I don't normally do oneshots so I've no idea where this came from. I sat down to write more of my other story but for some reason, Clove wouldn't leave me alone...
The Hunger Games characters belong to the fabulous Suzanne Collins, the title and the song lyrics at the end are courtesy of Lana del Rey (because it was probably the song that made me return to Clove).
I should warn you that some or all of this may not make total sense if you haven't read my 'proper' story, 'Love is a Battlefield'...
Born To Die
You look at me through your television screens now and you think you hate me. A Career Tribute, raised to kill. I'd take the life of the little twelve year old beside me in a heartbeat, wouldn't I? So it's fine for you to hate me. That's what I'm here for. And I don't care what you think anyway, so it doesn't matter.
When it comes to you and your feelings, the only thing that matters to me is that you'd probably think very differently if you knew a bit more about me. If you knew where I came from then you'd probably pity me. I don't want your pity. I'd rather have your hatred. I like to think it suits me better.
However I need something to block out all of the other thoughts and scenarios racing around in my head right now, so I'll tell you anyway. But don't you dare pity me. If you pity me then I'll kill you. And I promise you it won't be pretty.
I was about six or seven when I realised my life wasn't normal, that other fathers weren't like mine and that they didn't leave their daughters to live virtually alone in a house with only a set of knives for company. A girl called Nuria told me that. She was the daughter of the woman who brought me meals, proper ones on the rare occasion my father thought I deserved them. She'd come looking for her mother and found me instead.
She'd called me names and tried to push me around, just because she thought she could. But she couldn't.
That was the first time I threw one of my knives at a person. I was only a child and I'd stared at the blood seeping from around the blade buried in her leg, fixed to the spot as she cried. But then her mother raced in and started to scream the house down. They both left that day and I never saw them again, but what I really remember from that point in my life is my father.
"You're weak," he'd told me. I remember his words even now despite how I didn't understand them at the time. "She attacked you and yet she walked away. Sometimes I can't believe you're my daughter."
"Don't go. Please don't go," had been my only response when he'd spat out that last sentence and turned to walk away.
"Sit down and be quiet. Or use the time to practice," he'd said, nodding pointedly at the knives on the table. "Then by the morning you might not be such a disappointment to me."
I remember how I stared up at him, trying to be brave like he always said I had to be. I wasn't allowed to cry. By that time I don't think I even really wanted to. Nuria and her mother themselves didn't truly matter. I just wanted an answer to the only question that never went away. All I wanted to know was why he didn't stay with me.
"Where are you going?"
"Why isn't here your home? Why don't I have a mother? Nuria does."
"I told you," he snarled. "You killed your mother. You've been a killer your whole life. That's why you're going to the Capitol."
"I've never killed anyone!" I'd shouted back at him, not understanding his words, jumping to my feet as I tried to stop him from leaving. "I didn't do anything!"
He looked down at me for several seconds. Then his eyes narrowed and he pushed me away, hard enough to floor a grown man even though I was tiny little and only six or seven. I crashed against the wall, biting my lip so I didn't make a sound. I didn't want him to go but what would happen if I cried out in pain would be worse. I understood that even as a small child.
His face was expressionless as he nodded once and then turned and walked away. He didn't look back, but I stared after him anyway, hoping that one day he would.
(He never did.)
I was nine when my father took me to the reaping for the first time. As a past winner of the Games, he'd been expected to talk to the visitors from the Capitol and he didn't need me with him. He'd stood me at the side of the stage and ordered me not to move, but even if I'd dared to defy him then I never would have. I didn't want to move. I was transfixed by everything, by the outside world he taught me all about but so rarely let me see.
There were people everywhere, the youth of District Two all lined up in front of a stage occupied by the strangest looking man I'd ever seen. Of course I'd seen the Capitol people on the television, because I'd been watching the Games for as long as I could remember, but they looked different up close. Bigger. Impossibly bright.
I watched the Capitol man draw a name from each of the two overflowing reaping balls and imagined myself in the place of Dahlia Vilani, the almost-woman who pushed through the crowd to replace the child on the stage. Father said later that in nine years I wouldn't have to imagine, because I'd be there on the stage and going to the Capitol.
(Even then, something inside me told me that should bother me. Even then, it didn't. Not even when Dahlia left the arena with a knife through her heart and arrived back home in a wooden coffin.)
Three years later I'd been watching my father on the television, gazing at his familiar figure dressed in an unfamiliar suit at a party in the Capitol, surrounded by a group of people hanging on his every word. Win the Games and you get respect, that's what he'd told me more often than he'd called me by my name, and when I saw him on the screen like that, it was a hard thing for me to doubt.
