The Gouge in the Table

Train Ride

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games

Warnings: Language, slight hostility

Chapter Three

Cinder is the only person to visit me.

It's quite unusual for a volunteer's family to visit them in the Justice Building in District Two. Not that I was a volunteer. I'm just disgruntled that they keep up the traditions that aren't required, although I'm sure my father hasn't the slightest idea that I've been Elected (not that I care, anyway). He's probably still passed out in the closet. I do, on the other hand, wonder if I'll get a visit from Elisa and the kids (they're just like family, after all), but I don't. Then again, Elisa is probably torn between smacking and smooching Cato's face, so I'm glad he's got the time to say his last good-byes to his mom and little sisters (and adoring fans and whatnot).

So without Elisa to visit, and my father clueless and expectedly experiencing a load of darkness, I don't really care to see anyone else. Lyme or Glover would be a nice surprise, but they don't show, and I just shrug my shoulders and try not to dwell in disappointment. Simply put, at the end of my "poor me" fest, I really don't care to see anyone at all. But who shows? Cinder, of course. Always Cinder fucking Dawning.

She comes bursting through the doors with a melancholy frown lingering on her lips and her eyebrows creased in an expression that gives off a sense of horrified rage. "You better come back," she snaps, her syllables clipped like the accent the Capitol citizens have taken on. "You better come back. I don't know what I'll ever do without you."

"Like hell you won't know what to do," I sneer. "Just turn to your little posse, they'll offer plenty of comforting shoulders to cry on. And I won't be gone long. By the way, why are you here? I was pleasantly drowning in my beloved silence when you interrupted."

Cinder ignores my inquiry, her voice hard as steel. "That's right. You won't be gone long. You're going to return in a wooden box, like the majourity of everyone else." She sees the indignant look cross my face. "Don't deny it, Clove. I know he's your best friend. I know you love him. I know you would… take your life for him."

I close my eyes, suddenly weary. Her words ring true. I do love Cato Sangue- in a platonic way more than anything, but it still is love nonetheless. "Why are you here?" I repeat, my voice softening somewhat.

"To wish you luck. To see you in person once more. You're a wonderful trainee partner, Clove, but the odds never choose a favourite. You can push them, but you can't turn them in your favour," she sighs, the steel fading slowly, but still present. "You can't turn them in Cato's favour, either, no matter how hard you try. We'll see how this plays out."

I stare at her as she reaches out for my hand, grabbing it and turning it so my palm faces towards the ceiling. She drops something into my palm and closes my fingers around it, a look of collected concentration crossing over her features. "Your token," she whispers, gray eyes boring into mine, piercing the depths of my soul. "Don't forget about home. Don't forget that that we are watching you, cheering you on. Don't forget that we love you." And then her voice is steel again. "Winning isn't easy. Prepare yourself. Do anything you can to fight, even if that means temporarily losing who you are. But, Clove, don't forget yourself if you come back- which you probably won't."

She's gone before I can reply, leaving me to open my hand and gaze at the miniature stone bottle she has given me. I remove the cork and lift the bottle up to my face. The unmistakable scent of cloves wafts up into my nose, and suddenly, I want to cry. Quickly corking the bottle and throwing the cord it's attached to over my head, I silently will the scent not to linger. It does: a constant reminder that there are people in District Two that love me. That want me to come home. That want me to remember myself if I come back (not a lost vote of confidence- a truthful statement).

The stone bottle hits my chest, and I try to count the emotions involved in those three intense minutes. Do I suddenly have a change of heart about Cinder? No, she's still a bitch. But at least she was able to deliver the messages that no one else could.

The rest of the hour, I give up any hope that someone else will visit. No one does, obviously. Not even Trainer Valencia. Go figure. The only reason I can think of for her lack of visitation is because she's giving Mara a whipping for not volunteering. Once again, it's tradition. Occasionally, the chosen volunteers back out, and they have to be punished somehow. Sometimes it's execution. More often, though, the punishment is thirty lashes.

