Rating: M (violence, language, child abuse, character deaths, disturbing themes, sexual content, implied forced prostitution in later chapters)
Characters/Pairings: mainly soulmates!Cato/Clove, brief non-con Cato/Finnick, Annie/Finnick, past Katniss/Peeta
Summary: Clove and Cato survive the Arena and become the first dual victors in the history of the Hunger Games. President Snow is keen on using them as anti-Mockingjays for the Capitol, but what happens when rebellion inevitably hits Panem anyway? This is the story of how two trained Careers go along with the Capitol’s plans… and how they don’t.
Notes: This is an AU of Until Your Last Heartbeat. I’m branching off at Chapter Four. For the purposes of this story, Chapter Five never happened. Reading it isn’t necessary to understand this story, but it will definitely provide some background if you’re interested, and I’m using the same character histories as depicted there. I’ve seen requests at the awesome fic meme for victors!CatoandClove, Cato and Clove as symbols of the rebellion, and a semi-happy ending. I think this fic fulfills all three requests, but I’ll let you be the judge. Also, a very special thanks to lorata for her help with this chapter.
Chapter One: Happily Ever After
Why don’t you be the artist and make me out of clay
Why don’t you be the writer and decide the words I say
-- Ellie Goulding
“I’m gonna make you look so pretty.”
Twelve’s eyes flash with hatred as her elbow springs up for Clove’s face. Clove efficiently blocks it and angles her knee to pin Twelve more securely to the dirt.
“What’s the matter? You don’t want to be pretty? You should. Can’t go on your little trip in the hovercraft looking like that, now can you? You look like dog shit, and you smell like it, too. But you’re going to be gorgeous when I’m done with you,” Clove purrs. She runs the blade of her knife down Twelve’s hairline. “I bet you bleed real pretty. Let’s find out, huh?”
They lock eyes, and for a moment the only sound is both of their labored breathing as Twelve struggles against her. Then Clove presses the knife just a little further against Twelve’s skin, right at the place where forehead meets dark, disgustingly matted hair, just enough so a little drop of amber shivers at the tip of the blade.
Twelve’s only response is the wrinkles in her forehead and the tightness in her jaw and lips.
Clove catches the droplet with the knife and drags it lazily down Twelve’s forehead, around her eye and across her cheek, like a painting. She does not press hard enough to break skin again. Not yet. She’s waiting for that response, that fear and brokenness. It doesn’t come. There’s something else there instead, something hard and unyielding that Clove can’t identify. She wants to find out what it is.
“See?” She pulls the knife away and shows it to Twelve, blade first, inches from her eye. “You’re not pretty yet, but we’re getting there.”
Twelve pushes against the dirt below her. Her eyes are wide and desperate as she tries to escape. Prey, prey, prey.
“Forget it, District Twelve. We’re going to kill you. Just like we killed –”
Then Twelve makes a noise between a cough and a sob and a laugh that cuts her off.
She breaks Clove’s gaze to stare at the sky and seems to have a heated argument with herself before she barks out a harsh, “You can’t win.”
Clove smirks. “Sorry, but I can.”
“You can’t.” Twelve still isn’t afraid yet. Her gaze is as fiery as her stupid nickname.
“And why’s that?” Clove moves her knife from Twelve’s eyes to her throat, but she’s honestly curious now. This is definitely good TV, better than the speech she’d started, and if Twelve has any secret strategies up her mud-caked sleeve, Clove might as well learn them before she kills her.
“None of us can.” There’s pain in Twelve’s eyes, but mostly there’s fury.
“Are you really that stupid? Two of us can,” Clove corrects her. “And it’s going to be me and Cato.”
“You’re the one who’s stupid,” Twelve says, and she doesn’t flinch when the blade is pushed closer. “Do you really not see it?”
Clove senses are on high alert now. Twelve knows something. Something she should have seen herself.
Twelve looks at her with those fire-eyes and says accusingly, triumphantly, “They don’t love you. They never did.”
And there in the dirt, Twelve outsmarts all of them. Because she’s right. Dozens of pieces fit together suddenly in Clove’s head, from the love declaration at the interview to the fearless, defiant girl lying there helpless but brave till the end. Twelve is the hero of this story. She’s the knight in shining armor held captive by the evil dragon. Killing her will not change that. And after learning to love their hero with such intensity, nobody wants to see the villain triumph in the end. Clove imagines hundreds and thousands of viewers glued to their screens, breaths held in prayer – for Twelve to make it. For Twelve to defeat this evil thing and live happily ever after.
Nobody wants her to win. Clove can see beers thrown at television screens and a sea of angry audience members unhappy to see her, the evil villain who ruined their fairytale love story and was never supposed to win.
She was wrong. She was wrong all along. And unless she does something, fast, Twelve is going to go to her grave the real victor, and Clove is going to face a nation who hates her.
