Rating: M (this chapter: strong violence, language, child abuse, kids killing kids, character deaths, disturbing themes)
Characters/Pairings: Clove, Cato, Thresh, the Gamemakers
Summary: There are worse things to lose than the Games. Katniss wasn’t the only one who defied the Capitol, and realizations hurt the most when they come too late. Three last moments we didn’t get from Katniss.
Notes: And so we come to the end. This was not an easy chapter to write for many reasons, and if you’re here, you probably know why. If you’re like me and are interested in What Could Have Been, I’m working on another story where things end a lot differently for our District Two Tributes. I plan to take a break to recover from the movie hype, but if you’re looking for an alternate ending to this, never fear, it’s coming. I won’t say things end up better for them there, but it’ll definitely be a different sort of adventure. I greatly appreciate everyone who’s read this fic, and I’m very thankful for all your wonderful comments and the great discussion I’ve been able to have with other fans through this story. I’m really happy that it’s made some of y’all see the Careers differently. I hope to see you soon in my next fic-monster, and thank you!
While the band plays the anthem
She whispers, “God hates flags.” -- The Low Anthem
His voice is far away when the world lights up white. She feels the blow deep to her jaw and he’s so far that it sounds like his words should be coming from another universe. The air hammers from her lungs as she hits the ground.
Clove raises her right hand to her temple to feel the damage and recoils. There is no going back. She knows this is the end. After that, she loses the ability to move her right hand. This is the moment they all have to face, all alone, whether they’re twelve years old and never held a sword or the greatest champion the Center’s ever known, and in this moment, she gives in because Cato Cato Cato I don’t want to die.
And then he’s there, falling to his knees beside her so heavily that he skids on the ground the last few inches and sort of crashes into her side, but his voice doesn’t sound any closer when he begs, “Stay with me.”
The trees shiver in and out of focus above her. Clove tries to remember what is happening. They don’t have the backpack. Twelve got away. Eleven has killed her. They’ve failed. She’s so cold.
“Stay with me,” Cato whispers again, very quiet this time but fierce like the warrior that he is. “Don’t you leave me now, midget. Don’t you leave me in this hellhole alone.”
That’s right. She can’t leave him. She said she wouldn’t.
Clove squints up at him and watches his features blur and sharpen as a dull ringing noise starts somewhere in what feels like her throat and grows, expanding outward to encompass the whole world. She grabs for his hand with the one she can still move and misses and gets the sharp end of his spear instead and thinks absently that it ought to hurt. She thinks she hears Cato curse violently and toss the thing aside. But he shouldn’t do that. He needs that spear much, much more than he needs her because in a few seconds Clove will be a dead body, and you can’t kill people with those.
“Pick it up,” she whispers, and Cato stops babbling instantly when he hears her trying to talk. “You need it.”
“Don’t worry about that. You’re staying here. You’re staying here with me. Nothing else matters.”
“No,” Clove says. The edges of her vision go black and fuzzy, but she can still see Cato’s face when she tilts her head right. “’m not. Can’t. Get out’ve here.”
“I’m not leaving you.” And his voice and his face change just then, she’s sure they do, it’s not just her eyes and ears failing. He knows. He sees what she sees lying there in the dirt. It’s hopeless, and every millisecond of their training tells them both that he should take everything useful off her body and run. But he doesn’t and she doesn’t want him to and is this really all there is for them at the end, all they’ve been promised and just an ending.
She can’t feel her legs.
“Listen,” she says, scraping his forearm with her filthy nails. “Kill ‘em. Kill ‘em and win this. For us. For me. Or else it’s just – ”
She doesn’t know what it is. She can’t know. Fuck, she can’t. He grabs her hand and she digs her nails in as hard as she can.
“I will. I’ll tear them the fuck apart and make them beg me to end it, Clove, I swear.” Cato’s voice is like an enraged animal’s howl, and it probably terrifies everyone watching. Except for Clove.
And that’s it, really. That’s all there is in the end. It’s all she has and the only thing the television doesn’t have and the only thing she gets to take with her, and it’s enough. She smiles up at him, basking in the knowledge that she is going to die seeing her Cato again, one last time.
“S’good,” she says with a little smile, feeling herself falling away, like that odd place between sleeping and being awake. A million colors swirl around her. Maybe she’s back in the Capitol. Her stylists throw a vat of glitter onto her that turns to blood. She’s not sure where she is now, but she’s forgetting how to care and Clove promised not to leave but it’s just too hard.
Whatever it is, Cato must have seen because he grabs her hand until she feels the pain even now and screams for her to stay, no no no no midget don’t leave me. Clove stops falling abruptly and stares confused into Cato’s damp eyes.
