We all have been degraded. We all will be the greatest. - The Maine
Alternate Ending - 12/12
July 1st, 84
Clove longed for an agonized scream, for a petty victim to beg for their last breaths. The exercise she'd set up was good for her visual tension, but failed to deliver in all functional capacities. Still, Clove couldn't tell Cato that. She had promised to work on loosening her dependence on the parlor tricks, on the cheap magician's paltry efforts that kept her from enfolding on herself.
If Cato knew how desperate she got, he might actually have the gall to leave her, but he was a sucker and she was sweet as pie.
Like any other addict, Clove kept count. It'd been three thousand, one hundred, and twenty-six days since her last hoorah. By war's end, she'd murdered at least 75 individuals in the span of six years. 45 of those preceded her enlistment.
Clove had always relished the way her victims' blood splattered on impact, the high pitch as they begged for mercy, the fear each man had as they faced their death, because in the end they were all the same; cowards under the guise of a brave face.
It was only after her traumatic endeavor with President Coin that the last thread of her cognizance snapped.
She fingered the weapon gingerly. In this tiny space, a 10 x 10 room, she was free. The art studio was hers to do with as she pleased, but only here. She was bound by commitments out of this room.
Instantly, the dulling throwing knife hit the balloon and scarlet paint gushed down the wall, coating it in a stream of color. It was close, but never close enough to trick herself into believing it could be real.
Clove grabbed an empty wine bottle, the neighboring alcoholic's silent reprieve, and threw it against the wall. An ear-splitting shatter filled the room. It helped when she imagined it as Snow's skull, spread across the auditorium floor.
Late in December 75, Clove Holloway was sent to trial. It was a haziness she barely recalled.
The judicial panel found her lacking the mental capacity to have formed the intent to kill President Coin. She didn't bother to correct them.
Clove was declared insane. Had waited her whole life for the diagnosis and there it was, in plain writing, on a legal document for public consumption.
Once the charges had been amended, the boys, along with her father, had taken turns taking her to see the listening doctor, a man who worked with those suffering from mental anguish ranging from melodramatic to histrionic to horribly frenetic.
As her breathing steadied, Clove picked up the last of the pieces of glass, sorted them, then dipped them into a variety of paints for ready use. Cato would love his gift. A dedication to their twenty years. Twenty years and he still made her heart race, her lips curve, and her eyes glimmer.
She went into the kitchen, steaming a kettle of water over the stove, and cleaning her brushes.
If her palms ever began to sweat, her wrists ache for a human target, then she was to implement a five minute window, telling herself she'd abstain from hurting others for five minutes. Theoretically, minutes would grow to hours, and hours to days, and eventually (at least, this was what they'd said) she wouldn't be tempted anymore.
Nailed to the splitting plywood was a hanging calendar. She removed the nail and fastened it to the proper month. Today was the first of July.
Written in the next date over, in bright pink marker, was 'Nelly's 23rd birthday! Hooray!' (artfully crafted by her sister herself), and on the following day, the 3rd (in very small print) 'Fix is 28 years old today'.
They had forbidden her from prolonged periods alone. When they'd returned home, Dicey was told to escort her to retrieve her sister.
And it just so happened to be a coincidence that Magnilda wore a teal bow in her hair that day, but Clove would have been all waterworks anyways. At fourteen, her sister was stunning, taller than her already, and nearly the spitting image of their young mother. It'd brought hot tears to Clove's eyes.
Callan had returned with two warm cups of peppermint tea. Dicey was buried in his mother's arms, refusing to let go. Clove had been in hysterics, hardly capable of sipping the warm beverage, so Magnilda had pushed the mugs away, and pulled her sister into her lap, gently running her hands through her hair as her sister had so often done for her.
"Let it out, Loey. It's alright."
Neither spoke of Nero, of their aunt, of what the war cost them. Only grieving together in shaky sobs.
For months, Magnilda was the only thing that could bring Clove close to normal, to keep her from reengaging in crisis mode.
She sat on a stool, pouring the hot water, then steeping a tea bag. Clove jumped off the stool to raid her cabinets as the bag sank into her glass, when she stepped on a crinkly piece of artwork. While certainly not crafted by her own hands, it was equally, if not more, valuable.
Clove looked at the piece with a small smile, before pinning it to the wall, lest it fall to the ground and be damaged irreparably.
"You're out of shape, C," Dicey taunted, a slick grin on his face.
Cato leaned back, chastising, "Hardly. I'll have you know I bench press 350."
The redhead arched his brows. "Which I'm sure comes in really handy for the owner of a book sanctuary, Meathead."
So many things happened at once when they returned to District Two. Hazel said her first words. Dicey had taken up mining. Clove entered into long-term mental treatment, and Cato learned quickly that to survive, one needed a trade to call their own.
One afternoon, when walking along the city line, he'd found a rundown, condemned corner store at the edge of town, right before the market. The owner had heckled him and Dicey in their youth, often accusing them of scaring away his customers by playing too loudly. When Cato had offered to buy it, the owner explained it was uninhabitable, but that hadn't been a problem.
