The first time I saw her she tried to kill me. It was at the training center, and I was ten, her only nine. She was a small little thing, but no one dared cross her. She was amazing with her knives. Lethal. You could see it just by looking at her. Naturally, she was just my type.
I smiled, always up for a challenge. I walked over to her, twirling my sword in my hand. And when I reached her, I leaned quickly forward and carefully plucked the knife out of her hand, right as she was about to throw. I saw her tense up and she whirled around to face me. Recognition registered in her eyes and her face twisted into a glare of utter hatred. "You took my knife?" she said slowly.
"Yeah," I said, grinning, taunting her. I held it over her head. "You want it back?"
Faster than light, her hand whipped to her belt and she was holding another knife. She lunged at me, and I held up my sword to block her. But she used her knife to push it over to one side, and she landed a kick in my unprotected stomach, knocking me to the ground. I rolled, trying to get the upper hand, keeping my sword pushed against her blade and trying to get her off me. She wrenched her other knife from my hand and pressed it against my neck, her eyes blazing with red-hot fury.
She might have killed me, right then, right there, but our trainer lifted her off me by her shoulders, grinning. "Nice work, Clove," he said, "But save it for the arena." Then he turned to me. "Step up your game, Cato. Can't make a habit of losing to girls."
I scowled at him. When he put it that way, it sounded so stupid. He knew that Clove wasn't just another girl. She was talented, deadly, better than most of the boys. But in a way he was right. I couldn't make a habit of losing. Because I was going to become a victor. And victors didn't lose.
As we grew older, Clove became my training partner. She was the only one good enough to fight me. We were best of the best. Slowly, grudgingly at first, we became friends. If you could call it that. When we fought, I stopped worrying that she'd actually try to kill me. And sometimes she'd give me a smile, although most of them were cool and sarcastic. Some of them though, were friendly, when I complimented her throwing skills, and once when I admitted that she might be able to beat me in a fight. Her smiles were rare, but I always remembered the ones I got. Her eyes lit up, and for a small moment, the dangerous, deadly girl I knew dissolved into someone a little happier. But it didn't happen often, and usually our conversations didn't stray far from training. For a long while, that's as close as we got.
I was fourteen by the time anything changed. We were lying on the floor of the training center watching the ceiling, long after all the other trainees had gone home. Clove and I always stayed late into the night, practicing, training. It wasn't like we had anything to go back to at home anyways.
She was twirling her knife in her hand, her other arm behind her head. I propped myself up on an elbow and looked at her. "You gonna volunteer?" I asked.
She turned to look at me, "Duh," she said, "Why do you think we're training?"
I let out a breath, "And what if you die?"
She narrowed her eyes at me. We weren't supposed to talk like this. District Two won, and that was that. "I won't."
"But what if you do?"
She sat up, scowling, "I won't. It could never happen."
"Unless I come in with you," I teased, and she smirked.
"Please," she scoffed, "I'd chop you up into little pieces."
I gave her a wicked smile, "There's no way you're good enough."
In a flash, her knife was pressed against my cheek and I was looking up into her startling green eyes. "You so sure about that?" She had my arms pinned beneath her knees and her other hand on my forehead, keeping me down. She dragged her blade down my face, drawing blood. When she was done, she inspected her red-stained knife, raising her eyebrows at me. I knew what she was saying. That if it came down to a fight, she was capable of killing me.
I twisted my arm to grab her ankle and threw her off me. She landed on the floor a few feet away and flipped over onto her stomach, resting her chin in her hands.
"You wouldn't, would you?" I asked, "Go in the same year as me?"
"Why not?" she says absent-mindedly, like it never really occurred to her and she didn't quite care anyways.
"Because then one of us would have to die."
"And you're worried I'll kill you?" she smirked.
"No," I said, "But then only one of us could win."
"You care so much if I win?"
"Well," I didn't know how to reply. But the worst part was that I knew what I wanted to say. That it wasn't so much about Clove winning, even though she did deserve to. It was about that even though I'd do it when it came down to it, I'd hate to kill her.
