Author Note: Oh gosh. I really tried to hold out – truly, I did! But after a full week of non-stop Catoniss fanfic reading…I had to give in. For readers of my other story (Of Quills and Serpents), don't worry; I'll still be updating that! For readers who don't know who I am, hi! I'm Eliene This fiction will be a bit drabble like in nature alternating with more traditional chapters. Warning: The Catoniss will be gradual. They will not be jumping each other in the first few chapters (sorry! As much as I'd love to see that, I feel that they need to build a friendship first). Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: Probably one of the few times I'll be putting this in here, just know characters aren't mine and I'm not making money from this.
He grunts, whipping his right arm forward and lifting his fingers at the last possible second. The metal spear screams forward and slams into the small painted heart on the straw dummy at the other side of the cavernous training center.
No surprise there.
He is already readying the next razor sharp spear, the tip gleaming menacingly in the harsh light of the training center. This time he pulls back his left arm, the muscles in his shoulder coiling backwards as he breathes. In. Out. Release.
He doesn't bother to watch the spear after it leaves his fingers; he knows by the satisfying thunk that it has hit its target.
Cato reaches behind him to grab the next spear and prepares for his next throw. He blinks away a stray drop of sweat that has managed to work its way into his left eye. His muscles are burning, but it is a good pain – with each excruciating minute he continues to train comes another sense of pride. He will make his district proud.
He has to.
He throws the last spear before turning to face the speaker.
"Twenty throws. Twenty hits. Ten minutes," he recites. Brutus frowns before saying, "Should be eight minutes."
Cato resists the urge to explode; he knows Brutus is testing him, seeing if he's ready for the Reaping tomorrow. He takes a moment to collect himself, a moment to dissipate the red haze that has slowly crept around the corners of his eyes. A few seconds later his mind is clear again, focused on a single goal – winning the Hunger Games.
He casts his future mentor a cold glare that conveys his distaste for Brutus's ploy. Brutus shrugs.
"Just make sure you're ready."
An almost wistful look momentarily passes through Brutus's black eyes; it's a well-known fact that Brutus misses the adrenaline of the Arena.
He turns as if to leave, but at the last second he whirls around and flings a dagger directly at Cato's heart.
Cato lunges to the ground, somersaults forward, grabs a knife from the rack to his right, and swings it forward.
The blade whizzes through the air and smacks into the wall behind Brutus when he steps to the side at the last second. Brutus turns and eyes the blade critically.
"Two inches too far to the left," he says coldly. Cato shrugs; knives have never been his specialty. A small grin snakes its way across his face as he thinks of what is his specialty – swords, spears, and a sheer determination to win.
Cato watches as his training partner for the past ten years smirks before breaking free of the gaggle of fifteen-year-olds she had been standing with. She saunters up the stairs, coldly smiling down at the rest of District 2. She will be a formidable partner; they have grown up together, and Cato knows her every strength and weakness.
He notes how her right hand brushes the knife she always wears at her hip. He sees the glint in her eyes and resists the urge to smile; Clove is probably contemplating hitting the Capitol representative in the heart.
She meets his eyes and her smirk broadens to a (albeit small) smile. He nods, his hands clenching and unclenching as he waits for the male tribute to be announced.
This is his chance to do his district proud. His mouth tenses as he thinks of his parents. Like every other parent in his district, they sent him off to training at age five. He practiced basic skills and speed training before getting partnered up with Clove at age eight. His parents expect him to win; it's a given, something that can't even be questioned. When he told them he had been chosen as this year's tribute, they had shrugged before continuing on with their lavish lifestyle – a lifestyle they could only afford because of loans. Loans that could only be paid back when he won.
Cato pins his fellow Careers with a contemptuous glare before sweeping his eyes back up to the platform. How long is the Capitol representative going to take?
"Now, for the male tribute…S-"
Cato lunges forward, pushing the other Careers away. They part for him, watching him solemnly as he stalks up the stairs, each step resounding throughout the quiet square.
The Capitol representative titters, exclaiming over his muscles and "magnificent facial structure." Cato resists the urge to punch her; he doubts she has a care in the world. How can she speak of such superficial things? Only one thing mattered – duty.
He casts a sidelong glance at Clove. She rolls her eyes before jerking her head slightly in the direction of the bumbling Capitol woman as if to say, "look at this idiot." Cato doesn't respond, instead turning his head forward to stare impassively ahead.
He doesn't have time for conversation. Not now. Not when he is so close to doing what he's been born to do.
The train speeds forward silently, the shining metal body gliding on slick silver rails. Cato watches the screen in front of him intently. On the seat next to him Clove is taking particular happiness in carving a face into an unnaturally scarlet apple.
The Reapings have been going on all morning. He has already watched the playback of District 1 and has assessed their weaknesses and strengths. The boy – Marvel – is tall and well built. He has a cocky smile on his face, his right hand flexing as he stands on the platform. Cato notices the way his muscles are bunched along the uppermost part of his arm and shoulder. A spear thrower. The girl – Glimmer – prances on stage and smiles flirtatiously, but Cato knows better than to underestimate her. He zooms in to her hands, smiling grimily to himself as he notes the faint calluses along the palm of her hand. Knives.
The District 4 male is huge, his dark eyes menacing as he hulks behind the scared-looking Capitol escort. Cato frowns; he isn't blind - he can see that this boy is stronger than he is. But that's okay – he doubts the boy's had the years of training he's had the privilege of having.
