Rating: Hard T (harm to animals, language, child abuse, kids killing people, and brief implied underage sex)
Characters/Pairings: Clove, Cato, various D2 OCs
Summary: She's not sorry. And neither are they.
Notes: This is a short series of fics in this universe about Cato and Clove's experiences before and during the Games. They fit more or less into canon and do not deviate from where canon leaves them, although I'm also working on another story that uses the same background and will definitely deviate. I want to finish posting this before I succumb to fangirl flailing when the movie comes out, so I'm giving it my best effort!
Clove steps out of her skirt and underwear, pulls her top over her head, and drops it all on the floor of the train car. Cato takes her cue and does the same, and they face each other, naked as the train slows to a stop and the locking mechanisms turn. They’ve been recently waxed to give the prep team less work, but the intricate web of scars on both their bodies, theirs and theirs alone until this moment, this day, will be gone the next time she sees him. She kicks off her shoes as an afterthought. They’ve stripped on command so many times at the Center that the movements are automatic.
“Showtime,” Clove says grimly as the doors open.
They’re swarmed with a dozen hands on their bodies, ushering them naked into the Remaking Center. She looks over her shoulder once at Cato, who’s so much taller than the preps that she can still see him from the shoulders up, and he looks bored and nonchalant as they talk over him and then he’s gone.
And then there’s nothing but her prep team’s hands all over her and their high-pitched voices cooing, “Well, look at this little thing we got this year! So tiny! Oh honey, aren’t you just a precious little doll? Oh – oh no, you don’t suppose she’s not a volunteer?”
They don’t ask her, and Clove knows that you speak when spoken to. Her non-answer is answer enough to anyone who knows the Center.
“No, she just couldn’t be, not a sweet little thing like – ”
“But this awful mark, oh, and this one, on her leg, only they have this sort of – ”
“Yes, and she’s got the bracelet. They always have the bracelet. What a beautiful little thing, those lovely beads look so perfect with her skin – red is a good color for you, dear – ”
She stiffens just slightly when they paw at her arm, at the rope braids on her wrist.
“There now, we’ll get rid of all those ugly scars. Don’t you worry, honey, we’re going to make you so beautiful!”
They press her onto her back on a cold table, and Clove finds a spot on the ceiling and stares at it while they get out their machines.
“I’m a precious dollface. What about you?”
“I’m a flawless gladiator, and I’m pretty sure the one with the blue hair wants to bang me.”
“Flawless? They’ve never seen you throw a knife.”
“I hate this, you know.”
“District Two! Moment for CFX News?”
“I guess I could fit you in,” Clove laughs heartily, confidently. Her handlers pause at her side and let her stop briefly for the line of clamoring cameras. The other Tributes, the meat, are cringing and trying to hide behind their bodyguards, overwhelmed by the flashes and the noise and the knowledge that in three days’ time they’ll have one of Clove’s knives in their throats, but Clove just grins into an expensive-looking lens and asks, “What’s up?”
“The knife throwing we’ve seen you do in the commercials – how did you learn that so quickly?”
Clove smirks. “Oh, I had a bit of practice at home with my cousins before I came here, so I guess it made sense for me to focus on that in training. It turned out that I was really good at it, and I’ve really enjoyed all the practice they’ve allowed us to do here. I got to skewer a lot of dummies which, you know, was really cool.” She lets her eyes flash danger as her lips turn up in a hint of a thirsty smile. “But I’m looking forward to sinking those knives into something else soon.”
“Can you give us any details about your strategy in there?”
“Now, that’d be a spoiler!” Clove laughs her public-laugh with the camerawoman and her cohort and puts her hand on her hip, mindful of the angle because it shows off her shoulder definition. Her face turns serious, which she is more comfortable with. “But I can promise that the Capitol is going to be really pleased. It’s going to be a great show, so you don’t want to miss me.” Then, lowering her voice just a hint so it sounds more like her, she finishes with her game face, “I certainly won’t miss.”
It’s a careful reminder to watch her without begging for viewers, as some of the less knowledgeable Tributes try to do. Clove’s going to give a great show whether the audience watches or not, and they’re the ones who will be sorry if they miss her.
“And what about your partner here – how’d you build this impressive body of yours?” The camerawoman’s eyes roam over Cato’s chest appreciatively.
“Hired hitman,” Cato deadpans without missing a beat, his face utter seriousness. Everyone laughs, except for Clove, leaving the cameras to wonder if it’s true.
“Really, now? So you’re saying you have experience with live targets?” The camerawoman stumbles just noticeably over the phrase. A little discomfort leaks into her body language, but because Cato and Clove have more experience with “live targets” than she could ever imagine, it phases neither of them.
“I dabble,” Cato says gruffly as he crosses his arms over his chest. His biceps bulge against the hems of his sleeves.
“Anything you’d like to say to the viewers at home tonight?”
Cato shrugs. “Sorry for the nightmares I’m going to give you next week.”
