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and it's hard to dance (with the devil on your back)

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Clove walks into training on her first day and suddenly everything's different. She is no longer the girl he grew up with in Victor's Village, two years younger with only a withering glare and biting tongue to her name.

He watches her across the way, in the beginner courses, tracing the sharp side of a blade with her finger with a smirk.

It's always different from then on.

The weakest boy in his level has him against the wall with a knife at his throat. He'd gotten too distracted, watching her. He's accustomed to it already.

His instructor yells at him, but he can't decipher the words coming out of his mouth.

When the day is over, they surprisingly - unsurprisingly - find themselves next to one another, steps perfectly in sync as they exit the center.

It's silent until they get home. Then, "If you're the best boy in your level, District Two's odds are definitely not in its favor." A glimmer in her eyes, revealing the satisfaction in knowing that she understands now - this world he hasn't been able to show her, training to kill and win. He doesn't respond, and she walks inside her house without another word.

The next week, she is skipped ahead to his level.

(This was never part of the plan.)

Spending entire days with her is a nightmare, as she shifts from young girl to capable woman, from vapid miscreant to malicious warrior.

Still, she is younger and smaller and inarguably weaker - for now, anyway. One afternoon, she attempts to ridicule him in front of the others and he tackles her to the ground, unable to contain himself anymore.

She is terrified for a split second, telling wide eyes that only he sees proving that fact. Then, she composes herself and her facial expression reduces to her now trademark smirk.

"Hmm," she starts curiously. "Maybe there's a victor in you after all."

She kisses him on the walk home, furiously and all at once - like she's begging him to shove her away and berate her for being a menace. But he doesn't, and maybe he should have - leaving their relationship as shallow as it could possibly be, away from the carefree childhood they spent together. It is much easier to hate her this way. He just chooses not to.

Afterwards, she remains close to him, fixing the collar on his training shirt. Absentmindedly, it seems, she says, "I won't always be weaker than you, y'know." It is the most vulnerable she's been with him since she started training - the most vulnerable she will ever be.

"I know," The only two words he responds with, and the only two words he says the entire walk. She doesn't say anything either after that, but with a glance at her face he's sure she thinks he lied to appease her.

(But he does know, and it scares him.)

She's far more intimate with him in public, free to caress him slowly, gently, without anyone giving much thought to it. Most of the district knows they're friends - or used to be; they're enemies more than anything now. Any sort of transgressions between trainees is frowned upon - the district isn't looking for a love story, it's looking for a victor. One victor.

So they only ever kiss in private, on their walks home. They're never loving or tender - she often leaves scratches on his face as she contorts things to her liking. She's always gotten what she wants.

He's never minded - until now.

As the days go by, he becomes more rigid, more irritated by her presence and blatant taunting.

The first day of male-female sparring is incredibly inconvenient. Of course he's paired with her. They're easily the best in their level, and everyone else is eager to see them fight.

She'd passed him by earlier that day. He'd already been angry and stiff, prepared for her daily harassment. She doesn't touch him for once, only whispers in his ear.

"Oh, sweetie," she coos. "You've been such a good little toy."

He resists the urge to push her off of him and lets her continue, though it's going nowhere good.

"I know you've been waiting," she stops then, as if she's contemplating whether or not to finish the thought. "I know you want to fuck me."

It's lewd and almost cruel, and he wishes for the girl he used to run through the plains in the Village with, flying the abandoned toy they'd found that their parents identified as a kite. Then, he is enraged.

He wastes no time in striking; his sword immediately makes contact, tearing her training shirt and leaving her with a deep cut in her forearm. He watches the blood pool, but he supposes that she doesn't feel it because she lunges toward him and her knife is lodged in his shoulder blade for a moment.

They've broken the rules - no trainee is supposed to intentionally wound another. There is clearly intent in their movements and stances, even in their eyes - bloodthirsty and hateful and all the things the district tells them a victor is supposed to be.

But no one stops them. They only watch. They're enjoying it.

(The dull pain in his back never really leaves him, and he takes it as a reassurance that he should hate her as much as he wants.)

He fucks her anyway. And he's nice and gentle and sweet.

She cries afterwards.

She volunteers. He realizes he's in love with her.

"I can't wait to kill you," she snarls through gritted teeth as they raise their arms together in triumph, hands clasped together, in front of a mob that is sure one of them will return home in a matter of weeks.

(She's not going to kill him. She's not ready. He's not ready. They were never meant for this.)

When he watches the little semblance of light leave her eyes, he cradles her head and feels the warm rush of blood onto his hands.

Yes, he thinks. Good.

(He pretends he killed her. It's what she would have wanted.)