"I'm coming for you, Girl on Fire," Cato taunted, now about twenty feet up the tree.
Katniss rolled her eyes and didn't move. He would never make it to her, so there was no point moving further and irritating her leg. She grit her teeth before mumbling her next line, knowing the Capitol would thoroughly enjoy it: "You wish you were, District Two."
Only a snap below confirmed her suspicions, as Cato plummeted to the ground. I hope he breaks his neck, Katniss thought bitterly, squinting against the pain in her leg. If only the odds were in her favor.
Of course, the odds would never be in her favor when it came to the Careers, and especially not with that District Two boy.
Cato, Katniss thought bitterly, the rough bark at her back itching the back of her neck. After she had dropped the tracker jacker nest, she managed to escape with very few stings, making her way to the river to heal. It was a miracle that she had managed to not be killed lying helplessly next to the river, passed out with clumps of leaf on her welts.
Of course, half of her enemies were probably knocked out as well. Either way, when she woke, a beautiful silver bow lying innocently next to her head, she immediately grabbed it and climbed into the closest tree. She should have known that when she had woken, so had the Careers—and they were probably not happy with her.
That, however, slipped her mind. Katniss had a bow, a quiver of arrows, and some leftover food in her bag; she did not planning on going anywhere within range of Careers until at least the next day.
She probably should have thought about that sooner, and more carefully, she thought spitefully, glancing down at the ground about thirty feet from her, and the pompous blonde District Two boy that was staring back at her. He looked cool and collected, and completely healed as well—damn him.
And why hadn't she shot him yet? Her bow was another ten feet down (she had scrambled up quickly and thoughtless, stupidly leaving it when she spotted him), and though that was definitely not enough for him to snag either it or her, she didn't want to risk slipping into a closer knife range.
So they stared wordlessly at each other, hers a glare, his a pensive look, neither flinching or backing down.
God, she hated him already. Excluding the whole ferocious killer behavior, which was a big factor besides, he just oozed this arrogance that made her grind her teeth in frustration. He looked like he believed that no matter who stood in front of him, he could just barge right through them and win these cursed Games.
There was a difference between her desperate wish to get home and take care of those she had to leave, and his haughty confidence that no matter what, it would be he who survived.
Katniss had no intentions of dying, and especially not by the hands of a stupid Career. And not by this District Two jerk.
"Is the view nice from up there?" he called to her suddenly, and the left side of her mouth twitched in irritation. He was obviously referring to himself, not the scenery around them.
"It has something to be desired," she shot back in a monotonous voice. She would not even give him the pleasure of seeing her emotions.
Cato smirked. "Mind if I come up and join you?"
She warily glanced at the base of tree. It left no better climbing options for someone with bulk like his than the other tree he had tried, and failed, to climb up. Katniss gestured around her absently, not really indicating anything in particular. "By all means, do try to snap your neck again."
Surprisingly, he laughed. It wasn't all arrogance, but it wasn't entirely genuine either. Just amusement: at her, at her position, at the title he had already claimed as his own. "Maybe I shouldn't try that again." No, do. Really break something this time.
Out loud, she said, "Yeah maybe." Then, under her breath, just for the cameras, "Rotten bastard." She could hear the Capitol laughing at her language and sarcasm, and internally cringed.
"Maybe you should come down, then," he suggested lightly, taking his sword off and tossing it a ways away. "I won't bite."
Katniss snorted. "Like I'd believe that."
He shrugged. "I can promise I have no other weapons on me. I just want to talk."
"We can talk perfectly well from our distance. Don't expect me to believe that you have no other weapons, either."
A large grin broke out on his face. "I honestly don't. I can take my clothes off and show you, if you want," he suggested, already lifting the bottom of his shirt.
She grimaced, and looked away. "Oh, no thanks." When he dropped it, laughing under his breath, she looked back to him. There were no lumps in his clothes indicating a hidden blade, and his sneakers would hardly hold anything. He didn't have any sort of bag that could be carrying blades, but it didn't matter anyway. Even if he was weaponless (and she still wasn't entirely sure he was), she didn't trust him enough to climb down.
"Just come down," Cato called pleasantly, and Katniss rolled her eyes as his persistency.
"Um, how about no."
"Then let me meet you halfway," he said, making his way towards the base of the tree. "You can grab your bow, if you want. I have no interest in taking it."
He started to make his way up the tree, and Katniss panicked. There was a possibility that he could make it to the bow, steal it, and she would have nothing but that knife to defend herself with. It wasn't as if she believed he had no interest in it at all. And she didn't count on getting lucky enough to acquire the bow again.
He was about ten feet up before she sprang into action, climbing like a squirrel down the trunk of the tree, small cuts forming on the palms of her hands as she desperately went for her bow. She landed on the branch and snagged it quickly, turning to scurry back up to her branch again and shoot him, be done with this mess.
But she had miscalculated him. Maybe he had been practicing tree climbing as soon as he had become lucid again, or maybe he had gotten lucky, or maybe she lost her judgment in her panic to get to the bow. No matter how it happened, he managed to reach up around the branch she had a grip on and catch her ankle just as she put one foot up on the bark.
