This isn't my normal kind of story, but I got this idea the other day and just had to write it down. This is AU, clearly. I also see this as kind of how Katniss would have turned out, had she not had Peeta and Prim to keep her together.
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belongs to Suzanne Collins, not me. :)
Red. Everything is red. The grass under my feet, once green, is stained with crimson liquid. Corpses encircle me, the lifeless, bloody bodies of my former rivals. Of my victims. I look down and see the dark blotches on my stained clothing, the red blood dripping from my fingers. Glossy, unseeing eyes stare out at me. In the twenty-three dead more than a few died by my hand. I am a murderer. A fierce snarl has me spinning around, but it's too late. Pain explodes across my body as the bloodthirsty muttations of the dead children lying at my feet tear me apart. My own crimson blood mingles with that of my victims; provides a fresh wave of color for the horrid stain steadily covering the arena. I close my eyes. I accept the pain, the excruciating fiery burn of my flesh being torn from my body. It is a penance for my sins. A recompense for the families who even now are mourning the loss of their childrens' lives. But no amount of pain, no sum of suffering, can wipe away the truth. The truth that I am a killer; a vicious, untamed animal. And nothing can take that away. Nothing can bring back the dead.
The scenery changes and everything shifts. I'm in a pure white room. The pain ceases; the mutts' unquenchably hungry forms vanish into the air. Gasping, I force myself to my feet. As I do I see an unidentifiable form several yards before me. Fear, disgust, curiosity, and trepidation all fill me, each vying for dominance. I approach the form, the deathly silence and bright glow coming from the whiteness surrounding me putting me on edge. Sorrow wipes away all other emotion as I recognize Clove's limp body. I drop to my knees and crawl toward her. Disregarding the red blood that quickly soaks through my white cotton pants I lean over her, resting weight on my right hand as I brush back her hair with my left. Blood pours from the hole in her skull, the fluid's vivid red color enhanced by the glowing white ground. Clove gasps and reaches for my hand. Her dark eyes meet my own.
"I'm sorry," I tell her, my voice thick with sorrow. "I'm sorry I wasn't fast enough."
She tries to speak, but instead her mouth fills with blood and her eyes roll back in her head. Clove's body gives a miniscule jerk and then her hold on my hand slackens.
"No," I whisper. I pull her head into my lap. Her blood covers me, exposing me for the monster I am.
"No. Come back to me. Stay with me," I beg her, framing her face gently with my hands. "Clove, don't leave me."
It's too late. She's gone. I start in alarm and despair fills me as her body disintegrates, turning to dust in my hands. Frantic, I scramble to my feet and try to run as far away as I can. But no matter how hard I try, I can't escape the white prison. At last I crumble to the ground, curling into a ball in attempt to fight the overwhelming hopelessness that threatens to consume me. There is no escape.
I awaken with a start, my shirt drenched in sweat and my heart beating out of my chest. My neck is stiff from falling asleep in an awkward position. Closing my eyes, I try to calm my racing pulse. When that only brings another wave of horrors I snap them open and shove the blankets away. Stumbling across my room, I yank the window open and breathe in the calming woodland air. The cool air soothes both my heart and my head. A slight tremble runs down my spine, a combination of the haunting dreams and chilly air against my damp skin. Once my pulse returns to a normal rate I push away from the sill and dazedly stagger out of my room. The familiar woods and mountain air greatly refreshes me physically, but mentally I cannot be healed, cannot be calmed.
My mind is constantly reminding me of who I am. Who I have killed. Each night brings with it a torrent of visions, real and imagined alike. Every night I relive the arena; slaughter again and again; the innocent children sent to die for entertainment. I reach my usual spot and sink to my knees amongst the dirt, twigs, and undergrowth of the forest, my head in my hands. Alone in the deserted place, I allow myself to release the anguish, the guilt, the pain. Screaming, I revel in the physical pain as my fisted hands pull at my hair.
"Why am I alive?" I ask myself as I tip forward and dig my fingers into the dirt, holding it in a death grip as though it will reverse my choices. Because you're a monster; because you're heartless, selfish. A sob shakes my body and salty tears fall to the ground, water soaking into the earth. Another half hour passes, and I know that I have to pull myself together or else my mother will ask questions that I can't answer. The sun's ascent over the distant mountaintops gives me strength to rise from the ground and brush away the dirt and twigs.