There’s only one way for her to win: become the hero.
“So, Twelve. Want me to take care of your boyfriend for you?”
She’s never seen Twelve truly shocked before, she realizes. Because Twelve’s reaction to the words is akin to Clove’s telling her that she’d decided not to kill her after all. Whatever she’d expected to hear, this isn’t it.
“I know your pack had meds for him. I know he doesn’t have long. If you tell me where he is, I’ll make it fast.”
Sudden realization hits Twelve’s face, and then that disturbing fire is gone from her eyes. Her gaze turns inward, and she’s considering it. Weighing the options. Trying to figure out if Clove’s serious. Willing to take a good deal when she hears one if she is. A cold-blooded snake to her core. Clove can use that later.
“You’ll torture him, too, you mean,” Twelve finally snarls.
Clove rolls her eyes. “Sure, torture the poor little crippled boy. That’s great fun. There’s nothing in it for me to kill him other than getting out of here sooner. He can die on his own, very slowly, or I can kill him fast. Your call.”
“Since when did you start doing favors?” Twelve spits in her face.
It hits Clove’s cheek – mature – but she does not react. “Since when did you become the heartless one?” That’s good. The audience will catch that, she thinks. “So that’s a no, then?”
One more final hesitation, and then Twelve says, “That’s a hell no.”
“Suit yourself,” Clove says.
Then she cuts Twelve’s throat.
The blood seeping from Twelve’s neck is watering the grass below her when Clove hears the familiar clash of sword against metal and knows she has other problems. Cato’s at the other side of the Cornucopia clearing, locked in combat with Eleven Boy in what is no doubt supposed to be the climax of the story. Only it isn’t. Clove glances back at Twelve’s unseeing gray eyes and the neat, wide gash in her neck. She and Loverboy were the climax of the story, weren’t they, the rule change was for them and now that’s not going to happen.
And now if she and Cato don’t prove that they deserve to be the new happily ever after, the rule change will go away.
With a growl that’s as much protective outrage as she can manage, Clove sprints across the open field.
Eleven’s got a sickle that he seems to know how to use. Both their clothes are torn, and Cato’s bleeding from a gash in his side that matches the one down Eleven’s elbow. Eleven’s face is hard and focused, but there’s something else there, too, something that neither of them have: fear, painful and human and alive with honesty just like dead, dead Twelve and her defiance.
And this won’t work. This won’t work at all.
Eleven takes a mad swing at Cato’s neck. Without breaking her stride, Clove lodges a knife in his hand, straight in the middle of the webbing between thumb and index finger. Before he can react, she’s reached him and she takes him down at a running tackle. It works because she’s the last thing he expected to see just now and he has a knife stuck in the back of his hand. But Eleven also has a hundred pounds on her, and it won’t work for long.
Clove knows she’s outclassed here as intimately as she knows the blades at her waist and in her jacket. She fights anyway, teeth and claws and sharp elbows as they roll first with her leftover momentum and then with their own desperate energy. And she screams every horrible, foul thing from a decade of calling the Center home, screams like a thousand threatened animals, screams You’re not going to fucking have him I’ll fucking flay you alive he’s mine he’s mine you stupid cunt we’re getting out not you not you he’s mine.
Eleven’s face is screwed up in horror, and then Clove can’t see his face anymore as a dark hand closes over her mouth and nose and eyes. Amateur, she thinks as she bites down hard and her mouth fills with salty blood. Eleven jerks away. She goes for a knife, but he stops her with both her wrists in one of his huge hands, so warm and heavy and so like Cato’s. She knees him in the stomach and screams until her voice breaks and then keeps screaming, and then Eleven’s other hand snakes around her neck. His brown eyes are unseeing, no, seeing something else, looking deep into everything that’s wrong about the world all condensed into the monster-girl she is, and how’s it look from up there she thinks without knowing why.
Then his face flashes determination and she’s shrieking, “Cato! Cato!” with everything left in her.
He comes, of course he does with those hands that haul Eleven off her and then she can breathe, then she’s the one looking on as Cato and Eleven fight, without weapons, without mercy. It’s an even match now, just two sets of equally-impressive fists, and this fight could go on all morning. All day. All night.
At the first moment where it looks like Eleven has the upper hand, Clove sinks a knife deep into his spine. He’s dead before Cato can meet her eyes.
With a strangled cry pulled straight out of her Field Exam, she flings herself at Cato. He staggers back a step or two before he gets it and his sword falls to the grass and he picks her up. It’s not so much acting as the moment they stop acting. The moment this becomes all too real. But they are going home and Clove can’t bring herself to care. She stares at her fingers, coal-black nails digging into Cato’s sweaty jacket, and the desperate way they tremble isn’t for the camera.