After all, it's not like Felix had anything better to do...
So they refurbished the shop, making the necessary repairs, and reopened it as District Two's first book sanctuary. Conceptually, it was simple. One picked up a book, perused it to their heart's content, and then returned it for the next reader when they were finished.
The Wagner family became so infatuated with the concept (and the good publicity) that they donated a generous grant to help keep the sanctuary self-sustaining. Felix hadn't been pleased, but Aniston had stepped in immediately as peacemaker ("Just because I like you doesn't mean I have to like your family, An," Felix had spat at her, irritably.)
Cato dodged left, and then agilely swung the old, wooden sword at Dicey's side. "Point."
Dicey sulked. Damn, he'd grown lethargic since ascending to a healthy body weight. At least as a scarecrow, he'd been swift.
The redhead jumped forward, and Cato slid low, before Dicey tripped him up, and pointed his wooden sword over Cato's heart. "Point."
Cato then leaped forward, slashing ferociously at the open air, but never quite reaching him. Dicey's amber eyes glimmered mischievously as he rolled along the wall, and hit Cato's neck. "Who says you don't get lucky twice?"
Cato jumped forward, pushed him to the ground, and smirked, his wooden sword over Dicey's back, "You just don't, Princess."
However, while he bragged, Dicey turned around, swung, and then beamed, victorious, "Don't be arrogant, C."
Easing up, Cato threw him a water bottle. "Good work, Dice."
Dicey had immersed himself in work. Any work. Mining stone, laying bricks, developing blueprints. Anything to keep himself from wasting into nothingness.
In an ideal world, he'd have been a peacekeeper — a real peacekeeper, not a violent fool of a man hiding behind a leather whip and a twenty-year life sentence. Still, he saw the way his sister looked at them, the way her hands shook unwillingly when she passed one in the market, and the tremble in her shoulders made him regret ever having considered the choice.
Years passed, and he explored a very diverse line of work until the year 80, when Felix was nominated as Region Leader of Two West, serving a similar role as one might expect of a mayor in a smaller district.
Once he'd gotten comfortable in his role, Felix had asked Dicey if he would be interested in the position of 'commissioner' as part of his 'crime-reduction task force'. The redhead had been, naturally, suspicious. And when he'd said as much to Felix, the young man had shrugged, humble, and truthful.
"You've taken so many odd jobs over the years that everyone knows you, and you're one of the only people I know who actually cares about others because it's the right thing to do. When you do something, you give it your whole heart, and that's what I want from someone in this position. I want someone who cares about the people in Two West, not someone who will throw the poor to the dirt and allow the wealthy to glide on by without recourse. We've seen the consequences of that, Dicey."
Flattery got Felix everywhere.
"But am I even qualified for whatever this position is?"
"Come on, Dicey. Do I look like I dally in nepotism? Course you're qualified."
Dicey's responsibility became to enmesh himself into the community and find why laws were being violated, what services were failing to be provided, what behaviors they'd been encouraging in their youth, where the highest areas of crime were, and how the people of Two West felt they could best be aided.
His job, in other words, was to be a source of community support.
Though, it was difficult to see so many of the ex-trainees with an abundance of energy and nowhere to expel it. Some had been designated as 'criminals' under Felix's reign, as the raven-haired man had outlawed non-consensual sex (for any age, not just twelve and under), murder (against anyone, not just political officials), violence against children, against anyone, except to protect oneself and others, and yet, at the same time Felix's office had loosened the reigns on laws and sentencing for petty crimes.
No more starving children would die. And Dicey finally felt solace in that.
Felix wasn't a bad boss, either, ironically. Dicey thought maybe this was who he'd been meant to be the whole time.
It was only by irony that the training annex had been converted into a community center for youth, funded in part by Felix's own supplementary income, and a generous (and how Felix hated it so) grant from the Pittman Quarry.
"They're trying," Aniston had said to them of her parents.
Felix rolled his eyes, but Dicey had thought maybe the Wagners really meant it.
The tensions had eased, but only little by little.
Dicey took a sip of water, and then reached into his duffel, throwing an old paperback novel at the blond. "One of our neighborhood thieves thought you might be interested in that."
Cato held the book, "The Great Gatsby? Me and your town thieves should work something out. It's a collectible. Tell them to stay out of trouble and maybe I'll give em' a job."
The redhead snorted, "Yeah, you do that, and let me know what to do if this town is suddenly overrun by over-educated thieves."
"Easy, Dice. You get them to work for you instead of against you."
Oliver wasn't sure this was the best idea.
Still, with the ragtag team behind him, he didn't have much of a choice. More trail mix spilled to the floor and he got to his knees, scooping most of it up, before giving the assailants a dirty look.
The door knob shook and he took a breath. Too late to regret his choice now.
Cato and Clove entered in a bedraggled state, as if they'd somehow forgotten what day it was. Dicey gave the group a half-apologetic shake of the head.
