We found ourselves at the base of a waterfall, sloshing the rocks. None of us have seen such a thing so we stand for a few moments, gazing up, in awe of its height. Listening. Rue hops upon the rocks, heading over to stand beneath the water. She reaches out, smiling as it splashes her hand. Katniss joins her shortly after, daintily stepping on them to avoid slipping.
She turns around once she gets to Rue, who is now wading in the shallow river, and begins staring at me expectantly. I continue to stand, just wanting to watch them from a distance.
She motions me forward.
"I have to keep watch,"
She rolls her eyes; I roll them back.
After Rue has enough, she comes back, neatly stepping on the stones. Grinning up at me, we wait for her. She continues to stare up, face expressionless. Returning carefully, she's close until her foot slips—
I rush out, catching her in my arms. I right her immediately, steading her by the shoulders. As a precaution, I take her elbow and guide her back. Though we both know she's capable herself, I do it anyway and, shockingly, she doesn't reprimand me.
Rue takes Katniss' arm then glances at me with a smile. I ignore her.
As we walk away, Rue whirls around to give the waterfall one last look. She grins, "Hey, it's there again!"
She and I turn to find the rainbow, which is why Rue wanted to go there to begin with.
"It's really pretty," she says.
"Yeah," I answer, not giving her any attention.
It's confusing to be around her.
On the one hand, I have to kill her, eventually; but then on the other…
When did I lose so much focus?
I pride myself on not giving in to temptations or going for simpler routes, preferring challenges that make me centered. Now everything I seem to know about the world and myself is in question.
I came here knowing who I was.
I was ready, with expectations, with plans, goals.
Ready to win.
Now I can't recognize myself—this stranger that is similar to me but altogether different.
This someone who is softer, kinder, less angry at things in general; Rue I can understand getting under my skin—she's a sweet kid; it's rather hard not to like her.
The other girl is someone I never thought would burrow her way into me.
Rue nibbles on some crackers ahead of us, with her and me keeping an eye from behind. Her bow is always ready and I hold my sword every second of the day. It's quiet but not so much it's menacing.
"How many do you think there are left?"
"Not including us," I tell her, "There's Marvel, the boy from 11, and that redhead,"
"Her name is Foxface?"
"No," she answers, a little embarrassed, "But she looks sort of vulpine,"
The only feature I noticed about her was the red hair, but I guess she could have that feature. "I honestly can't remember."
"Well, it's just how I remember her,"
"How would you remember me?" I tease, curious.
She laughs, brushing her hair back.
"I would just call you Cato,"
"Nothing else, huh?"
"No, I knew your name."
Inwardly, I feel too many things. Staring out at my left, I watch for any sign of tributes while she watches ahead.
"How did you call me?"
"Girl on Fire, same thing," I answer, "It's how lots of other people refer to you, right?"
"Yes," she says, and it sounds like she'll say more but doesn't. Smart girl.
I bring the subject back, not wanting to think about her and names. "Finding the boy from 11 will be hard,"
"Thresh is strong,"
Neither of us says how he and Rue know each other; it would devastate her. I look on, watching her inspect plants, smiling, maybe humming.
"And if it's the three of us?"
Our eyes meet and we both question everything. I don't want to tell her that it'll be decided when it happens, though I'm tempted to.
There's too much on the line for all of us. This is why I didn't want to get close to anyone—nothing good would come out of alliances, I knew that; and now I find myself getting attached to them, dangerous ground.
"I should go," I whisper.
She blinks, surprised, "Go? You mean, leave,"
"It'd be for the best,"
She doesn't say anything for a few moments, though she stops, face downward. "Would it really be?"
"You know we can't be friends,"
She looks up then, gray eyes boring into mine. "You're right,"
For some reason, I want to lighten the mood, joke with her. But I know it wouldn't dampen the inevitable. Instead I turn on my heel, preparing myself for the two of us to be enemies once more. We don't tell each other to be careful—enemies don't do that.
