were gone by the time he got there; and he waited there for a while, until 5's face illuminated the sky. He was right. Again.
He barely slept at all, and by morning he was getting antsy. Where were they? He wanted to finish this. Gone was the Cato sickened by the blood he'd drawn. Gone was the Cato who had vomited at his own calmness with murder. Here was a new Cato. Brutal, bloody Cato. Cato, who'd lost his sanity along with his district partner.
He waited for a long time, constantly prowling the edge of the woods, monitoring the Cornucopia, observing the lake. He wanted it to finish; he knew today would be it. That would be the end. And he'd win, for his district, himself, Clove. He needed to be out of here.
Silence and nothing; then it was evening. And there they were, circling the Cornucopia; but it would be stupid to charge now, while Katniss had the arrows. It would kill him faster than he could draw his sword. He knew that.
He'd wait until night. He had those glasses; he could see. He would wait them out. He melted farther back, into the trees. It was only when the birds roused the alarm that he noticed something was wrong, and those muttations ran after him. He scrambled out of the way, the one at the forefront of the pack bearing down on him, pinning him down; he looked into its eyes.
Beautiful, and good with knives.
"Clove!" he shrieked, noticing the 2 on the collar around her neck. He kicked it off, hard, and turned tail and fled.
The Cornucopia. Yes.
As he broke through the foliage, he saw Katniss and Peeta – but he kept running. Her arrow bounced off his chest, and he pushed them out of the way as he scrambled up and onto the Cornucopia.
It had Clove's eyes. Clove's eyes.
He watched as the other two scrambled in fear, losing sight of them as he vomited over the side.
Oh, God, what did they do to Clove?
It had to be her. She was dead. But was she? Those animals were almost human. What was that? Her? It?
All those mutts were there. He didn't care if he was about to kill the other two.
"Can they climb it?" he tried to say. But he was doubled over, coughing, retching. He was so far gone. Too far. The 'star-crossed lovers' exchanged a few words. Then Katniss screamed, and he knew she must have realised the eyes. Those god damn eyes.
They were shouting, and he'd just about regained whatever wits he still possessed. He just needed to gather them before they did. Strike first.
What happened to you Cato? Where did it all change?
He'd been so prepared. Now he was struggling to even stand up straight.
And then he was ready. Katniss wasn't paying attention, and Peeta was easy game. Cato moved fast, like lightning once more, yanking him into a stronger headlock. Cato's arms still rippled with muscle, and Peeta gasped in alarm. Katniss turned around too late, and Cato stepped back towards the edge. He knew how to play this game.
Peeta's leg gushed with blood. Normally, Cato would have noticed, but not now. He wanted to get out of there, get rid of those faces, leave. Clove was prowling somewhere below him; no, it wasn't Clove. But those eyes.
She was struggling to aim at him; his armor had bested her. It was like they knew Clove wouldn't survive the encounter.
Cato laughed, a strained, angry, strange laugh. "Shoot me and he goes down with me."
Deadlocked. A cold breeze rattled between the three of them.
Peeta was running out of breath. A smile small graced Cato's lips as he realised he'd be out of the godforsaken Arena within the hour.
Peeta seemed to be stroking his hand. He frowned. Then his eyes widened. Oh no. No, no, no. They wouldn't beat him, they couldn't. The smile dropped from his face.
He barely saw the arrow fly before it sprouted in his hand, a cry of pain issuing from his lips, releasing Peeta. Peeta fell into him, and his stomach dropped in the one moment he just knew. He just knew he had lost. He lost his footing, plummeting to the ground. His death. Game over.
He still had his sword. They fought him; Marvel, yes, that was Marvel. That one was nameless. And that one, faceless.
But he just couldn't kill Clove, and this went on for so long, his face being raked and slashed, blood blurring his vision. He lost an ear at some point, he felt that. Then he stopped feeling. Then he gave up; he almost made it back on to the Cornucopia. But he lost it. He lost his footing, and the mutts dragged him away.
He wasn't as strong as Thresh anymore; he couldn't not make a noise.
Clove again, her eyes staring at him as they punctured the armor, clawing and gnawing and eating.
"No, please, no," he said, over and over again. But they did not comprehend. He lost limbs and fingers and ears and skin. He tried desperately to crawl away, to make it end. He knew he'd been clawed beyond recognition, and it was Clove – no, not Clove – who was still hurting him. And Marvel. And Thresh. It was them.
He knew he was beyond recognition, and as Katniss' face crested the Cornucopia, the only thought in his head was to be done. Finished.
There was pain everywhere. Fire didn't even describe it. Pure pain.
"Please," he rasped. And he smiled as the arrow flew straight.