He dismisses the female as harmless. She is a slight girl of around twelve years old. She hovers on the platform, bouncing up on the heels of her small feet and looking as if she is about to take off into the air. He feels a pang of…something as he realizes she is the same age as his younger brother. The next second he angrily shoves it away and focuses on his goal. It's the same goal he's had since he was five and first grasping the meaning of the Games and honor.
He glances at Clove; by this time Clove is eating the apple, her teeth crunching noisily as she viciously chews it up.
She senses his gaze and looks up, smiling to reveal red-stained teeth. Cato doesn't react, instead raising a single eyebrow.
"Anyone good so far?" she mumbles through a mouthful of apple. Cato turns back to the television, watching intently as the District 11 tributes stumble off the platform. The girl trips, looking so obviously emaciated it's almost a shame. Cato sighs; easy kills. He'd hoped for a bit more of a challenge.
"District 1 seems to be decent," he answers.
Clove scoffs, throwing the apple core into the trashcan ten feet away with deadly accuracy.
"Tell me something I don't know," she sneers, twirling a knife between her pale fingertips. Cato doesn't respond, shushing her as he sees District 12 start to appear on the screen. He knows the tributes will be the standard weaklings, but he knows better than to miss a single detail.
The escort – a garishly pink woman teetering on high heels – delicately plucks a slip of pure white paper from the glass bowl.
She clears her throat before leaning towards the microphone and saying, "Primrose Everdeen!"
What? Katniss stares in horror as everyone turns to stare at her younger sister. Prim. The name resounds painfully in her mind. Prim, the girl who cried at the death of a bird. Prim, the girl with the blonde hair and smiling blue eyes. Prim, the girl who saw the good in everyone – even when there wasn't any good to see.
Katniss pushes down the almost-overwhelming urge to cry as she sees that the back of Prim's white blouse is tucked out of her gray skirt.
She has to do something – kick, yell, punch, anything.
And suddenly she finds herself moving forward, her mouth opening.
"I – I volunteer!"
She pushes past the hordes of white-clad Peacekeepers angrily, shoving them away so she can face the Capitol bitch who thought she could take away her Prim.
"I volunteer!" she shouts again, her voice rising into hysteria as she sees Prim looking at her with a horrified expression on her small face.
The Peacekeepers slowly back away, leaving her to stare directly into Effie Trinket's artificially colored eyes. Katniss lifts her chin and glares at her, her fists clenching at her sides.
"I volunteer," she repeats.
"N-no!" Prim shrieks from to her right. Katniss steadfastly looks away, walking slowly towards the platform. She trembles slightly, stuffing her hands into the pocket of her dress as she tries to mask her fear. She tries to block out Prim's hysterical cries. At last she can't resist it anymore, and she turns one last time to see Prim held back by Gale. She meets Gale's eyes, and he gazes at her sadly.
Katniss bites back a sob and straightens her back, resuming her walk upwards. Effie hurries forward to meet her at the top of the stairs, her unpractical heels clicking against the wooden platform. Katniss focuses on them. They probably cost enough to feed a family for a month. She resists the urge to snarl, instead coldly glaring at Effie before looking away.
The next few minutes blur together, and she finds herself shaking hands with the baker boy as Effie trills on and on about the virtues of the Hunger Games.
The baker boy – Peeta – catches her eyes and smiles wryly. She can't return the gesture – her heart is hard.
Her mind flashes back to that moment so many years ago. Her father had just died in the mining accident, and she was rapidly losing the will to live under the stress of supporting her whole family. Her mother was useless, paralyzed by a bout of depression. Not even Prim's cries could bring her back. Peeta had thrown a loaf of blackened bread at her. It was only after that that she found the energy to hunt, to survive.
She looks away, breaking his gaze; she can't afford to get close to anyone. Not now. Not when she's about to go into the bloodthirsty nightmare that are the Games.
He finds himself leaning forward, his eyes fixated on the dark-haired girl's form as she volunteers. Odd…he can't remember a time when District 12 ever had a volunteer. So why now? He eyes the slim blonde-haired girl sobbing by the side and nods to himself; she volunteered for her sister.
It intrigues him; in District 2, it is everyone for themselves. Sibling ties do not matter at all. He thinks of his own little brother and the time when he was forced to administer his punishment. Twelve lashes, five to the legs and seven to the back.
He tells himself that it was the right thing to do. If he had refused to do it, his brother would have gotten a more severe punishment from one of his all-too-eager peers, all of who were thirsting for vengeance after he made them look bad during the training sessions. It wasn't his fault; while his classmates went off to flirt after their required hours were over, he had stayed afterhours and trained. At first he'd enjoyed the training, reveling in the fatigue and pure power it had lent him. As his parents began talking of his "future win," the training had lost a bit of its glamour, but he still loved the feeling of throwing a weapon or slashing a dummy in a few smooth strokes. It was one of the few times where he was truly in control.
The memory of his sacrifices hardens him, and he forces himself to analyze her. To his surprise, she looks strong. He thought all District 12 brats were weak and malnourished. She obviously is willing to risk herself for those she loves – a definite weakness. She has a determined glint in her eye, which worries him for a split second before he writes it off. Even if she happened to be talented, he doubted she had the ruthlessness needed to win this.
A blonde boy steps onto the platform next. Cato notes his thick arms but smirks when he sees the scared look in his eye.
He leans back in his chair, resting his feet on the glass coffee table in front of him.
"Interesting," Clove says. She is rewatching the part where the girl volunteers. She grins, a wicked glint coming to her eye.
"Shot killing her," she adds, expertly flicking her knife forward and shooting it into the heart of the pear at the other side of the room.
He glances over and smirks.
"Not if I get her first."
Author Note: I hope you liked it! Please review!