My mother greets me with a warm smile as I enter the kitchen, but it only makes me feel worse. After all I have been through, one might think that a parent's love would make things better. But it doesn't. Whenever my mother or father smiles at me or shows their approval, it fills me with disgust and hatred for myself. For years I did everything I could for their respect, their love. No matter what I did Caius was more important; there was nothing he could do wrong. As for the un-wanted Cato…. Well, I am the son they were simply forced to accept. From a young age I knew that I would have to do something extraordinary to earn my parents' affections. Caius succeeded in everything he tried and Juno is a Peacekeeper. How could I live up to those expectations? And then, three years ago, Caius went to the Games. Everyone thought he was going to win. It certainly looked that way; at least until Johanna Mason showed her true colors—and her deathly accuracy with an axe. The day my brother died I realized what I had to do if I ever wanted my parents to look at me the way they had him. I had to do the one thing Caius couldn't: I had to win the Hunger Games.
And now here I am, wishing with everything I am that I could turn back the clock. I will give anything to go back three months, back to those last critical moments in the arena, and let Katniss shoot me.
"Something wrong, Cato?"
I force the haunting image of Katniss's dead face from the forefront of my mind.
"What's for breakfast?" I ask to divert the question. I don't hear her answer as I struggle to stay in the present and not revert back to the arena as I have been for the past three months. I clench my jaw against the memories, causing a throbbing headache to begin at the base of my skull. Loud footsteps make me wince and I turn to see Juno, in her white uniform, and my father.
"Morning," growls my father. He too is dressed for work, in his uniform for the weapons factory. I nod curtly as my sister sits heavily in a chair. My father and I both follow suit. My mother serves everyone with a dish of eggs and potatoes. As I eat I can't help but glance bitterly at Juno and our mother, interacting happily.
Even now that I'm a victor Juno takes precedence over me. Everyone loves me. All the citizens of District 2 want to run into Cato Brunwin, Victor of the Seventy-Fourth Annual Hunger Games, on the streets. But my own parents still favor my older sister over me. What little appetite I had suddenly vanishes and I push away from the table.
"I'm going for a walk," I announce without looking at any of them. I don't wait for a reply, but simply leave out of the front door. I can't stop my mind from delving into the memories. Instead of fighting them I find a quiet spot in the woods, climb up on a large boulder, and let them consume me.
I barrel through the trees, my only focus on getting to the Cornicopia, to safety. I see Katniss and Peeta as I run, but for once I don't feel any hatred toward them. The terror gripping me as the muttations gain on me leaves little room for anything else. I finally reach the golden horn and clamber up it, ignoring the scorching heat of the metal. At the top I collapse, my lungs and muscles burning from the effort of running from the mutts. I hear Peeta and Katniss as they climb up the side in the same manner I had. Their voices carry over to me as I begin to recover. Pushing myself to my feet, I look and see that both have their backs to me. Bad move. I lunge for Peeta and wrap my arm around his neck, flexing my arm as I trap him in a chokehold. He halfheartedly claws at my arm while at the same time trying to staunch the flow of blood coming from his left leg. Katniss aims an arrow at my head, but we both know she won't shoot. But what she doesn't know, and I do, is that I took Clove's knives when she died.
I shove Peeta forward, creating enough of a distraction for me to pull out the knives. Katniss is too focused on him to notice what I'm doing. Though my arm isn't nearly as steady as Clove's, the knife I throw hits its mark. Peeta looks down at his chest in shock. Then he grunts and his head drops back. Katniss screams, the sound high-pitched and filled with agony.
"Peeta!" She screams, horror and shock on her face. "No! Peeta, no!"
A cannon booms across the arena. She turns on me with fire in her eyes. Lifting her bow, she lets her last arrow loose just as I duck to avoid it. She growls and tosses aside the now-useless bow. I don't know what she intends to do, but she crouches like a cat that's ready to pounce. My body tenses, waiting for her to make the first move. Just as I suspected she leaps at me, hands poised to strangle me. With all the rage brewing in her dangerous gray eyes, I don't doubt that she could, even with my superior strength and size. But I'm faster than she thinks. I duck forward and strike her in the stomach with Clove's other knife. She jumps back, clutching her abdomen. Before she can recover I stab her once more, twisting the knife as I do. Blood spills from her stomach as Katniss staggers backwards, dropping to one knee as she gasps for breath. I yank the first knife from Peeta's body, just in case she tries to attack me again. She doesn't. I can see the defeat in her eyes, the regret and the pain. The fire slowly dims in her gray eyes.