And then she stays for a few more minutes. Cato doesn’t try to pull her back again. He tilts her head into his lap because he knows it doesn’t matter now and calls her every name he’s ever had for her and tells her all the horrible things he’s going to do to Eleven and Twelve with the ease and detail that only one who’s done it before can know. He tells her that she is beautiful and strong and better than everyone in the arena and everyone watching at home who will never understand. And then Clove can’t hear him anymore but she feels his calloused hands on her cheek and can see the outline of his wall-like shoulders that are currently trembling with rage and terror and agony and other things she can’t name. She can feel his hand on her face long after she stops feeling the grass beneath her and the pain in her head. The world melts away slowly, piece by piece, but Cato is there and she is not afraid. She can’t live in a world without him, and she never has to. He stays right until the end of her world.
The last thing she sees is Cato’s blond hair and forehead melding with the golden clouds behind him.
They watch as Cato comes undone.
This is not the cool, confident trainee who could pick up a two hundred pound man and throw him. This is not the model Center student with a solid black bracelet dotted with kill beads who was honored at Graduation just last month. It’s not even the enraged beast he becomes during a fight who can be stopped by nothing but death, thinks about nothing but the next instant, and cares for nothing but winning.
He cradles the girl’s bloody head as she stains his lap dark amber. His shoulders heave with dangerously inert energy, but he reigns it in with control they’ve never seen from him before as his massive fingers stroke the girl’s cheek as if she’s made of glass, as if it matters now if he hurts her. They’re having some kind of one-sided conversation that makes sense only to them and is comforting to no one in the world but the girl in his arms. His speaks in the unmistakable voice of one trying in futility to soothe a dying loved one, but there are words like pick out all his ribs and make him eat his fuck-ass heart and like we did to that fuckface Fourteen in the gym. And this part doesn’t surprise them because they’ve heard these words before, but even they cringe a little at the tender way he says them and how he pets her hair while he paints a gruesome, loving picture of Eleven’s death and she smiles and grasps his free hand because these words are the only ones that could help her. This is not the boy in the Training Center, not their star pupil, never will be again.
They don’t know what this is, but they know it’s nothing good.
The other words are even worse, and they rush to cut the footage as they include things like they can never fucking understand and never let them ruin you and we don’t need them, midget. I hate them. I love you. He doesn’t realize what he’s saying. His hands shake as the life begins to leave the girl’s eyes.
And at the end it’s just an endless litany of “I’m going to kill them. I love you. I love you. I’m going to kill them. I love you. I’m going to kill them –”
And he stays with her until he’s sure she’s gone, keeps the calm, dangerous look on his face that’s a hair’s width from shattering. His eyes are damp, but he doesn’t weep when he kisses her hand and slowly lets her go. He doesn’t linger over her body, doesn’t cry over it or attempt to do anything with it or delay the hovercraft because he understands better than anyone in the Arena that bodies are only bodies.
When she goes, so does he. Physically and in every other way. His eyes change, all the love and devotion that was there before replaced by hate ten times as strong. His face is cold and stony and heartless as if he’s absorbed the girl’s infamous callous sadism. The girl’s blood is all over his uniform and soaks his hands and dots his face with a thick stripe of it above his left eyebrow. His steps are even and sure and focused and seem to form a dark, terrible rhythm that reminds them disturbingly of his last words to her: I’m going to kill them. I’m going to kill them.
They know which ‘them.’ He doesn’t yet. They never want him to find out.
If this were for the cameras, Cato might have whispered to Eleven, low and careful and weighty, “You kill that little girl?”
Cato really doesn’t give a fuck about the cameras anymore, so he just plunges one of her knives into Eleven’s left ankle when he’s down and then does the same to the other, and to each of his hands. The world speeds by a thousand miles an hour as he stands over Eleven and tries to breathe except he can’t because she’s dead. He thinks maybe Eleven says something. There’s no screaming, well, there is, but not the screams that prey makes and it’s not from Eleven. He looks Eleven in the face and can’t see him – he can’t see anything he’s looking for, but he knows that he could burn the world with his eyes as he breaks Eleven piece by piece with his fists. He can’t stop screaming. It doesn’t help at all.
Much later, after Eleven has gone still and quiet, he remembers his promise to Clove and maybe that’s why. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t feel any better and the world won’t stop spinning. So he takes up his sword and skins Eleven like the rabbit they ate together just days before and cracks his ribs with hands that held her while she died and throws the pieces into the woods and it doesn’t help. Nothing helps.
He brings a fist down on Eleven’s deflated lungs, soaked in his blood and in her blood, and screams.
He doesn’t know how long he stays like this or how long it lasts. He only knows that it doesn’t hurt any less when the corner of one eye catches the thing on his wrist. It’s caked with grime and blood and stomach acid, and for some reason that makes him so furious that he could tear apart the whole world and it would never be enough. But he can’t do that so he rips the bracelet off in a swift motion and stuffs it in Eleven’s mouth. He stares at its frayed edges and the twigs caught between the strands and rage rushes in his blood and there’s nothing, nothing to contain this monster he’s become and nothing to quiet the blind anger and nothing in the whole world that he can break enough to pay for her.
He steps on Eleven's face as he walks away and crushes beads and teeth and soft rope and bone beneath the heel of his boot and knows that nothing will ever be right again.
“Release the mutts,” Seneca says grimly. “You know the ones.”
“And what do you suggest we do if they don’t stop him?”
