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: Oh my god, guys, I am so sorry. My computer broke, and I had to re-write basically this whole chapter, and I have no clue when/if my old writing will be recovered, and it sucked a lot. But luckily I had lorata to give me a clue and help me figure out what I needed to change to make this chapter work. Thanks to her, you have the next chapter. I will try to get the next one out soon, and hopefully my broken computer won't interfere too much!
Chapter Three: It's Almost Over
Cato hears someone say, “Okay, we got it. That’s it, people. Do your jobs.”
That’s when Clove’s eyes flutter shut and she’s falling from her knees to the floor.
Cato lunges forward to catch her but is stopped by hands on both his arms. Adrenaline surges back as if it had never left, and he whirls around and swings a punch in the general direction of the threat before he realizes that it isn’t technically a threat. It’s not another Tribute that he has to kill, it’s the white uniforms of the Games attendants and why would they keep him from helping Clove? He allows himself a few seconds to think about this after his second blow finds its target.
They’re all on him in an instant, hands and stunguns and restraints and needles, and he could kill all of them, he’s pretty sure. There can’t be that many. He’s not that cold. He’s not that hurt. All that matters –
“Get yourself under control,” another voice demands from far away, maybe from back in the Arena. “You know better. Are you crazy?”
Yeah. He’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time, probably. He can’t stop looking at Clove, unconscious and pale-blue and so still on the floor of the hovercraft, and the only thing he cares about is there are ten adults in uniforms between him and her.
“Cato, hold still. You have a stomach wound that – ”
“Yeah, and I dealt with that fucking yesterday,” he scathes at no one in particular. “Help her.”
The voices swirl around him talking all at once (“Is this a Career win or a circus?” / “—lost his mind” / “We need a tranq over here!”) and he latches on to the one that says something he cares about:
“We’re trying to help her, if you’d – ”
“Then why’s she on the fucking floor?” He’s screaming now. He can’t stop. He tries to shove three of them out of the way, but his hands are behind his back now, he realizes when he tries. When did that happen? He doesn’t care. He’ll kill them anyway.
He can’t see anything but her now and, fuck, she’s so small. One of them could step on her little shriveled gray hands and break every bone. What was she thinking going in that water?
There’s a sharp pain in his neck and he suddenly sees her on the day of their swim tests, thirteen and a hundred pounds soaking wet with frozen pond water. And she was only in there for twelve seconds, they counted, and fuck she was so pale afterwards but nothing like this, she’s as blue as the fucking sky in the Arena after they turned the fucking sun back on. He can’t touch her because the wall of people between them is suddenly thicker, suddenly impassable, but he remembers, he goddamn remembers her little icy body that didn’t shiver as the hail stung his face --
He has time to see two of the attendants cut her clothes off before his world goes as black as hers.
The mutts sing with contentment as Three tears Clove’s arm from her shoulder and runs to the lake. Her lifeless fingers scrape the sand. The bloody hunk of shoulder meat bobs in Three’s mouth as it tosses its prey up in the air and catches it with a predatory grunt and gnaws, blood-caked claws draped over Clove’s elbow. Little Eleven pulls a green eye from its socket and crushes it in its jaws, slime and drool dribbling into the sand. Five snaps at her, grabbing greedily for the eye drippings, and Big Eleven takes a swipe at Five’s deep amber coat, stained dark, dark red when Six rips Clove’s leg open. Stomach acid burns the ground. The mutts scream in triumph.
Cato watches while the other eye disintegrates of its own accord and sinks into the earth, leaving a gaping wound that he swears can reach down to the other side of the world. And then a nest of tracker jackers pours forth from the hole the eye left behind, buzzing thick and painful between his ears and writhing inside Clove’s face and under her skin and crawling out of her mouth and the Ones pull her hair out together at her scalp and begin to lick the membrane coating her skull and --
He opens his eyes to sharp bright lights and a cold exam table and restraints pulled tight to every joint. He screams her name until another needle plunges him back to the lake and the buzzing hum of bees and wolves and her carcass in the sand.
