If you are like us you know that one is too many and a thousand never enough.
- Narcotics Anonymous
She meets Cato at sixteen.
He's bright, cheerful, and surprisingly level-headed once Clove gets to know him. He could be a quarterback, an Abercrombie and Fitch model, something high-profile, but instead he spends his free-time alternating between working at the local drug store and participating in a dual enrollment law enforcement program.
They meet at the gym. He's a heavy lifter, throwing his weight around with a not-so-subtle wink, and nothing irritates Clove more than being hit on at the gym of all places. Can't she just enjoy her run in peace without some bonehead harassing her?
Clove stomps in one afternoon. She's had a less than stellar day and nothing in the world makes sense to her but running, so that's what she does. Clove runs and runs and runs, but she can't outrun this. That doesn't stop her from trying.
She accelerates the machine, then tumbles, and hits the ground hard. Cato's at her side in an instant.
He's certified in first aid.
Of fucking course he is.
This is how they begin.
Cato's been dealt a pretty shitty hand in life Clove finds out.
He's obnoxious, grating in his determination, and impossible to beat down, but he's unapologetically human. They're eighteen now, going to the same university, and he's studying criminal justice. She's a studio art major with six fine-bristled brushes, but no forks.
They live in the same, old decrepit dorm.
He comes home from class one day in near-tears, and it scares Clove, because nothing scares Cato. His roommate is a brash, chatty-mouthed redhead, who shrugs when she asks.
"It wasn't anything big, really, Clove. We talked about the basic principles of crisis invention; child abuse, suicide, domestic violence."
She finds Cato buried in a book in the back of the library, not a soul in sight.
He's pouring over some outdated textbook from the 70s on suicide. When she sits beside him with a look of concern, he asks hoarsely, "Do you think if someone had done the things this book says that Mars wouldn't have killed himself?"
And her answer is honest. "I don't know, Cato."
He cries into her shoulder desperately.
Clove lives on the 7th floor. Her room overlooks a cemetery and that in itself should be an omen, but Cato has to believe that he can do anything he sets his mind to.
If that's true, though, then why has he been stuck at the heel of the sixth floor corridor for the last twenty-two minutes?
He ascends the flight of stairs and watches the dusty powder fall from the sky. It's the last week of April and he should have asked her weeks ago.
Cato tries to convince himself to come back later. It's Reading Week and they should be studying for finals. Clove has about a hundred more studio hours she has to get in before next Wednesday, and he'll only be a distraction.
This is his rationalization as he heads back for the stairs.
Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen pass him in the hallway, heading out for coffee. They wave. Katniss is in his cohort, a friend from class. Peeta lives across the hall from him, and has been nursing his crush on her all year.
If Peeta Mellark can gather the nerve to ask Katniss out, then Cato can ask Clove to move in with him. He has to.
He bolts towards Clove's door and nearly trips over his own two feet. She opens the door with an amused, confused smirk.
They're living in a pretty compressed space in the heart of the city, but it's close to everything. Something you could pick out a catalog, really, but it utilizes almost all of their money, and they won't last too long if they don't do something soon.
Clove's rarely home. Sophomore year requires even more studio hours, and Cato misses her. They promised no secrets, but how the hell is he supposed to tell her he's been accepted into the police academy if she's never around?
He's nearly jumping with excitement when she comes home from class, bundled up in scarves and a pea coat. She gives him an award-winning smile, and pats his arm.
They throw a small party, and he withdraws from school. He doesn't miss the disappointment in Clove's eyes, but she doesn't say a word.
On his first day at the academy, Cato makes himself a solemn promise to save each and every individual that seeks his aid. He will be their lifeline. He will be a hero. He will be what the police never were for him.
His old roommate comes to visit, and asks him what it's like. He's missed him, and leans back, letting out a sigh. "It's fucking exhausting."
"You can always take an Adderall."
Cato gives the redhead a stern look, already in officer-mode, "That's illegal, Dice."
"Yeah, whatever. Just don't forget us little people when you become a national hero, Elroy."
They say art is pain. Clove knows no truer words could be spoken.
