A.N For Caesar's Palace prompt called Innocence. Likely will later be combined with Shattered Somedays to make a multi-chapter, depending on how it does. It is third-person, unlike the last.
Any and all feedback is appreciated.
She was wearing a white dress.
All alone in white mist, a figure stood. Her hair stood out against the soft paleness, an eerie dark shade. But her skin blended in. Pale as can be. The girl was small, only appearing smaller by the starkness of the landscape. There was nothing there but her. Her, and the snow beneath her.
Clove tested the feel of it. Nothing. Not cold at all. It was the same pure white as her dress. The color of little girls who still play on swings. And the first snowfall before it is marred by someone's footprints.
It was always marred.
She touched the side of her head. No blood. It's a shame. She would have been more satisfied if her head was covered in it. Let anyone know she had departed honorably. That even though her head was covered in blood, she still clung to life as fiercely as ever.
And now. Now she was still clinging.
It couldn't be difficult, getting back. And this was a dream. A delusion brought on by head trauma, surely. It would go away. Clove quickly shut her eyes as tightly as she could. She had to go back. Back to that muddy spot on the ground, in the shadow of the Cornucopia. That was where Cato was. Cato. Who held her hand so tightly and yet she hand't felt anything. Begging her to stay. And she would. She would go back.
Clove. A voice seeped through the mist. It wrapped around her like tendrils bearing only the darkest of flowers. It dripped inky black. She knew that voice. It's hopeless. You can't go away from here. You're trapped.
No. All she could think to say. The very word said alone when one secretly, quietly, in the depths of her mind, admits defeat. But only silently. For Clove never admit to anything. Least of all defeat. This was no different.
So she began to walk. The dress feel against her skin. She wasn't used to the feeling of dresses. It had been so long since she had put one on. When was the last time? Oh, yes. The interviews. Was that years ago? Memories creeped into her brain and refused to go away. Memories stick, Clove realized. The very memories one wanted to get rid of most stayed the longest. That was just the way of things.
Slowly, the nothingness before her began to change. A path was forming. Which meant it had to lead to somewhere. Perhaps there she could get out. She walked on. Then, the path stopped. Abruptly as it began. It stopped at a small, unremarkable house. Painted gray and whispering to her.
She knew this house, of course.
This was her house.
Clove walked inside, her feet barely touching the hard floor. She had mastered the ability to creep inside with no one noticing. Years of practice had led only to instinct. Clove knew she was mostly instinct. Others had their feelings, all wrapped up inside them were their heart was, warm and beating. Clove had nothing. To her, she was only comprised of instinct. A stone heart and action-reaction. That's all she was, wasn't she?
There was no one inside. The dust was so thick it covered everything. Nothing about that had changed, she thought bitterly. A single curtain, bent from its rod, fluttered. Gray and dirty. It never stopped fluttering, even though there was no breeze. Things had an odd quality to them here. It was her house but it wasn't. Nothing made sense. But then, did it ever?
A broken chair in one corner. Alone and cracked beyond repair. A table with all its chairs empty. Where no one would sit again. Empty. All of it.
And there…there was the rocking chair.
A lilting voice drifted from nowhere. A single lullaby. She had never heard one. Never in her fourteen years. But she knew the words. It was just a knowing. A burning, golden sort of knowing. When the wind blows, the cradle will rockWhen the bough breaks, the cradle will fall…
The cradle will fall. The chair began rocking. A slow, creaking rocking. That was her mother's chair. The chair meant for rocking Clove. It had never fulfilled its purpose. Clove had come into the world too early. Kicking and screaming and fighting her way into it. There was so much blood. And so she had come into the world just the way she left it. A killer.
Blood seeped through the floorboards, a deep shade of red. It crept closer and closer to where Clove stood.
The sound of a baby's crying cut through the air. A high pitched wailing that forced Clove to cover her ears from the noise. Voices instantly filled the room. Desperate shouting that was so familiar to her. All shouts, screamed out in the dead and crystal clear of night, cutting sharply and brightly as pieces of glass.
Daddy, no! Please, I promise I'll be good. I'll train so hard. Oh, please, no! Please!
Please. It hadn't worked then. It didn't work now. Even though she had shouted that word with her deepest conviction, it hadn't worked.
The stars were out all those nights. It came as no surprise that they were above her now. Twinkling sharply, just like the glass of her voice. Only her glass shattered into a thousand pieces. The glass above her remained twinkling softly.
Children thought stars were warm, glowing friends. Such innocence to think that.
Clove knew better. She knew they were pure ice.
And down will come baby. The wailing shirked through the walls until it seemed the house itself was shrieking. Everywhere, the sound of a baby crying. Everywhere. She couldn't block it out, no matter how she tried. As she pressed her hands harder to her ears, the house began to melt away. The blood that had turned the floor a blackish red was receding. The table and the empty shook until they, too, disappeared. And the rocking chair kept rocking. Rocking, rocking.