When the door is opened once more, a handful Peacekeepers lead me down the hallway and into a room of the Justice Building in which a small party resides. This party consists of Amber, Cato, and Evilian, who I assume will be one of my mentors. I suppose I'm happy with that. Evilian has always been a cold lady, but she knows me and what I'm capable of, and should fill the role of an adequate mentor. I wonder who is the other unlucky nominee. I know Cato would prefer Brutus, but I'm not sure. Brutus isn't my cup of tea- more like a flask of vodka.

Evilian and Amber look to be in a heated argument when I enter "-think we should tell her?" Amber asks loudly, hands placed on her hips.

"No, you dimwit! It'll obviously throw her off her game!" Evilian hisses, gesturing wildly with her hands for emphasis, even using the "cut throat" sign (which is pretty much the universal sign for "stop right there or else I will kill you")(I never knew people used that in everyday conversation, but Evilian always has had her quirks).

"I'd appreciate it if you found the guts to say whatever it is you're talking about to my face, unless the 'her' you're referring to isn't me," I interrupt as I take the last couple of steps toward them, narrowing my eyes suspiciously.

Evilian looks up, her face stony. "It has nothing to do with you, girl," she says sharply. "But I'd advise you to ask us no questions and we'll tell you no lies."

Therefore, I ask no more on the subject, and instead turn to Cato, offering him a grim smile. He replies with a half-smile of his own. We are then ushered out of the spare room and whisked across the threshold of the Justice Building, marched down the majestic stone steps, and pushed through the large crowd of Capitolite reporters and photographers that insist upon shoving their microphones and cameras directly in front of my face.

"Clove!" They shout. "Do you think you can win these Games? How's Bane doing? Can I get a picture? What do you think of the competition?" I roll my eyes at this inane inquiry, because although most of the outer Districts' Elections were yesterday, my District and I aren't allowed to watch any of the Elections until recaps, and these fluff-brained idiots should know that.

I don't bother to answer any of their questions, and instead let Amber navigate our pathway through the throng, keeping a firm hold on Cato's wrist so as not to lose him. By the time we've climbed aboard the phenomenal and rarely-used Tribute Train, I'm near blind and deaf from the flash of cameras and the volume of obnoxiously high-pitched voices. By the time I've stood in the train for not five seconds, I am blind and deaf; from the brightness of the colours and the overwhelming silence.

Nevertheless, the Tribute Train is stunning. Stainless steel tables are set in various positions along cherrywood-panelled walls, carrying a variety of delicious-looking dishes. Pastries are stacked on three-tier serving plates and glistening fruits are set cautiously into the sort of china bowls my father would love to smash against the carpeted floor. Recliners draped in red velvet are scattered around, as well as a few wooden, straight-backed chairs for those who don't believe in the term "comfort."

I bound over to a table and dive into a china bowl, plucking out a succulent apple and taking a bite. It's heavenly- as crisp as the winter winds of District Two. "Cato, you've got to try this," I call through a mouthful of the fruit, tossing another apple at him. Thankfully, it reaches Cato unscathed.

Evilian walks briskly across the room and perches on the edge of one of the straight-backed chairs, examining her fingernails. Meanwhile, Cato and I awkwardly sit ourselves on recliners while Amber pours herself a drink from a tall, crystal flask. "Nothing special?" Amber comments in regards to my explanation of our relationship at the Election. "I'd think you were at least friends, you two. If not lovebirds."

For some reason, I shoot to my feet. "We are not in love," I hiss. "And didn't it occur to you that we're quite capable of lying? Cato and I have been best friends, as far as I can remember. No more, no less."

Cato says nothing, but reaches over and grips my arm, pulling me back down into my seat. Amber just sticks her nose into the air, brandishing her drink at me. "Tut, tut. Lying is not permitted here, for future reference. And it's not my fault you're blind, Miss Saber. Now- if you will excuse me- I must retire to my room. I have quite the headache."