The next time he’s awake, he’s staring up into a wall of Brutus and he still can’t move.
He blinks away images of Clove’s ribs laid open like a book on top of the Cornucopia as realization hits him. Clove’s mentor. Of course he’s here. He has to congratulate Cato, doesn’t he, that’s what they always do when a Two wins. He’s here to shake Cato’s hand and commend him on a Game well-played.
“Where is she,” a voice that doesn’t sound like his demands because that is all he cares about.
Brutus tosses an unreadable glance over his shoulder at something out of Cato’s field of vision and then leans close to the bed – the table’s gone, he notes absently. “Nowhere if you don’t get a grip,” Brutus says. It would be a whisper except Brutus doesn’t do whispers.
The words stop Cato’s world, and all he can do is stare.
“Weren’t expecting that, were you? Don’t flatter yourself, kid. I’m not here to congratulate you.” He spits out the last sentence, and Cato can see from his hard, set jaw and the angry twitch of his eyebrow that he’s telling the truth. “But some of my friends have been working very, very hard for the two of you, and consider this your wakeup call to get back the fuck on track.”
“Why are you here?” Cato stammers. He strains against the restraints at his shoulders, but they don’t budge. The Capitol knows their stuff, that’s for sure. “You should be with – ”
“My tribute is fine,” Brutus says, and Cato doesn’t miss how the words are carefully annunciated even as they drip with sarcasm. “I’m here because you need a reminder, and they thought you’d listen better if it came from me. So listen. She’s okay. You get to see her when you start behaving. And if you continue misbehaving, there’s no way in hell you’re getting this.” He taps a syringe on the table next to Cato’s head.
She’s okay. She’s okay. She’s okay.
A stern glare from Brutus brings Cato back to reality, and then he’s asking in a slurred voice, “What’s that?”
“Keeps your emotions out of your nightmares,” says a familiar female voice behind Cato’s head. He strains to look, but he can only hear Lyme continuing, “You’ll still get most of the content, but not the irrational response. It also cuts some of the hallucinations. You’ve got a lot of residual venom from the tracker jackers, and I can take a guess that you’ve been blessed with some lovely dreams of late.”
Cato swears. Brutus nods and says, “Something like that.”
“And my fellow mentor is full of shit,” Lyme says as she walks briskly into view. “You behaved more than well enough to earn this.” She nods to something else out of Cato’s field of vision, and he can just barely see a white-clad attendant feed the syringe into the IV bag above his head. This prompts him to notice the tubes stuck in his arm and the one up his nose. He can’t decide if that makes things better or worse. Mostly nothing will ever be better until he has evidence that Brutus is right about Clove.
Brutus huffs and moves away from Cato’s bed, muttering about the rules and irregularities and no respect for protocol in this godforsaken room.
Lyme spares him no attention and faces Cato again with a strange look on her face. It’s not her war-face that he’s so familiar with, but there’s something knowing and hard in her eyes that he can’t look away form. “I wish I could say it’s almost over,” she says slowly, carefully. “But it isn’t. This is the first day of the rest of your life. This is the hard part, Cato. As hard as you think it was in the Arena, this is the hardest part.”
“We’ll let you out of these when you’re under control.” She touches the restraints at his shoulders lightly and doesn’t react when he flinches violently, an inert blow held in only by Capitol technology. “You can see her when you can promise us that your televised first meeting will look real. And sorry about the dreams. If I’d known they hadn’t dosed you yet, I would have intervened sooner. It won’t happen again.”
“I need to see her,” Cato whispers.
“I know,” Lyme says, that strange look in her eyes again. “And we need you both to do your jobs.”
Don’t touch her IVs, they said. You’re being filmed, they said. Tomorrow morning you have a lot of work to do, they said.
None of that matters when he sees her in a nest of blinking monitors and tubes and heated blankets.
Her skin is clammy and pale, but the blue tint is gone from her cheeks and her eyes are open.
