Author's Note: I really love everyone in this fandom. You are all so supportive and helpful and gah I just can't stand it. I love you guys.

a Hunger Games (© Suzanne Collins) fanfiction

Affection is not something Clove is used to. Hugs and kisses and words of encouragement are not common in her household; she is used to being told that she is weak, that she is not good enough. She doesn't mind, either. After all, it has made her strive to be better, to perfect herself - it has made her a stronger person, and only strong people win the Hunger Games.

The people in District 2 are not very affectionate people - not genuinely, anyway. People rarely hold hands and exchange terms of endearment; usually affection is kept to the bedroom, and even then Clove would not use that word for what goes on. In District 2, it's all about becoming stronger, more powerful, most intimidating. Peacekeepers hail from there, and affection is not what the Capitol looks for in an enforcer of the law. Such a thing is useless, impractical, so Clove doesn't mind that her parents have never tucked her in or that her sister has never hugged her or that she's never held hands with a boy.

Naturally, she yanks her fingers away when Cato tries to hold them during the parade. "What are you doing?" she snaps defensively when all he does is raise an eyebrow at her.

"You were shaking," he points out, the corners of his lips stretching upwards. "I thought you might need some comforting."

She frowns and folds her arms across her chest, now very aware of the pounding in her chest. She hadn't noticed that she was nervous. "I don't need comforting," she retorts, despite the burning she feels in her ears.

"Of course." From the tone in his voice and the haughty look on his face, she knows he's mocking her.

She chooses to ignore and avoid him for the rest of the day.

The next time she sees him, she's training alone with the practice dummies. He sneaks up on her - resulting in his almost being punctured in the neck with one of her knives - wearing a sly grin. "What are you doing!" she screeches, her heart pounding her ears.

"I got bored and I want some company," he answers, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly.

"I'm sure Glimmer would keep you company," she says, with no real malice. She's noticed the flirty exchanges between the two, and while it bothers her a little she chooses to ignore it. If she lets something like that get to her now, she knows she'll stand no chance in the arena.

Cato seems to contemplate it for a moment, but in the end he shakes his head. On the inside, she allows herself a small celebration. "Nah. Glimmer's hot, but not someone I wanna keep as company. Well, not the kind of company I want now." Clove wrinkles her nose at the implication, an act that causes him to laugh. "Loosen up. It's just sex."

Clove instinctively cringes at the word. She knows it's just an act, that there's really nothing dirty or terrible or taboo about it, but it still makes her shift in discomfort. Cato notices, and instantly she regrets bringing up the girl from District 1 because now he is inching towards her with a feral expression.

"You know, I never really took you for a prude, Clove," he states when his face is up close to hers.

She gawks at the word, insulted. "I'm not a prude!" she snaps, too quickly.

He laughs and she blushes because she knows that she's given herself away. "Hey, it's not like it's bad. I mean, some guys like the whole 'innocent' approach." She glares at him because they both know she is far from innocent. She is deadly and brutal and savage, which, perhaps, is the reason why he is enjoying this so much.

Clove realizes she has been backed up against a wall when Cato's fingers begin playing with the ends of her hair. The touch is too intimate, too tender, and Clove shoves him away from her. His steps falter a bit as he ogles at her, but she stands her ground and glowers at him. "What are you doing!" she demands once more.

Cato chuckles, amused. "Sometimes it's nice to see a person with their defenses down."

She interprets that as, 'You showed weakness,' and she snarls at him. "Screw you," she hisses before storming out, leaving him cold and confused.

Sometimes Clove dreams of faceless people with bright-colored hair and outlandish outfits. Sometimes she dreams of being chased by them, drowned by them, tortured by them, and abused by them. Sometimes she sees her parents and her sister, sometimes she screams for them - and every time they walk away. They don't help her, even though she's right there, even though they can see her. Sometimes they watch her with the strange-looking people, and sometimes they laugh at her pain. Clove always wakes up panting and yelling, and she's sure she can still see them around her - the people, her parents, her sister - closing in on her. But when she blinks, they're gone, and she's left feeling more empty and cold than before.

This time, she dreams they're carving things into her with her own knives, and her family is helping them. Clove is out of her bed before she's even fully awake, and her feet carry her down the hall, out of her room. She doesn't know where's going - until she realizes she is standing outside Cato's door.

The hammering in her chest softens to a dull thudding as her shoulders fall back against the wall for support. She tries to close her eyes, but then the door opens and her heart begins throbbing once more.

"Clove?" he croaks, his voice laden with sleep. "What are you doing here?" He finally notices the scrambled state she's in, and something in his hard, teasing eyes soften. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she snaps. She doesn't need anyone to take care of her. Clove has always watched her own back and handled her own problems. She is strong and powerful and she doesn't need to depend on anyone.

But Cato doesn't believe her, because regardless of how people see him (brutal, bloody, unbreakable), he can read others perfectly. He doesn't see just the strong and powerful girl with the knives - he sees the unbalanced sixteen-year-old. He does not run or leave her alone when she spits at him and slaps away his hand.

Clove has never really known affection, so she feels like she's drowning when Cato holds her. His arms are long and muscled and his chest is solid and warm and for the first time in her life she feels safe. Her walls crumble as she sobs into his chest, muttering and occasionally cursing him, but he continues to hold her silently until her body slumps against him.

When they wake the next morning, neither one of them say anything to the other. They go on as though the night before had never happened; Cato goes back to smirking and Clove goes back to throwing knives at everything.

The night before the Games, though, Clove wanders back to Cato's door. She doesn't knock, but it opens, and wordlessly he takes her back into his arms.