That day – the day they first became friends – the day she'd been running… She'd been running from a lot of things.
A lot of it was typical teenager bullshit. Her parents were upset she'd been breaking curfew, her sister had ruined her favorite shirt, and her friends had been teasing her for the gap in her teeth, her flat chest, her hollow heart.
No, really. They called her an ice queen.
Clove couldn't tell them they couldn't have been farther from the truth, because she was sixteen and pregnant, just like the girls she made fun of on Mtv. Suddenly, everything else seemed so damn insignificant, and she'd have let Nelly ruin ten of her shirts if she could just get back her old life.
Clove had wanted to waste into nothingness, to take up less space, to literally vanish into thin air.
Her tumble, her chance meeting with Cato, her choices, they shaped the rest of her life. She lost the baby that day and gained a new friend. It wasn't quite a fair trade.
And part of her resents him for it. Resents him for coming to her rescue, because now he needs to be rescued and she owes it to him, but she doesn't know how.
Cato is gullibly excited to be a member of the force. He's nineteen and a rookie and the old-timers sure like to make a lot of jokes at his expense, but there's nowhere he'd rather be.
His first call is to escort a CPS worker to pick up an eight-year-old girl with cigarette burns and a scar across her cheek. She screams, and fights, and cries the entire escort out of the musty, poorly cared-for house, and calls for her mother.
It's awful, but he tells himself he's saved her. He's saved a life.
Until the next week when the neighbors call, and he's back at the same house, and discovers the girl's been returned to her parents. He yells at the social worker, asks if she's crazy, and she gives him a reproachful look.
"Judges favor keeping families in-tact. Want to save an unwanted child? Don't have kids until you're ready, Officer Elroy."
That's all she says before getting in her car and going home for the night. He wonders how she lives with herself. She's bitter, and he's been unfair, he knows, but it still stings.
Three weeks later, the little girl dies. Cato thinks of his brother, of his mother. It could have so easily been him, but luckily things never got quite that bad.
He spends the next few days doing civil traffic citations and patrolling the campus. Petty crime is less stressful, but more time-consuming. He waves to Clove as she walks to class with her easel and other supplies in tow.
She gives him a wide smile and the day glides on by.
He returns to his old beat a few days later, and arrests a man for assault – domestic violence tag. He's in and out in twelve hours. It's typical. Cato tries not to waste his energy being disappointed.
The spring semester kicks off with a string of sexual assaults on campus. One of Clove's friends is the perpetrator's third victim, and she cries through his entire report.
The rapist takes another five women before he is caught, and taken to trial. Some technicality lets him off, and he's on the streets right as the students return home for the summer.
Clove finishes her sophomore year with straight As. Cato can barely keep the smile off his face.
They're walking on-campus to meet some of their old friends to celebrate the end to another year when it hits him that those girls could have been anyone. They could have been Clove.
He doesn't ever want to work a sexual assault again.
Cato's reassigned to a bad area of town, the part no one really cares about. He figures that working with dealers, with the scum of the earth will be pretty straight-forward.
He's taken a man into custody, booked him into jail awaiting initial appearance, and about to take collected evidence to storage when his eyes catch a reflective glint of the silver lining.
In anyone else's eyes, they'd look just like aspirin.
Clove doesn't know where Cato gets the pills and she doesn't want to. Even confronting him seems risky.
He loves her (he tells her every night), and she loves him, but Clove doesn't know what he's quite capable of, and with the gun slung around his belt, she doesn't want to either.
Cato's a good man. He saves children from burning buildings, chases after bad guys, after the guy who raped her friend, and wouldn't think for a second of his own life if someone else's was in danger.
Cato protects the innocent, even the not-so-innocent.
But, he's not the same.
He's lost the twinkle in his eyes, and he's lost sight of the prize.
Cato isn't Cato anymore.
She finally gathers the nerve to address him, and he waves it off so easily. They met four years ago, and she's never seen him in such a state before.
Cato's got a lot of baggage, she knows this, but he never raises his voice if he has the choice. He doesn't like loud noises, never has.