I open my mouth to ask what she means by "blind"- after all, her tendency to wear yellow does nothing good for the eyes- but our escort is gone before I get the chance to speak. Instead, Evilian's voice penetrates the brief silence. "Don't think this will be a picnic in the park," she says, shooting to her feet and helping herself to a flute of champagne. "You're the son and daughter of Victors, official trainees, blah, blah, blah... but it won't be easy. It won't be damn easy for me, either, so don't go all accusatory."

"Your meaning?"

"We drew out of a hat," Evilian spits, clenching her fist around her flute and squeezing it tightly. Her glare burns through me. "We drew out of a hat and the bastard got on the team. Amber's already a nuisance, and here I am seething about mentoring (because mentoring is a bitch) when the pastry-loving silent-giant of a man just had to-"

Our female mentor- and a bitter one, at that- is promptly interrupted by a fair-haired man flinging open the doors of the compartment. He slinks in, ducking as not to hit his head on the cherrywood-paneled ceiling, and collapses in a chair near the refreshment table. Instantly, he reaches out to snatch up a cherry danish, gobbling it down in seconds. All the while, his eyes are turned toward the ground, and he speaks not one word.

His name is Benjamin. He has no surname. He won the fifty-fifth Games with a pickaxe, and he didn't speak once. Not even in the Interviews, before or afterwards. The reason Evilian hates him? Nobody knows.

"Speak of the devil- we were just talking about you," Evilian announces blatantly, taking a gulp of champagne. "Anyway, as I was saying, it's not going to be easy. I loathe Benjamin and I loathe Amber. Amber is such a simple-minded twit that her advice is something along the lines of 'make sure to get a yellow pack at the Cornucopia!' Benjamin here wouldn't speak a word if I gave him the world (not that I would be so generous), so there won't be any advice to consider. And-" she frowns at us disapprovingly, "-you weren't the expected tributes, so our tactics will have to change entirely. For one, you're pleasant, and you don't necessarily need disciplining like Mara or Flint."

I carelessly toss my apple core over my shoulder. "What do you mean, we're pleasant?" I say indignantly. I don't consider myself pleasant around anyone. Except for Cato. Definitely Cato.

Evilian ignores my comment, and instead marches over to me, her finger jabbing at my chest. "I know you, and I know the basis of your talents. Tell me, Clove Saber- how many times have you bested your father in a fight? Not discounting alcohol-based evenings."

"More times that I can count," I reply honestly.

"Last time you missed a target?"

I look down at my feet, shuffling them slightly. "This morning, but I hadn't missed before that in years."

"Ever killed a man?"

"Accidentally," I say, squeezing my eyes shut as I imagine my knife whistling through the air, Cato's shark-like expression and Enther's grin... his grin...

She looks me over once. "You'll do, I suppose." Evilian then strides over to Cato and delivers a similar but unsymmetrical interrogation, to which he answers dutifully. After this, she takes a step back, conducts a final examination of our bodies in all their Elected glory, and pronounces, "I cannot determine whether you are of Victor quality, although your feats are moderately impressive (considering your young ages). We'll see, in time. As for now- you are dismissed. Benjamin will show you to your rooms."

And with that, she drains her champagne flute, and throws it over her shoulder- much like I threw my apple core. The crystal shatters on impact with the tiled floor, shards flying every which way. "Avox!" Evilian shouts over her shoulder, sweeping out of the compartment with a look of superiority splayed across her fair features.

I glance at Cato to find he's glancing right back. Suddenly, we burst into peals of laughter. It's all so ridiculous. Amber's assumptions, Evilian and Benjamin's rivalry, Evilian's rash actions, the fact that Cato and I have been reaped for the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games. And maybe our laughter is hysterical, but why should it matter? Sometimes laughter is the only way to cry. And we are crying; we are crying tears of laughter as we clutch our sides and lean into each other.