She studied my face, and before she went back to her knife, I thought I heard her mutter, "Yeah, me too."
I was sixteen, and we were friends. Real friends. We were sitting in an old storage room in the training center that we'd cleared out. We came here instead of going home. Clove's parents didn't like me, although it wasn't so surprising since they didn't like Clove either. They called her a good for nothing show-off. It was horrible, but in a way, it might have been for the best. It made Clove stronger, and even more determined to win, to show them that she could do this, and she didn't need their support. And as for me, I didn't have a family. Not really. My parents were dead and my older sister despised me. She hated that I was so much better than her in training. We never wanted to go home, so we stayed at the training center as long as we could, practicing and talking in our secret room.
Clove drew dots on a target with a black marker and sat against the wall, casually throwing her knives at them, hitting her mark every time.
"Cato," she said vaguely, and I looked up, "Have you ever loved anyone?"
I thought of my parents before they died. I admired them, and I wanted to please them, but did I love them? I didn't know. It wasn't really something I was familiar with. I'd hardened myself against any form of affection for as long as I could remember, because I knew that if you loved someone, you could also lose them. So I answered simply, "No," and raised my eyebrows at her, "Have you?"
She didn't even pause before shaking her head, "Love is for the weak."
I knew what she meant. I didn't think Clove had ever been hurt before. On the inside. She closed herself off from the world, hid behind her talent and her knives. I guess it was better for her that way. She never opened herself up to anyone, so no one ever had to hurt her. Or leave her, like my parents did. I suppose I was like that too. Clove was the only one I'd ever been completely myself with. And I wasn't going to lose her. I couldn't. I'd make sure of it
(Sorry for the change of tense here, I just felt like for this part, present tense seemed more appropriate. It's just like this is what's happening and Cato's thinking of everything that's happened since he met her. Mmkay then, on with the story)
I'm eighteen, and it's my last reaping. Our escort pulls a name from the boys bowl of names, and I don't even hear the name called before I'm stepping forwards to volunteer. This is my last year, and there's no way I'm going to miss this chance. It's what I've trained my whole life for.
I step up to the stage and am met with an excited round of applause. People have seen my potential since I started training, and I'm finally getting my chance in the arena. I smile slightly and wait for my escort to pull the girl's name.
"Clove Fuhrman." I do a double take. Clove? She wasn't supposed to be a tribute this year. She was supposed to volunteer next year, so we could both win. She steps up onto the stage, not a hint of fear in her eyes. They ask for volunteers, and I pray to God that one steps forwards for her. But none does, because this is Clove, and she's just as much of a legend as I am. No one in their right mind would try to take her place.
No one comes to say goodbye, and soon, we're on the train, sent to the Capital.
"This wasn't supposed to happen," Clove mutters, and I nod. She's only seventeen, she should be competing next year. Clove deserves this just much as I do. But now, in order to survive, I'm going to have to kill her.
But Clove isn't one to put friendship before winning, so I know she'll be trying to kill me too. She's cold-hearted, but not so much that she'd think nothing of killing her best friend. So as she leaves to her room, she looks back to me with a hint of sadness in her eyes and whispers, "I'm sorry."
The night before the Games, she finds me in the training center, hacking at one of the practice dummies. When I hear the door open, I turn around and lean on the hilt of my sword. "What brings you here?" I ask.
"Same as you," she says plainly, pulling a knife from inside her sweater and flicking it towards a random target. I smirk.
"You stole a knife?"
She pulls out two more from her belt and unstraps one from her arm under her sleeve. She fans them out in her hand. "Four."
I chuckle and watch as one by one, she throws them all into the bull's-eyes of different targets. When she's done, I put down my sword and we lie down on the hand-to-hand mats and stare at the ceiling, just like old times. Like we're not about to be sent into an arena to fight to the death.
It's kind of funny, because my whole life, I've been waiting for this moment. But now that it's here, and now that I know it's either going to be me or Clove, I don't want tomorrow to come. I remember the anger in Clove's eyes the first time I saw her, and I wonder if that's what she'll look like in our final fight.