Before Clove had been kidnapped, she laid out several stipulations to accepting Cato's proposal.
First, they were going to have a long engagement — five years, so she'd safely be out of the teen marriage barometer. Cato inevitably talked her down to two years. Second, he had to re-propose when they hit that point. Third, they were going to maintain a very open line of communication. And fourth, there'd be no ceremony until they returned to Two West. Last of all (this had been added in later), she'd be allowed to stab Felix in the throat if he so much as made a peep about her outfit the day of the ceremony.
When they returned home, Cato tried his hardest to be the support system Clove needed, but found he couldn't do it alone. Asking for help had been one the hardest things he'd ever done.
On a particularly good night, about a year after they returned, Cato and Clove had been leaning against each other, her sketching, and him nose-deep in a novel, when she had turned to him, and said, with an affectionate grin,"Let's do something crazy. Let's get married."
He'd beamed, surprised, and intoxicatingly innocent as kissed her fervently. "Nothing crazy about that, beautiful."
They'd indulged each other recklessly that night, working to outdo the other's performance, and ascend a higher level of pleasure. It'd been a night of new joys, wild, but memorable, and one that they recalled fondly. Cato had won.
(There were no losers)
A dark-haired little girl ran from behind the counter, pushing Oliver out of the way, and leaped into their arms. "Happy versy' mommy and daddy!"
A prized smile broke onto Clove's face as she swooped up the girl into her arms, "Happy 'versy' to you too, peach."
The two rubbed cheeks affectionately.
The duo got hitched on July 1st, 77, still young at a blossoming 19 and 20 years of age. It'd been thirteen years exactly from the day they'd met. Clove hadn't broken the teen marriage threshold, but for once she didn't care.
Or at least, at first, she hadn't cared. On their first anniversary, the dark-haired woman had finally surpassed her teen years, but not without a new companion in tow, two-month old Calliope Elroy, a dark-haired, blue-eyed addition to their family.
On their first anniversary, Clove hit rock bottom. Or, maybe, the first bottom of many rock bottoms.
It had taken Cato by great surprise. He'd thought she'd been such a champ her entire pregnancy and that the hard part had been over, but he'd been mistaken.
"I can't be someone's mom, Cato! I can barely take care of myself," Clove had screamed at him through tears, rocking back and forth as the baby wailed in the background. Clove screeched at the infant to shut up and grabbed a handful of hair, "We're not ready. I'm sorry. We're not ready to be parents."
Cato had given her a look of fierce dismay, hardly masking his wounded expression at that assertion, "Pull yourself together, Clove!"
As Clove had looked away, Cato had picked up Calliope and taken her to the other room. When he returned with the infant asleep and a look of fatigue in his eyes, Clove had averted her eyes in shame. "I want to get better," she had told him, quietly.
He'd sat beside her, still overwhelmed, fearful, "Have you talked to the listening doctor about it?"
"I don't need his help."
Cato only shot back, grimly, "We all need help, Clove."
I need help, he'd thought.
She'd looked up to him, angry tears in her eyes, "Just say it, you regret marrying me."
"That's not true, but you're giving up too easily! Look at her, look at our daughter. She's our greatest accomplishment and you're not willing to fight for her." Cato held her, shaky himself, "You were strong for me for twelve years. You saved my life so many times, Clovey, so I don't mind being strong for you, but we have a child now. She needs us, so we have to be strong for her, for each other, because I can't do it alone."
The anxious tears that had spilled down his cheeks triggered something fiercely protective in her. "What if she becomes like me?" Clove asked, hoarsely.
"Then she'll be smart, and strong, and loyal, and all things I could ever hope for," Cato replied naturally, "But we have to consider the fact that Calliope is growing up in a world better than ours was, so naturally, we want her to grow up to be better than us, too."
Clove had wrapped herself around him.
"We'll do it for her."
"For Calliope," Cato agreed, smiling through tears. "I love you, Clove."
"I love you, too," she said, and rested her thumb on the infant's face. "And you, P."
"Did you plan this?" Cato asked fourteen-year-old Oliver, who looked utterly unenthused by the bounty of attendees. Cato pointed at the lopsided streamers hanging from wall to wall, which looked pretty half-assed compared to the feast sitting upon the kitchen table.
Hazel popped up from behind Oliver. She beamed at him, "mommy helped!"
Cato smiled in return, picking up his nine-year-old sister, and holding her on his hip. "Is that so?"
Sundara didn't look like she wanted any credit for the mess, nor did Mr. Holloway or Mr. Elroy, who both looked like they'd rather be anywhere than a room full of kids.
Lieutenant Holloway had been one of their best supporters.
"See, they try to pretty it up. Having a kid is messy and fucking terrifying. You have this ten pound creature that cries and shits and needs you to stay alive, and you're scared you're going to fail them, then you add all the 'new parent paranoia' on top of it. 'What if she trips and breaks her leg?' 'What if some boy fucks her up?' 'What if she's eaten by a bear muttation?' 'What if she's kidnapped or killed or...'"