I'd wondered what it would feel like to be a victor since I was an even younger girl than I was then. I found it hard to imagine a world beyond my father's fists, my knives and the increasingly small targets in the basement.
But then the Peacekeepers came. It was the day of my twelfth birthday when they kicked the front door in to tell me my father, the great Aristaeus Jacia who won the Fifty-first Hunger Games, was dead.
(I should have been sad. I wasn't. I'd wondered if he'd felt weak before the end, if his blood had been as bright as Nuria's.)
"Pack your things. It's the Training Centre for you now," one of the men had said, looking doubtfully down at me in a way that made my fingers itch to reach for the knife in my pocket so I could prove him wrong.
When he reached out to grab me, I finally let my hand close around the handle of the knife. Even back then, nobody touched me. Only my father when I'd disappointed him and had to pay the price in pain and bruises. And now he was dead, I wasn't about to let it begin again.
"Bitch!" snarled the Peacekeeper at the same time as he held his bleeding hand to his chest.
It stained his uniform red with blood, and I'd stared, totally hypnotised.
He lunged at me again but I'd dodged away. Father was ten times faster. He'd have to do better than that.
But he didn't get chance to try because the white-uniformed woman with him had laughed.
"She's Jacia's daughter," she'd said to her furious companion. "It's not her fault you're too bloody stupid to use what little intelligence you have and keep your distance."
"Are we going now?" I'd asked, the man long since dismissed because I could only think of what would be my new home.
The Training Centre. The place our district trains its tributes, named after the place in the Capitol where the tributes stay before the arena. Finally I was going somewhere I could prove myself. Somewhere I could be free.
(Father trained there, but he always said he was too ashamed to send me. Now I'm older, I still want to know the real reason he kept me locked up for so long. I don't suppose I ever will.)
It didn't take me long to pack. I didn't own anything besides my silver dagger, and even that I'd stolen from Father. I'd have returned it years ago, but keeping it had felt like a victory.
I'd spent hours staring at the blade during the night when I knew I'd never be discovered, sharpening it until I could split my skin with just the lightest of touches. Now Father was gone, I could strap it to my belt for all to see. I'd walked a bit taller out into the night after that Peacekeeper, ignoring the stares that followed us all the way to the Training Centre.
(When I think of that moment now, I think how different my life could have been if I'd never stolen that knife and never strapped it to my belt. I wonder if I'd have met him anyway, but that's something I'll never know.)
The Training Centre was like another world to me back then. My father spent his life telling me I was a disappointment to him, but I was still a victor's daughter. I hadn't expected to feel so small, for the older would-be-tributes to seem so big. But it wasn't fear I felt, it was rage. They looked at me like I was nothing, but I wasn't nothing, and one day they'd all learn.
(I wish I knew what they are all thinking as they watch me on their televisions back home. Whatever it is, at least they know enough to know I'm not weak.)
"Can I see that dagger?" asked the boy, dark-haired and blue-eyed, sneering down at me in a way that made me want to punch him.
"Like you'd give it back if I gave it to you," I'd replied, refusing to back away on principle.
"Don't you trust me, Little Girl?"
"Do I look stupid? And I'm not little."
"You are from where I'm standing. Give it to me and I'll let you walk away."
"Come and get it."
I half expected him not to bother, to go in search of more entertaining prey instead of wasting his time with me. I'd seen enough of them in what they'd laughingly called 'Knife Throwing' earlier that morning. Not one of my fellow initiates had come close to hitting even the biggest target.
I speared a small scrap of paper to Cassia's desk all the way from the other side of the room and they'd all stopped open mouthed to stare.
I'd liked the feeling. It made me feel powerful, just as it made me feel powerful when the boy whose name I didn't know launched himself at me and I sidestepped out of the way to slam my closed fist into the back of his knee, sending him crashing to the floor.
He'd grinned up at me for a second, but then he was on his feet again and racing after me down the corridor as everyone else jumped out of our way.
(He'd screamed every insult under the sun at me then, but something kept me running and stopped me from reaching for the dagger he coveted. I could have killed him that day, if I'd wanted to. I could have thrown a knife at him like I did at Nuria, and I wouldn't have missed. But I didn't. Now look at us. Maybe I'd have saved us both a lot of grief if I had.)