I know Snow is watching, wondering about my plan. If he asks, I'll tell him it's part of the plan—it may as well be. I have managed to lower her guard, despite her strengths and walls. The next time we meet she'll be hesitant and I can kill her before she even realizes my intention. It'll be easy…
I pause, recognizing the voice; the cameras must be off me now.
"Yes, President Snow?"
"You left the girl,"
"Yes," I explain to him the rationalizations I had in my head. He looks both pleased and contemplative.
"My boy," he says, "You haven't fallen in love with her, have you?"
I'm shocked, body stock-still. "No, no, I haven't,"
He chuckles. "I believe you. If you were, you would've stayed with her."
"I would, sir?"
"Of course," he says, thoughtfully stroking his beard, "To protect her. You left, so you value victory more than her. You're doing well, Cato. But, remember—improvise if something goes awry."
"You're in the Hunger Games, Cato; nothing goes as planned."
His hologram flickers to nothingness. I walk along for a while, thinking of what he said. Everything whirls in my head, leaving Rue and she far behind.
The sunset captures my attention. I haven't thought of anything all day except Snow and the others. I rest beneath a tree. We must be pretty distant by now.
Is Rue asleep? She must be—it's late at night. The sky isn't too visible past the leaves, leaving everything dark. I sigh, sit up, and brush back my hair. It got longer. Grunting, I lean back, knocking my head too hard. The quiet is different with no one else. I realize I haven't been alone in weeks. It's a bit of a relief, even though it digs into me more than I like.
I wonder if she's awake.
It bothers me that I think of her. She slips in and out of my mind, with Peeta drawing it to a close only to have her return. The night gives me a restless sleep, as shadows weave around, making me sightless.
The sun breaks the night with gold.
I only got a few hours of rest. Rubbing my eyes, I stand and continue randomly before aiming to the left. Not sure why.
By late morning, I wonder where everyone really is. The redhead—or Foxface, as she calls her—is nowhere to be found still; neither is the boy from 11. Not a soul anywhere. President Snow may be behind this although I doubt it. Despite our agreement, I am not completely out of the Games. But it doesn't matter or worry me—I'm going to win this. It's what's going to happen, what was always supposed to happen.
Nothing goes as planned.
Why would he tell me that?
Is it a meaning, a precaution?
The riots may still be happening, leaving our nation torn. Has it reached my family yet? We are the district where Peacekeepers are trained, so they must be busy. The outer districts, mainly 11 and 12, are too far yet to get involved but they might be dealing with it, and, if not, heard of it.
You have to protect her.
Peeta's voice bluntly shocks me. I shake my head.
But it's as President Snow said too—nothing goes as planned. It's true.
So much has happened in these few weeks, coming almost to a month or so. My plans collided with someone else's and then another and now everything is caught together, leaving me in no more of a position than a soldier to carry out the orders of a superior, or a toy to play with…
What does he mean to say—?
My train of thought doesn't finish. A long slash of wood spins in front of me, digging itself into a tree; turning to my left, sword in hand, I raise it to block the smaller one that slashes downward. Marvel snarls, pulling back, rushing forward.
I crash through the forest, luring Marvel away from where I left the girls. He comes at me on fast feet, shouting my name in rage. I continue running for as long as I can keep him going. I hear a rushing noise.
Jumping to the right, I evade; the spear is just barely in the spot I was in. My sword moves down in a blunt stroke as he comes up behind me. The weapons clang, birds crying out. I spin on my heel, the one of my raised leg kicking him squarely in the head.
He grunts, pushing himself upward, "You fucking traitor!"
Ignoring the jab, I rush the pointed tip of my weapon towards his stomach.
Marvel rolls backwards, landing on his feet. My sword hits dirt. Slashing at me, I block the movement.
"Why did you leave us?"
"You never came to look for me either," I shout.
"At least we stayed together—you joined the enemy," he yells, his sword removing the bark off a tree behind me, "You're probably fucking the whore too,"
A surge of anger washes over me, blinding me. My sword comes back red, his shoulder dripping blood. He doesn't even grip it. We clash again, parrying blow for blow.
"Hit a nerve, did I?"
"Says the guy that let Clove die!"
"You shut up!"
