Effie was right — everything's changed about this year's Games.
New high-rise apartments and a training center, the new structural, grim architecture and even more Avoxes pattering around. Several groups of Peacekeepers march to every floor-level. He's seen it already, but he living quarters for the Tributes are more heavily guarded, the entrance-doors padlocked.
In the distance, Peeta can hear the faint static-sizzling of the invisible barrier surrounding the outside of the building. He tosses a green, gleaming apple through the window, watching it thunk! and bounce back in.
Same old Capitol tricks. Every room they are led into ends up being a prison.
A voice he doesn't immediately recognize echoes in the lounging room. Peeta gazes away from the opened window. It's supposed to be the middle of the night, but he can hardly tell with the neon-glow lights below.
He folds his knitted, dark shawl over himself, arms crossing. A polite nod.
Peeta's eyes lower as Finnick effortlessly misses stepping on the apple, left behind on the carpet, walking forward. The glimmer, rosy-golden lighting from the chandelier above illustrates every chiseled line and tendon, running along Finnick's throat revealed by his undershirt, on his cheekbones and his full, pouty lips.
A pseudo-flattered laugh. Finnick's eyes crinkle up.
"Well, well — you know me?"
"Not really. We just watch the broadcasts," Peeta replies, shrugging. Maybe he should be a little concerned how Finnick made it past everybody else on District Twelve's floor, including the Peacekeepers, including Katniss. Somehow he doesn't think Finnick would tell him the entire truth. That wouldn't be considered fun for the guy rumored to be Panem's Most Admired and Well-Known Secret Keeper. "Did Haymitch let you in?"
The answer comes in the other man tossing something golden in the light, which Peeta clumsy grabs for mid-air. Haymitch's token-bangle feels cold and lightweight against Peeta's bare fingers.
"He thought it would make more sense if you saw this first," Finnick says, an upward quirk to his mouth.
Another slower, mindful nod. Peeta furrows his brows, staring up at him.
"Then… I guess we're lucky to have you as an ally."
Without over-thinking it, he clears his throat and presents out his hand. Finnick takes it, gently squeezing their fingers together — but urges Peeta closer to him, until they're in each other's airspace. A hot, gripping flush rises to Peeta's face and his ears. He leans out when Finnick's sea-glass green eyes roam him.
Finnick's tone is rumbling and murmurous. "Has anyone ever told you that Katniss Everdeen is an extremely predictable girl?" he breathes out. Peeta exhales harshly, offering a weakened half-smile.
"That's basically Katniss in a nutshell," he murmurs as a reply. "She doesn't hold back."
"What about you, Peeta?" Finnick's hand squeezes again, loosening its grip. "Do you wait for good things to come to you, or would you rather—" Finally, Peeta can slip free of the handshake, dropping his arm but doesn't step away. "Seize the day and all its pleasures it has to offer," Finnick adds, beaming self-satisfied.
Something about this feels like an act.
"Are you hitting on me?" Peeta asks, squinting his eyes in amusement.
Finnick's laughter reverberates melodic and croaking. "Unlike Katniss, I don't stand around and wait for the good things to come to me," he says, smoothing his palms over his finely stitched trousers. Peeta can't find a single stray thread out of place, or holes from wearing and continuous use. "I'll commit to them myself."
"That's very proactive of you."
It rings a little sarcastic, Peeta realizes humiliated after a second — instead of taking offense, Finnick's mouth curls into a wider, toothy smile. "Mm, don't give me that look," Finnick tells him lowly, tilting his head and drawing in closer again to Peeta. The chandelier's lighting deepens the bronze to Finnick's silky, thick hair. It feels like Peeta's heart wallops in the back of his mouth, his tongue going bone-dry.
"Look?" he repeats as if confused, blinking. Which isn't far from the truth. It's a gloriously warm sensation of Finnick's hand resting against his face, his thumb stroking occasionally over the round of Peeta's cheek.
"Yes, that 'ravage me senseless' gleam in your eye."
Peeta's stomach somersaults. Damn.
"Sorry," he says, chuckling. Peeta's body tenses slightly under the other man's attention. "Didn't know."
A part of him deep, deep down thrives on the knowledge. That's why he wholeheartedly accepts the hot, spit-damp feeling of Finnick's mouth pressing completely to his, opening up. Peeta doesn't know what to do with the rest of himself, settling for embracing Finnick's neck with both arms, lifting on his tiptoes to ease the obvious height difference. One of Finnick's own arms wraps around Peeta's middle, steadying him.
It feels like a heightened, dreamy fog. One kiss morphs into another, with the tip of Peeta's tongue caressing over Finnick's lower lip, before the other man relaxes his jaw, sucking Peeta's tongue into his mouth, grinning fiendishly to his lips when Peeta muffles out a groaning, aroused noise.