Now, my only wish is that it won't have to be me to do it. But in the back of my mind, I know that no one else will be able to beat her in a fight. There's a reason we were partnered together back home. No one else could face her. Even when she was twelve, she was better than a lot of the eighteen year olds. She'd have to be taken off guard, or it'd have to be one of the Capital's disasters. Even if it was between her and me, there was a chance I'd lose. The only way I'd be able to guarantee her death would be to kill her in her sleep. My stomach tightens at the idea. I want to win more than anything, but even I couldn't do that to my best friend. I have to at least give her a fair fight.
"Cato," her voice snaps me out of my thoughts and I tilt my head towards her, "What do we do?"
I sigh. "I don't know," I say, "Stick together, kill off the others, until the end." We made an alliance with the tributes from One and Four too, but the two of us agreed that if there was a final Career fight, we'd stick together. Then, when it was only us, we'd finish it. At least that way one of would win.
She turns to me and I could have sworn I saw a tear in her eye, but when I look back, it's gone, and I tell myself I imagined it. Besides, Clove doesn't cry.
For a while, we lie there, just thinking, and finally, she stands up. "I'm going to sleep," she says, and I follow her towards the door. When we get to our rooms, she gives me a sad smile before she closes her door, "See you tomorrow."
30, 29, 28, 27
I stand on my pedestal, glancing between the other tributes and the stash in the Cornucopia. My eyes find Clove's and she gives me a little nod before going back to scanning the pile of supplies, probably looking for the closest pack of knives. I turn away.
5, 4, 3
I get ready to run.
The gong rings out and I sprint towards the nearest sword. I slice it through a tribute boy coming close to me and immediately spin around to find another victim.
I see Clove playing with her victim, spilling tons of blood before finishing the girl off.
Everything goes by in a blur, and soon, it's just seven of us standing by the Cornucopia. The boy from Four got killed somewhere in the mess, and Lover Boy has joined us as well as the boy from Three.
Once the hovercraft picks up all the bodies, I sit down with Clove against the golden Cornucopia. "We're here," I murmur to her, and she nods.
"Yep, we're here."
I wake to the buzzing of insects. I feel a sharp pain in my arm and I bolt upright. No natural bee could cause this much pain. I look frantically around and I see an empty wasps nest. A huge one. With so many years of training and learning about the things we could face, my brain has no trouble putting together the pieces. Tracker Jackers.
I'm on my feet in a second, ready to run. But I remember someone. Clove. I know she has to die, but I'm not letting her go because of these Capital mutts. I look up the tree we were guarding, and notice it's empty. I curse. There's no way I'm letting Clove die at the hands of Fire Girl.
I hear a girl's voice screaming my name, but it's not Clove's so I ignore it. I find her in the midst of the furious wasps and grab onto her arm. "Clove!"
She's up in an instant, and before I even let her assess the situation, I'm dragging her away. "To the lake!" I shout, and we run through the trees, my hand still attached to her wrist.
I hear a voice behind me, calling out. Glimmer. I keep running.
When we get to the water, I just fall in, my feet not supporting me anymore. Clove's so small that the little venom that got into her body is enough for her. She collapses, thrashing, into a weird kind of unconsciousness. I feel myself going towards the same way, and I know what's happening. Tracker Jackers venom throws people into a nightmare-filled sleep. I can imagine who will star in mine. But for the moment, the wasps are gone, and Clove and I are fine. As the nightmares start, I know that the safety won't last long, but I can't help myself from thinking, 'I almost lost her.'
The rest of our pack is already gone, and it's just Clove and I in the alliance. We're still camped out by the Cornucopia, even though our supplies are gone. The number of tributes in the arena is steadily decreasing, and although it means less time until I can go home, it also means less time until it comes it comes down to just Clove and I.
She's lying back on the grass, tracing patterns in the ground with her knife. But when we hear the crackle of the speaker, she's on her feet beside me in an instant. When I hear the words 'rule change', I furrow my eyebrows in confusion. There are no rules in the arena. But the voice continues and I'm taken aback by the words.