"Prim….." She whispers. "I'm sorry."
I smirk and straighten. She knows that she can't last long. At the last minute I notice the way she's looking at me, with hatred and vengeance. With a snarl Katniss leaps at me. Her body collides with mine. The slick blood that now covers the Cornucopia leaves no chance to regain balance. Together we plummet to the ground. Pain sears my left leg and I hear an alarming snap a second before the mutts attack. The pain is excruciating. I scream in agony as the dogs rip apart my flesh. Why are they attacking me? Why is Katniss not dead? After an unbearable moment that feels like hours, the cannon booms and the mutts instantly cease. I hear the hovercraft above me more than see it; my vision is blurred from the pain and loss of blood. The last thing I see before blacking out is the claw descending to take me into the hovercraft.
My eyes snap open and I take in a large breath. Pulling my legs to my chest, I do my best to remain in the present and not go back to the arena. I begin to sway slightly as I stare straight ahead. I focus on the large pine tree in front of me, examining every detail about it in attempt to rid myself of the images. The brown, grooved surface of its trunk; the bright green needles, providing a flash of color against the monotonous brown of bark and earth. No matter how hard I try I can't rid my mind of the pale faces of the dead. Katniss. Peeta. Clove. I squeeze my eyes closed, shaking my head. Bloody corpses. Agonized screams. Thunderous booms of the cannon. It all surrounds me, so surreal that for a moment I believe I'm still there.
No, I tell myself. I'm not in the Games anymore. I'm here. I'm home. In District Two. I manage to pull myself back to the rock I sit on, to the aspens and the pines that hadn't been present in the arena. But the faces still linger. At school they always told me that winning brings honor, brings glory. And it does. What they didn't tell me, though, was that it was all bought for a price. I won, but all that's left of me is a haunted, broken shell; a mere impersonation of the Cato I once was. I gave up everything I was. I turned myself into a heartless monster, into a Capitol pawn. Your heart and soul: that is the price of winning, of so-called victory. My stomach churns as the face of Clove—all of their faces—fills my mind once more. Bloody and battered. Dead. I killed them. Unclenching my hands, I study the deep grooves in my palms. The indents from my finger nails are so deep they've begun to bleed in a few spots. I can't hold the disgust back any longer, the horror at what I've done weights down on me. Leaning over the edge of the boulder, I gag several times. My heart races as I fight the urge to throw up. Unsuccessful, I twist and vomit my breakfast onto the forest floor.
The fresh air and familiar woods are doing nothing to calm me, so I slid off of the rock. I wipe the back of my sleeve over my mouth. Just as I step out of the trees and onto the path leading to Victor's Village my foot catches on a stray root and I stumble forward.
I right myself and look over to see Basil Amaran, the girl who cleans my lavish house. She's from the Crag, the eastern most village of District 2, and the closest to the square and Justice building. Victor's Village lies just beyond the square, about half a mile to the west. I swallow hard and try not to think about how much she resembles Clove. Her face is different, but her dark hair and brown eyes are eerily similar. Or maybe it's just the haunting images that linger making me think they could be sisters. I clear my throat and give her what I hope resembles a smile.
We silently start walking together, side-by-side on the path. My mind wonders to thoughts of Basil's father, who is a Weapons Designer for the Capitol. He's always going to important meetings with President Snow, leaving Basil alone to care for her five younger siblings. I grasp at the straws these thoughts provide; anything to keep me from the arena again. I chuckle softly as I think about Mr. Amaran's job. He makes weapons to keep the citizens of Panem safe, but who is it they're really protecting: the people, or the Capitol? A wry smile twists my lips, and I feel Basil's eyes on me curiously.
"What?" She asks softly.
I stop in the middle of the path, shaking my head as I turn to her.