Then nothing was left except for the crying.
In a moment, it too, was gone.
There was only silence.
She backed away from the area where the house stood, only seconds ago. There was nothing in its place. But she had gotten away, hadn't she? In the end, she had escaped that place. See? Her father was wrong. Wasn't he?
It was back to nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Because in front of her, a few yards away, was a target. Human shaped, with red circles in lethal areas. Just like the kind she always practiced on. This was familiar. So lost was she that a lone human-shaped target provided comfort. Not the living. They had turned their backs on her long ago.
Glass stars were all they were.
All except for one.
But he wasn't here. And so she would make do. She always did. There was a row of knives of all shapes and sizes. A bigger selection than in the Training Center. Why, if she didn't know better, she would think she was in heaven! Oh, how strange it all was here. She had felt so confused and lost. But now…now she had control.
Clove grabbed a knife, one of the smallest blades. Its size made for easier rotation, slightly weighted on the bottom. The metal was cold, but the kid of cold that only needed heat from her hands. And this was why she threw knives. She was in control.
It hit dead center. But a spurt of blood shot out of the target. Clove jumped back. It was incredibly realistic.
Now the target itself was shifting. Shifting before her eyes. Clove swayed slightly. All a delusion. This was all a delusion. The target became the color of a real human being. Eyes, a nose and mouth became etched into it. And then, there was a boy standing there. Dark skinned with brown eyes. Pleading eyes. Clove knew such a look well. How often had her eyes looked like that as a child? So wide and innocent.
But innocence is lost. So, too, was that look. She depended on no one now. And so she couldn't bring herself to see that look again. Maybe that was why she had killed the boy. So easy, so simple. One knife in his back. But the boy was covered in blood, even in his front where her knife had hit the target. "Help," He whispered.
Help. And who many times had she uttered that very phrase? Far, far too many. And it never came. Glass stars everywhere, cold as ice.
Again, she shoved her hands over her ears, trying to block out the sound of his pleas. "It doesn't come." Her words, spoken aloud, didn't sound like her own. "It never comes."
Her foot stumbled against a stone.
Clove slowly looked down at the boy's feet.. This wasn't just a stone. This was a gravestone. She stared at the cold, gray slab of rock. A patch of fresh dirt lay in front of it. Oh no. This couldn't be hers. No, no, no. It wasn't. The headstone had the name of someone she didn't know, who had lived fourteen years. Same as her.
Except she was still living, right? She only had to find a way to get back. This was that boy's headstone. Her first victim's headstone.
Second, counting her mother. And there were countless other victims she had killed in her mind several times over. A trainer who didn't take her seriously would get a knife in his chest. The boy who laughed at her when she plainly stated her weight one day in training would die when she slit his throat. Not carefully, fore he didn't deserve that. Her father. Break glass over his head and trace patterns with his blood. A horri sort of beauty only she could create. His death would be far worse than the rest. Far slower.
She only made it a few feet before the next headstone. there was a whole line of them, stretching as far as the mist went.
Here was the girl from Eight, staring fiercely from behind her stone. Cato had killed her. Clove smiled at the memory. They had laughed together afterwords. If only she hadn't cried like she had. Perhaps then they would've taken it more seriously. But they didn't. And why should they?
They were immortal, after all.
"No one lives forever, Clove," The girl said suddenly.
Clove stumbled away to the next headstone. She had to get out of here. Had to. She would make this delusion end. She was only trapped in her own mind, like she had been so many times before. Caught in gory sequences, blood dripping and screams cutting like her blade as she made her way to immortality. It was hard to come out of those fantasies. But to her, they were not mere fantasies.
She would make them reality. Never as perfect as her own mind executed them. Never. But that was just how it worked. They were close enough.
Marvel stood behind this headstone. Marvel who had died in eight place. A shame for all. Clove, though, was happy. In her own sort of way. He was gone, marked off. Here he stood, frowning deeply. Like he disapproved. Marvel? What was he looking so disapproving of? And in her hallucination, besides?
His words to her were simple and few. "Sometimes nothing goes as planned."
And then she was at the next grave. More dirt under the headstone. Glimmer stood, her blond hair just as stunning as ever, wearing the same white Clove was. The color of the innocence no Career possessed. None of them. Here was the girl they had left behind. It had been so easy, too. clove had taken off running without a second glance when the wasps came. Didn't even think to hesitate. No hesitation. That was a rule. She had so, so many rules and that was at the top. It had been drilled into her.
Glimmer stared at her with her blue eyes. She grimaced, so different from that empty smile she gave for the cameras. "Every second counts, Clove." She said sweetly, her face melting into that smile of hers. "And everybody hesitates. No matter how trained you are. Everybody hesitates."