The boy's name was Cato. Cato Marcelli, the orphan from the slums who Vikus Cortez thought could win the Hunger Games. He hated Vikus, but he agreed with him about that. He thought he could win the Hunger Games too, and back then I didn't even think to doubt him. He was the only person I respected. But that didn't mean I'd back down in a fight. He bore the bruises from our first meeting for longer than I did. I didn't let him forget it.
(Since last night, I bear a different set of bruises and I have more of them than he does. But this time I hope they never fade.)
"You think you're so tough, don't you, Jacia?" said the winner of the Thirty-fifth Hunger Games, catching my chin in a harsh, painful grip that forced me look up at him. "You're nothing here. Your daddy's dead and you're just property. My property."
I'd glared up at Vikus, meeting his cold grey eyes with my own, thinking if I could just do that then he'd move on to the next girl in the line across the centre of the training room, that he'd see she's weaker than me. I was wrong, and the hand at my chin drifted lower down my throat and lower still, his hard, fierce eyes never leaving mine.
"Don't touch me!" I snapped as I jumped back. "Nobody touches me!"
The knife was in my hand and then away before I even knew what I was doing. By the time I returned to myself, I was staring across at him from the other side of the room as he pulled my blade out of his arm, ever so slowly like he was savouring the pain I'd caused him. I'd never seen anyone quite like Vikus. Not even my father.
"Finally," he'd said, throwing my knife along the floor so it skidded into my feet. "Someone worth training."
I tried not to look too smug as I stepped back into line. All I could think was how much I wanted to tell Cato. I couldn't wait to see his face when he heard what I did.
(He reminded me of that day only hours earlier, speaking of our past with something I almost want to call nostalgia. I'd listened but now I wish I hadn't. Now I wish I could forget it all. If I'm going to do this then I'll have to.)
That night as I was curled up in bed, I thought about what I'd done. I thought about the way I'd reacted, the way my skin crawled when Vikus' hand touched my throat, and the fierce rage that took over my body and mind so completely that I could think of nothing else. It felt good, watching him have to fight to keep his expression even as he pulled my knife out of his arm.
But that wasn't what I spent most of the time thinking about. I rarely thought about that anymore. Enjoying the power I felt when I threw my knives wasn't new, it was part of me, even when I was only twelve. What I was thinking about was what I'd said to Vikus, because I'd told him instinctively that nobody ever touches me.
So why was I lying next to Cato as he slept? Why didn't I move away when he turned over and his hand closed around my wrist?
(I never did find an answer to that question, and I never pushed Cato away either. He was the one person I accepted without even having to think about it. I didn't know then what I know now. I didn't know it would probably be the death of us both.)
I was thirteen when I killed a person for the first time. Vikus was in one of his black tempers and he was making us all fight in the Arena because it made him feel better. He enjoyed watching us fight, he enjoyed our pain, the power of life and death it gave him when he could decide who lived and who died with the rise and fall of his thumb.
The boy I fought was older than me. It had been a one-sided battle not in my favour and I knew despite my youth and inexperience that I was the one doomed to die.
But that was until Cato defied Vikus to fetch me the knives that let me to stop trying to lift a sword that weighed as much as I did. That's why I killed the boy. Not because I wanted to but because I knew it was the only way to stop Vikus from killing Cato for what he did.
"You're not going to cry, are you, Clovey?" my mentor had said to me, his shadow hanging over me as I was wiping the dead boy's blood from my father's blade.
"Of course not," I'd snapped back, sounding a lot stronger than I felt. It was far too late to bring him back by then. What was done was done. And I knew that if I was going to the Capitol then it wouldn't be the last time anyway. I knew I'd better get used to it.
"I wasn't sure you'd do it."
"Sometimes it's necessary," I'd replied, using my father's words because I couldn't find any of my own.
(I should have hated myself for ending the boy. He didn't deserve to die and I knew that. But afterwards Vikus sent Cato up against an opponent weaker than him, and when they both left the Arena sand whole and on their feet, my mentor's cold eyes met mine and I knew things would have ended differently if I hadn't done what I did. So I'll never regret it, no matter what that makes me.)
For as long as I can remember, I've known about the prize fights that go on in the poor part of the city where the Mountain Fortress is merely a distant shape on the horizon. My father used to fight for money he didn't need just because he liked to see people bleed. Or that's what he told me when he'd had one too many and made up his mind carry on what he started with me as his new opponent. He said I'd never know anything about him, but by then I knew him more than well enough to know what he said was true.
I never imagined I'd be lurking in the same dark, dirty places he used to frequent only a few short years later, trying my luck for a chance to add some more money to what was already in the tin Cato kept hidden in the derelict warehouse we liked to call ours.