Was being with someone supposed to be this… thrilling? He's kissed Katniss a dozen times now. She was the only girl Peeta ever wanted to kiss. He kissed a boy from the Seam, during a mid-noon when the blazing sky roared with autumn rain and humidity. He was eleven. Peeta hadn't been the one to initiate the kiss, but he was the one getting the black eye, lying to his mother when she smacked his wrist with a floured dough pin.
Peeta's mouth feels swollen and rubbed-raw, when they separate. Finnick doesn't arch back his fist, or glare.
"You know my name," Finnick's voice remains dim as a birdsong on the horizon, "then you know what I do."
"Favors," Peeta says dully. With your body.
When he hears the rustling of a belt, Peeta acts instinctively, eyes going big, touching over Finnick's hands. "No, I don't want that," he insists, witnessing the comfortable, sly act surrounding Finnick disappear, replacing with incredibility and skepticism. "I don't want you to… feel like this is something you have to do."
Finnick's teeth bare. "I'm the one who came here."
"I know," Peeta says in a hush, understandingly, sliding his fingers away. "I know. I… I wanted you to know that, Finnick." Maybe he will get punched after all, as Finnick's eyes narrow into slits and his jaw clenches.
But then, after a couple of inhales, Finnick rolls his shoulders and visibly calms.
"There's nothing of special interest you can offer me, rest assured." The pleasant, easy grin re-materializes on Finnick's expression, and Peeta can't find anything fake about it. "Don't worry about me. I want this."
It's fingertips again, tracing over Peeta's jaw and neck and his features. His everything burns, gladdened and in a stupor, when Finnick tugs him to a chaise, laughing quietly with him, their noses pushed together. He climbs over Peeta, rucking up the other boy's top and admiring the view, humming in consideration.
This is a public area of the Distinct Twelve floor — anyone could walk into the lounging room.
Peeta shifts on his elbows, trying to warn him, opening his mouth to protest.
He's interrupted by a messy, groaning kiss, softening into it and Finnick's clutch against leg. It's the only part of him that goes soft. Peeta squirms and mutters incoherently, turning a bright shade of red when the other man shushes him, grasping and massaging the lump of Peeta's erection in his borrowed, dark sweatpants.
The other man makes quick work of Peeta's overclothes, stripping them expertly and leaving the sweats.
Despite it being July, when the dense, soggy part of the summer blows in through the bakery's kitchens, the gigantic, extravagant room of the Capital is damn near chilly. (How do these people willingly live like this?)
"You okay, Peeta?" Finnick whispers, glancing over him studiously as Peeta quivers for a moment on his back, thinning his lips and nodding. He doesn't try to get off the chaise again, when Finnick looks him in the eye and smirks, planting a series of tiny, light kisses down his face.
He's never been treated this cautiously or kindly — Finnick's hands stroking up and down his naked, muscular sides, easing him. Peeta's thighs clench, then fall apart, widening to accommodate Finnick.
One of his hands returns to Peeta's cock, this time slipping inside his underwear, jacking him at a steady, smooth pace. It's enough to send a rush of pre-orgasmic dizziness straight into Peeta's skull. He gulps for air, breathing raggedly and flimsily reaching for Finnick's own waistband on his immaculate white trousers, pushing roughly inside to cup his balls. A loud, delighted noise erupts from Finnick's slackening mouth.
"Shit—" He stares at Peeta with awestruck, grinning wonder. "I could get used to this—aah!—"
I've never done this, not with anyone — hovers unspoken on Peeta's kiss-bitten, reddened lips.
He doesn't know anything about Finnick Odair, not his favorite color or favorite food, or who could be his favorite person. Peeta knows the broadcasts told him, and what everybody else knows — what it feels like to be wrecked in Finnick's skillful, earnest hands, gasping and sweating, arching into him for a release.
It fills every molecule and vein now circulating his blood. He smells the scorching, tropic air and perspiration and salty-water, as the blackness encasing him fades to kaleidoscopic, washed out colors.
"Peeta, wake up," comes a huffing, breathless voice. Someone's mouth lands on his, opening their lips up together and pushing strong, hot gusts of breath into Peeta's throat. Hands scrambling over Peeta's chest, bearing down their weight onto his lungs and ribs in a succession of fast-pace compressions. "Come on!"
Is he… not awake?
A rustling of vegetation and jungle leaves. "Finnick, h—he's not," Katniss cries out desperately, somewhere off beyond Peeta's line-of-view. Her heart-wrenching, loud sobs muffling into the front of Mags's wetsuit.
In the middle of another compression, Peeta feels himself breathing on his own again, choking softly and wincing. The reassurance in Finnick's expression brightens the whole arena above them. Or maybe it's the traumatic aftershock of being electrocuted alive. He figures it's either one of them.