Clove shook her head. Again and again. She would not face this. Not from her.
Rue met her gaze next. Clove looked down at the girl's grave. She had just died, hadn't she? And here, at her grave, were flowers. Little yellow things. Where there were none at the others' graves, here they were at hers. The girl peered up at her with big, brown eyes. The white suited her. It embodied the innocence she still had. It felt like it was taunting Clove. Just taunting her. If only she could mar that perfect white. Like people stepping in the perfect snow. Or drips of blood tainting it. But she could do nothing.
Clove felt anger rise in her when the girl stared into her eyes, unafraid. Why, if this wasn't a delusion, she would slit the girl's throat right now.
Rue only smiled. "The only thing true in life is death, Clove. It's dependable. And it's no enemy."
She faded away. In her place was a large man. No, not quite a man. His eyes were dark. So dark. This was Thresh. This was the tribute who tried to kill her. Those were his hands that had wrapped around her neck so easily. Huge hands she couldn't pry off it. But all these others in her delusion were dead. And last she saw him, he was very much alive. Unless…unless he really was dead. Perhaps Cato had given him a violent end while lay unconscious. Yes, that was it. She hoped he'd made it long and slow and worthy of her.
Hate bubbled in her. Oh, she wanted to lunge forward. But she couldn't. It was like she was anchored in place. She would kill him. She would.
But he just looked her. Looked at her like he pitied her. "I'm sorry." He said softly. "No child deserves to die or to be killed, Clove. There is no honor in that. And you know better. You can't fill the hole in your own life with the lives of others. They aren't yours to keep."
Clove's hands were shaking when she got to the next grave. Shaking from his words and trying to shake them out of her head. They wouldn't go. Stuck there like the memories she'd tried so hard to erase. The headstone here was far unlike the rest. It wasn't just a headstone, but an entire memorial. Flowers of all kinds decorated it, along with pins with some kind of bird on them. A girl stood behind the stone, tall and proud. Who had done it? Who had finally killed this girl? This was a hallucination though, after all. Perhaps Clove could still do. When she was no longer bound. Then she would.
Here was Fire Girl. Lover Girl. Katniss.
"You're dead?" The words flew out of Clove's mouth. They echoed in the stillness.
The girl nodded. "Of course. Don't look so surprised." Her face looked so much older suddenly. A lifetime of pain in a girl's eyes. They were familiar eyes indeed. "I didn't die in the Games, Clove."
She waited for the shocking words to register.
But Clove felt nothing at all. She knew that already. That burning knowing. It had filled her the moment she arrived here. But, oh, Clove. She was always one to go against that knowing. From the moment she volunteered. So young. She was already doing it. She already knew.
"I won," Katniss said simply. "And that's all. Don't think I forgot you. Others might have, but I didn't. I tried so hard to get rid of you. It just didn't happen like that. It doesn't work like that." She gave Clove a look. "You really are young, aren't you?" She shook her head. "I never noticed that."
Clove only clenched her fists and stared at the headstone.
"Everybody dies, Clove. Everyone."
And then, she too vanished.
But there. There at the very end. There stood a figure with a shock of blond hair and the same crooked grin he always wore when he saw her.
"Cato!" She screamed.
Her ran to her first. Threw his arms around her. There wasn't much of her to do this. They held each other close like they never had in life. Once they'd held hands. And she'd leaned against his shoulder, laughing at the scenes of death they created. Or he touched her back, while planning how to kill anyone on their list. Because they could, after all.
They were immortal.
"You stayed with me that whole time, didn't you?" She whispered. He was so much taller than her.
He nodded. "Of course. You were my ally. It was the least I could do. But we were more than allies. You knew that. Remember how we met, when the trainer assigned us as sparring partners all those years ago? I thought he was kidding until you pinned me down." He bit his lip. "All those time I thought about how I could kill each and every one of those tributes, well, I never once thought about your death. How I'd do it to you."
Clove smiled. "The same for me. I would have to make yours so perfect. So well executed and give it such a show that you would be immortalized even in death. And I just couldn't do that."
"I killed Thresh with your knife, Clove. He didn't even know your name. Before I killed him, I asked him if he did. But he didn't. So I drove the knife into his chest. For you."
Cato looked at her. "We were so excited when we found that two from the same district could win. So busy planning our Happily Ever After."
"And it never came."
"But there is something after 'ever after.' Right here. And I get to spend that with you." There was no one else. No one else either of them would've spent it with. They were alone and together now.
"Okay." Clove said. Okay. And that was all. She laced her fingers in his. This was her forever. Her infinity. And it wasn't such a bad one, either.
Here, they were finally immortal.
And they were immortal together.