I told them I was sixteen, but I was fifteen really. It didn't matter and nobody questioned me. Half the people in the slums don't know their birthdays anyway, and I think most of them were too amused by what they saw to argue with a girl who barely skimmed five feet tall and weighed less than the chairs they were sitting on but still told them she'd defeat them all.
He was tall, the man I fought. He was three times my age and at least four times my weight, and each of his massive upper arms were thicker than my waist. But he was slow and stupid. I was fast and I was smart.
Cato watched from the shadows and the only time I came close to losing was when I was distracted by watching him. But he was true to his word. I'd told him I needed to do this myself and he didn't say anything while I fought, silently watching me as I gained my victory and the crowd cheered in stunned disbelief.
"Clove, you're drunk," he'd said a couple of hours later, and even at a couple of months shy of seventeen, his physical presence drove the people hovering around me far away. "I'm taking you back. Let's go."
"I'm not," I told him, continuing to protest despite the disbelief on his face that's the only thing I still vaguely remember.
"You are. Do you think you were drinking water?"
"So are you going to try and take advantage of me? If you do then I'll kill you, you know that, don't you?"
"No, Clove," he'd growled, and then he'd had to lift me up before I fell down. "I won't. When I do that, it won't be when you won't be able to remember a thing in the morning."
(Or that's what he told me happened anyway. By the time I woke up in the morning, with my head on his shoulder and wearing his shirt instead of my own, I'd forgotten everything but my raging headache. But I knew I should have meant it when I said I'd kill him. And I knew he should've known better than to give me the truth as an answer.)
When I'd sobered up and my headache became just a bad memory, Cato looked at me and I looked at him, and we both knew we'd crossed the line. We couldn't go back. I didn't want to, but I didn't understand why. I understood what I felt even less than I'd understood half of what my father said and did when he was alive. But what made complete sense was that it didn't matter.
When his hands held me still, his grip was a bit too strong, and the smirk on his face told me he knew it. The way his fingertips pressed into my skin hurt, but I couldn't seem to make it matter. I liked it, and for a second I tried to decide what that said about me. Then I realised I didn't care.
(I never cared if he held me a bit too tight, and I never stopped wanting him. If only the Capitol knew. Then they'd really have something else to gossip about.)
"Have you seen the new girl?"
It was late evening the day after my sixteenth birthday when the young girl who'd never normally have dared speak to me cautiously approached. I'd been sitting on one of the benches in the corner of the dining hall, my back against Cato's chest as he looked over my shoulder, smirking as he watched me sharpen my father's dagger, but something about the tone of her voice made me sit up and listen.
"What new girl?"
"She's wearing your daddy's district token."
That was all it took to get my attention, because that small metal tag I'd never seen Father take off had never been passed to me when he died. By the time I'd remembered, I'd got one of my own, but I'd wanted it anyway. I wanted a reminder of my previous life because I thought it would make me strong.
I'd walked around and around the corridors of the Training Centre until I found her. The new girl. The girl with brown hair instead of black and brown eyes instead of silver-grey, who was taller than me and yet still looked like she could be knocked over with a feather.
When she saw me, her lower lip trembled and fresh tears began to form in her already red eyes. I curled my lip in disgust and Cato laughed.
"Is it true?" I barked, striding towards her and yanking the top buttons of her collar open.
The name on the metal token against her pale skin was clear for me to see. Aristaeus Jacia. Her whole body was trembling by then and all I could think was how much I wanted to know if he'd called her a disgrace. Because I knew even then. I was looking at my half-sister by the woman who replaced my mother after she died having me. The half-sister I never knew existed until that moment.
"What's your name?"
"Peony," she'd replied eventually, her eyes wide with fear like a frightened animal as she struggled to find her voice.
"Clove," I said, exchanging a look with Cato before pushing her down the corridor away from a group of entrants for next years reaping trials who she'd been about to walk straight into. "I'm your half-sister."
(Peony couldn't fight and she wasn't intelligent. I should have despised her and had nothing to do with her, but I protected her as best as I could despite my harsh words. She was family, and when she looked at me, there was something in her eyes that told me she felt the same about me. Even I couldn't argue with that for long.)
I quickly found out that for all his physical strength, my father had very weak genes. I took after the mother I never met, in looks as well as mentality, and Peony took after her mother too. She was weak and scared and the whole Training Centre worked out she'd never picked up a weapon in her life after only one day.