Cato had gone into internal panic-mode in like 3.2 seconds. He didn't want to think of Calliope in any of those precarious situations.
Lieutenant Holloway had glared at him for his weakness.
But Clove hadn't seemed scared. They were birds of a feather, those two.
And slowly but surely, Lieutenant Holloway had coached his daughter on how to parent, showing her how to bathe, and clean, and hold a child without losing your sanity, proving that in the long-run, he'd been a pretty okay father himself.
There were few hugs, compliments, or kind words — it just wasn't the Holloway way. But you could see the pride in his face as he watched his daughter hold his granddaughter silently, tears springing as she really looked at her daughter for the first time.
He'd only wrapped his arm around Clove and smirked at the yawning infant.
"Mama, mama," Calliope chattered, excitedly, "Coriander and I made trail mix with Lolly!"
"Really?" Clove asked, her eyes darting immediately to the floor. Oliver folded his arms, daring her to make a complaint. Coriander came out from behind Magnilda's leg, who prodded him along, and handed Clove a translucent bag of trail mix, tied together by a spectacular teal bow.
Just as Clove had grown increasingly confident in her ability to dote on her growing daughter, she became pregnant again. Once it'd been confirmed, Clove had locked herself in their bedroom, refusing to come out.
The doctors had said she couldn't become pregnant while breastfeeding. They'd lied, just like everyone else.
When Cato had finally gathered the nerve to sneak in beside her and whisper to her under the blanket of darkness, Clove had relayed fears of failure, of hating their second child just as she had initially been with Calliope. Cato had been too afraid to ask if she'd truly hated their daughter initially, too afraid of the answer to even dare.
And while she told him it was the second chance she'd always wanted, it was not at all when she'd wanted it.
27-year-old Felix sat in between Halle and Harriet, the sleeves of his suit rolled up. Though a public figure, it'd take an occasion rather special for him to wear his clothes the way his publicist pleaded with him to.
He wasn't old money, so why bother pretending he was? He hadn't been chosen for his family lineage. He was a political figure. If they wanted an old-money diatribe, they'd need to consult Aniston as his Executive Project Manager, because that was a sound bite he couldn't deliver.
The raven-haired man smirked at Clove as she accepted the bag of trail mix from her son. Coriander then threw his arms around Felix, climbing into his lap.
"Hey, bud," Felix said, gently running his fingers through the blond's hair as the boy nuzzled up to his chest. "You excited for kindergarten this year?"
"Yeah, but I'm scared a little," Coriander said, reluctantly. "I'm more little than other kids."
"Your mama and papa were small when they were your age, too, but they were still really strong. Being small isn't a bad thing. Uncle Dicey was little too and was wicked fast."
"Can you tell us stories about mama and papa, Felix?" He asked.
"Yeah! I want stories, too," Calliope interjected.
"No," Cato and Clove said together, rather quickly.
Harriet and Dicey only struggled to suppress knowing expressions. Felix only grinned lightly, "You should ask Dicey about how he got his nickname."
"Ah, Felix, come on," Dicey whined.
Clove gave him a slasher smile. "Now that's a story I'd tell."
She'd called then 22-year-old Felix over, telling him in anxious, excited breaths. "Let's go hunting."
Maybe he'd been a touch gullible, thinking they could ask Clove not to kill and expect her to comply. They'd been halfway out the door when he'd heard the infant's wails.
"Where's Cato?" he'd asked, casually.
"And your father?"
"Why does it matter, Fix?" Clove spat, poisonously.
"Who's watching your daughter?"
"Whatever, we'll bring her along!"
And so the three had embarked into the desert.
There was a man dangling from one of her traps. As Clove had begun to cut down the rope, Felix had clenched his hands around her wrists, and yelled at the victim to run. Clove had screamed in frustration, smacking him across the face, and he'd forced himself not to hit her back, in effect risking to relapse himself.
"What the hell did you do that for?"
"How many lives have you claimed since you returned?" he'd demanded. "We promised we wouldn't use violence anymore, Clove! I trusted you!"
Her eyes had narrowed lethally. "What's the point? It hasn't made me happier. I'm the punchline to every joke you ever made. Twenty and pregnant with my second baby in two years. I'm a nutcase. I've got the papers to prove it and I'm going to ruin this one just—"
Felix's animosity had ebbed only a little, and he'd pulled her back, quietly arguing, "No, E, you're not. You won the Hunger Games, won the war, got married, and had a child. I'd say that's a pretty fucking successful life."
"Who cares about any of that?" Clove fumed.
He'd arched his brows, suddenly heated, "And despite what you have, you're still ungrateful."
At her bewilderment, he clarified, the hot air suffocating him. "My parents died when I was eight. Your dad fought a war for your freedom. My sister and niece were ripped away from me. Your sister is almost done with high school. My best friend died and yours lives across the fucking street from you. Me, I can't even go to bed without three layers of clothing, because being naked is being vulnerable and I learned a long time ago that when I get soft, I get hurt. You... you're fucking married and have someone who loves you unconditionally.
