The Conspiracy

Chapter XXV: Hope

They say bone pain is worse than any other kind, barring perhaps childbirth, and I believe them. I can't possibly be sitting up still but the pain in my temple eclipses everything else. I can't see him, but 22 has apparently turned away from me because I hear him talking to 23. They make some kind of deal, I think, and then there's Cato's voice again. My ears hone in on that sound. He screams my name and I try to call back to him, but all that escapes my lips is a moan. 22 urges 23 to run and she must because 22 doesn't talk to her again. I hear little metal things clinking together and know 22 is picking up his pack. Coward! I curse him. Don't leave me here like this! At least have mercy and finish the job! I never even saw Rue in here! I was the one who told the others not to hurt her! More clinking and I guess 22 is stealing our pack, Cato's pack now.

I don't know how long it takes him to reach me but when he does, he drops to the ground next to me. I don't have the strength to turn myself but he sees that I'm trying and helps me. I feel something lose and sharp beneath the skin of my temple where 22 struck me and I grit my teeth against making a noise, but fail. I can see Cato now but my vision is blurry with I don't know what. "Stay with me, Clove, come on! You're gonna be alright." He sounds as desperate as I did a few minutes ago. A few minutes ago?

"He got your pack," I tell him. My voice is strange, thick and unclear but he understood the words. I don't want to say, 'I'm not gonna make it.' It'd kill him, but he has to know that it's his pack now. As wholly as I'd rather weep like a child, ask him to kiss me healthy again, beg him to fix this, or to at least stay with me, tell him I'm not ready to go, tell him to hold onto me so death won't be able to take me away, I can't. I can't. I can't because he can't. I can't because he has to go. I can't. I can't.

"They sent it to District 2, not Cato," he corrects me. I've just realized my eyes are watering again. That's why I can't see right. Probably because of the pain, but also for him. I don't want to leave him. I don't want to lose him.

He's got to hear me say it. I have to encourage him to keep fighting, got to let him know that continuing this is what he should do. I don't want him to take his nightlock. Tough it out, Clove. I shake my head very slightly 'no'. "I'm so sorry," I tell him in a breathy voice, totally unfamiliar to either of us.

"No!" he insists, and his voice breaks, too. "No. You have to make it. We're getting out of here together, remember? Don't you leave me." His voice it different too, thick with tears. He sniffs, trying to keep his nose from running. He must know he's deluding himself. We don't have the means here to treat my injuries. It's strange to see him like this. Powerful and strong, but now breaking down to the point where reason can't reach him. "Remember that day at training? I said if it wasn't for you being here I was slated to win?" It wasn't a fun conversation, but I remember it. I hold his hand tighter, even though it's costing me more strength than anything ever has in my life, and try to say, 'uh-huh' but it comes out as a squeak. "I was wrong then. I won't get out of here without you." He puts his hand on the top of my head and tangles his fingers in my hair, as if this will hold me here. He doesn't touch the damaged part of my skull but I'm hypersensitive so it hurts, but I don't let him see that. I put my hand on the back of his hand and hold it there. There's no comfort for either of us now, but this is as close as we'll get. "Stay with me," he repeats.

A thought occurs to me. If I can't win with him, I will do everything in my power to make it easier for him to go home. "Give me her arrows," I tell him. I'll take them out of the arena.

"Clove," he begins. He knows why I want them, knows that I mean to take them with me when they remove my body. His voice squeaks.

"Do it!" The exertion it takes to give a command like that sends a stabbing pain through my head and I screw up my eyes against it. He knows this command is something he needs to follow or else I wouldn't have waisted the energy giving it. He scrambles to his feet, his toes digging into the ground and returns with the one bloody and one clean arrow. I extend my fingers for them and when he gives them to me, I cross that arm over my chest. Both his hands clutch the hand around the arrows tightly. Tears drip onto his knuckles.

"He got your pack." My voice is really breathy now. I'd be surprised if that was understandable. My body's not responding to me the way I want it to. My grip on the arrows is loose but I'm sure they'll take them with me. "...came here for... go," I tell him. My strength is waning and watching this happen to me will make things worse for Cato. He can't watch me die. He'd never get up again. If he leaves now, he'll feel a little guilty later and I'll be alone for the last seconds of my life, but I'm willing to do that if it means he goes home.

He leans down and kisses my forehead. "I love you." I would respond without any hesitation, but all I manage to do is open my mouth a fraction of an inch in an attempt at the beginning of speech. I can't talk anymore. I can just look at him. I hope he knows I'd repeat it if I could. I hope he gets out of here. Hope. Even in my last seconds, I have hope and it's because of him. He kisses me again, my forehead, then the back of my hand. Then he steels himself to stand up. He is the last thing I see.

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