"If two tributes originate from the same District, they can both be crowned as Victors."
It takes a moment for the words to sink in, and when I wrap my mind around what he said, I'm speechless. I pull Clove into a hug, and when she backs away, she's smiling bigger than I'd ever seen before. I knew what this meant. We could both go home. We could both win. Just like we planned.
At a complete loss for words, I just pull her in again and wrap my arms around her shoulders. She looks up at me and smiles, and it's lacking the sadness I've seen since the reaping. I can see the happiness radiating from her as she whispers, "We're both going home."
She shoots me a look. "Go away, Cato, there's no way you're coming."
"I can handle this Cato." I can feel her annoyance rising, but this is one thing I'm not letting go. I'm not letting her go into the feast alone.
I spin her around to face me, "Clove, I know you can handle this," I say, "But what if you can't? Huh? You're amazing with your knives, best in Panem, but you're not invincible."
She rolls her eyes, "Have a little faith," she mutters, "Go hunt, I'll be alright."
After a pause, I realize I'm never going to win this way. I sigh. "Fine," I say, "I'll hunt." But there's no way I'll be hunting. I'll be waiting at the edge if the clearing, making sure Clove's okay. She'll hate me for it, Clove doesn't like it when people 'watch out for her'. She says it makes her weak, but I don't care. Clove's my best friend, and I'm not letting her die on me. Especially now that we can both win.
We crouch in the trees looking into the clearing, waiting for the feast to start. When the packs appear, not even a second has passed before the redheaded girl from Five jumps out of the Cornucopia, grabs her bag, and takes off.
Clove swears under her breath, "She's fast" she mutters, and I nod. Then, Fire Girl appears out of the trees and Clove gets to her feet. "Now's my chance," she says, and she sprints towards her.
I see Clove whip a knife in Fire Girl's direction, and she deflects it with her bow. She reaches the table now, grabbing her pack. She turns to fire an arrow, but Clove's knife hits her in the head and she stumbles. I see Clove snatching an arrow Fire Girl shot into her arm, but she just keeps running, so it couldn't have been too bad. Fire Girl shoots another arrow, at least five feet wide, and Clove slams into her. They both go falling to the ground, and in another moment, Clove has her pinned with a knife on her face.
Clove's talking, grinning. Fire Girl's thrashing around, but Clove has her under control. Once, she screams, Lover Boy's name, before Clove jams her fist into her throat and she cuts off.
Something moves off to my left, and I stand, unsheathing my sword. It looks like Clove's okay, so I follow the sound. When I reach the trail, I know it's Five. It's almost invisible, but even she can't completely cover her tracks. I follow the path as I've been trained to do. I used most of my training time for my weapons, but I still know what I'm doing now.
I don't realize how far I've walked until I hear Clove's voice. "Cato!"
I immediately turn on my heel and start sprinting towards the voice. "Clove!" I call out, but I already know I won't make it. The only time Clove would scream for help like that was if she knew she couldn't do anything else to protect herself. Only if it was already too late.
"CATO!" Again. I try to push myself faster. No. This isn't happening. I knew I shouldn't have left her. I knew this was a bad idea.
There's no scream, but I suddenly have a horrible feeling in my gut. If she could, she'd yell again, she'd fight her way out. I break into the clearing and I see her. On the ground. Not moving. "Clove!" But my voice is weak.
No. She's not dead. She can't be. She's Clove. And there was no cannon.
The District Eleven boy runs into the fields, and I instantly know it was him. No one else could have done that to her. Five ran off and she had Fire Girl pinned. I turn to see Fire Girl disappear into the forest, but there's no way I can go after her right now. Not while Clove's still dying. I'll have time for her later, have time for everything later. The question is if Clove'll be there with me.
I kneel down beside her, my hands cradling her head before I even realize what I'm doing. "Clove," I whisper, and she moans.
Her eyes flutter open and she looks me in the eye. "Cato," she says, acknowledging that I'm here.
