Chapter 1: No Victors
Chaos. It was utter and complete chaos. Cato's mind struggled to process the barrage of information overwhelming his senses, to rely on instinct, to fight through the oxygen deprivation; to survive as he had been taught to.
Snarling, snapping abominations sank their four-inch claws into the metal structure of the Cornucopia, howling a series of human-like shrieks, and moans - crying out, for blood, for vengeance. He didn't know what sick Game the Capitol was playing at, but he recognized the eyes of his own teammate, Clove. Her eyes, which he had seen go still, were staring at him from the face of a Wolf Mutt.
He realized that this wasn't right, that he knew exactly what twisted Game the Capitol was playing: the Hunger Games. The 74th Hunger Games, to be exact. His Hunger Games.
His whole life had lead him to this Games, where he was to be crowned Victor. He had only two more Tributes to outlast - that detestable girl from 12, Katniss Everdeen, and her teammate, who had been his own ally, Peeta Mellark.
His burning lungs protested the gulps he took from the night air, stinging cold through his entire body. Intense pain nearly blinded him, and he brushed his hands over the source, feeling his own rib, cracked, trying to push through his skin. It seemed his body armor was protecting his insides as well as his outside.
Cato tried to remember his training. He had been told to 'Fight through the pain.' His mentor used to say to him, "It's only for a little while. Fight through the pain and you'll never have to feel any pain again, when you're a Victor."
Cato forced his eyes away from his ribs, and let out a bark of laughter. Fight through the pain. Pain wasn't even the half of it. Oh, there was pain, certainly, but there was also fear. Regret. Loss.
They had never taught him how to fight these things.
Winning, he knew, would never quell those feelings, even if his superficial injuries could be healed - especially if he came out of these Games as a Victor, alone, having lost his teammate, his best friend, Clove... and having lost... him.
He wasn't quite sure when it was he had come to feel the way he did for someone whom he'd originally held such contempt for. When Peeta Mellark had announced to Panem that he was in love with Katniss Everdeen in his televised interview, with Caeser Flickermann, Cato had simply thought it a pathetic attempt at strategy - A trick, to lure the audience and the sponsors to favor him, nothing more.
It became clear early on in the Games, however, that Peeta really felt that way. Cato never gave a damn, as long as Peeta lead the Career Pack to the so-called 'Girl on Fire' so that they could kill her. That had been the plan.
That had been the plan, at least, until Katniss Everdeen dropped a Tracker Jacker nest on their heads, a trap which had proven deadly for Glimmer, and, put mildly, a definite setback for the rest of the Career Pack.
Was it the Tracker Jacker venom? 'Does Tracker Jacker venom have long-lasting psychological effects?' He wondered numbly, as his head began to clear, to make sense of things through the haze of near asphyxiation.
He found himself standing steadily, and, to his relief, besides his cracked rib, he seemed relatively unharmed. He finally turned his attention to the Tributes from District 12, who were peering precariously over the side of the Cornucopia, screaming to each other about the Mutt's eyes.
Had it taken them this long to figure it out? Perhaps they were at the end of their ropes, just like he was, barely hanging on. He knew, without a doubt, that he could hang on longer. All he had to do was outlast-
It happened in an instant. Katniss, who had loaded up an arrow to take out one of the Mutts, Glimmer, who was making her way dangerously up the side of the Cornucopia, lost her footing. Too close to the edge, Cato could have told them that. Her body jerked, and as she slid down the side of the Cornucopia, her head slammed against the hard metal.
CLANG. The sound of an impact on metal.
BOOM. The sound of the canon.
There is was. Katniss Everdeen, the famous 'Girl on Fire' who scored an 11 for her individual session with the Game Makers, was dead before she hit the ground. The Muttations descended upon her lifeless body, and began to feed.
Peeta Mellark began screaming for her at the top of his lungs, even though there was no doubt it was too late. Cato felt a pang in his chest, not for the fallen girl, but for her teammate, who cared so freely, loved, in a way that Cato had never seen. No one in District 2 would be caught dead sobbing over a fallen companion. To cry at funerals was frowned upon, if you were a child, and punished, if you were older.
In District 2, love was considered a sign of weakness. Oh, sure, people fucked, had children; got married, even. Marriages were merely contracts for making children. Usually, these contracts were based on your physical prowess and the genetic traits that you would offer your unborn child, your unborn tribute for the Games; if you were lucky, your unborn Victor. His own parents had gone through several contracts each before they had arrived at the one that spawned him. Far superior to his mediocre siblings, Cato became the Alpha. He pushed them down and kept them there.
Even Clove, with whom he had trained his entire life, Clove, whom he had known practically since birth, showed him no affection. The night before the Games, they had fucked, not wanting to win or to die as incomplete children.
When she died, Cato had sought out Thresh, and made him pay, but Peeta Mellark would be hard pressed to jump into the pack of Mutts to take his revenge. Somehow, Cato was certain that the thought hadn't even crossed the boy's mind. Perhaps that was why, the idea of leaving these Games without him, without Peeta Mellark seemed so impossible.
