I don't own The Hunger Games.
Cat glanced up at the stands nervously, his sword slipping slightly against his sweaty fingers. Any moment now the command would sound and he would have to fight. But how could he do that when nobody in the kingdom knew the whereabouts of their princess? Cato let his eyes flit over to the royal family's box stand. The king looked more stony-faced than anyone had ever seen him. Prince Augustus had his head in his hands, his crown almost slipping from his head and the queen had red eyes and a rumpled appearance.
And what of Cato? Well, he felt nothing. He was sweating, knowing that he should feel something, but he couldn't bring himself to. It was like he didn't care but he knew that he did, it was just that his emotions didn't know that. Clove was gone, missing, vanished. It had been three days since she had last been seen and Cato should have been a mess but he wasn't.
"The fight will now begin." The king spoke in monotone. Enthusiasm had been replaced by sick feelings of worry. Cato swung his sword in a spiral as his opponent advanced. It seemed like the whole kingdom was worried about Clove's whereabouts- perhaps rumours of her kindness to the poor had stretched to every corner of Panem.
Cato stepped forward. There was no time to waste, although he found he did not care if he won or lost.
A damp cloth to the forehead was what final woke Clove from her unconscious state. It soothed her throbbing pain and reminded her of the many times her mother had tended to her when she had been ill.
"Katniss?" Clove could recognize the voice of her friend anywhere. She sat up slowly, ignoring the stabs of pain in her left temple. Prim, her younger sister, had been dabbing her forehead with a flannel as Katniss sat in the corner and carved arrows out of sticks.
"Do you feel okay?" Katniss abandoned the arrows to crouch by Clove's low bedside.
"I feel like I got trampled by a dozen horses." Clove frowned. She had only been in Katniss' cabin twice. She, Prim and their mother lived in a house similar to Cato's in the village, but they maintained a cabin by a lake for hunting purposes.
"Well, that old lady did hit you pretty hard."
"Wait, what? What happened? The last thing I remember is…" Clove trailed off, thinking of the book she had found that had been filled with illustrations of her.
"I was hunting not far from that old lady's cabin when I heard a scream. I ran over and found that she had attacked you. You were already losing consciousness so I shot her in the heart and used your horse to carry you out. I brought you here and fetched Prim." Katniss explained, gesturing to her twelve year old sister.
"Oh." Was all Clove could manage to say.
"Who was she? She banged you up pretty badly." Katniss asked, raising an eyebrow at the princess.
"Oh, I'm not sure." She lied. "I was riding and my horse needed some water. I came across her cabin and she told she would fetch some water, and then she must have attacked me."
"There are rumours, you know. That she's…" Katniss looked around the cabin, checking that they were truly alone. "A witch."
"She may have been. I only stopped in for water. Thank you. How long have I been unconscious for?"
"Three days. We should head back soon- I haven't been able to get a message back to the castle. I didn't want to leave you and Prim here alone but I couldn't take you both back, and Johanna never comes into these parts." Katniss stood and offered Clove her hand.
"Three days?! The people must be going insane! My father's going to kill me! Cato's going to kill me!" Clove panicked as she accepted Katniss's hand. She was pulled from the bed, her head still throbbing, and a leather coat was pressed into her arms. Clove slipped into it.
"I don't think you should ride. Not with that injury." Prim advised, packing up her medical kit. "There shouldn't be any permanent damage, but take it easy for the next week or so."
"It's okay, Prim. You can ride my horse, and I'll ride Clove's with her on the back." Katniss ruffled her sister's hair as they rushed around that small cabin, packing things away.
Outside, Clove's horse was still in good condition.
"Where's the saddle?" Clove asked.
"Oh, I sold it." Katniss shrugged before hoisting herself onto the horse's back.
"Katniss!" Clove scolded, jumping up behind her.
"What? I saved your life!" Clove jabbed her friend in the base of her spine before digging her heels into her horse's sides. They tore through the forest, Clove's leather jacket flaring out behind her like a fan.
"Where in God's name have you been?!"
"You missed the tournament!"
The castle guards shut the large wooden doors behind her as she walked across the dining hall and slid into her usual seat.
"I had to choose flower arrangements! That's a woman's job!" Marvel scowled at her from across the table.
"None of that matters!" The queen yelled, shocking the royals at the table. "Clove has returned to us! Where have you been, my dear?"
If she were to tell even half of the truth, Clove knew that she would be under constant watch of the guards and that she would never be able to see her friends again. But she could take Katniss' victory from her?
"I fell ill, but I didn't want to worry any of you. I stayed with my friend Katniss Everdeen, just outside of the palace gates in the richer part of the village." Clove lied. "Katniss rode for three days to find the medicine that cured me. She saved my life. I'm so sorry for any trouble that I have caused.
"My dear, we are just thrilled that you have returned to us safe and sound." The king interrupted Marvel before he could complain again.
"I'll be sure to catch up with the wedding planning." Clove smiled warmly, looking everywhere but at Marvel.
"Damn right you will." Marvel muttered under his breath.
"Of course, we shall pay Katniss Everdeen for her troubles. We shall send a guard tomorrow with her money." The king chose to ignore Marvel's comments.
"No, it's okay. I want to take it and thank her again." Clove insisted.
"Okay, but take a guard." The queen said.
"I'll go with her." Augustus cut in.
"You?" The king frowned at his son in confusion.
"I'm not letting that idiot out of my site for a long time. You should have just told us you were sick. We could have done something, but instead you panicked us all." Augustus sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"I'm sorry, Gus." Clove said sincerely. For all their bickering and disagreements, Augustus was her brother and Clove intended to keep him.
"It's fine. Not a big deal." He sighed, but the way everybody looked at her had changed. In front of them was a girl who was independent. And after a few more years of experience, sitting in front of them was a possible queen.