"I just…." I pause, not sure how to express my feelings while still maintaining my appearance of normalcy. I shake my head again and sigh.
"I find it ironic that your father is always gone on Capitol business, providing all these weapons to keep us—and everyone in Panem—safe."
Her dark eyebrows move closer as she frowns. "I don't understand."
I grunt in frustration. "They're always talking about protecting us, protecting the people. But tell me, what weapon do I have? What can protect me against the nightmares?" Pausing, I lean closer to her and dare to whisper, "They say they're keeping us safe, but they're the ones that send us there to die!"
Basil's eyes widen as she gasps.
"Cato," she breathes, glancing around nervously as though a Peacekeeper is going to come and arrest me for treason. "Cato, don't say that."
"Why?" I ask, flinging my arms out from my sides. I unconsciously revert to my Hunger Games strategy: anger above all else. Any emotion I might feel must be channeled to come out as anger, as vicious bloodlust. "Why should I care? What can they do to me that they haven't already?"
"I don't know," Basil whispers, and I know I've frightened her. Good. She should be. After all, I'm nothing but a brutal murderer. "But you won, Cato. You won. You're home. You're safe."
"No, I'm not safe. I'll never be safe." I growl at her.
Basil doesn't back away, but I see the tears in her eyes. "You brought honor to your district, to your family."
"Honor." I laugh and shake my head. "That's all a bunch of lies."
Basil shakes her head. "No. Don't say that! Cato, be careful what you say."
She hesitates and then leans closer to whisper, "or they might kill you…. Kill you like my mother."
"Let them!" I spit, letting the anger consume me. It's better than the guilt, the fear, the despair. I glare at Basil, my hands clenched in fists. She flinches but still doesn't back away. After a moment I allow my shoulders to sag, the anger to ebb away. Meeting her eyes, I let her see what I've become.
"Let them," I repeat softly. "I'm already dead, anyway."
Endless white snow covers everything. The trees, the ground. Even the sky holds a thick white mist. I can't help but feel a kind of sadistic kinship with the colorless substance. We're both cold and ruthless, bringing death wherever we go. Maybe that's no longer true for me, but nothing can ever erase the fact I'm a killer. Even now I am forced to pretend once more that I enjoyed it. That I've never had one regret, when the truth is my only regret is not letting Katniss shoot me when I had the chance. Dread settles in my stomach as the train starts to slow. I am approaching District 12. Katniss and Peeta's district. The District that would have not only one, but two victors, if not for me. I close my eyes and tell myself the lies I've been fed. If I start to believe them then perhaps I can stop hating myself.
It is an honor to win the Games, I recite. Six months ago I was dreaming of this moment, high on the idea of going into the Games, naïvely thinking that I could come out the same person I was. Since I was five years old the Hunger Games has been my goal. I trained, I won staged battles, I dominated the others with my brute strength. My teachers made it all like a game. It was fun. I got to brag to my friends, scare weaker kids. When Clove got reaped, and none of the girls volunteered, I knew I had to go. I was ready; who better to go with than a friend? After three days in the arena I realized that it wasn't what I thought. Those were real people; real deaths. But I didn't have a choice. So I put aside my fear, my disgust, my horror, and I did what I had to do.
"Don't look so glum, Cato," my escort croons in her Capitol accent. "You're the lucky one, are you not?"
I give her a cruel smile, but don't answer. No! I want to shout at her. No, I'm not the lucky one, you idiot. The other twenty-three tributes….the ones that are dead….the ones that I murdered; those are the lucky ones. I meet the eyes of Brutus, my mentor, for a moment before he quickly looks away. He knows, just like I do, who the lucky ones are.
As a child I always wondered why most of the victors would seldom come out of their own little village. I had always presumed it was arrogance. They'd won the Hunger Games, so why should they speak to people who are lesser than them? Now I know differently. Most of us don't go into public for fear they'll see our scars, because we have to keep up the image of ourselves displayed during the Games. After you're broken and tormented, night after night by the nightmares of your friends dying, of killing other kids, there isn't much strength left to keep up appearances. With the possible exception of Enobaria, I think we realize that what we did is nothing but murder. It's not a game. It's a sick, sadistic tool used to control people with fear. Just as I look up the train lurches to a stop. Brutus stands, the rest of my team following suit. Reluctantly I stand and join them.