I catch his eye again, and for the first time, I realise that his eyes are blue. Well, not the first time- definitely not the first, or the second, or the third. But this is the first time I get lost in the blue, wondering what he's thinking as his lips stretch in a wide grin and his broad shoulders shake as he-

"We better get to our rooms," I gasp out, looking away.

Benjamin leads us through the door of the compartment and into a hallway lined with picture frames. I'm greatly amused by the photographs depicted there. There's one for each victor, and their final poses as they realize they've won the Games. Hector slumps to the ground, defeated- ironic, because he was nicknamed "unconquerable" by Julius Flickerman (Caesar's father, now retired). Lyme stares defiantly at the cameras. Glover smiles maniacally and holds out his fingers in a "peace" sign (also ironic, since he had killed three men that same day). Enobaria picks skin out of her teeth (she's confessed to me that she absolutely hates the metallic taste of blood, contrary to the popular belief that she shares traits with your common vampire).

My mother, Lethe, sits with her legs crossed, her eyes closed, and her hair whipping around her face in the gale of an approaching hovercraft. A serene smile takes her lips. I've watched this scene before, hundreds of times, and I know the two words that escape her lips by heart: "It's done."

The next compartment is another hallway, the photographs replaced with ligneous doors. Each door has a golden plaque with words emblazoned on the front. The first two say, "Female Mentor" and "Male Mentor," the second are for the "Female Tribute" and "Male Tribute," and finally, at the caboose of the train, a single door and plaque announce our escort's dwelling.

Benjamin punctually nods to the second set of doors and vanishes through the door marked "Male Mentor" without a word (not that I expected one).

Holding my hand up to Cato in an equally silent good-bye, I enter through my own door, smirking as I tap my fist against the false wood. You would think they could afford wooden doors for their beloved tributes, but no. Why pay for such an expense? It's just a train, anyway. Or rather, a train leading us to possible death.

The interior of my temporary bedroom is fabulous. The walls are painted a light bluish-gray, stained with darker hues to create a marbled effect. The giant, fluffy bed is covered in a crimson duvet adjacent to the colour of a clove flower. Other areas of the room are accented with the same red: the seat of a decorative, straight-backed chair; the handles of a black cherry wardrobe (containing an endless array of clothing); the borderline of the large window overlooking the passing view of District One. We'll be in the Capitol soon enough, in no more than an hour.

I haven't the slightest idea why our rooms are furnished in this way. It's not like we stay in them overnight. I suppose I could change my clothes, if I wanted to, but what's the point? My black dress suits me fine. What I would really prefer is a tube of black lipstick to touch up my cosmetics, but the bathroom simply has your standard pink variety.

Flinging myself down on my bed, I pick up a remote from the side table. It's an odd contraption, with a large assortment of buttons. I laugh at the sight, because on the televisions at home, we don't need a remote. We can simply press the power button at the bottom of the television. However, when I press the power button and the television on the wall across from me lights up, I find that you can change the volume and channel on the Capitol televisions!

And why, I wonder, do they keep us from watching Capitol shows back in District Two? Surely restricting us from such a luxury isn't necessary. Then again, I don't care to watch Capitolite models prance across the screen, and I doubt any of my comrades back home would enjoy it either. Maybe it's for the best.

Flipping through the channels using the little arrow buttons, I finally come across the channel that constantly replays the Elections for all curious eyes to watch. Unfortunately, I've come across them a bit too late. The girl from District Four, with windswept dark hair and smirking cobalt eyes, is standing on the makeshift stage with an air of confidence. However, as the boy is called- a thirteen-year-old stick by the name of Krill- her expression falters. I'm sure she knows him, and knows him well. I'm not sure what to make of them.

The girl from Five spikes my interest as well. Her auburn hair will be a beacon in the arena, I'm sure, but her speech chills me to the bone. "I always find a way to escape." And with that fierce emerald gaze, I'd better believe it.

Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten. Weak, pathetic, pitiful, feeble, lamentable. I'm on the verge of dozing off when "Thresh Falore" is announced, and out of the corner my eye I get a glimpse of a hulking eighteen-year-old boy with skin darker than the night sky. Suddenly, I am completely focused on the scene before me. A little girl, who I would assume to be nine rather than the required age of twelve, looks stricken as she views her partner. "Thresh Falore" climbs up the rickety steps, which all but collapse under his weight. And as they clasp hands, gazing at each other's similarly golden eyes, I laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

I press the power button on the television, and the screen goes blank. My stomach aches from laughter, but I can't stop the giggles pouring from my open mouth. Meanwhile, someone flings open the ligneous doors, and I can't tell whom they are (for my face is buried in a pillow). It's not until a voice says, "Get up! Get up! Get up! We'll arrive at the Capitol in fifteen minutes" that I know it's the one and only Amber Riverlace.

When I lift my face and mumble incoherently under my breath, she huffs at my disheveled appearance. "And make sure you compose yourself, Clove. Be a crowd-pleaser, not a hope-freezer."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I question, a scowl crossing my features.

"Oh, it's nothing," Amber trills, waving her hand in the air as if it were no big deal. "Just a little saying I've picked up from the sponsors that means you have to show off. Now, where were we? That's right- fourteen minutes and counting."

Jumping off the bed, I exit the room behind Amber, taking a casual glance at the blank screen of the television. I immediately realise that I didn't watch the recap of Twelve's Election, but then dismiss this thought. Twelve's tributes are typically timid, spineless wimps. Why would the turnout be any different for these Games? …Considering my luck, Twelve'll be cut out to win this thing.

I enter the main compartment and decide it really doesn't look much different upside down. However, I don't give the blood time to rush to my face, and finish tying off my flawless ponytail before facing upright once more. Benjamin is devouring his beloved pastries, Evilian downs her beloved champagne, and Cato fixes me with that annoyingly handsome half-smile of his (for, after all, I'm not so blind that I cannot realise my best friend is gifted in the looks department). "Clove," he nods to me. "Watch the Elections?"

"Moderately gifted tributes this year- your brawn is unique, discounting Eleven, and disregarding One, Three, and Twelve," I begin my assessment. "Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to scrutinize them. However, there is no lack of brains. Three, of course, will be typical. Four's female and Five's female. Eleven's female is a possibility, although she'll be a bloodbath inevitable. Then there's me- the middle ground, I suppose- more brains than brawn, but athletic nonetheless." I stride over to Cato's position leant up against a stainless steel table and he chuckles at our difference in height.

Amber perches on the edge of a velvet reclining chair, calling out a half-hearted, "ten minutes."

"I caught Three," Cato tells me. "Scrawny, the both of 'em. Rules out brawn, but the boy definitely has brains. Girl probably does, too- her name's Circuit, if that counts for anything. You say you caught Eleven? They anything special?"

"Damn right they are," I reply. "Just like you and me, Cato, but on a more contrasting scale." I hold my hands out for emphasis, bringing one a few inches above his head and one to my waistline. He barks out a laugh and shakes his head, as if he doesn't believe me.

"You can't be serious."

"I am! She was tiny. I'd mistaken her for nine if not for the obvious age limit. Her arms would be stick-thin if not for her slight muscle tone, and her hair was so bushy that if you straightened it it'd be down to her waist, no less. On the other hand, he must have been taller than you, and his biceps could rival the width of my face. His hair was close-cropped, and his skin was near black. Hers was caramel. He wore dark trousers, and she wore a yellow dress almost Amber-worthy." I laugh at the mental image. "It was ridiculous. They were Cato and Clove on steroids! I can't wait to-"

Evilian shoots to her feet and appears in front of me instantly, leaning close enough to me that our noses touch. "Cato and Clove on steroids, you say?" Her voice takes on a dangerous tone. "And what if- what if, girl, they actually are Cato and Clove on steroids? What if she can aim a bow and arrow better than you can throw a knife, and he can use a scythe better than Cato can a sword? This is no laughing matter. It isn't ridiculous. If they are better than you, they will beat you, and you are dead."