His blood runs as cold as her frozen jacket back in the Arena as he shoves away images of her in pieces at the bottom of the lake, but the visions don’t drag him under. He doesn’t think he’s been more thankful for drugs in his life. He stares at her, at something that might as well be her ghost.
“I thought you were dead,” he says numbly. The word pounds inside his head, her skull split open by Big Eleven’s massive hands, lying dead in the grass as the pink birds from the Fiftieth Games peck at exposed brain tissue – no. He looks into her still-seeing eyes, and they keep him here.
Clove pulls back a corner of the blankets, smirks at him like a dagger and says, “Well. That was stupid.”
He stumbles into her fever-hot bed, and her cold nose nuzzles his neck as she whispers, “We can both sleep now. No watches.”
It’s the most beautiful realization he’s ever had, maybe, as his arms snake around her. “They saved us,” he says, his eyes on the machines that gave her back to him.
“I know,” she says. She presses a hand against the sickle wound in his side. It hurts, and he loves it. “You look like yourself,” she says with a dim little smile.
“Fucking shit, midget” is all he can say before his throat tightens with everything he’s kept back since that day in the Center when they chose the two of them.
They don’t speak for a long time.
He’s aware on some level, even asleep, that the dream should be awful. They’re in the Arena, standing at the lake after the bloodbath and dividing up the supplies and figuring out what to do with the leftovers. Four is washing the blood out of her hair in waist-deep water. Glimmer’s on the shore fussing with the stuff that’s dried under her fingernails, and he’s pretty sure there’s someone’s intestine mixed in with the blood on her hands. Clove’s jacket is smeared with it, but since it’s black, it doesn’t show. There’s a swipe shaped like a shaky handprint on her cheek, though. Cato thinks it’s from Five Boy, but it could have been Seven Girl. Clove fatally stabbed them both and went back to taunt one until they died, for the camera. He can’t remember which.
Clove holds out her blood-soaked hands to him. “Smell this,” she says, insistent and demanding.
And then it’s not blood, it’s the stupid chocolate that she found in one of the backpacks and took from Marvel and held a knife up when he tried to take it back and asked him calmly if he wanted to fight for it.
“I got this for you, so you’d better enjoy it,” she says, and then he can’t tell if it’s chocolate or blood and the too-familiar hum of tracker jackers pierces his skull and the pool of dark blood around the Four Girl gets larger and larger and –
He jerks awake, and there is no blood. Just white sheets and soft light filtering through thick curtains and Clove alive and clean in a hospital gown with her face inches from his and holding a real bar of chocolate under his nose.
“Wake up, asshole. I had to steal this for you,” she says with her evil little smile.
Cato focuses on her dark eyes and wills the blood to go away. It doesn’t, not at first, but the panic he expects to feel isn’t there. It’s the drugs, he remembers, the wonderful needles that keep the panic out of their nightmares. He hopes they’ll get more after the Ceremony. Chocolate, needles, he’s not sure which.
When Clove climbs back into the bed and puts a square of the heavenly stuff in his mouth, he knows that she’s more important than either of those things.
They’re woken the next morning by Clove’s mentor. Brutus jostles her knee and grunts, “Rise and shine, boys and girls.”
Clove can tell by the sunlight filtering through the translucent screen in front of them that it’s not early for her, and they probably would have been awake on their own if it weren’t for the fact that, this time yesterday, they were in the Arena being named co-Victors and losing their minds. But because they were, no part of Clove wants to be awake. She knows with every cell in her body that she must be awake, but she’s sore and her eyes are on fire in the morning light and her head is still spinning a thousand miles an hour and Cato’s warm and solid and safe next to her and she really wants more Capitol sedatives. One glance at Cato’s meaty hand over his face indicates that he’s even less happy about this.
Clove allows herself approximately five seconds of silent self-pity before disentangling herself from Cato and hauling herself up. Cato takes her cue and does the same, though Clove knows he’s always hated waking up and is probably struggling more.
