Rating: T (violence, language, kids killing people, child abuse)
Characters/Pairings: Cato, Clove
Summary: Cato and Clove aren't friends. But this is how they became ... whatever it is they are.
Notes: I'm taking a little break in posting Heartbeat to post this because my new friend century_fox wanted me to show this one to you guys.
It woulda been nice to see you coming
But that woulda ruined the surprise –- Taylor Swift
Almost everyone here is smaller than him, but she’s so small Cato could keep her in his pocket. The top of her head is nowhere near the bottom of his shoulder, and his arm is practically thicker than her waist. All the other girls here dwarf her by a good three inches and fifteen pounds at least. She can’t throw the heavier spears because they’re half her body weight.
Cato wouldn’t have noticed if she’d shown up three years ago, or even one year ago. There’ve been small kids in his cohort before: the boy who was a year older than him and seventy-five pounds lighter, the girl who only lasted six months who couldn’t grab the pullup bar even when she jumped. They like you to be big, but it won’t disqualify you, not at that level.
But the thing is, this is Residential. Nobody’s here except the very, very few who deserve to be. If she’s here, there’s a very good reason for it. Cato wants to find out what that reason is.
He gets put in her group for knife throwing only once, by chance, on their first throwing class when most of the trainers are still getting to know them even though their files talk about their strengths for the kids who came from different Centers. She doesn’t talk or draw attention to herself, and she doesn’t do anything but what she’s told. She hits every target dead in the middle when it’s her turn, and her eyes are glazed over and distracted and she’s not even trying, he can tell.
The trainer has her stay after. Cato sneaks back to watch and is just in time to see her hitting ten targets from various points across the gym in so many seconds with a cold, steady, deadly little arm. Her eyes are hard and dark, but there’s no feeling behind it. It’s no big deal. She hits the last target blind and then wordlessly goes to retrieve the knives.
The trainer sticks her with the Seniors, and he knows he’ll never see her in throwing class again.
This is why he stops her outside the gym with a smug grin and an arrogant, “How was class, Clovey?”
When she tells him “fuck you in the ear,” that’s when he knows he’ll never leave her alone.
For the first week and most of the next, all they do is fight. Neither of them are used to an opponent like each other: Cato mostly spars with the older boys who specialize in hand-to-hand and can’t throw to save himself, and Clove loves to dodge but hates being pinned.
“For someone who hates this, you’re awfully good at it,” he says with an elbow at her throat.
Her eyes flash with fury. “I don’t think ‘good’ means what you think it means.”
“Oh, it does,” he says. “I meant being on your back.”
“Thought you weren’t interested in that,” she returns breathlessly, her voice thick with innuendo. She struggles against him, but it does no good.
“No, just interested in handing you your ass. Not your ass itself.” A deadly grin twitches his lips as he presses his elbow a little further in. “Now are you gonna yield or do I have to crush your itty bitty windpipe?”
They lock eyes for an intense moment, and Cato’s sure he’s never seen anything more beautiful.
“Let me up, fuckface,” she grunts.
He laughs and offers her a hand, which she takes and rises to her feet. He should have known when she held on just a little too long, but he doesn’t jerk away in time and she digs pointy, broken nails into the underside of his wrist, sharp as the daggers she can throw across the gym. Then she kicks him hard in the knee and he hits the mat harder.
“For someone who hates this, you’re awfully good at it,” she says smoothly over him.
“Oh, that’s how you wanna play? See if I let you up next time, evil midget.”
There are two ‘next times,’ that day. Cato wins one of them.
“I hate you,” she says when he gets a knee over her stomach and holds both her wrists in one hand over her head and wraps a hand around her throat.
“I hate you,” he says when she knocks his sword out of his grip with a knife to the hilt and gets a solid stick with the fake star tips to his throat before he can blink.
She sinks one into the wall and shaves off an inch of his hair. “Why not?”
There are four other boys in his cohort and three other girls. He doesn’t care about any of them. They’re too big and broad and they miss too often and their eyes are lifeless and boring and ordinary, and his dorm is too quiet even though it’s full of ten other loud, deadly boys who don’t understand anything.
He meets her every day after training to spar.
They don’t make him go to knife class anymore because he isn’t good at it and it isn’t useful. Clove isn’t allowed to drop weapons yet because she’s too young, but the first thing to go will be the ones that weigh almost as much as she does.
She asks why he’s here. He says because he was never going to be anything else. When he asks her the same question, she gets a cold, fascinated look in her eyes and gives him a new scar across his neck and says, “That’s why.”
He laughs while he stifles the bleeding and says, “Fuck, you’re so much fun.”
She smiles, and her eyes aren’t cold.
“There’s a curfew, you asshole.”
“I know, and kicking your ass is more fun at night,” he says with a dangerous grin. “You scared?”
“Not of anything.”
It must be true.
They’re tired and it’s late and Clove’s getting much better with holds and he’s having to try a little harder these days when they fight hand-to-hand, and it was such a good fight, he thinks, better than any the trainers can give him, and he’s sluggish and stupid and the moon’s a beautiful blood-orange dome above the trees and they collapse in the grass and giggle like the kids they will never be again.
“I win again,” he says smugly as he tucks a strand of dark hair behind her ear.
“Whatever,” she says. “Tomorrow we’re using weapons. Why does it do that?” She points in wonder at the orange moon, her skin still flushed from the heat of battle, and it’s so quiet and so still and so very easy to forget that she’s all of thirteen years old.
“I have no idea,” he says truthfully. He’s never had any use for pretty things, for science, for nature, for things that aren’t fists and swords and brutal fights.
“It’s beautiful,” she says, and her voice doesn’t sound like her. Or maybe it does, he thinks when she turns to look at him. Maybe it sounds exactly like her and he’s just the first to hear it.
“Yeah,” he says. He wraps an arm around her, and their heartbeats slow together.
Once, she falls asleep on his shoulder as they sit together in the lounge after a hard day, and he carries her back to her dorm and looks down at her little head against his chest and thinks that he got everything he really needed after all.
His first kill is a man with salt and pepper hair who robbed a butcher shop. Cato doesn’t know why the fuck you’d rob a butcher shop, but that doesn’t matter because the man is dead in his own piss by mid-morning. It doesn’t matter because Cato pressed that extra little bit that he’d never do with her no matter what she said to him or what she did or where she kicked him. Because Cato felt his heart stop beating long before the trainer witness stepped in to check. It doesn’t matter because it was never going to, because Cato has become at last what he always knew he’d be, the only thing he was ever going to be, and bodies are very, very soft and hold a lot of blood and it’s a lot easier than he ever thought it would be and he’s very cold on his way to the shower.
He doesn’t know why he goes to the gym and why he finds the treadmill and cranks the speed up, only that maybe if he runs far enough and fast enough he can escape the nameless ache that whispers that it does matter. When he closes his eyes, he sees her dead on the concrete and runs faster and faster.
And then she’s there, like a ghost, like a miracle, her little head barely reaching over the top of the treadmill as she asks if he wants to talk.
He says no. He doesn’t. He just wants to run and run and run and stare at her damp hair and her solemn, knowing face and her perfect little hand on the bar of the treadmill and have her never go away.
When she makes her kill nine months later, they meet each other’s eyes and understand, and he could live a thousand years and not find anyone else who does.
“I don’t hate you,” she says one night after on a long run through the woods as they trek back to the dorms. Her hair’s in pigtails and makes her look about ten except for her evil little eyes.
He flicks the ends of her hair. “I know.”