District 12 is a frozen, desolate place. The crowd stares at me somberly and I can feel the hatred and bitterness coming off of them like mist. Believe me, I tell them in my mind, no one can hate me more than myself. No time is wasted and I'm starting my well-rehearsed speech before I can even fully grasp my surroundings. My words nearly falter as I meet the blue eyes of a young girl with blond hair. Tears streak a clear trail down her rosy-pink cheeks. A woman with the same blond hair and eyes grips her tightly to her chest in a protective embrace. Just as I end the speech an image of Katniss, crimson blood soaking her shirt, surprise on her face as I stab her, fills my mind. Her desperate voice as she whispers her sisters name, whispers an apology hisses in my ears. Without a doubt in my mind I know I am staring into the eyes of Primrose Everdeen. Instantly the day of the reaping, all those months ago, replay in my mind. At the time I had thought Katniss was just being melodramatic. In my world volunteering was a thing to be proud of. But I soon realized that Katniss had done it not for glory and honor, but for love. She loved her sister so much she refused to let the little girl be sent to her death as a caged animal, to be hunted.
Self-loathing and disgust settle thickly in my stomach. I wish I could apologize. I want to tell the girl I'm sorry for being a coward and not accepting my death. Katniss had something to live for. Something to win for. What did I have but a desire to be wanted by my parents? Why did I fight selfishly for my life when Katniss gave herself so selflessly in her sister's place? I had the sudden urge to do something stupid and reckless. If I jumped into the crowd and attacked District 12, would the Peacekeepers shoot me? Would they end my misery? Doubt fills me. No. The Capitol is too cruel. They would take me to the Capitol, where they would extract some horrible punishment on me. Maybe they would label me as crazy and lock me away in a house with cushioned walls and padded furniture. So instead, I turn and enter the Justice Building, where my feast is waiting.
After the Victory Tour the bitter, grieving faces of my victims' families add themselves to my haunted dreams. Especially Primrose Everdeen. She's always there, staring at me with her blue eyes filled with so many emotions: fear, grief, anger. But the one I can't stand, the thing I caught a glimpse of before stumbling into the District 12 Justice Building, is pity. I murdered her sister and she has the nerve to pity me? I don't deserve her pity.
I stand in a puddle of blood. The sword in my hand drips the crimson liquid onto my boots. It doesn't matter. I'm already covered in blood. Cato… I twist around, searching for the voice. My eyes can't find anything in the dark trees surrounding me on all sides. Cato… I grip my sword tighter, my knuckles turning a ghastly white against the dim lighting. I step forward, trying to escape the blood pooled at my feet. My foot slips and I have no choice but to catch myself with my hands. Revulsion fills me as the still-warm blood splatters on my face, covering me with the grotesque fluid. I let out a startled scream and scramble backwards. Cato… Cato… The whispers fill my mind, twisting around in my head until all I can hear is the eerie, hollow hissing. Cato… From every side, the voices come. I press my blood-covered hands to my ears, begging them to stop. They only grow louder. I look up, and to my horror see dead tributes shuffling toward me. Their eyes gleam with vengeance and hunger. I can't move, can't escape. While I watch they transform, each becoming a large, terrifying beast, growling even as their eyes shine with still-human intelligence.
"No," I whisper, "please…."
Their voices still hiss inside my mind, slowly driving me insane. The soft padding of footsteps whisper over the grass, much too soft for the muttation tributes, and I look up to see Primerose Everdeen. Her demonic grimace is nearly as frightening as the dogs slowly advancing toward me. She holds up her hand, and in it there is a pin; the mockingjay pendant Katniss had worn in the arena.
"You killed my sister," she whispers gently. "You killed her…."
She tosses the pin. It arcs into the air, a golden blur in the twilight. Lightly it lands on my chest. The girl meets my eyes and nods once, solemnly, before creeping away as quietly as she came. Just as her footsteps cease to touch the grass, the mutts leap forward to attack.
