Rating: M (this chapter: strong violence, language, child abuse, kids killing kids)
Characters/Pairings: Clove, Cato, Marvel, other Tributes
Summary: Maybe they were only half-sane. But there are two sides to every story.
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!
Marvel tracks their kills, arrogantly and with that stiff, proper District One Asshole protocol. He’s the smart one, he loves to remind them. Oh, he doesn’t talk about his stupid perfect history scores, but Clove’s seen the way he looks at the rest of them. Inferior. Simple-minded. Weak.
That’s fine. He can have that happy thought to take with him when the hovercraft scoops up his body.
“Kita’s got one. I’ve got two. Glimmer’s got one. Cato’s got three. Clove’s got three – ”
A low whimper stops Marvel’s ticking off of their score, and they all swing around to see movement from behind the Cornucopia. It’s the girl from Three, holding onto the Cornucopia’s rim with dark red fingers and a glazed look in her eyes, her skinny, skinny little shoulders heaving unevenly. A thick gash that looks like it came from a spear pours blood down her arm, trickling over her wrists and hands and onto the grass below her. Her jacket’s torn and the ribs in her chest are visible. She turns mad eyes on Clove, sways once and vomits into the dirt.
Clove stalks up to Three, drawing a knife from her belt loop as she walks and twirling it absently in her fingers. Three’s bloody fingers clench onto the Cornucopia and she makes a gurgling noise in the back of her throat, and she takes a single step away from Clove that looks like she’s trying to swing her leg through molasses. By which point, Clove has reached her. She looks over Three’s shoulder into what she suspects is a camera before grabbing Three by the ponytail and efficiently slitting her throat.
“Clove’s got four,” she calls back casually to Marvel. She lets Three’s soaking wet body fall to the ground and steps over it to rejoin the others. A new spray of fresh blood warms her cheek. “I think that’s everything, then.”
“Four to three,” she says to Cato as they begin the process of gathering the supplies.
Cato meets her eyes evenly. “That one was a freebie.”
“Four to three,” she repeats.
“Fine. No more freebies for you,” he says as he lifts three packs over his shoulder like so many feathers.
Clove wipes her bloody hands on one of his packs on her way to a promising-looking bag of medicine near the horn.
“I can help you! You’ll never survive without me!”
Marvel sneers. Glimmer rolls her eyes and takes up her mace, and Glimmer loves close combat and this will be messy.
Three Boy shrinks into himself like water down a drain and gestures wildly at the platform behind him. “That’s your most valuable weapon. I reactivated the flux compression generator!”
Glimmer relaxes her hold on the mace. Cato stares at Three blankly.
“It’ll explode again,” Three explains, slowly, his voice shaking.
“Neat,” Cato says as he grabs Three by the jacket.
“Wait! I’ll show you!” Three cries. He tosses the battery in his hand at the nearest platform, and then there’s a blast to drown out Cato and Marvel’s most vicious curses.
They shift their gaze between Three and the gaping hole of scorched earth before them, and then Cato slowly lowers him to the ground.
“Do the rest,” Marvel says shortly.
Three takes a little gasping breath. “You —you won’t hurt me, right? You’ll save me? I’ll make things for you, anything you want.”
“Sure,” Glimmer lies.
“Four to four.”
“Doesn’t count if Loverboy had to finish the job for you.”
“She would have died. We never said we were making it a fast kill. Be more fucking specific if you don’t like how I do it.”
Clove grins at him. “Here’s specific for you: break the next one’s neck.”
“Will do. Can it be Loverboy?”
“No. We need him to find Twelve. You can kill Marvel if you want. He’s annoying me.”
“He’s on the list,” Cato says, clenching a fist.
“They’re all on the list.”
They look at each other and neither of them finishes the thought out loud. They’re all on the list. Including each other.
Cato turns away from her then and yells something about how he thinks there’s a piece of meat hiding in the tree.
They find Ten under a pile of dead leaves behind a rock. His skin is tinged blue and he’s not so much trembling as convulsing. The cracked lips and mad look of dehydration in his eyes is unmistakable. Clove and Cato both know what that looks like. He’s been crying but his eyes are too dry.
Ten looks up at the three of them surrounding him in a half circle, Cato a massive wall, Marvel with his spear at the ready, Clove lurking in Cato’s thick shadow.