The one thing she did seem to understand was that we were related and that nobody messed with me, so she followed me around like a lost puppy whenever she could. Cato was amused by her, but she drove me crazy.
I wouldn't have bothered with her, but there's a saying in District Two that blood is thicker than water, and something made me stand up for her even as I tried to drive her away.
I had her with me for nearly a year, but I didn't realise how much I'd got used to her until one day she wasn't there.
It was a joke, Gaius had said. I was messing about and she fell. It wasn't my fault she died. But it was his fault. He was a few days away from fighting for his place on the tribute train and he wanted to make himself feel better and more confident by picking on someone who couldn't and wouldn't fight back. And he chose Peony because she was pathetic and childish and mine.
He was the second person I killed. A fair fight in the Arena in front of most of our district's victors, with Cato waiting at the gates because he knew I'd never forgive him if he tried to stop me.
"Did you enjoy it when she begged you to stop?" I'd screamed at Gaius as I'd backed him, already bleeding from several wounds, into the boards around the sand. "Did hearing her scream make you feel good?"
He couldn't speak when I dragged the blade of my knife down his arm, and when he brought his sword up to drive me away, it was with Peony-like weakness rather than the strength of someone all the mentors thought would end up in the real arena.
It felt good to see him reduced to that. Although most of it was about revenge, I realised how much I'd changed when I realised how part of me was enjoying this for what it was. He was high. He was the chosen one. Now he's nothing. And I did that.
That night as Peony's body went up in flames, Cato had been the only one to stand by my side to watch. I stayed there all night, leaning back against him as he told me he didn't care what I did and that he'd always be proud to call me his. He said he was proud of me. I wasn't sure if that made him crazy or made me crazy. Maybe it was both.
(All I can think of is how many of the tactics I used to defeat Gaius are the same ones I'd need to defeat Cato. I've fought him before so I shouldn't be surprised. I'm not, but now it feels different. Now everything's changed.)
In the early hours of the morning of the reaping trials for the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Cato told me not to go to the Arena to watch. He said he wanted me to see him win, but that knowing me, I'd end up getting into a fight with one of the eighteen-year-olds, beat them soundly and then where would we be? In the same arena, that's where, and his words were enough to make me go back to sleep.
But when I woke up, I knew I had to see. I had to see the first of his real victories, and that meant I had to go to the Arena.
He defeated his strongest and last opponent in less than five minutes, and as I watched the other man lying on the ground at his feet, all I felt was pride. Cato calls me 'his', he always has, but that doesn't mean he isn't mine. I didn't believe myself capable of love, but I knew then that I loved him. I've known for years and years even if I wouldn't admit it even to myself. Not that I'd ever tell him that. Some things we just didn't say. That was definitely one of them.
(But now I want to say it. Now I want to say it but I can't find the words.)
For the month that followed, we didn't think about the arena. We thought about the future after the arena, when Cato had won and the nagging thought at the back of my mind that maybe he won't come back and that I'll be alone again became a thing of the past.
There were a few times when I was lying in his arms, half awake and half asleep, that I imagined a world where I didn't go to the Games, where I walked away from this place forever. Where I walked away to him.
But then I hear my father's voice in my mind as clear as it was ten years ago. If I did that then I really would be a disgrace. And then I'd never be free of his ghost.
(Sometimes I think I'll never be free of him, that he'll haunt me until the moment I die. I wonder what he'd feel if he knew that moment might not be far away.)
…the starting gong sounds and I throw myself off the podium towards the Cornucopia. Maybe Cato and I were born to die, but we still lived.
It's that thought that keeps me racing for the knives which were my second focus once my metal plate had clicked into place. They should have been my first, but after the reaping they were never going to be..
It's that thought in my mind when I fling my first knife into the back of a boy I've never met and he sinks to the floor in a pool of his own blood.
It's that thought which holds me together when there are tributes all around me and the only person I can see is Cato.
It's that thought that makes me carry on even as it hits me that whether I live or die in these Games, I'll still die inside…
Feet don't fail me now
Take me to the finish line
All my heart, it breaks with every step that I take
But I'm hoping that the gates,
They'll tell me that you're mine
I sat with my laptop for a couple of hours, wrote this and then posted it virtually straight away. I'll probably regret that, and any mistakes are all mine. But some of you who've reviewed my stories before said that you wanted more Clove. Now, after about two years, you have more Clove!
Also, they're nothing to do with me, but apparently 'The Pearl Awards' are being done again - go and nominate your favourite stories/artwork. I know I will...