She takes a ragged, gulping breath. “So cold,” is the first thing she whispers, lips against his neck.
Cato understands now and pulls her closer. “I’ve got you. We’re alive,” he says in her ear, and she can recognize the angle of his face for the cameras but that doesn’t matter because they both know it’s real. And it’s better for the cameras if it’s real, isn’t it, so she surrenders to what’s real and what she wants in this moment, at the end of the world with Eleven lying dead before them.
They stay like that for a long, glorious moment where it’s only thundering heartbeats and shivers, and slowly Clove comes back to herself. Slowly she allows herself to remember the job they have to do.
She makes sure the audience gets it as she says, clear and afraid, “I thought he’d take you.”
Cato rubs her back. “That’s not going to happen, midget. We’re alive. We’re so close. We’re almost done.” His voice isn’t quite the steady precision of his acting lessons yet, and Clove knows it’s taking him longer to come down.
“Stay with me,” she pleads, looking into his eyes from an angle that will make a great close-up shot.
He finally comes back then with a slight quirk of his lips, and they grin at each other in silent acknowledgement that Clove would never be the one begging him to stay.
“Always,” he says. He kisses her hair and then they’re all business again, and Clove really hopes this was enough of a start.
They clear out so the hovercraft can remove Eleven’s body. Clove suggests looking for Loverboy and Five, but Cato dismisses it out of hand, makes some remark about how she’s cold as shit and looks like hell. Clove knows his plan is the better strategy – no matter how much she wants out of this place – when they make it back to the camp and Cato wraps her in every makeshift shelter they possess just as the Gamemakers turn on the rain. They curl together under the tarp Cato hung over two branches near the lake, and Clove knows this is what she wanted, anyway.
“We’re so close. We’re almost done. Just a little longer,” Cato whispers to her from underneath the sleeping bag, away from the cameras, in that voice that’s only for her. And they’re both in the habit of saying things to each other to convince themselves, aren’t they?
Clove puts her ear against the beautiful sound of his still-beating heart.
Loverboy’s canon fires in the dead of night. She tells Cato how she offered Twelve a quick end to his misery, and how their precious Girl on Fire refused. To remind the audience. It sounds uncomfortably like a plea. Like a bargain.
Cato pets her hair.
That morning, Five slithers through the brush and is only a few spear lengths from their campsite when they register her presence. Cato tenses next to her and climbs menacingly to his feet. Clove’s fingers find a blade, but a mad look in Five’s dry red eyes stops her.
Clove holds tight to Cato’s hand as Five laughs like hell and pops four poison berries into her mouth, one by one. Five convulses as soon as she swallows, and they watch together, wet and cold and filthy and the only thing in each other’s worlds, as drool seeps from Five’s lips and she bites down hard on her tongue. Without letting go of Cato, Clove ends it with a knife in Five’s throat when her mouth begins to froth bloody foam. Five’s dead before she knows what killed her. Clove takes a slow breath. Nightlock is a nasty death, no matter how short.
They look at Five’s motionless body. They look at each other. The world bends as Clove’s vision fractures and the only thing she can see is Cato.
“We won?” Cato whispers over the body. His voice is so small, so unlike everything he is.
“We won,” Clove echoes, just as quietly. As if saying it where someone can hear will take it all away.
They squeeze the life from each other’s hands and look out at the lake, at the woods, dormant and free as the last name is crossed from the list. But the truth hangs in the space between them, sharp and bitter like the poison on Five’s lips. There’s one more name. There’s one more. They didn’t win. Not yet.
They wait. Nothing happens.
Clove’s holding her breath against all her will to keep herself calm when the sky darkens to a deep, menacing purple. A fresh layer of frost congeals over the grass.
“We should let them get the body,” Cato says. “That’s what they always do.”
That’s not what they always do, and they both know it. The rule change was for Twelve. They always knew it was for Twelve. Be good replacements for the lovebirds, or the rule change goes away. The rule change could very well go away no matter how good they are. Something’s gone wrong. Everything’s gone wrong from the first goddamn day when they told Clove she was going in with Cato, so why should they expect this to be different?
They trek to the other side of the lake, solemn and even, and Clove thinks that this is what the others, the meat, must have felt like in the Launch Room. They do not let go of each other’s hands.
Five’s body is removed while they watch from afar. Nothing happens. Nothing happens.
“I’ve got you,” Cato whispers as he lifts her hand to wrap it in both of his.
Clove breathes in cold pine air and danger.
“I love you,” she tells the sky, and that’s her last weapon, the only thing she can throw at them now, and please. Just please. Let me have this one thing I have no right to ask for. Let me have this wonderful, awful thing I’m asking for anyway. Please.
She closes her eyes and wills it to be enough.
Chapter Two: Sunshine and Rainbows