“Hi,” Ten says, his eyes insane. He barks out a laugh that isn’t funny.
“I’ve got this one.” Clove pulls one of her knives.
“No you don’t,” Marvel says. He moves to shove her but Clove dodges his hands and meets his eyes with a smirk. Marvel looks like an angry dog with his teeth bared at her like that. He knows. He’s the last of their pack, and Cato and Clove are allies. He’s dead on his feet. Marvel’s grip tightens on his spear, but he doesn’t point it at Ten, not yet.
Clove stares him down, and she’s not upset like Cato clearly is next to her. Try it, her face invites.
Marvel doesn’t try it. He spins and sinks the spear into Ten’s heart.
Ten’s twitching and vomiting blood when Marvel grates out, “Let’s get a move on. We’ve gotta find Twelve and her fairy princess friend.”
And why, why the fuck is Clove wishing that he’d tried it. That the spear was for her. That she doesn’t have to keep hunting because every kill is one closer to the only one that matters.
That someone else would make this choice for her.
She shivers, and it’s not from the chill of morning.
She digs her boots into the freezing sand and watches the lake for any movement. Cato’s watching the sky. Waiting for the picture of whoever destroyed their supplies, whoever is going to be his outlet for all the barely held in rage that Clove knows is boiling in his veins. Clove doesn’t talk to him. She doesn’t ask him if that was real, back at the camp, even though it was good enough to fool even her if it was indeed an act and all she really has as evidence is break the next one’s neck. She doesn’t ask because Marvel doesn’t need another reminder that they’re allies and another push to turn on them before they’re ready to dispose of him. Because Clove understands Cato’s rage and where it comes from and how to quiet it, and she knows him well enough to know that it doesn’t matter what caused it. Because she’s furious, too, in her own quiet, cold way.
Because every word they say to each other twists inside of her in a place she wants to keep hidden from the cameras, from the Capitol, from the world.
But because Cato is not like her and he needs to bring all the horrible things inside of him into the open and name them with actions and violence and fists, a rock as big as a coffee mug whirls past Clove’s face into the lake. She doesn’t need to hear the growl of anger or see its impressive trajectory running nearly halfway across the lake to know who threw it. It goes by a good three feet from her ear because Cato’s aim isn’t as good as hers and he wouldn’t chance that. Clove’s prepared for it and doesn’t flinch.
What she is not prepared for is Cato crashing up beside her in the wet sand and muttering darkly, “Four to five. Step it up, midget.”
“Stop it,” Clove whispers. That awful place inside her twists again.
Cato shrugs. “Four to five. You kill Marvel, we’re tied again.”
They both know what that really means. Kill Marvel and it is just the two of them against what’s left. Kill Marvel and there’s only Eleven and Twelve to really contend with. Kill Marvel and the list becomes very, very short. Kill Marvel and they must face what’s been staring them down ever since Clove put a knife in the trainer who informed her they were going in together.
“I’m not killing Marvel.”
Cato nods, short and stiff. “Neither am I.”
The sky tells them that their little intruder friend is still alive, and Marvel hoists up his spear and declares, “Well, time to hunt.”
He’s twitchy. Clove can see that even with her night vision goggles reducing the world to the lowest common denominator. He glares impatiently at them and gets out an impatient “let’s go” when they don’t move fast enough. His face is menacing and angular underneath his torch light, and he’s got his entire share of the supplies stuffed into the pack on his shoulder. Looking around the camp, there’s no evidence that he existed here.
They follow wordlessly, but after a few minutes of walking in silence, Marvel arranges himself so they’re walking in front of him, and all three of them know why. Clove doesn’t much care. She angles her steps so she’s walking just a little bit closer to Cato, letting Marvel get a full view of their silent communication and the practiced way they hunt together. He could throw the spear, but they’d probably dodge, and even if they didn’t, he can only hit one – and then whoever he doesn’t hit will treat the camera to a great show of his gloriously bloody death. He’s helpless. With every step, she feels his rage and desperation and fear behind her, and somewhere between break the next one’s neck and this last hunt as a trio, Marvel becomes the crazy one, not Cato.
It happens in the dead of night. The icy breeze tickles the ends of Clove’s hair, and Cato looks over at her once before announcing, “We’re done for the night. I’m hungry and Clove’s cold.”