Clove raises an eyebrow and interjects, “Don’t kid yourself. He’s not sorry.”
The camerawoman tosses her navy blue curls and grins. “I’ll tell you, with all the beautiful Tributes this year, I’m going to be sorry to see them go! I swear I say this every year, but we’ve got such a great group this time. All of you look so pretty. Well, good luck to you, District Two! And thanks for the chat!” The camerawoman’s still eyeing up Cato and making it quite obvious which one of them she most enjoyed ‘chatting’ with. Cato glares and says nothing.
“You too!” Clove says with a smile that’s a touch less menacing, but she brings it home with an easy, “I’ll see you at the closing ceremony!”
When they finally make it inside the Training Center and the soundproof doors silence the paparazzi’s roar out in the street, Cato nudges her in the hip and mutters, “Cousins? Seriously?”
Clove grins innocently up at him. “I thought it was a lovely touch. Hitman? Seriously?”
“Not sorry at all. I hit a lot of men. Nothing dishonest about that.”
Clove’s laugh is real this time.
Her eyes catch a shot of the line of them parading into the Training Center on one of the massive televisions in the lobby – they’re near the front, so some of the other meat is still entering the building. Six Boy’s eyes are full of tears that only seem highlighted on the screen’s live feed. Seven Boy’s got his hands over his face as the camera crews light him up in flashes. Eight Girl’s lip is dribbling blood from where she’s chewing it. Nine Girl’s contemplating making a break for it into the sea of cameras, and her bodyguard’s got a hand as big as Cato’s clamped down on her shoulder.
Clove’s gaze shifts to Cato’s massive presence at her side. His eyes confirm what she already knows.
“I’ll tell you, with all the beautiful Tributes this year, I’m going to be sorry to see them go!”
She’s not sorry. And neither are they.
She doesn’t remember what she says on the stage. She remembers watching Cato nail his interview and thinking that she should be watching this in the Center lounge, not from backstage stuffed into a silver gown and shaking loose a spray of glitter every time she moves her hair. She remembers watching four years’ worth of interviews using him as a pillow and always having an answer when their trainers asked why the kids on the screen did something.
Boy Twelve announces that he loves Girl Twelve. And it makes sense, doesn’t it, just one more thing that’s gone wrong and one more thing that’s ruined. Clove thinks she’ll save a special kill for them. She looks out at the gasping, colorful audience. She’s not sorry.
Clove lets herself in Cato’s private room knowing that the cameras will be watching. She’s not sure if there are cameras inside but decides that if there are, all the better. Cato’s stretched out on an ornate bed that, even in its Capitol splendor, seems a little too small for him. He’s not asleep. Cato never sleeps like that. He looks like a big puppy when he sleeps.
Clove makes her way to the bed in the perfectly-fitted clothes they’ve been assigned for sleeping with the black embroidered ‘2’ on the shoulder, labeled just like all their clothing here. She hasn’t bothered to remove any of her interview makeup and her hair is still half-styled in the intricate up-do her stylist put it in. Shiny curls, sprayed with enough glitter to make the entire Center sparkle obnoxiously back home, dangle disturbingly in her face.
She’s had her hair prodded by stylists, always roughly, since she was thirteen years old, but they almost always opt for a simpler, athletic look. Clove is small and light compared to the usual girls representing Two, and her Games stylist wants to play that up. Of course, the disconnect between her size and that nasty look in her eyes, while valuable to her stylist, is lost on her prep team. Clove makes a disgusted face at the memory of her preps comparing her to every other Two girl they’ve styled (“Look at those little cheeks! Such a darling!”) and removes a few more pins from her hair before poking Cato in his massive shoulder.
“Wake up,” she whispers. “We’ve got a problem.”
“Fuck you, ‘m tryin’ t’ sleep,” Cato grumbles, but he opens his eyes into tiny slits and he’s smiling, and this is affection that they both understand. Still, she hesitates when Cato rolls over and pats the now-empty side of the bed.
Clove dangles a tendril of sparkly hair in front of her nose. “You don’t want glitter all over you.”
“Oh, I do.” And it was never about the glitter, and they both know it.
“We said we were strangers now,” Clove says doubtfully. She recalls a long night of strategy talk on a weight bench a lifetime ago and shivers.
“We said we were strangers in there,” Cato counters. “Until then, they don’t get to say what we are. And anyway.” He tilts his head back and looks at her upside-down and says, low and salacious, “They’d love to gossip about you getting into bed with a stranger.”
Against her will, Clove laughs, and it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that he can make her laugh in this place, with these people. It isn’t fair that he’s here with her when he wasn’t ever supposed to be. It isn’t fair that one of them will be dead soon.
So she drives a stray hairpin into Cato’s palm until it bends and says “serves you right” when he yelps. Cato’s babbling something about having her punished for attacking another Tribute before the Games begin when Clove crawls into bed with him like she used to at the Center. They curl together a little too desperately, but if it weren’t for that and the strange bed they’re sharing, they could almost pretend that this is all just another day of picking at each other back in training. For several long, wonderful minutes, Clove forgets about their problem.