"I shouldn't have left you," I tell her, "I should have helped you. I'm so sorry."
Some people might be a little less guarded as they slip towards death, might tell people all the things they never wanted to say, now that it's over. Clove, it seems, is not one of those people. Even through the pain, I can see her glower at me. "I didn't need you to save me."
I gesture to the dent in her skull, but even in this state, Clove isn't one to reason with.
Her glare intensifies. "If I couldn't save myself then I don't deserve for anyone to do it for me."
I resist the urge to shake my head. Clove will be Clove, but I'm not going to argue in my best friend's last moments.
"You can make it, Clove." Even though we both know she can't.
Clove was never one to try to hold on to a fantasy, so she just smiles sadly, "You know that's not true."
"I'll miss you Clove." There's nothing else to say. Nothing I can let myself say anyways.
"I'll miss you too. Win this, alright?"
I nod, choking back a sob. I don't cry. I can't cry. I never have, I never will. I tell myself I would have had to kill her anyways if the rule hadn't changed. So why do I feel so broken as I look down at the dying girl in my arms?
"Cato..." My name is her last word and the cannon sounds. I lay her head down gently and stand up calmly, even though more than anything, I just want to scream. Yell. Destroy everything in reach. I can feel my hands shaking and nothing is making sense. Clove? Dead? She can't be. But she is. My breath is going in and out in strange rhythms, almost like sobbing. No, that doesn't seem right. I've never cried before. And I'm on screen in front of all of Panem. I can't cry. But there's something inside me that I've never felt before. I've felt a ghost of it sometimes in the training center with Clove, but that was always a happy feeling. This time it's different. Tearing me apart from the inside out. Making my chest hurt and my mind try to find something to hold on to in a world where everything seems to be falling apart.
Clove was the only one I'd ever truly cared about, and she'd been taken from me, in a few fateful moments.
I remember the conversation we'd had years ago, when we both agreed that love was for the weak. Well as Clove's body is lifted out of the arena, I think to myself, 'I feel weak enough.'
I have Lover Boy in headlock, and Fire Girl's arrow is aimed straight at my head. The finale. I'm finally here. But there's no sense of victory. There hasn't been. Not since Clove.
Killing had always been an enjoyable thing. The feel of a lost life by my own hands was always so satisfying. But when I killed District Eleven, slowly and painfully, vengeance for Clove, all I could feel was rage. I made him pay. Made him pay with his life. But even his death won't bring Clove back.
I smile through the blood. "Shoot me and he goes down with me."
My thoughts turn to Clove, as they so often do now. I wonder about if it was Clove in this headlock, me threatening to end the life of the tribute holding her, even though it would sacrifice her too. I wonder what I'd do. I can see the panic in Fire Girl's eyes. Lover Boy will be dead soon. And then it will be just me and her. And maybe I can take her, maybe still win. But it's still a hollow victory, I'll still go home with no best friend.
I see it a second after she does, and by then it's too late. Fire Girl's arrow is piercing my hand and Lover Boy's falling out of my grasp. As I land on the ground, the mutts take no time descending on me. My sword's still in my hand, so I try fighting them off. Besides, I promised Clove. It isn't just about me anymore.
But then one takes my sword and I'm helpless. I try to think through the pain, and all I can do is pull Clove's face into my mind. Then, after what seems like forever, Fire Girl appears, aiming an arrow at my head. This time, I want it to come. I'm dying anyways. "Please," I whisper, and it looks like she understands.
In the moment before the arrow finds my skull, I whisper the words I couldn't make myself say while she was still alive.
"I love you, Clove."
A/N: Thanks for reading. Yeah, I made Clove's last name Fuhrman, because I just love the entire cast, and Isabelle Fuhrman is my role model and favourite actress ever. Also, I apologize because I can't write fluff, and that's why they were best friends instead of... erm.. never mind... I literally died while writing this. I just couldn't. I hope you liked it, I honestly almost cried in Clove's death scene. Reviews will make my day! :)