And while Snow might have threatened Magnilda, he never put his words into action. He could have put Magnilda against Nero in the Quell, but he didn't. Instead, I had to watch as Nee and Brooke stood side-by-side on stage as they were reaped. And damn if I don't miss Nee even more, because he let Brooke go. He let me save her even though he didn't believe me, and by the time he did, he was half-dead, bleeding to death in your father's arms. And I spend every day thinking about how much of a fucking asshole I was to him, how I should have been more appreciative. So, sorry if I'm a little short of pity for you."
The anger written across her face didn't register, and he didn't care. Felix picked up the baby's carrier and looked down at her scrunched up face. "It'll be okay, Calliope."
"Just because bad things happened to you doesn't mean my life was a cakewalk!" Clove replied, acidly.
"No, but if I can stay clean, so can you. You've always had a stronger will than any of us. But whatever, give up. It's not my problem, and it's not my place to stop you, but I hope you think about the blood staining your fingertips and how easily it could be someone you love, because every victim we've ever had was someone's child, someone's brother, sister, mother, uncle, cousin, friend, someone to someone else, and we took that from them."
"Sorry, I didn't come home fucking perfect like you did. Sorry, I am tempted and—"
He let out hot air, "Don't act like I'm some saint. I killed 1/3 of the contestants in the 73rd Hunger Games, killed President Snow, killed one hundred fucking people, which is more than you ever did." Felix then added, "Do you know how easy it'd be to crack someone's skull every time they tell me I'm a dirty coward for helping to eliminate the games? How easy it'd be to wrap my hands around some asshole's neck when he cuts me off in line, or tries to start something with me? But I resist. That's what we do. We resist by thinking of all the things we have to lose by giving in!"
He turned away, a redness across his cheeks, and Clove yelled out, "Where the hell are you going?"
"When Cato comes home, tell him I have the baby. Hell, if I'm letting you make Calliope a victim of your relapse, too."
"Felix!" she'd screeched on in return, but he'd left her in the uninhabited, dry desert, and she'd fallen to her knees.
As Cato held his kid sister in his arms, grinning, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and tattled sweet nothings about Oliver.
He laughed, amused at his siblings' antics, and then pat his son on the head, smiling at him warmly. Clove had given him an equally kind smile. Cato's heart always accelerated at her stunning smile, because it was so precious, so rare, as if you were someone special to be able to coax one out of her.
She'd stayed clean, resisting by sitting outside of old school #76, and recalling their best moments.
Clove later sought the help she needed. It was days like that she missed Nero most. He would have known what to say.
Clove became determined to make it through her second pregnancy with her head held up high, and for the most part she did. Inevitably she gathered the courage to mull things over with Felix. It was then she realized the depth of his grief. He carried guilt with him every day, a guilt so impressive, she was surprised he could stand upright.
They'd become confidants through the pregnancy, and it was then that she began to feel less alone. Maybe if she'd just asked, she would have realized they all struggled.
Coriander Elroy was born two months premature on April 6th, 79, eleven months after his sister.
He'd been so small, so vulnerable, Clove had been terrified of breaking him, of losing him, and that itself had been motivation for her to protect her newborn son with all that she had, but that didn't stop her from doting on her daughter. She carried both in her arms, and kissed them good night, cherished them them together, and soothed their cries.
On their second anniversary, Cato and Clove had two small miracles. They'd jokingly (but also rather seriously) promised each other not to add a third baby by their next anniversary.
That was a promise that stuck.
"Happy versey, mommy."
Clove enclosed her arms around the five-year-old, picking him up along with Calliope, "Happy 'versey' to you, sweets."
"Are you going throw me a party on our 'versy'?" Mr. Elroy asked Sundara, jeering.
"Don't hold your breath, Orion."
Hazel laughed, leading Cato to tease her. "Oh, you think that's funny?" he asked.
She laughed harder as he tickled her. "Cato!"
"Mommy and daddy are experts in versies, grampy! They got a date versy, a marriage versey, an engagement versey, and even a best friend versy!" Calliope informed him, her blue eyes bright.
Most of the men of the room scoffed or gave him a mocking glance.
"Technically, some of those dates are the same," Cato defended.
"How about an anniversary of the day you two went soft?"
"Least I don't have an anniversary with my hand," Clove retorted. Cato smirked in response.
Felix shrugged, unaffected. "Gets the job done."
"As charming as that exchange was, who wants dinner?" Sundara rang out cheerfully.
After getting enough food to satiate themselves for a few minutes, six-year-old Calliope walked up to Dicey, and jumped up, "Hey, Silas, want to play?"
"Silas can't hear you, honey." Silas looked up to his father, his chestnut eyes curious. "Besides, he just ate, I don't want him to run around and throw up."
Months after his son had been born, Felix had made the oh-so-tactful remark of, "Do you think your son is deaf because you gutted your previous kid and this is some twisted form of cosmic retribution?"