His sword grazes me cheek, the cut burning.
"You left her!" he yells, "Do you know how much it hurt to see her miss you?"
Dodging his sword, my back is pressed into a tree.
"You worthless piece of shit!"
He loved her.
The realization is so quick; jarring me, the weapon narrowly misses where my head was. Ducking down, I tumble forward twice then spin, dirt flying up, and I slash into the muscle of his calf.
He yells, clutching the injured leg.
Then, I hear it: Rue's four-note whistle.
They're too close.
Rue's cry sends chills down my spine.
Without hesitation, I turn on him and plunge my sword deeply into his gut. Blood pours from his mouth, same as Clove. He slumps forward, still. I run in their direction, whistling the four notes. Mockingjays answer, leading me to them.
The sight before me numbs my mind, even as I keep going: Rue is trapped beneath a net, the girl protecting her from a large ferocious beast, pale fur shining in the sunlight.
I reach them quickly, sword digging into its skin. It howls in pain and turns on me, with bright blue eyes beneath the yellow hair—
"Cato!" she shouts, breaking my shock and the sword swings on its own, slashing the throat. It roars, gurgling. The blood mats its fur, writhing until it becomes completely still.
I rush over to where the girls are, Katniss detangling Rue from the net. I cut through with my sword. Rue pants hard, lunging toward both of us.
"I was so scared!" she cries, tears streaming down.
"Shh, you're safe now," Katniss murmurs.
My hand instinctively goes to Rue's head, stroking it to calm her down.
"Rue, sweetheart," she murmurs, "We need to leave, now,"
Shaking between us, we pull her up. I move to gather Rue on my back, Katniss staring at me intensely. I know we're both thinking the same thing, who knows what else is here—
Rue screams, pointing—
I turn, Marvel bleeding and covered in dirt—
No, how, I killed him—
He lunges forward and throws—
—an arrow digs deeply into his chest, beneath my sword that sticks out of his throat.
His head lolls, the neck seeming to tear off.
Guilt and nausea suddenly surge with a vengeance so I turn to cover Rue so she won't see—
…and she's beneath me, at my feet.
The spear sticks out of her stomach.
Katniss kneels beside her, voice breaking, even if she's not saying words. I fall to my knees, staring at her small frame. Gently, I pull out the spear—
"Don't do that!" she hisses, "She'll bleed out and…"
"Katniss…" Rue says her name first.
We look at her together. I lick my dry lips, heart pounding. This is the longest I've stared at her. I notice flecks of gold in soft dark eyes, a beautiful shade of amber.
She coughs, blood spurting out a bit. I wipe it off her blanching face, Katniss cradling her head. She smiles.
"I'm glad…you're both here,"
A dead weight sinks into me as Katniss begins to weep.
"You're going to be alright," she says to Rue, "You're going to…"
Rue closes her eyes for brief second before looking at her, reaching for my hand. I take it. "Can you sing? I…want a song,"
Beauty pours from her mouth, lush and full, sad and frail. Like the sky broke and gave away something special. It's a song, a lullaby, about sleeping in meadows, with soft green pillows, where daisies guard beautiful things—what else would they protect?
She sings with this tenderness that astounds me, soft and protective. Her voice is haunting, angelic. It radiates love in every note, even when her singing becomes a murmured lilt. She doesn't stop until it's raspy.
Rue falls asleep peacefully.
Her hand still grips mine. I give it a squeeze, feeling numb; this must be grief.
Weeping openly, her breathing shallow, I see a very broken, very sensitive girl where the blazon one I'm so used to was. A girl that feels so deeply that she has to keep herself tightly bound because, if she doesn't, the world will enjoy breaking her apart. It's never happier than when it takes down heavenlier things.
I don't know why I think these things, or phrase them this way, or why I'm still here, or anything else.
All I'm aware of is reaching for her and she falls into me, crying, and I don't hush her, letting her be open.
"Does it get easier?" her question's a choke, suffocated into my neck.
"Only if you don't want to be human," I whisper into her hair.
She sobs for her sister.
I hold her tighter to me as she clings.
No wonder Peeta loved her.