Title: These Violent Delights

Characters: Cato, Clove, Thresh, Katniss

Pairing: Cato/Clove (implied)

Clove was screaming.

Cato realized it with a jolt that sent a foreign feeling clattering along his bones. Clove was wailing with fear so thick her voice wobbled and skipped. The sound seemed to hum in the trees as he reeled back.

Too late, his mind taunted. Too far. The meadow was nearly a half-mile through thick bush. He ran anyway.

He broke into the clearing where the cornicopia gleamed, heart pumping. Too much. All he can see are flashes, mind spinning and eyes flashing:

The Girl on Fire, struggling to stand, her bloodied face a mess of emotion.

Eleven, mountainous shoulders hunched in a rage.

Good, Cato thinks. Good, take the bitch. The glory of the kill doesn't even matter anymore. He and Clove can still win this. So close, so close.

The wind picks up and he spots it. Something in the long grass. Gleaming. A weighted knife. He tracks the sight into the clump of weeds near Eleven's feet with a slowly settling dread.

No, he thinks. No, no, no, no. Something rattles free in his head and he's moving. Stumbling, his muscles are driving him forward on instinct now. His sword is raised and he's shouting. Guttural. Furious.

Eleven only watches, gathering all the bags left at the table without so much as a flicker of fear. As he lopes off into the taller grain, Cato is prepared to follow. All he can see is Eleven's form weaving into the grass. The edges of his vision are strained and tinted with his anger. Some flicker of sight or sound-a fluttering on the edge of his mind makes him hesitate.

Almost absently, he notes the girl fleeing into the forest, something small clutched at her side. Her braid flares out behind her as she hits the edge of the trees and dissolves into their shadows. Fast, but not faster than Clove. They could hunt her trail.

Make a choice. Eleven or fire-bitch? Tossing his head on his shoulders, nearly mad with the anger clogging his chest, Cato gathers himself. The bags. We need the bags. He glares out at the field of dry grain where Eleven had disappeared. Eleven, then.

His chest is heaving from his sprint, breaths coming heavy and loud. He almost misses it-till something touches his ankle. He's still hypersensitive, battle-ready, and the tap makes him leap back. But that sad little sound comes again-a soft murmur, muted and wet like a gurgle of labored sound-and he glances to his feet.

Bruise-black eyes squint up at him. For a moment, he's adrift. Then it sticks: Clove. Her screams, echoing in the forest. He doesn't realize that he's on his knees-just feels the sharp blades of meadowgrass scrape his arms and neck as he caves over her little body.

It's as if she's simply collapsed. Something is off, but his mind is racing and he can't quite place it. She's half-buried in the mess of scraggly meadow, anyway. Impatient, he turns her face from the tuft of grass where she's fallen. "Clove?"

Her eyes roll to white with the motion. Confusion seeps in and Cato feels his features cloud with it. She looks fine aside from a trickle of blood near her mouth. No arrows, no gashes. All at once, he takes in her face. Heaves involuntarily. The pixie shape is spoiled by a hideous indentation. On the side he'd been unable to see, until he moved her. Eleven, he realizes. Only he would have the strength to-an animal sound shakes him. She can only groan in response.

"Stay with me!" The words rip through the quiet as he crumples along side her. "Clove?" She works her jaw, but the blood pooled there just foams for all the effort. His thick fingers find the uninjured side of her head. Callouses catch on the intricate pattern she'd knotted into it in the predawn light. So vain, he'd goaded. And she smiled, white and sharp. "Clove!"

A string of foul words choke his throat. He's groaning them into her hair when he feels her start to seize. Thin arms and legs heave as her body slips free of her mind, and Cato can only press them down and whisper bloody promises. "I'll kill them." He groans through his teeth, clutching at her. "All of them."

Death throes, they were called. He remembered that with such startling clarity in this hellish moment. His mentors had explained them so clinically. Just a natural part of the process, they'd said. They hadn't mentioned she'd drool and squeal-or that he'd care, because the awful noises were from Clove.

Just a game, they all said. Just a game and you'll win. It's to be expected. Afterall, you show such promise.

Clove's retching stops suddenly. Cato screws his eyes shut as her muscles relax. He didn't hear her last breath. Not over the pounding in his head, but he's sure. The cannon fires as Cato forces himself up.

His shoulders are set up high, a shell of muscle and hatred and bone and he can't hear anything but a rushing. His hands are knotted to the point of pain, making violent, spasmodic fists. Who was that screaming? On and on and on, roaring in something beyond anger. He can't care. The game isn't about his honor and fucking glory for the District. Not now. Now it's revenge.

And looking down at the ruin that was Clove, Cato doesn't think it feels much like a game anymore.