AUTHOR'S NOTES: There is no Katniss/Peeta double suicide thing going on with Clove and Cato. They're battle-born career tributes through and through, and so one victor means one victor. It's time for a fight, and a victor. On the other hand... there's at least one part that is slightly similar to the books.
CHAPTER 21: A Hollow Victory
]There was an awkward moment of silence where Clove and Cato glanced at each other. For the past week, they had been living it up, expecting that once they killed Rue, the games would end and that they would be able to go home. Now, they were being told that that was not going to happen, and that now they would have to kill each other. Both of them knew that the other wouldn't just turn themselves in the way Rue did.
Rue… Clove glanced again at the lifeless corpse that, only moments ago, had been her greatest enemy—and her death also marked the passing of a very one-sided rivalry. Rue had not been in it to steal Clove's fame or glory; she just wanted to be able to live more than the 12 short years she had been given, and that was a fact that was quickly sinking in.
Once again, however, Cato snapped her out of it.
"You wanna go right here?" Cato cracked a chuckle, "The whole sacrificing thing might have worked with Rue, but it isn't exactly going to work with me."
"I wouldn't expect it from you…" Clove mused, although her mind did wander to Rue. "yeah. Let's go at it then. You and me—don't fall off, or you're gonna be dog food."
"To the dogs it is then," Cato laughed, removing his shoes. The traction that his soles would give against the metallic cornucopia surface would reduce the chance of him slipping off—he had noticed that when Clove (and similarly, Rue) had climbed atop the structure.
"To the dogs," Clove laughed, raising a knife, her eyes meeting Cato's for a second.
"FOR DISTRICT 2!" Cato shouted, drawing his sword. Clove drew her knives, and a fast-paced, close-quarters combat match began. Cato was strong, and landed several good attacks on Clove, but Clove's blinding speed was weakening Cato more than he anticipated. In contrast to the anticlimactic ending that Rue's death had given, Clove and Cato put on quite as show as they continued to whittle each other's health down. Steel clashed against steel, while Cato's strength was pitted against Clove's speed. Cato launched several mighty blows that would have likely cloven his smaller partner in two if they connected, and if Cato had not been so skilled at blocking, some of Clove's knives might have found their way into her partner's vitals within seconds.
The cornucopia was fairly flat on top which gave the two tributes some fighting room so they wouldn't accidentally slip off with one single misstep and become food for the wolves. The darkness was filled with sparks flying as the two tributes battled it out, striking each other and their weapons as each one battled for supremacy.
"This isn't personal, is it?" Clove raised an eyebrow. As thirsty as she had been for Rue's blood, she didn't think that the fight against Cato was one that was being done out of hatred, but out of necessity.
It was in that moment that it hit her—and suddenly Rue's logic made sense. Everything that little girl had done had been simply a means to an end, rather than done out of some passionate loathing for the other tributes in the arena. Clove could not honestly say she felt the same way.
"Hardly," Cato replied, "I'd hate to kill you too, but it's a means to an end."
Cato's words clarified and verified Clove's thoughts, and while he did not express it as openly as Clove had, Cato had also realized that Rue was right.
He managed to land quite the slash on Clove's stomach and her right arm, disabling the latter, and causing profuse blood to flow from the former. Clove cried out in pain, recoiling, but curling her toes to keep her grip on the metal. The last thing she wanted was to slip backwards and tumble off.
"Not gonna bother gloating," Cato raised his sword, "this is just business, Clove."
"This is too, Cato," Clove used her left arm to deflect Cato's attacks, but it was tricky, since she was not left-handed, and Cato's strength had only been rivaled by that of Thresh and Peeta. Grunting, Clove pulled out a throwing knife as she tried to play evasively around Cato, using her injured arm to fling it a few moments later.
It caught Cato off-guard, and struck him in the hand, where his sword dropped, clinking against the metal. In a scramble to snatch it before it fell to the dogs, Cato nearly slipped, but was too slow.
In one final act of desperation, he noticed Rue's corpse, with the jagged blades she had been carrying. They were not blunt and rusty like she claimed, and while swords and heavier weapons were Cato's specialty, he could work with knives.
However, he misstepped during his lunge (thanks in part to trying to dodge a knife thrown by Clove) and he slid off the cornucopia, which had not been Clove's intention.
Falling off the cornucopia right now would not have been a problem except that the mutts were down there, and they saw Cato's body as an excuse to feast on his flesh. Clove could not watch her best friend suffer in such a cringeworthy manner.
"NO!" she roared, lunging down and attacking the mutts. She didn't even think that if she died there would be no victor, but Cato was already bleeding badly enough from his injuries that Clove had given him that she knew that he was likely dead. If they did fend off all of the mutts, Clove would then finish him off properly, but there were 2 of them, and 24 of these creatures. Clove was not about to let them tear her best friend apart.
And so, Clove Kazera fought like a one-armed berserker, ignoring that her guts were all but hanging out of her stomach, using her injured arm to try and clutch the wound. With her free arm, she wielded a double-bladed knife with precision and skill, striking and taking down each and every mutt that tried to get a piece of Cato, and she would stay there until they were dead, or until they disappeared—whichever the Capitol decided on. Only after they were dead was there silence.
"Clove…" Cato groaned, knowing that he was at her mercy, "I think… Rue… might have had… the right idea…" he did look a bit mangled—Clove had not been able to stop every attack, but luckily for them both, his face was still recognizable.
"Dammit, Cato…" Clove gritted her teeth, trying to prevent him from seeing the water congregating at her eyes, "damn these games…"
"Make it fast…" Cato moaned, clearly in great pain, "you… won. Honor… glory… District 2…" he was too weak to say much more. The goodbye was short, but it was sweet. Clove was not a happy camper when she put that knife through him to put him out of his misery. Even when the cannon rang out and Cato's face appeared in the sky, Clove did not move. Even when her own face appeared minutes later with the fiery letters spelling "VICTOR", she was still motionless. The announcement of her victory did not even faze her. Clove was alone.
"Goodbye, Cato…" Clove took his sword, putting Cato's lifeless hand around it before straightening his arms and straightening his body, as if to pay respects to her dearly departed friend. This hurt Clove to do—and she never thought of herself as a very emotional girl.
It hurt even more when she heard a thud from behind her. Rue's body had tumbled off the cornucopia, landing in a small heap only a few feet away. Unlike Cato, who looked rather mangled both from the nips the mutts had gotten on him and from the injuries that Clove had inflicted upon him, Rue looked almost serene in death. There was only a little blood on the right side of her head from her ear, and on her chest from where Clove's fatal wound had pierced her, but for some reason, the knife-thrower felt compelled to move Rue's body into a less awkward position from the fall. This was the little girl who had given Clove's life purpose. All these 15 short years she had spent her time trying to become the best; to fight in and become the victor of the Hunger Games. Now that she was here and had completed her goal, she couldn't help but wonder—what was next? Without Cato to size her up, and without Rue to serve as a nemesis… she was at a loss. Could Rue even be called a nemesis at this point? Even after everything she had explained to Clove, Clove still felt like she knew nothing of this mysterious District 11 girl. Now she was dead, and there would be no answers. Cato was dead as well, and the arena, which, for the past 16 days had been haunting and hectic with the noises of birds, wolves, and tributes, was now eerily silent as the night sky and the bright moon shone down upon then.
Clove Kazera was alone, and being alone hurt much more than she would have ever thought.