I jolt awake, heart pounding and with a scream I stifle in my pillow. For a moment I lie face down on my bed, focusing on my breathing in order to keep my mind as blank as possible. Ripping away my blankets, I push open the window and breathe in the forest air. This is my routine. Sleep, wake screaming, open window, repeat. Without it I would go insane. Shaking myself, I silently close the window and then walk to the bathroom. I grip the edges of the sink and stare into my lifeless, soulless eyes. What is the point of this existence? I'm not even alive anymore. I haven't been for six months. If I leave, if I rid myself from this God-forsaken land, what difference would it make? Downstairs I can hear my parents and Juno as they prepare to leave for work. They don't even bother to acknowledge me anymore. The Seventy-Fifth Hunger Games are starting in a month—they have better things to occupy their minds than the ghost of their son and brother. When the door closes with a final bang, I lower myself onto the edge of the bathtub.
Taking in a deep breath, I close my eyes a moment before taking the small knife from its hiding place under the sink. For along moment I stare at the scars lining my arms. If it weren't for the Capitol and their repairs after the Games, I would have so many more scars. Pendants of the agony I suffered at the claws and teeth of the muttation tributes. If not for the Capitol healers, I would be as marred on the outside as I am on the inside. I fall to my knees and press the cold steel blade to my skin. I gasp in a mixture of pain and satisfaction as I feel the bit of the knife and, seconds later, the warm flow of blood over my hands. The pain is the only reality I know that is able to stop the incessant images, streaming through my mind even as the blood comes from my veins. When the pain recedes to a dull ache I press the blade to the opposite wrist. I know why the lone District 12 victor is a drunk. I'm almost jealous of the mad District 4 victor. It may be sadistic, but physical pain is the only respite I have from the mental agony, the torture my memories and nightmares bring. Despair washes over me, pressing its ominous presence against my will. What would it take to end my own life? I'm nothing but a killer, but would I be too much of a coward to accomplish the task? No one would notice. No one would care. No one in my family ever mentions the scars I know they see.
I wryly wonder what would happen if I did it. What lies would the Capitol tell the citizens of Panem, the people in the Capitol who love Cato the Victor? What kind of accident would Snow claim took my life when the truth is despair and no sense of hope? Death would be better than this hell, this suffering. It would be a small act of rebellion, but one none the less. Proof that not all victors win. Would anyone notice? Do some good in your life. Gritting my teeth, I lift the knife to my neck. My heart hammers in my chest as my hand presses the blade against my neck. Despite the despair and hopelessness, there's still a dominant part of me that doesn't want to die. What if I die and the afterlife is worse than this? Can anything be worse than the torture I already endure?
The door creaks open, but I half think it's only my imagination. I already am insane, I think. A sharp gasp of horror comes from behind me. I don't bother to look. Clothes rustle and Basil drops down beside me.
"Cato, what—?" Her eyes widen in horror as she sees the blood still oozing from my wrists. She quickly snatches the knife from my hand and I don't know if I'm relieved or the opposite. I stare blankly at the wall, not entirely conscious of the girl beside me.
"What have you done to yourself?" She asks gently. I feel pressure on my wrists, then her gentle touch as she wraps gauze around my injuries.
"Cato," says Basil, panic rising in her voice. "Cato, say something."
I blink once. Twice. Slowly I turn my head to Basil. She has tears running down her cheeks, and it occurs to me to wonder why. Why should she care? No one else does. I still don't respond. I can see the frantic look in her eyes. Reaching out, she grips my shoulders and shakes me.
"Cato, answer me!" She shouts, her grip tightening painfully. Once she's stopped shaking me I meet her eyes.
"You're right," I say hoarsely. "Dying is too easy."
She frowns at me, but I don't explain. Dying isn't an option for me. If I die, if I kill myself, then I won't suffer any longer. And I deserve to suffer. I killed those kids. I killed Katniss. I killed Peeta. I killed Thresh, and the boy from District 3, and several others. They're dead because they deserved to stop suffering; they still had good in them—that's why they died. I'm still alive because I'm a heartless, selfish monster. I deserve to suffer, to endure the agony that comes every night. I wanted to win. I was too selfish to die. And now I have to pay the price—the price of victory.
If you liked this, please let me know! (In other words, please drop a review ;]) Also, if you want me to continue on I will do my best to try, though I can't guarantee anything and I don't know how often I would update. I have several other projects I'm focusing on at the moment, so I don't know when I would get to it, but I will do my best if I get good reception. Love you! =]