She cried out reactively, trying to pry her foot loose, kick him, anything, but he was just as strong as he looked, and didn't let go. With a sharp tug, he pulled her down onto the branch above him. Instinctively, she reached out to catch herself, but lost her grip on the bow. It fell through the smaller branches before landing softly on the grass. She watched it go with a horrid sense of foreboding, but she was a far cry from defeated.
Swinging the leg he had a grip on around, she broke his grasp, scrambling to stand up again. But she had miscalculated, and her weight shifted too much and too fast; she started to quickly slide over the other side. She managed to catch herself by her hands, but her body was hanging precariously over the edge—and she was slipping.
Wonderful, Katniss thought frantically, trying to hold on and not look down at the ground twenty feet below. She kicked her feet but found no purchase on the rough bark. A small squeak escaped her lips when her fingers slipped another inch.
She was almost resigned to having to fall and hopefully catch herself before she hit the ground, when something grabbed her and pulled her onto the branch below. She only had one moment to be grateful before she struck out, hitting the blonde in the face.
He made an oof noise and quickly sat down so he wouldn't fall off the branch. Katniss was about to deliver another furious blow, when he stopped her.
"Son of a bitch!" he shouted, grabbing her foot and levering it so that she was forced to sit down, lest she want to fall off the edge again. "Goddamn it, Girl on Fire, I told you that I'm not here to attack you."
"Like hell," she snarled, wrenching her foot from his grasp and scrambling backwards until she was against the tree once more. Her legs and arms were covered with scratches and already forming bruises. He, on the other hand, looked untouched.
"I'm serious," he said, putting his hands up in surrender. But he was already moving towards her, and she snarled like a cornered animal, nearly jumping off the branch in an attempt to get away from him. He had the gall to look annoyed with her as he grabbed her behind her knees and yanked her back so she was sitting right in front of him.
"For the last time, get a grip."
Katniss lashed an arm out to hit him, but he caught it with ease. As she continued her futile assault, her appearance deranged in panic, he looked calmly on, catching each of her blows as if he was plucking things out of the air that were being tossed to him.
Finally he just grabbed both of her wrists in one hand, holding them in between them, using the other to push at her stomach to keep her at bay.
"Will you calm down for all of five seconds? No one's lighting a fire under your ass right now." He smirked at his subtle joke, and Katniss tried not to scoff. Scowling, she yanked her hands from his grasp and pushed his hand off her stomach, sitting back.
He could have let her fall, but he didn't. He could have pushed her, but he didn't. She would hear him. "What do you want?" she barked at him, tense and ready to spring if he so much as moved his finger in the wrong way. He didn't. Cato just stared at her, his face unreadable: softer, but not vulnerable. More like he was trying to look trustworthy.
He didn't. "What do you want?" she asked again, but the hardness in her voice seemed to ebb away, replaced by a resigned mistrust.
Cato gave her a secret smile. "I would tell you to guess, but you'd never understand without direct action." He put his hand up, and she tensed. He just kept it there, as if testing a kitten, moving it forward so slowly Katniss wondered if it was moving at all. Eventually it touched her hair, and she tried to snarl, but he yanked her forward faster than she could ever have fallen off the tree, and started whispering lightning fast in her ear.
"Listen, Girl on Fire, because they're watching. All cameras are on us right now." Katniss stopped her preemptive assault, suddenly attentive. "If you want to survive these Games, you'll listen carefully. A rebellion has started; you just don't know it yet. You thought it was important to survive for your family? How about all of Panem? For your sister, for mine—for everyone's sake, now, more than ever, is the time to act. Be smart, Katniss."
Katniss listened to his speech with a growing sense of doubt. She opened her mouth to refute him when he pressed something into her hand. She looked down.
It was a mockingjay pin. A quick look at the lapel of her coat affirmed that her own was there. "A fire has started. You think you were given that pin by coincidence? The world is bigger than that right now, Fire Girl. Get ready. Because this time, the fire will be real." Katniss held her breath, not daring to believe it. Was it true? Could it be true? What if she was being gullible, and this was a ruse to gain her trust and kill her?
But how else could he have gotten that pin?
"Now you know, Girl on Fire. Now quickly; they're going to be listening much more closely in a second, so let's make a show. If they wanted a surprise, they have one. Can you handle it?"
Reality and logic sunk in suddenly. Madge's secretive look, the matching pins, the way some of the tributes glanced at each other during training, as if they were in on some secret the rest of them were oblivious to. And now she was apart of it.
"I can handle it."
"Good," Cato muttered, before his mouth brushed over hers. Katniss allowed the brief touch, imagining the faces of shocked Capitol citizens squealing and bouncing at the scandal.
He pulled away with a smirk, which she scowled at. A flash of teeth, and he was climbing back down the tree again, his hands finding hold where she never thought he would realize there was one. His feet hit the ground, and then he was off, disappearing into the trees.
Katniss glanced around her, knowing they were watching. "Well, how about that?" she asked, sliding down to retrieve her bow. And then she was off in the opposite direction, eager to find a higher, smoother tree.