“So is there a real problem, or were you just hoping to round up some sponsors by fueling rumors that we’re fucking?”
Clove stiffens. “There’s a real problem, and thanks for the reminder, asshole. You should have picked up on it already.”
“Mmm, I did, actually,” Cato says. “This about Loverboy from Twelve and his little confession?”
“Yes. That,” Clove says. “We could all be in trouble.”
“I’m not worried. They’ll be dead in the bloodbath.”
“Well, I think you should be. The audience loses their shit over love stories.” She emphasizes the last two words in high-pitched irony. “And if he’s faking it, he’s very good. I would have bought it if I weren’t looking for lies.”
Cato snorts in her ear. “He’s not faking it. They’re not smart enough for that in Twelve.”
“He could be. And if he is, he could be faking a lot of other things.”
“Midget, I know what a lovestruck boy looks like, and Twelve is a lovestruck boy.”
Clove rolls her eyes. “Even if he is, they’ve got sponsors coming out of their nose right now. That can mean a lot for us. We need to think of something.”
“We don’t need to think of anything because he’s going to trip over his own face in the bloodbath and get himself killed before we even know he’s dead.” Cato’s words are a little sluggish now, and his big arm pins Clove to his side. Clove can feel his heavy breathing on her temple.
Clove jostles his shoulder. “No, asshole, we need to be prepared. I say we take him in if he gets out of the bloodbath alive. He’s got their attention, and we need to use that. Caesar’s already framed the story – we can’t fight that, we’ve got to work with it. We can watch him this way, make sure he’s not scheming for sympathy. And when he gets out of line or stops being useful, I put a knife in his heart. We’ll do it real special, so we can use his popularity.”
“You’re so paranoid,” Cato laughs around a yawn. “We could take him down unprepared any day. But okay. Fine. If it will make you feel better, we’ll babysit Loverboy. What about the object of his affection?”
Now it’s Clove’s turn to laugh. “She’s a piece of fluff. Not even worth chasing. The boy is the real problem. People only like her because of him. Let her kill herself by eating poison or something.”
“She did get an eleven,” Cato says, a bit of the sleepiness gone from his voice and replaced by dark jealousy.
“It’s a joke. What could she possibly have done, twirl for them? You’re just mad because I got a ten and you got a nine.” Clove knows that Cato isn’t mad, but he pinches her anyway. “But if it’ll make you feel better, we’ll watch out for her, too. If we come across her after the bloodbath, we kill her, and we don’t give Loverboy the opportunity to make himself a martyr. I like the idea of letting him bleed out in a ditch somewhere.” She bats her eyelashes and mimics their preps when she adds, “Don’t you think it’s romantic?”
“Agreed on the girl. You’re a sicko on the rest,” Cato says, and he nuzzles her cheek. “This is why I like you.”
Clove smiles and rests her palm on his enormous chest.
After enough time has passed that Clove’s starting to wonder if he’s asleep, Cato whispers, low and solemn, “I’m going to miss you.”
He doesn’t have to say why. They both know. They won’t be doing this after tonight, and when their lives go back to normal, one of them will be dead. And no matter who it is, they won’t be together anymore.
“Me too,” Clove says, eyes on the ceiling. She cannot say this to Cato. It hurts too much. But she can say it to the darkness, where secrets live and where she’s more than Female Tribute from District Two who is very good with a knife. The truth is, she hates Twelve more than she hates any of the others for cheapening with romance the words that have been playing over and over inside her head since the Reaping. The truth is, she isn't afraid of the Games, but she is afraid of a lifetime alone with no one who understands, and she doesn't want the Victor's Village as much as she wants to keep stabbing Cato with hairpins. The truth is that every second she doesn’t fall asleep is one more second they can keep each other.
The truth is, she doesn’t think she knows how to live in a world without him.
They shift closer together and hold each other until dawn.
Three, two, one --
She anticipates the start just as they’ve drilled her a thousand times and is off for the Cornucopia before anyone else has left their platform. It’s the most important sprint of her life. No one’s faster. Her blood rushes like liquid fire. She’s done this thousands of times. This is the only time that matters, and this thought beats heavily in her veins and then her hands are on the knives and that’s all she needs. This is the plan. This is how it’s supposed to go. Get knives, pick off as much meat as she can. Divide and organize the supplies later. One and Four are off-limits until the alliance breaks. Now is about the meat. Now is about narrowing the field.
One Girl is right behind her at the Cornucopia. Cato’s not, and out of the corner of her eye Clove sees him knock a small boy to the ground with a fist to the ear and keep running toward her. His eyes are intense and focused, but she can’t figure out what he’s looking at. She shifts her weight slightly but quickly turns away. That doesn’t matter. That’s not what she’s here to do.
“Remember what you’re here to do,” her mentor says to her as he drags her face close just before they go to Launch.
She fills her hands with knives and tears into the chaos before her, murder in her eyes.