He was different than anyone Cato had ever met. When Cato was younger, he had felt that whoever won the Games made it out because they deserved to be there the most. There was not a single Tribute who didn't deserve to be in the Games. No one was above it. No one was beyond it, because when it came down to it, everyone picked up a weapon, didn't they? Cato didn't give a damn if they didn't know how to use it, everyone picked up a knife or a spear or a rock with the intention of killing everyone else, and ensuring that they were the one who made it out alive. Whoever was the last Tribute standing won simply because they deserved to be there the most.
This is what Cato thought, at least, until Peeta Mellark.
Peeta Mellark had picked up a weapon, certainly; killed, even, but it was never with the intention that he would be the one to get out of the Games alive. Peeta Mellark was the only Tribute he had ever seen who didn't, truly didn't deserve to be there. Some part of Cato told him that for this reason, Peeta should be the one to win these Games, and not him.
Unfortunately for Peeta Mellark, Cato did deserve to be here, more than any of the other Tributes. That meant that every time he picked up a weapon, it was to ensure that he, and no one else, would be the Victor of these Games.
And yet... They had promised, hadn't they? The Capitol had said two Tributes could win - two Tributes from the same District. Cato knew this was how it had to end, as he moved toward Peeta, who still lay, prone and helpless, at the edge of the Cornucopia, screaming at the butchered piece of meat that was once Katniss Everdeen.
Cato cast a glance at the sky, wondering when the hovercraft would arrive for the body. It was a special form of torture, what the Capitol was doing to Peeta. Cato suppressed the feeling that this was wrong, unfair, somehow. In District 2, they learned that the Capitol was just, and fair. Everything they did was for retaliation and prevention. Not from spite, or to punish those who live now.
Right, yes. This was punishment for Katniss Everdeen.
Cato's steps were firm, and deliberate. It wouldn't do for him to slip and fall too. That would be one anticlimactic Victory for Peeta Mellark. He would win the Games by default only, sobbing, lying sprawled and pathetic as his competitors died from head wounds inflicted by their own clumsiness.
When Cato stood over Peeta, he reached down and grabbed him by the shirt, flipping him roughly. Peeta's tortured eyes met Cato's, and he choked out bravely, "Make it quick okay? This is way farther than I ever thought I'd make it... and I haven't got anything to live for now anyway."
This was all wrong. This was not a kill Cato could be proud of...
He had been all ready, hands raised in an interlocked fist to bring a killing blow to the boy's windpipe. Not the quickest death, but a death; a certain death, unlike a blow to the head or even tossing him to the Mutts would be. His hands shook where he clasped them above his head.
Peeta's eyes looked into his with such despair, that he finally relented, and stepped back, and paced the top of the Cornucopia, more carelessly now. Peeta seemed to be shaking himself free of his own tragedy at least a bit, and rose to a sitting position to watch him. This made it all worse somehow.
Cato understood, of course he understood, why Peeta had no desire to go home now. It was the same way he couldn't seem to stop himself from feeling that the idea of going home without this boy from 12 would mean he never went home - not really. He would always find his mind drifting back to this moment, when nothing could be done to save Peeta, but everything could be done, if he could just think more clearly.
Cato let out a snarl.
"Cato," Peeta dragged himself across the golden metal surface, and left a trail of blood behind him. Cato found himself stopping in terror as he noticed how pale Peeta was. He was losing blood quickly. There wasn't much time.
It was then that Cato caught sight of Peeta's hand, clutching a silver arrow. Was he trying to make an attack? But why was he suddenly bleeding so much? Cato forced himself to focus, taking in the big picture as it lay in front of him. Fight through the pain, and the other maelstrom of emotions that was overtaking his very ability to process the information being sent to his brain by his senses. The arrow had been Peeta's tourniquet, and without it, blood gushed freely from the wound on his leg.
There was no time.
Peeta dragged himself to Cato's feet and choked out more blood, face losing even more color. No. This wasn't fair. He needed more time. Just a minute, a few seconds, anything. Cato's knees buckled, and he fell, almost hitting Peeta as he did so.
Peeta was shaking all over, but somehow found the strength to raise the trembling fist containing the blood-s arrow to Cato. It was the only weapon left. All the others had been discarded in the chaos. It was clear what he wanted Cato to do. Peeta tried to rise, but sprawled, choking, across Cato's lap, arrow still outstretched to him.
Cato could feel Peeta's heart slowing, his body growing cold. Breathing seemed to be all he could manage. Just a few more seconds and he would be dead. It would be over. Just a few more seconds. Cato wrapped his hands around the arrow in Peeta's hand, and Peeta nodded weakly, encouraging him to strike the killing blow.
Cato swallowed, hard, and found his voice. He tore the arrow from Peeta's hand, raising it high into the air, screaming at the night in a moment of temporary insanity, "TWO VICTORS OR NO VICTORS!" With that, he plunged the arrow deep into his own throat.