“We wanted to talk to you before the higher-ups because this is, as you know, a very irregular situation,” Lyme says from a chair in the corner. Clove didn’t even notice Cato’s mentor until she spoke but isn’t surprised to see her. Lyme’s imposing presence makes it easy to forget, but stealth won her Games just as much as her skill with swords. They gave her to Cato because she knows his weapon and because he could use a little stealth.
“Very, very irregular,” Brutus echoes, and he’s not happy. Clove’s not too surprised about that, either. He picked up on their friendship early and pressured Clove to end it right up until he saw her off to Launch.
Though Lyme seems more pleased with the turn of events, she’s just as serious. “The Capitol stuck their necks out for you kids, changing the rules like that. They didn’t have to let you both walk away, and for awhile back there, they weren’t going to. The Gamemakers sought out our input near the end. We even had a conference call with President Snow.”
Clove and Cato glance at each other. She can tell that Cato knows something she doesn’t, but they’ll talk about that later.
“Exactly,” Lyme says. “Now, obviously both Brutus and I were invested in getting our respective Tributes home. But when they approached us with the idea of letting you win together, we were very confused.”
“Not the word I’d choose,” Brutus says. He’s really, really not happy.
Lyme ignores him. “Their reasoning made sense, and of course they have the final word, but after some discussion we agreed that you’d be better use to them together than you would be apart.”
Clove has a terrible image of the Gamemakers, their mentors, politicians and the President himself sitting around a table deciding their fate. She shivers and reminds herself intensely that the choice they made was the one that kept her and Cato alive.
“Now listen very carefully when we tell you why they made this choice, and why we agreed,” Lyme says. “The Capitol did something for you that you can never repay them for if you live for a thousand years.”
Without hesitation, Cato and Clove answer in unison, “We know.”
And oh, she knows. Clove remembers the sympathetic nurse with purple hair pressing the bottle of papaya juice into her uninjured hand when they came to put her shoulder back together. (“Here, baby. We know you like this.”) The Capitol cares about even this small bit of pain, and they know her enough to know what she likes, and it’s best juice she’s ever had. Clove thanks her until the words choke her and she cries, and the nurse thinks she’s crying because it hurts and talks to her like she’s four and says that it will be over soon. Clove never, ever wants it to be over.
“Stereo in here’s working,” Brutus comments with a good-natured eyeroll that brings her back to the present, and it’s funny, maybe, that they think alike, but the gravity and truth behind their answer – and the unsaid implication – weighs heavy on Clove’s shoulders.
They can never repay any of them. But they’re going to be trying for the rest of their lives.
The mentors apparently can add mind reading to their list of abilities, because Lyme takes one look at their faces and nods approvingly and says, “I’m glad to see we’re all on the same page. And your first act towards settling this debt will be to give Panem the best closing ceremony in the history of the Hunger Games.”
“We will,” Cato promises.
Brutus looks at Clove in disappointment. “What, no stereo?”
“I was going to say, what do we need to do first?”
“I told you I got the best one,” Brutus says to Lyme, whose eyes flash momentarily with that unmistakable District Two Victor competitive aggression. Clove wonders wildly if that’s what she and Cato will begin to look like to others, now. But no. They won’t be like that. Clove can see the difference because she knows where to look for it, and Brutus and Lyme do not like each other and do not wish for the other’s success. That is the true mark of a District Two Victor, and there’s none of that in the way Cato looks at her – or in the way she looks at him.
Their mentors are right. This is very, very irregular.
Lyme recovers quickly and continues, “Excellent segue into the reason you’re awake. You’re both off to remaking in fifteen minutes, and you’ve got a briefing with Caesar at 1100. After that, you’re talking to President Snow and his cabinet. Tonight is the closing ceremony. We’ll be working every second after the President’s done with you to make sure it’s the best one Panem has ever seen.”
Clove pales. “President Snow?”
“President Snow,” Brutus says matter-of-factly.
She squeezes Cato’s hand.
Chapter Four: Prey