When he'd realized he had spoken aloud, Felix had immediately apologized. "Shit, that was fucked up. I'm sorry."
For the first time, Dicey found himself unprovoked by the raven-haired man's crass accusations. "He's got ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, and the world's best smile. If anything, he's the universe's way of sending me back some good energy."
Felix had looked into Silas' warm brown eyes and nodded. "You guys deserve that, Dicey."
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
"When do you think you'll have kids?"
"I like to think of all the kids of Two West as my kids. Gives me a bigger stake in doing all I can to make sure they're safe. S' that weird?"
"Maybe a little," Dicey replied, still staring adoringly at his son. "But it's not bad, and with how much kids like you, I'm sure they don't mind."
"Calli, go grab the ball from your bedroom and bring it back. He'll understand you, then," Cato suggested.
Dicey glared at Cato. "I don't want Silas to get sick."
Cato rolled his eyes. "You are being ridiculous. Your son is deaf, not terminally ill."
Calliope returned with Coriander and a bouncy ball in tow. "Mrs. Dicey's wife, can you tell Silas that I want to play with him?"
It took Dicey a long time to accept the things he'd done. In a way, he'd never be able to fully forgive himself.
It took a good listening doctor and luck to make any progress. It had been a rather long and tumultuous recovery.
His mother couldn't understand why he'd failed to pursue the girl he was so clearly infatuated with when he'd pursued lesser affections at the drop of a hat in his younger days.
They duo went from friends to engaged with no in-between. There was no dating, no second kiss, no forewarning that Dicey was going to up and return one afternoon with an engagement ring.
"Don't people usually date first?" 20-year-old Harriet had stuttered, her eyes wide.
"Do you want to date?" he replied with a self-conscious shrug, looking absolutely bewitching, the kindness in his eyes lulling her in.
"Is this really happening?" she'd replied, still stunned.
He rubbed at his nose, "I mean, maybe, I'm just... I didn't mean to pull a Cato, I just-"
Harriet had leaned in on her tip toes, kissing him, and he'd returned the gesture. "I hope that means 'yes'"
In the spring of 79, following Coriander's birth, Harriet Welsh and Dicey Wilder became engaged, and in the fall they married. Silas Wilder was born on December 24th, 80.
Harriet relayed the request to her son in sign language. He jumped from Dicey's lap, smiling bashfully, and joined the other two children, sitting to the side of the room, and rolling the toy together.
"Where's the wife?" Dicey teased.
"Whose?" Felix asked, counting his friends on a single hand.
"Quarry girl, Felix. Where's Quarry Girl?"
"I'd marry you first," he shot back.
Felix and Aniston were nearing in on thirty and were going to spend the rest of their lives alone. Well, okay, he was going to spend the rest of his life alone. Aniston would likely eventually be snatched up by some rich bachelor and he'd end up the 'creepy uncle no one likes'. It was a highest evolution of 'the friend no one likes.'
Clove smirked, "She only wakes you up each morning, coordinates your schedule, helps with errands, and is your closest friend — certainly not spouse material. Hell, we all know she's the real brains behind the operation."
"We all know that, but she doesn't. Don't give her any ideas, Clove," Felix retorted.
Though Brooke had tried to encourage him and Aniston together over the years, he'd eventually been forced to take her aside and explain that though he was quite fond of Aniston and would never let anyone hurt her, that they'd never come together in such a way.
As they had traveled back to District Two from Thirteen those many years earlier, Felix had been incredibly nervous for the reunion between Brooke and Seraphina. He had feared constantly that Brooke would forget her mother, so he spoke of her and her sacrifices regularly, trying to instill the value of choice.
When the weary duo had first walked through Seraphina's front door, she'd rushed to their side instantly. She quickly became a sobbing mess, kissing every surface of her daughter's face and repeatedly thanking Felix for keeping her safe. Once she'd ascertained that Brooke was indeed in peak condition, she'd held him equally as tightly, and said to him, "You're our angel, Felix Grey."
At the time, he'd been sure that would have turned him into a blubbering wreck on its own, but then Aniston had made her presence known. The sight of her set off a panic attack, and once it started, Felix couldn't stop himself from the relentless crying, because of course, he'd been tasked with telling her Nero hadn't made it. Aniston had made quick work of trying to calm him down, but it was clear she was hardly in better shape than he was.
Perhaps self-indulgently, he'd been happy to see someone else feel the way he did. It had been isolating to watch Clove, Dicey, and Cato come back together as they'd always been, when Nero had become a casualty of this war.
Eventually, she'd begun to recover, thought not before telling Harriet off when she'd offered her condolences. One day, she showed up at his door, and demanded reformation. Demanded that he start using his influence for good, and so Aniston had become his partner in his efforts to help rebuild and reform District Two. It helped being a Wagner/Pittman heir, because the name alone came with necessary influence to get more established politicians to listen.
When he'd told Brooke that he and Aniston were only friends, she'd cried on his behalf. "But when I grow up and get married, you'll be all alone."
