Cato and Clove are assigned together when they are both twelve. Their parents say, you try to get along now, it might be useful to you. But also: not too much, though, arm's length and they are doomed right from the beginning, aren't they?
It goes like this:
When they first meet, on the mats of the Academy, Cato spits in her eye to distract her and pushes her to the ground. She is blushing furiously, rubbing her eye and spluttering because how dare he.
He smirks and rolls off, says, "Oh, what? Little girls can't handle--"
She kicks him in the back of his knees and grabs him in a chokehold. He breathes jaggedly and thrashes violently to no avail.
Clove spits viciously into his ear, "Are you sure you want to finish that sentence, little girl?"
Friendships are a complicated matter in District 2, where half of the population assembles weaponry and the other half is treated as such. But when Cato looks up at her, smiles with no actual emotion and says, "It's just a game, you know."
She agrees, "Yes" and that's that.
Does it count as pulling pigtails if throwing knives are involved?
Cato is told, "You will win." He has an uncle who won, once, and Champions abound in his neighborhood. Everyone tells him he has the build, the wit, the ability. By sixteen, he has defeated everyone in his class. Clove's laugh threads every punch into songs. By seventeen, he has pinned most of his teachers to walls and floors and ceilings, with their weapon of choice; Clove pins him to a mattress and doesn't let him go until she has come, twice.
Clove knows what is expected of her, know what she expects of herself. Scruples are things people from other districts have. Where she comes from, at birth she is given a destiny and a partner. They are both told, go on, go and play. She can handle knives, can handle arrows and javelins, rocks and fires. Playing dirty is allowed, is encouraged, is actually simply playing. This is something Clove knows, deep in her heart, as a fact of life. There is a game, in the end, and, when her turn comes, she will play.
(She also knows: her body mass, Cato's body mass, his weight, height and allergies; that two people can hold a person down more effectively, can gather supplies more efficiently, can lay death traps more quickly
Furthermore: that two people can just as easily become one.)
They volunteer. Obviously. He grips her hand and raises their arms, all ceremony and pride. They ride the rain, eat the food, wear the clothes. Particularly: they train, eat judiciously. Their only recklessness is staying up well into the morning, talking about strategy and watching re-runs of old Games, playing to see who spots the tributes' weaknesses first. They smirk at each other.
Cato laughs with her about the boy from 6 and the girl from 11. They make bets about who is going to die first, and how. He says, "Some of them looks so fragile..." and his voice is wistful. Names are unnecessary, for now.
Their mentor tells them to go for the Cornucopia and kill at once. Tells them to form an alliance with others and learn their weaknesses. Clove is annoyed at this, knows they can do it on their own, but nods.
A conversation goes like: "I might have to kill you."
"I'd rather it be you, anyway. I'll do it quick, if it's me."
It doesn't matter who says what, really. The point stands for both.
It begins. Clove is the first to make a kill. It is not like she expects, there is too much blood because, in her haste, she misses the artery and has to twist her knife around. It's great. The bitch from district 12 manages to escape, but it's alright for now.
When the boy, Peeta, tells them, "No, see, it was all--it was lies, I just needed to make Katniss think she was safe from me, to trust me" she is wary, but he will be of use anyway, so she pockets the small darts. She can kill him later.
At night, he whispers to Cato: "We could have done something similar" and he whispers back, "No, we couldn't", all matter-of-fact.
She thinks about his hands and what they've done, to her and to others, and silently acknowledges his truth.
Cato enjoys killing. He has thought about killing everyone, he thinks about his hands around people's necks as soon as he meets them. He has thought about killing Clove, too, because he is rational about it. It's a shame, yes. But it has to be done. Probably. Meanwhile, they can laugh about the others.
Except: they can both live. He was prepared to do what had to be done, because "You will win," he had been told. But now, they can both win. And he thinks, probably, that this is good. They plan how to kill the others.
Except, except. They were doomed right from the beginning. It doesn't matter, in the end. Maybe they could have been like the star-crossed lovers of district 12, but he spots her body in the clearing, head bashed in, and can only muster passing relief that he won't be the one to do it. And his despair, his momentary madness, well. He never believed in revenge because he was always planning on killing everyone anyway. But it feels close to it when he sees Katniss' rage, when his fist digs into Peeta's stomach.
The wolves take him. Clove's eyes blink hungrily at him, and he thinks, well, in the end, it was you.