Marvel takes another step ahead of him, as if he can force Cato to continue by keeping on himself. When that doesn’t work, he says, “We’ll never catch them if we let them have the rest of the night.”
“Don’t care.” Cato stares him down. Marvel’s got an inch or two of height on him, but Cato’s easily got fifty extra pounds of solid muscle. “I already got my kill for today. Clove’s cold.”
“Since when does that matter?” A dark shadow passes over Marvel’s eyes. “If the runt can’t hack it, leave her here.”
Wrong answer. Clove can feel the energy next to her of Cato on high alert. She’s not sure what Marvel was thinking. Probably he wasn’t. He knows at this point. And he’s the crazy one.
And Cato takes a heavy step closer to Marvel and glares into the dead center of his eyes, and Clove’s sure the cameras are watching when he growls, “You want her to hack your neck open?”
For a moment that seems to drag on much longer than it probably is, they don’t say anything, just stand in silent challenge, sizing each other up, preparing for a possible fight. Clove seriously doubts there will be one, but her throwing hand finds one of her better short distance knives anyway.
Marvel’s eyes dart to the side once, and then he shrugs. “You two stop if you want. I’m going to catch the thief. Be back in the morning.”
His first few steps away from the two of them are backwards, his eyes on them the whole time. When he reaches the next thick section of brush, he turns fluidly and melts away into the night. Only his torch is visible after a few yards, bobbing up and down against a background of pitch black.
They watch him go until they can hardly see the torch. Cato turns to her and says neutrally, “He won’t be back.”
“I know,” Clove says. “You want to kill him?”
She knows him well enough to know that’s not all. “You gonna do it anyway?”
And they could, no trouble. Clove could catch him, even with this head start, and she could easily hold him off long enough for Cato to get there. He could never take the two of them. He’s always known that. That’s why he won’t be back. And if he’s seen it, the audience has seen it, too.
“C’mon,” Cato says. “I’m hungry.”
They’re eating rabbit when the sky tells them that Marvel’s dead and so is little Eleven, the one Marvel called a fairy princess. Clove hopes Eleven got a good hit in with that slingshot, at least.
She’s counting up the list in her head when the sky announces that Cato isn’t on it anymore.
Against all those horrible things they’ve endured, the false hope that they will both come out is the thing that would break her, the thing that’s too much to bear. She risks a glance at Cato to see if it’s real, if he heard it, too.
Cato doesn’t so much answer as grab her like a lifeline. It hurts, but Clove doesn’t care. He pulls her into his massive arms and cradles her against his chest. Their meager stash of supplies lies on the ground between them, forgotten. Clove knows in the back of her mind that all of Panem will be watching this on their stupid little televisions in their stupid little houses, giggling about them and concocting every rumor they can think of, but she decides that that makes it better. Let them think there’s something going on. Maybe they’ll finally get some airtime and aid like the fucking lovebirds from Twelve. She sinks into Cato’s embrace without worrying about what it looks like. He’s solid and warm and not at all like the madman he’s been ever since he volunteered at the Reaping.
“Welcome back,” Cato whispers.
“I missed you,” Clove says. Her words are muffled by the crook of his arm.
This is not the madman the cameras have followed so greedily. This is her Cato who is dangerous and gets very, very angry but never loses track of his goals or blinds himself with rage. Who’d kill anyone who stands in his way but never Clove, never his favorite, and is in control of the two of them even when she isn’t. Maybe she’s gone crazy, too. Who knows what she’s become in his eyes.
Cato pets her hair. “You too, midget. But we’re on the same team again. We’re getting out of this.”
“I know,” Clove says, and she can do this now. She can be herself again. They can be the people that only each other sees, even though this time they’re doing it for a televised audience. That’s okay. The peanut gallery doesn’t have to understand. She can give them their little show. Pretty words and a pretty smile aren’t Clove’s strong points, but she is a mean little girl. She thinks that she could do some damage to Twelve’s pretty little face.
“We’ve gotta get them on our side. They only care about the lovebirds,” Clove says with her face in Cato’s armpit so the cameras can’t see her lips. Then, turning slightly, she adds for the audience’s benefit, “I get the Twelve girl.”
Cato laughs. “Why should I let you have her?” It’s his fake laugh. His camera laugh. It is not his insane laugh that he’s used since the Games began.