It was so like a third grader to think the universe revolved around her, and he'd laughed. While he'd known then that he'd never find himself in love again, he'd certainly found love elsewhere. These people had become his family, and though it took him some time to come to them for comfort, once he had he clung to them.
"Believe it or not, I have friends, B, and sometimes they actually let me spend time with them."
"So, let's get a profile together. You veto someone too cheery, say Aniston, but also don't want the complete opposite spectrum, a soulless bitch, like Clove—" Harriet smirked as Clove shoved her. "Can't be too talkative, or..."
"Or too soft, too," Cato supplied, helpfully, "Felix likes a fighter."
"How some 24-year-old with a slasher smile got elected into public office is beyond me," Dicey teased.
"How has he stayed in office since then?" Clove piped up. "Your staff must down a couple of shots of whiskey before you pop in every morning."
"I know I do," Dicey joked.
Felix rolled his eyes, and said to Clove, "Twenty years later, and you're still mean."
"You better believe it," Clove shot back.
Silas reappeared, raising his hands. Dicey pulled him into his arms and signed, "what's wrong?"
"I don't want you to be sad, daddy," the three-year-old replied in sign language. Dicey only kissed his son's head.
"Jealous that you don't spend your day reading complaint after complaint about rabid muttations and neighborhood vandals from lonely old women who have nothing better to do with their time, E?" Felix retorted.
Harriet gave him a smug grin.
When he'd returned home to Two West, Felix was back where he'd started. Alone, in Victor's Village. He and Harriet decided after some prompting from Dicey that they were tired of the old mold and moved out to Two West together, consolidating their funds into a house.
With Aniston as his life partner and Harriet as his confidant, Felix slowly began piecing himself back together. He still missed Nero, still missed his sister, his niece, and still felt so lost without them, but he wasn't alone anymore. He had his own makeshift family now.
Felix kept Nero in his thoughts by looking to his photo on the mantle place, and keeping his kindness on his mind. Jade's stern encouragement helped sustain his resiliency throughout the day, and Roxanne's innocence reminded him of what he was fighting for.
Her death especially weighed on him. He saw her in the eyes of so many other children.
Clove was about to make a smart remark back, when she heard Calliope scream, and then saw Coriander retreat behind the couch, curling into a ball. She turned to Cato, "Just another reminder to fit in my prophylactic shot."
Cato slumped against the couch, "No kidding."
Coriander was hidden in a corner, crying. "You want to tell me what the was about?" Clove asked, bending down his level.
His tanned face looked to hers, his pale green eyes glimmering with tears. "Calliope is mean!"
Clove didn't know how to rebut that. Was cruelty an inheritable trait?
On Calliope's first birthday, Clove had pulled her into their bed, planting butterfly kisses on her cheeks, playing with her hair, and holding her gently against her chest.
"Even though I'm not the mother you deserve, I will love you both til the day they bury me six feet under."
The tears that spilled down her cheeks were something she'd shared only with them, because even though she'd come a long way, she still had a long road ahead.
Coriander folded his arms, a trait Clove was sure he'd picked up from one of them at some point. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"She got mad and I got mad and then she got mad because I got mad."
Oh Cato was gonna get it. He'd somehow passed down his passive-aggressiveness to their beautiful little boy.
"You know, Cori, it used to hurt my feelings when people got mad at me, too, but you can be the bigger person and not let what they say make you mad."
Clove nearly keeled over at her own advice, because when was last time she'd ever done that? Never. The answer was never.
Coriander looked unsure, repeating, "But she's mean sometimes."
"But sometimes she's nice, too, right? She'll go to whatever lengths she can to make you laugh when you're sad, or will get mad at those who pick on you. I know for certain that she's just as upset about this as you are."
He bit his lip and wrapped his arms around Clove's waist, "I don't want her to be mad at me, mama. Callia is my best sister!"
Clove smiled, stroking his hair. He really was a prince. "Not much of a competition, little one," Clove reassured him.
"Why is your brother crying, Calliope?" Cato asked her, sternly.
"Because he didn't listen to me," Calliope said stubbornly, turning away from him disrespectfully.
"Being unkind isn't going to make anyone listen to you. We've told you that before."
Because if it had, he'd have never endured half of the transgressions that had plagued his lifetime.
Calliope's sapphire blue eyes gazed on at him coolly, looking an awful lot like Clove (though the judgment reminded him uncannily of Nero), and though she was quicker to anger, it was Coriander's threatening glares that ate away at him, because his hair was the same dirty blond as Mars', his eyes the same pale green as his mother, and in his anger, Coriander had the same inclination to cruelty. Not that Calliope slacked in this area herself.
He should have expected his son's green eyes. They ran in both their families, but instead of seeing the comfort of Clove or Mars, all he saw was his mother.
As he'd predicted, the Capitol had taken her after they'd fled. A neighbor had given him a very reluctant account of that day, and it unsettled him, as it appeared it had the neighbor. And that's when he realized he'd never see her again.