She’s looking at him.
For a moment he can’t see anything but those eyes, dark and dangerous and angry and it’s her, back from the dead. Impossible hope shakes his balance as he stands rooted to the ground and stares at her, begging her to recognize. The thing bares its teeth at him and releases a terrible growl, and he looks at the dark fur and the ‘2’ on the collar and remembers a girl who could sink a knife into twelve dummies’ hearts in so many seconds. Who climbed ropes with him until their hands were raw hamburger and poured ice water over his head on the way to the showers. Who understood his need to solve problems with his fists and sat with him the night he made his first kill. Who gave him the scar on his left shoulder in exchange for a black eye and curled up next to him that night.
They took that scar from him, at the Remaking Center. They took everything. What did they do to you, midget?
Cato stares at this thing in front of him and wills it to turn back into the only thing he’s ever loved. It doesn’t. It lunges for him with a teeth-on-tinfoil snarl and then Cato knows.
And then he knows who he hates. It wasn’t Eleven. It was never Eleven.
He counters the first blow easily with his sword, and the second and the third – then he’s caught head-on by the hysterical thought that this isn’t her, it can’t be her because she wouldn’t be this slow. The thing gets him in the forearm then. Now he’s the slow one, he thinks with a laugh that isn’t funny as he dodges the thing’s next move. Maybe this isn’t him, either. Maybe he didn’t tear apart another boy’s skin and rip out his heart because he thought that’d put the world back together. Maybe he didn’t turn himself into the kind of boy who would.
The thing faces him down with a body length between them, angry and cautious and all animal. She looks at him accusingly, furious that he is still alive, furious at the world, at the hell they’re all trapped in, at this Game that isn’t a game.
At the Capitol.
The thing attacks again, and Cato lands his sword in its heart. It releases a piercing howl and convulses and then goes silent. A mercy killing. Not good enough for her, but this isn’t her. She’s dead. They killed her and then made this thing to mock her. To taunt him.
His vision tunnels and the whole world is this thing lying on the ground with her eyes. Dead twice over, her memory dragged through the dirt by the people who wrecked her just because they could, because there’s no honor they can’t take away, even the honor of dying a hero. Because they gave everything they had to the Capitol, didn’t they, didn’t they try hard enough, didn’t they want it badly enough and weren’t they beautiful and strong and fierce enough to be torn down and ruined like this and, fuck, he hates them. And all that’s left is shame and regret and flesh-searing agony.
Go to sleep now, midget. He hears someone choke on a sob.
Cato knows only one thing: when he wins, he will kill the ones who did this.
May your every heartbeat bring honor and glory to District Two and to the Capitol.
Bullshit. That’s all it is. That’s all it was and it’s all they are.
His vision’s blurry for some reason, and he swipes a filthy fist across his eyes without knowing why it comes away damp.
That’s when the one with the blond mane and a ‘1’ on its collar jumps him.
Cato’s seen many people die before. He’s seen how they break and knows how their thoughts fray and twist at the end. He knows that won’t happen to him. He’s a champion even in his failure, and he stays aware and in control until the end and he thinks about things he’s never thought about because that’s what she’d do. He has to. For her.
He wonders what she’d think of him now, defeated and ruined with his arm torn off at the elbow and the ghosts of all the Capitol’s victims gnawing on his bones. What she’d say, if she’d even recognize (but of course she would), what her face would look like fractured by the blood in his eyes and the white noise of agony. It would not look like Twelve’s raw horror, he knows as he stares into the tips of a dozen arrows fragmented by his failing vision. She would not cringe. She would not radiate fear or avoid looking at the damage before her. She might sneer at his weakness, at his failure, at how he lost the only Game they were ever supposed to win.
But she’s gone and he lost everything when he watched her slip away in his arms and so there’s nothing left to lose now. And she lost, too, and he doesn’t blame her, now does he? There are worse things to lose than the Games. He thinks of hundreds and hundreds of others back home who will never learn this until it’s too late and he wonders if this is the secret, the awful punch line that awaits all of them and they’ll never believe it until it’s them. He thinks of the people who took her from him and how they will go on taking and taking and taking and how they’ll never pay an ounce of blood for her, not now. Game over. They win. They always win.
But they will not get the thing he’s promised them and the thing he sold his life to fulfilling, and with everything left in him, he will hate them until his last heartbeat.
So mostly he thinks of her. They’re going to understand each other again. He’s going to understand what it’s like to die. He’s glad she died before she had to understand them. He’s glad they don’t have to live in this world. It’s just the two of them again, taking their failure and their pain and this terrible secret with them. One of the mutts rips off what remains of his ear and he swears he hears her laughter. Teeth tug away at his neck and take another flap of skin with them and his throat is cold and hot at once. He’s not afraid. He’s just tired. He just wants to go. Thick blood floods his mouth and his world explodes with rain and snarls and her and her and her.
The arrow flies straight, like her best knife.
On a childhood highway through a night alone
I was barely breathing, I was crawling home
And I’m talking crazy on the driver’s side
I will always love you, like a long goodbye -- David Mead