He barely knows her when he walks up to join her on the makeshift stage. She’s that girl with the knives, but she’s not his friend – you don’t befriend other careers, the kids you’re waiting to get the chance to kill.
She is straight-backed and wound-up taut, and when she looks at him she parts her lips, the barest slip, a hint: teeth. They gleam quick and bright like her knives and he imagines them piercing through his skin.
Knives, he thinks, already planning how he will have to be careful with this one, rely on his strength over her agility. He’s evaluating how he will kill her before they’ve even left their district, but she’s got the corner of her lip tucked into her mouth and a single wrinkle marring her forehead and he knows in the instant their eyes meet that she’s thinking the exact same thing.
What a pair they will be.
(That’s a lie. There are no pairs in the Games. There is one victor; there is him and there is no place for her.
Maybe he’ll let her die last.)
Time hangs still when the counter runs out and then they are racing across the grass towards the Cornucopia, towards weapons that glitter in the sunlight.
She gets her hands on her precious knives, and he’s not surprised. There is something beautiful about the way she kills, silver flash of light in her hand, perfectly weighted precision and her lips pulled back at the corner like a snarl, or maybe even a grin. He shivers and does not know why.
When she grins at him, later under the trees where they’ve banded up with the other careers, he wonders if that grin means you’re next.
He flexes his hands, tightens his throat and thinks no, that’d be you, sweetheart.
He’s going to kill this one himself, he’ll make sure of it.
He does want to. Kill her.
Cato watches her take down tributes with the misfortune to cross their paths, watches the snap of her wrist as she throws her knives and the grin when they hit their target (they always do).
He watches her and he wants to be the one to kill her, when the day comes. Not yet. Wait a little longer. He likes watching her kill. When he kills her, it will be glorious. He will stain the arena with her blood and he will burn her death into himself, into the minds of everyone watching.
He grips his own blade tight, watches her skipping ahead, teeth flashing, and he resolves to keep her alive as long as he can, so that he gets to be the one to do it in the end. He feels possessive over her death, this girl who delivers it to so many others on the tip of silver-bright knives.
Your knives won’t do the job on me, he thinks.
He is more than flesh, more than everyone else in this goddamn place.
In his dreams, Clove wears a golden circlet on her head as crowds cheer. She is pronounced Victor and she smiles at him with teeth teeth teeth and he is falling and her crown glows so bright he is engulfed by light, gold and silver and he is drowning in it, and—he lets go.
He wakes shaking and clammy and stares at her, sleeping a few feet away, curled in on herself like a spring, hand on her knife. He could kill her anyway. He could do it quickly enough. Hands around her throat and snap before she could ever sink her daggers or her teeth into him. He stares at her for hours as the sky slowly lightens and imagines all the ways he could kill her and he does not move an inch.
“It’s nice of you, saving yourself for me,” she taunts later that day, smiling sweet and metallic and dangerous.
“I’m saving you till the very end,” he counters, but his voice rasps over the words and all he hears is I’m saving you and all he wants to know is why? He fumbles for reasons that get trapped behind flashes of wrists snap knife silver teeth.
“If not me, who’d you rather?” she whispers. There are cameras everywhere, but the dark of night makes them feel more hidden. Private.
“If you had to die here,” she says slowly. “Who else would you want to kill you but me?”
He thinks she might be grinning. It sounds like it.
“I’ll do it quick,” she teases, voice feather-light. Maybe too light. Maybe they won’t be able to hear this after all. “I could do it right now.” She’s always got her fingers on her knife. It’s true enough, only a matter of if he’d let her. (No. Never. He’s going to kill her; she’s not twisting that around on him.)
“Shut it, Clove,” he spits out, and his voice sounds amplified, a thousand times louder than her whispers.
“I promise I’ll kill you,” she says quietly, a second later, because clearly the girl doesn’t know how to drop anything. She’s like a dog with a bone. Wolf, he thinks, all teeth.
“Who else?” she asks again.
They both know there’s no answer.
She’s as hard, as metal, as her knives.
Born for this, lived all her life for this, and it’s equal parts comforting and frightening, how much of himself he can see in her at times.
Glimmer and Marvel are of the same cut but they’re not the same. They’re not blood of District 2. He doesn’t care how they die. Anyone could off them and he wouldn’t mind, except they’d be down a useful body in this temporary alliance.
“Promise I’m gonna kill you,” he whispers in her ear, as she’s wiping blood off her knife. She grins.
—Clove and her knives and her teeth flashing wolf grins are his.
She slits his throat in another dream. Blood pours over him, over them both, and she smiles above him, raises her knife and now it flashes red, violent and burning and glorious with his blood.
“Promised you I’d be the one to do it,” she murmurs, and he tries to reach a hand around her throat, take her with him and make good on his own promises, but she dances out of reach, nimble and elegant and tipping her head back with a laugh that shows her teeth.
He is woken by her boot nudging him in the side. “Today’s the day we kill the bitch on fire,” she sing-songs, fondling a knife and pressing a kiss to the blade.
Or today could be the day I kill you, he thinks, but there is a stronger voice in his head, roaring, not yet, not yet, and he concedes to it. He has imagined so many ways he will kill her, and he will wait till it is perfect. He will close a hand around her throat and maybe he will slit it with her own knife, wouldn’t that be beautiful, and he will watch her bleed dry and whisper I told you so, sweetheart as that goddamn silver light leaves her eyes.
He kills her in his dreams. It happens less often than she kills him, but it does happen. He presses her against a tree by her throat and pins her hands above her head – her wrists are so thin; they can flick daggers with terrifying precision, but he can curl one of his hands around both of them together.
“Go on, kill me,” she taunts. His mouth crashes into hers as he begins to choke her, angry and fierce and desperate, and he doesn’t know which bruises more. She bites his lip, bites with those teeth, and he would have expected nothing else.
“Kill me, Cato,” she taunts, spitting the words right into his mouth – and he does.
She falls limp to the ground when he releases her and he sees her mouth is stained with his blood.
The dreams all blur together, endless blood and silver flashing knives and grins with teeth. At one point, in one dream, one night, he is fucking her.
She is naked and impossibly warm beneath him, burning to the touch – her mouth sears and where her fingers dig into his skin they cut through like her knives.
He groans, and he wants—he wants never wake up, only this, slowly tearing each other apart because it’s the only thing either of them know how to do, the only thing they could ever be. They won’t make it out of this arena. He will kill her. He doesn’t think these dreams will go away when he does.
She rolls on top of him, and he lets her, lets her push him into the ground and grin. And then she is slitting his throat, this is the same dream, over and over again, his blood on them both and he is reaching for her throat but she evades him, she is going to make it out, not him, and he wonders what kind of dreams will haunt her nights.
He never considers the possibility that neither of them will win.
—it is a shriek and it is his name and he was supposed to be the one to kill her, he promised her, and she screams his name and he isn’t there.
When she flashes across the sky, he thinks they could have chosen a better picture, because she is solemn in this one, no sign of teeth, and the world should remember her with sharp teeth and quick knives, not this plain girl in the sky. She looks young there, like she could have been a child, and that is wrong too. He turns his head away before the image disappears.
Liar, it accuses him. You promised.
He sways at the edge and wonders if she felt this in her last seconds, when she screamed out for him, “Cato!”, if she knew then: they have always been dead, dead since they were born, and for the first time in his life he feels desperately young and afraid.
And the beasts close over him when he hits the ground and he thinks of Clove lifeless in the grass and lifeless in the sky, knives couldn’t save her, nothing could save them, but he remembers wolf grins and a flash of silv—