Despite her transgressions against him, this had been the first crack in his armor when he'd come home. Perhaps because it signified the end of his adolescence. Cato never told his friends about the tears that followed.
He didn't think he could take Dicey or Clove's lecture about mourning the person that had constantly victimized him in some form another for over a decade. But how could they understand? Their parents had never harmed a hair on their heads.
His parents had always been more complicated than that.
So, instead, he'd told his father, and cried like a small child for this loss he couldn't understand. His father had held him and whispered gently that it was okay not to know why you were feeling a certain way, as long as he allowed himself to process those feelings.
And he did.
"I'm sorry about your mom, Cato," Oliver had said, sharing his candy with him.
"Thanks, Lolly." He looked at Sundara, who'd been preparing him hot chocolate. "I'm just glad you have a nicer mom than I did."
"I don't mind sharing," Oliver offered, innocently.
He didn't bother to tell his brother that he was too late in that offer. Sundara had become his mother for all intents and purposes when they'd been in District 13.
"It will too," Calliope argued, "Because next time he'll be too scared to have a choice."
Cato had to restrain the anger that coursed through his skin at her words. Calliope was a mini-Clove with thrice the bite and half the patience, but she too could remind him of his mother, and he wondered regularly how he could disrupt this cycle. Maybe if he was the best parent he could be, then when his children had their own kids, things would finally come to a halt.
"Daddy, you're not listening to me!" Calliope snapped. "I'm trying to tell you that Cori wouldn't pass the ball to me, so I told him he had to or I'd tell mommy, and then he got mad and wouldn't play anymore, so I told him he had to play, and he said 'no.' So, I pushed him and his arm hit the floor really hard so he became a crybaby because of it."
Yep. That sounded about right.
Cato sat down with a sigh and looked his daughter in the eye, imploring her to understand him. "When I was little, I had this friend, and she was stubborn, annoying, and bossy, but she always helped me, treated my owies, made me laugh when I was sad, but I was like you. I got mad easily and did a lot of things I shouldn't have—"
"But!" Calliope protested.
Cato arched his brows, "Don't interrupt, Calliope."
She simpered at that. Cato raised her chin toward him and implored her. "I did things I shouldn't have because I was angry, but that never made me feel better. Well, maybe for a couple of minutes, but seeing her sad made me sad, too, and it took me a really long time to be a good friend, but when I finally did, I got to see her look as happy as she made me.
Don't be like me, Calliope. Have patience and protect your brother, because losing mine was the hardest thing I ever did, and being mean to my friend cost me time I can't ever get back."
Tears clouded her blue eyes and she began crying at that. Cato lifted her into his arms, regretting the blunt harshness of words. Maybe this hadn't been his best approach. Rubbing her back, he said gently, "Oh, sweetheart, don't cry. It's okay."
"But I don't want to lose Coriander like you lost Uncle Mars, he's my best friend!" she bawled.
Cato held her in his strong arms and kept her protectively against his chest. "It's pretty scary thinking of a world without your brother, huh?" he asked her, softly.
She nodded, her lips still plump, and cheeks a rosy red. "Yes."
"I have an idea."
Cato and Clove had never been 'mommy's boy' or 'daddy's little girl.' The closest they'd ever came were 'mommy's punching bag' and 'daddy's little killing machine.' Calliope and Coriander weren't daddy's girl or mommy's little boy either, though. They were mommy and daddy's little helpers, mommy and daddy's biggest accomplishments, mommy and daddy's best cuddle buddies, and mommy and daddy's baby cubs.
Cato and Clove had come a long way, and hell if they were going to let anyone take that away from them.
As Cato rejoined his friends, he smirked at Clove, remarking, "We got the wild ones."
"Totally unexpected. I mean, we were such docile, compliant little children."
He laughed, grinning at her, and grabbed her left hand in his right. After all this time, she was still his rock.
Cato pointed his other hand towards the opposite wall as Calliope came out of the kitchen with a translucent bag, tied with a teal ribbon. She walked up to Coriander, who was leaning against the wall, sniffling, and lost in his own miserable thoughts. He'd been inconsolable. Fat tears rolled down his cheeks.
Calliope slid down the wall hesitantly, giving him the bag, and he looked up, opening it cautiously, before offering her a handful that she gracefully accepted. Clove's heart wept and she smiled at him, grasping his hand even tighter.
Twenty years ago, a boy and girl sat side by side over a bag of trail mix.
Seems to me, not much has changed.
Author's Notes (2012) - And so ends Cato and Clove's twenty year (and 200K) journey.
I would really like to thank each of you that read the whole story and all the feedback I received, especially from some of my most regular and thorough readers: Anla'shok, TwilightCharmedFaie, Zoe Alexandra Morrison, melliemoo, skins, dreamyourwaythroughlife, Clato-crazies, Quinn (anonymous), Emma (anonymous), and twistedfate13.
Leave me your very last review and let me know what you thought of: the epilogue, the story as a whole, but especially the alternate ending in particular.
Written: December 24th, 2012
Edited: April 15th, 2017