Clove turns her head a bit more and stares into an imaginary camera lens because she knows it can’t possibly be imaginary. She flashes a crazed smile and conjures every bit of malice from the day she landed a knife in her trainer’s arm and lets the Capitol see deep inside the monster within her.
“Because I’ll make it look good.”
And that is how they will both survive.
“Sun’ll be up in a few hours. You should get some sleep.”
“You mean one of us should,” Clove says. They mostly hunt at night because they’ve been taught for years that that’s the most effective way to catch scared meat, but the meat is dwindling and early morning is for sleeping.
“I mean you should sleep,” Cato says as he stretches out the sleeping bag. “You haven’t since yesterday, and you’re cold as shit. Which reminds me – ” He climbs inside the bag and turns down the corner invitingly. “I think in light of recent developments we need to cancel the separate sleeping arrangement rule.”
Clove stares down at him doubtfully. “We said – ”
“Yeah, and it doesn’t matter anymore. C’mere, midget.”
Clove glances around the lake, wondering where the cameras are and imagining the audience’s noses glued to their screens, holding their breaths and wondering if they’ve gotten yet another pair of lovebirds. Then she reminds herself firmly that this is exactly what she wants the audience to think and, much though she doesn’t want them to have this part of her, it’s fucking cold, so she crawls into the sleeping bag with Cato. Then she doesn’t care who’s watching and what they think anymore because Cato’s so warm.
“I’ll take the first watch,” Cato murmurs as he wraps his massive arms around her. “Fuck, you’re cold.”
“You’re a genius,” she deadpans, face pressed against his neck.
“S’cuse me for caring about getting my partner home unfrozen,” Cato says. He rubs her back and nudges her a little closer, and Clove imagines that he’s got to be getting colder as she gets warmer but can’t bring herself to protest. One of Cato’s hands leaves her back for a moment as he fumbles outside the sleeping bag for their pack. “But I’m gonna steal a granola bar from you in return. You’re freezing; I’m starving.”
“Knock yourself out,” Clove says, and now the only part of her that really feels frozen solid is her hair. She glances briefly up at the stars – are they real or an illusion of the Gamemakers’? – and then ducks her head under the thick fabric, head between Cato’s chest and neck. “We’re going home, you know. We’re getting out of this.”
“Mmm, say that again,” Cato says. His voice is exhausted and aches for reassurance.
“We’re getting out of this,” Clove repeats, too quiet, she thinks, for the cameras to hear.
They get two more days like this, and they’re so used to the hell of the Arena that the change is a kind of bliss they’ve forgotten how to feel. The last time she was in an Arena was for her Field Exam at the Center, and she was fifteen and under her trainers’ microscopes and so very, very alone. And then the loneliness in the real Arena was worse, with Cato right next to her and a million miles away. And now he isn’t. Now, it’s just like the old times and things are almost easy. They work together and use each other’s strengths in ways they weren’t comfortable with before -- before, it was too close, it hurt too much, but that’s not going to happen now.
They count up who’s left to kill, and the list is so short and they’re so close and the sun is so warm at the lake. They start teasing each other again, and every hour they’re together seems to return Cato’s grip on reality. Every time he smiles at her, Clove feels a little less like what she is and where they are. They don’t have to say out loud that this could be another important key to their survival, so they play it up. There’s no one to kill that afternoon, so Clove splashes him with lake water and he whirls around and dunks her and at some point it stops being for the camera and she can’t stop laughing. It’s not her sadistic laugh. It’s the honest and pure and joyful one that the audience has never heard before, and she calls him horrible things when he picks her up like a bag of potatoes and hauls both of them back to the beach, but probably her threats aren’t so threatening punctuated by laughter. He drops her on the beach and sinks down next to her and they hold each other with all the fierceness they’ve kept back since the clock counted down from sixty two weeks ago on the platforms. Cato talks about how they’d better start thinking of talents, and she tells him to shut his trap and he holds her tighter.
Later, as the shadows cast by the trees begin to lengthen, Cato brushes wet sand from her cheek and smiles and says, “You’re perfect.”
Clove puts her head on his shoulder, and they both know they never could have done it, if it had come to the two of them. She kicks him gently in the shin and is thankful for the Gamemakers, for the Capitol, for the boy who is coming home with her.
This is the last time in her life she can remember being happy.
She’s half asleep and thinks she remembers Cato kissing the top of her head and whispering, “I couldn’t’ve lived without you anyway.”