Finnick whispers his name, combing dirt-clumped fingers into Peeta's blond, moistened hair, scooping his bangs off Peeta's forehead. There's a tremor in Finnick's smile, in his constant, frantic touch.
"Ss'was a bad idea," Peeta says drowsily, his wet, pink mouth lifting into a phantom-smile.
It hurts too much to laugh. Or joke anymore. He wants the strain and fear buzzing around them to be gone, but settles for a distraction of Finnick's lips pressing on his. The fraction of space between them vanishes. Peeta holds the back of Finnick's head with one hand, keeping him situated in place, breathing shakily and kissing Finnick deeply, grazing teeth and lips and tongue. The heat more comfortable than their environment.
"Don't ever do that again," Finnick mutters to the corner of Peeta's smiling, soil-flecked mouth, eyes closed.
As soon as he lifts his head once more, Katniss takes notice, no longer heaving with ugly, grimacing hysterics. She throws herself out of Mags's arms and grabs Peeta's shoulders, bawling into his chest.
Soon enough, they're on the move.
Haymitch delivers them a spiel for freshwater-drinking, not doubt courtesy of his persuasion with the sponsors. Peeta has never thought water could be so delicious, soothing every ache and lingering, tensing sore. They lumber in the darkness thriving with insects and animal screeches, fleeing from the misty, poisonous gas. He almost prefers his earlier death to the new, bile-inducing agony.
When he's able, Peeta carries Finnick into brook, splashing him with the water cascading with medicinal properties. His gut twists at the sight of the other man shrieking and convulsing, masked in the boils.
They dissolve slowly against Peeta's fingertips, as he helps Finnick rub the disfiguring flesh and pus off.
He's not delusional. Peeta knows he has nothing waiting for him, no family who loves him, no anyone who loves him, wants him to come out of this area. Katniss does. Katniss has to be the one who survives this.
Nobody needs me.
It's his truth.
Peeta doesn't remember how the Capitol got their hands on him. What they did. What he does know is too many people have been sacrificed for Katniss Everdeen — the true enemy of all of them.
He remembers broadcasting within President's Snow manor, pleading with the rebels to lay down arms. He remembers the warm, sudden slide of tears on his bruised, sallow-colored cheeks. He remembers Gale's arms hoisting him up, carrying him from of the steel-topped, examination table, as Gale yelled out orders.
"Hijacked," District Thirteen's physicians mutter when they think Peeta isn't awake. "Extreme amounts of tracker jacker venom in his system. It'll take time for him to come back to himself, if it's possible."
The first time Primrose visits him, out of the kindness of her heart, he frightened her. Peeta doesn't mean to. He just needs her to understand what needs to be done, that she cannot trust Katniss or any of her lies. It's another day before she tries again, bringing along her grumpy, fluffy cat. They won't let him out of his restraints anyway, but a solemn-faced Peeta vows to be gentle, petting the soft, ginger fur and relaxing.
She's not the only visitor.
The door clangs open, whirring. Peeta slowly stares up, half-expecting another doctor. His frown deepens.
"Try to contain your excitement there, pal, or it'll go to my head," Finnick announces, beginning to smile faintly. He tosses a gleaming, green apple into Peeta's lap. Too sour — Peeta's memory informs him.
"Did they let you in here?"
It occurs to Peeta too late that asking Finnick wouldn't have given him a complete answer. And it naturally doesn't —Finnick only hums thoughtfully as a response and drops into a sit on the hospital cot's edge. There's dark circles under Finnick's once so bright, sea-glass eyes. His features thin and exhausted.
"Peeta, do you know what happened to District Twelve?" he asks.
At the hint of sympathy in Finnick's pensive tone, a welling of tears escapes from the corners of Peeta's eyes. "Yeah," he croaks, his scabbed, pale hands fisting together on the sheets, "… … and it's her fault."
They were slaughtered, along with almost the entirety of his home, his district. A little over nine hundred people out of thousands are now all that's left of them. It's not just District Twelve — Rue, Cinna, Mags, Wiress — the dying, mud-covered Morphling girl wheezing her last, being cradled in Peeta's arms —
It's not fair.
Why did they suffer for someone like Katniss —
Peeta's brain feels scalding-hot, making every nerve-end roar and shriek. Pain. He lunges forward without a warning, clattering his already tightened restraints. "She needs to die—this needs to stop, STOP her—"
"Whoa, hey, heyhey," Finnick lowers his voice. He grasps loosely over one of Peeta's fists. "Take it easy, shh."
"STOP HER!" Peeta yells over him, thrashing on the cot. His eyes bulge and roll in their sockets wildly. Drool pours down his chin. "SHE'S A MUTT! KILL HER! FINNICK, KILL HER! KILL HER! KILL HER NOW!"