"Eight minutes!" Amber says, ignorant of Evilian's lecture.

Meanwhile, I cower slightly under Evilian's frightening gaze. "I didn't mean it that way," I mutter, staring at the carpeted floor. "Honestly. Maybe the boy can swing a scythe, but he will never outmatch Cato. I could take the little girl down easily. She's twelve. Twelve! Couldn't make it past the bloodbath if she tried." I don't think I convince her, but Evilian eventually backs down after my continuous reassurances, returning to her seat with a strict, "Watch out" as a warning.

It is at this time that our escort calls out, "four minutes- ohh! Look! You can see the Capitol out the window. It never ceases to amaze me how stunning it looks under a cloudless sky and fresh sunshine." And I hate to admit that anything Amber Riverlace says is correct, but the sight I am met with when I turn to look through the window is impressive, indeed.

Amongst a great expanse of snow-capped mountains are a cluster of gigantic buildings and towers, resting against a backdrop of rock and vivid azure sky. Even from many kilometres away, I can make out the numerous amount of windows on each brightly coloured building, like giant eyes allowing the world to see the contents of their thoughts, and vice versa. "Skyscrapers," Evilian says, and I chuckle slightly at the name because it's an accurate interpretation. They really do seem to come in contact with the clouds.

"They're beautiful," Cato says, breathless. I silently agree. Most people often misjudge District Two for a group of people who cannot see beauty. They're incorrect. We see beauty, and we see it often, but we construe it differently than everyone else. We see beauty in power, and the skyscrapers are the epitome of power, because they belong to the Capitol and the Capitol is power. Although I'm a bit miffed that they show their power with dazzling colours (who paints a skyscraper lavender? Honestly), I can look at the Capitol and appreciate its beauty. Besides, the skyscrapers' sheer size makes up for all that ridiculous neon.

I gaze upon the approaching sight for four minutes more, and then suddenly we're in the Capitol. It is, needless to say, a dream come true (a few years earlier than I intended, but whatever). Crowds of people line the railway as we pull into the station. Cato and I are nearly hanging out the window, staring at them all. And what a sight these Capitolites are in person! They resemble a flock of vividly-plumed, preening birds, with their dyed skin and hair, overly applied cosmetics, and their lack of self-consciousness. Video cameras are recording and picture cameras are flashing and mouths are opening and hands are reaching out.

It's almost comical, really, because I can't hear them until Amber pushes us to the door, which opens with the scan of her keycard. And then I'm blasted with a deafening mixture of screams, squeals, and the continuous yelling of, "Welcome to the Capitol!" "District Two!" "Clove Saber!" "Cato Sangue!" "Evilian!" "AMBER!" I'm so thrilled with this new development that I turn to Cato and smile as wide as I possibly can (so caught in the moment that I forget I am a Career). He's grinning right back.

I wave to the crowd, and he performs a deep, comical bow. I cuff him on the shoulder and mouth, "This is amazing!" And it is. It's as though we've won the Hunger Games already.

"I could get used to this," Cato says into my ear, his breath hot against the skin of my neck. I frown slightly as goosebumps rise, but dismiss them entirely, beaming once more.

"So could I, if I had more time."



Thresh Falore- "Falore" is "fate" in Latin.

Evilian- In the original version of this story, Evilian was supposed to have a despicable personality, so her name derived from '"evil woman." However, while the depiction has changed, her name hasn't.

Benjamin- I know three Bens, and each and every one of them are loud and obnoxious (so his name is a subtle form of irony).

Julius Flickerman- "Caesar" Flickerman obviously originated from "Julius Caesar," so it is widely assumed that his father's name would be "Julius."

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