"It's not like it's affecting my work. I'm the one who has to work all that overtime so you can get in all those fucking studio hours."
Clove has to resist the impulse to hit him, because she's heard the statistics. She's been forewarned that officers band together, they cover each other, and the minute she and Cato turn this scenario into a domestic dispute, both of their lives will be in shambles.
So Clove backs off, and decides even though it's late, it's never too late to fit in a few studio hours. Art is pain after all. Van Gogh cut off his ear for fuck's sake.
The second time she tries to address him, Cato kisses her, and they make love. It's beautiful, and tender, and she feels the same starry-skied connection that made her fall in love with him in the first place.
A few days later, she picks up where she left off, and tries to talk to him, but he won't have any of it.
Clove screams that he's a wreck, he's becoming everything he's ever fought against, and that he's hurting her. He gives her a destructive smirk.
"You think so, Clovey? You sure didn't seem to think so when I made your toes curl and your body flush with pleasure."
Before she can say anything in return, the tears pour down her cheeks, and he's apologizing, horrified at the words that escaped him only moments ago.
Clove grabs her things and traipses down the stairs carelessly when she falls.
Cato throws every last pill he's stored down the garbage disposal, and looks at his glassy reflection in window. With bloodshot eyes, and sob stuck in his throat, he's tempted to force his hand down the garbage disposal too.
Maybe he'd have been better off like the little girl with cigarette burns.
He visits Clove in the hospital, stroking the back of her hand. They became friends five years ago today. She used to make fun of him for keeping count, but…
Cato cries, seeing her in that state, and promises to change.
She believes him.
He's had a particularly rough shift. They found a couple of half-naked kids in the back of the local meth-lab, huddled together, and terrified.
Cato thinks of the lecture his professor gave on crisis intervention in college, and recalls how the professor warned them to become as emotionally uninvolved as they could, but he fucking can't.
Who knows what the hell these kids have been through, and they expect him to just to go home and be perfectly fine with the fact that someone would actually want to fuck, or hurt, or beat an innocent child?
He can't! He won't.
Cato tries to still himself in his sleep, but his stomach aches and his muscles are especially tender. It's difficult to discern if it's the effects of his day, or withdrawal working its way through him.
Cato gets out of bed and paces.
He has to go to work. He has to take Clove to the doctor. He has to pick up her medication, has to renew their lease, has to put gas in the car, get some groceries (their fridge is barren), and…
That's what, five, six reasons? Cato counts on his fingers.
He pulls out his secret stash and swallows so quickly that he doesn't have time to count how many pills he's just taken.
He'll start clean on Thursday. What difference does one day make in the grander scheme of things?
He doesn't start clean on Thursday and Clove knows. He doesn't start clean the next Thursday either.
Cato rationalizes that he doesn't want to put Clove through his withdrawal symptoms right now. He has to take care of her, and he doesn't have the energy to take care of both of them, so they'll worry about him after she makes a full recovery.
Work is shitty as always.
His superiors are becoming suspicious, and reassign him to his old beat: wife-beaters, child abusers, local neighborhood rapists.
It's fucking terrific.
Cato thinks he understands why his brother wanted to die.
She's got all her things gathered. Clove isn't sure the next time she'll see him.
She watches Cato sleep, and her eyes fill with tears.
He's beautiful, breathtaking, and unfathomably brave. He has a big heart, a sharp mind, and the best intentions, but he's desperate, too desperate to save everyone – everyone but himself.
He's dragged her into his whirlwind, his chaos, his self-destruction, lulled her into a state of complacency, and now she's become just like him.
An addict – addicted to him, in fact. For five years, Cato's all Clove has had. She loves him, adores him, doesn't think for a second she can live without him, but she has to try.
She's always been his biggest supporter, his greatest confidant, and unfortunately, she's also been his greatest enabler.
It's not fair – not to her, and definitely not to him.
And she won't forget what the speaker said at the Narcotics Anonymous meeting she listened in on last week.
"We can only keep what we have by giving it away."
AN - Please don't favorite without reviewing. Thanks for reading!