One of the physicians enters, talking to him in low and calming syllables. More physicians.
Finnick doesn't move from where he is, or flinch away from the show of rage. He clenches onto Peeta's fingers with iron-strength, grimly watching as the other boy screams with every inch of life left to him, weakening gradually under the effects of the syringe on his forearm and its contents.
The truth becomes less glossed over, hazy inside Peeta's mind.
In the end, the Capitol falls. Panem reestablishes his government from democracy and brand new, compassionate leaders than Snow or Coin ever could have dreamed of being. Memorials are built.
Death… it's not Katniss's fault.
She helps him remember who he is, answering Peeta's questions in the dead of night, or while a rainstorm wails against the grey stone-walls of this Victor Village's house. A small, insistent voice, that creeps darkly into Peeta's subconscious, tells him he shouldn't believe Katniss. It's lies — she does not love him.
But that's okay. He knows somehow it all got jumbled up along the way, from his innocent crush to now. What they feel inescapably for each other— it's not romantic love that carries fondness between them.
That's okay with him…
Peeta's knuckles cake with damp, black soil. He focuses silently, methodically on arranging the sunshine yellow primroses along the walkway, crouching on his knees. "Peeta?" Katniss calls out from the kitchen's opened back-door, wringing her hands through her snarl of wet, dark hair. "Someone's here."
He gets up quickly, furrowing his brows, heading around towards the side of the house. Nobody greets him. The front-gate and porch are empty. Peeta gazes around in confusion, to the debris and rubble across the road, and then the house. He rattles the front door, cursing softly as he discovers it locked.
"Katniss!" He pounds repeatedly on the little, wooden door painted in mauve-whites. After a long, weighted pause, it swings open. Peeta lets out a defeated, noisy breath. "Katniss, hey—did you say that—"
Finnick pokes his head out, smirking.
"You must have the wrong address, pal. The nearest woods are a quarter mile from here," he quips cheerfully, pointing towards the boundary between District Eleven and District Twelve.
Peeta's mouth drops wide-open. "Finnick!" he yells, grinning and rushing in for a hug. It's missed at first, but there's a couple of silvery strands of hair against Finnick's temples, hidden along the colorful, shiny bronze. He almost died back then — Finnick could have bitten or torn apart by a hoard of lizard mutts.
They survived. Both of them, by some miracle, grace, whatever it was.
(Finnick. He led Peeta out of danger, kept him from murdering his best friend and others while hijacked. Had been the one to initially suggest that Peeta question the torture-implanted memories against his real ones.)
The giddiness warms the center of Peeta's everything, and he finds himself clutching onto Finnick's sides, leaning in their foreheads when the other man presses him up against the front-doorway. "You're doing it again, Peeta," Finnick whispers, grazing their mouths together. "Giving me that look…"
A soft, low chuckle.
"Not sorry," Peeta replies, licking his own bottom lip and smiling.
Dusk hovers, swarming with fireflies and balmy heat. Haymitch and Katniss must be having dinner, Peeta considers, stretching out on his quilt with a yawn and flexing his bare toes nudging to Finnick's calf.
"Blue," Finnick answers without hesitation. Peeta's fingers trace against Finnick's hip, drawing tiny, crooked patterns onto his skin. "I've never had another favorite color. Blue, like… the ocean's tide in District Four."
Peeta nods, resting his head down in the crook of his opposite arm.
"Favorite food?" he asks quietly.
The other man squirms noticeably when Peeta's inattentive forefinger tickles up his ribs, giggling out. "Aah, well—" Finnick squints his eyes in amusement, thumbing over the wrinkle to Peeta's brow. "I got used to sugary-sweet things rotting my teeth, but… rice is my favorite." He waves a hand at the bemused, doubtful stare. "There's a simple and yet tasty elegance to rice. It's versatile. You can do almost anything with it."
"Fair enough," Peeta says. Curiosity flushes him. He's already burned up what feels like a solar-star system, in the last hour, with all Finnick's touch and kisses have to offer. The reddened teethmarks against Peeta's collarbone and neck forming like the constellations. "How about… your favorite person?"
It's a clear, straight answer.
"Annie," Finnick and Peeta recite at the same time, bursting out laughing as soon as it registers. "I will say however, that I may have two favorite persons that ever existed," Finnick adds slyly, holding his palm to the other boy's pink-flushed, smiling cheek. "Does that count for anything?"
Being awake feels like dreaming, sleepwalking through menial tasks and conversation. Peeta never wants this to be a dream. He dips his face slightly, pressing his lips to the heel of Finnick's hand.
The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay(s) are not mine. Somehow in the middle of preparing for Femslash February, I got struck with how much I love these two. And that I still do. I couldn't resist and watched the movies again and this spawned to life. Hope y'all love it! Thanks! Any comments appreciated!]