Full Summary: The first time Gloss spends the night with Elara Winston, it's because he pities her. Acts of mercy have far-reaching consequences, but he isn't quite expecting that love will be one of them. Eight long years of secret meetings and hopeless pipedreams have a way of getting to you, but everything is about to come to a crashing end when the Mockingjay begins to rise.

Hello and welcome to The Desert's Edge! I thought it would be interesting to write a story for Gloss, who is a character that is not mentioned very frequently in the books. I hope you all enjoy how I've developed his character throughout the story, as well as the original character that I created. To anyone who has read my Finnick/OC story, The Sterling Nightingale, this one is much less encompassing by comparison where it concerns the other characters and the canon plot itself. While this story will span the rebellion, the focal point is on the relationship between Gloss and Elara over what is going on with District 13, the rebels, and the other Victors.

This story is rated M due to explicit sex scenes throughout, as well as scenes depicting rape and torture. Because there are so many of said scenes, I may not always remember to add chapter warnings, so I want to extend a warning right now to anyone who is not a fan of smut. This story is definitely not for you.

Chapter One | My love, you are an arid summer storm;

"With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls;

For stony limits cannot hold love out,

And what love can do, that dares love attempt."

2.2, 66-68 Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

Elara Winston does not like crowds. She doesn't like a great many things, most of which bear resemblance to the city she is now in. Having just arrived in the Capitol that morning, her mood has plummeted to the very lowest point imaginable. She knows from experience that it will only continue on its downward course. She hates it here in this wayward metropolis, but she can't let it show. When the lights from the many interviews she will be filming blind her, she can't cringe. When the screams from adoring fans deafen her ears, she can't wince. There is only one reason why she likes this city, and that reason isn't scheduled to be at the Capitol for another few weeks. She's alone in this hellhole, for now.

The only other redeeming quality of her current circumstances is that she's only here for a few more days before returning to her home in District 5, which means she'll be back in her own bed, with her younger sister by her side, in no time at all.

As one of the many celebrities of Panem, Elara must do her part to appease President Snow just like all the other Victors. If that means going to the Capitol a few times each month to keep up appearances, then so be it. She's got a sister to protect, and she knows only too well what happens to family and friends when a Victor says no to the President of Panem.

Standing off to the side of the stage she's about to walk onto, Elara brushes her hands over the crimson gown her stylist, Ignatius, had concocted for her this evening. It's an eye-catching number made out of silken fabric that is artfully twisted around her body. It matches the deep red lipstick she's wearing, well as the ruby earrings twinkling in her ears. It looks nice enough, she guesses, though she'd much prefer being at home where she doesn't have to bother with all these fancy clothes – and all of these hair pins that are digging into her skull.

By the time her name is announced by Caesar Flickerman, Elara is more annoyed than nervous – a typical response from her, at this point. She's been a Victor for eight years now, and she loathes these interviews with everything that she is. But, as she paints a smile on and steps onto the stage, Elara Winston looks far more enchanting and far less likely to rip Caesar's head off, as her fingers itch to do.

She can't help it – his gaudy blue hair is making her eyes hurt. Her ears hurt, too, but she's accustomed herself to both the Capitol fanatics as well as to Caesar's ever changing fashion sense.

"Our darling, Miss Elara Winston! Welcome!" Caesar exclaims, holding out a hand for her as she steps towards him in her red stilettos. She takes his outstretched fingers and waves to the crowd as he leans down to kiss the back of her hand with dramatic old school intent.

As they settle into the chairs, Caesar beams at her with his blindingly white teeth, and says in his typically over the top voice, "Now, Elara, tell us what you've been up to during the last few months. Any new hobbies?"

Elara laughs at him and sarcastically asks, "Does sleeping in every morning count?"

The inquiry is partially true, though most mornings Elara is up before the sun even rises. Sometimes when she's lucky, she'll sleep without nightmares plaguing her, but it's rare. There's only one cure that she has since discovered for these dreams, and…well, it's also rare.

Caesar chuckles mirthfully and waves a hand at her response. "I'm not sure it does, my dear," he jokingly tells her, and then leans in to mischievously ask, "Any reason you're getting up so late? Perhaps a new…boyfriend?" As if he's surprised by his own question, Caesar jerks back with a gasp and shoots the crowd a wink.

As for Elara, she just sighs. She expects this sort of question every time she comes on this show. For some reason, Caesar is obsessed with her love life. He's always speculating about potential suitors or love interests, much to her utter annoyance. Of course, in its own way, Caesar's outlandish theories have helped more than once in terms of hiding her actual love interest in plain sight. If she can even really call him that.

She rolls her eyes at him and snarks, "Not that I'm aware of, Caesar. Why, do you have any new hypotheses?"

The question seems to amuse Caesar, who chuckles and thoughtfully responds, "Well, you were seen out on the town with a very important man the other night – a fellow by the name of Mr. Seneca Crane. Rumor has it that he took you out to a very swanky restaurant."

Elara barks out a laugh. Caesar's right, to an extent. Seneca Crane had expressed a desire to take her out and enjoy her company, and Elara hadn't exactly had the option of refusing him. The man is a Head Gamemaker. He's a very important figurehead in the Capitol. She had refused to play into the system before, when she was still new to it and horrified at what was being asked of her, and it hadn't boded well for her parents.

She shrugs and reaches up to twist her earring. She turns the ruby stud a few times before thoughtfully responding, "Mr. Crane does on occasion take me out, but I don't foresee anything permanent forming between us. He's a very busy man, and I live in District 5." Then, deciding to take a chance, Elara adds, "Long distance relationships aren't easy anyway, Caesar. I'm afraid I have a terrible tendency of turning into a lovesick idiot whenever I'm in one."

She glances towards the cameras. Her eyes flash with just the hint of mischief before she tampers it down, but Caesar doesn't seem to notice. He's too busy jumping on this new information about her love life, which has become his self-proclaimed obsession. He seems to think that a woman as pretty and charming as Elara Winston should have droves of lovers and men falling at her feet, and he's always quite put out to learn that she's still single. Of course, Snow wouldn't actually allow her to be off the market, though she's not sure how much Caesar is aware of the reasons behind it.

"Oh?" Caesar leans forward, nearly bouncing in his chair with excitement. "So you've been in long distance relationships before, have you? You can't blame me for my curiosity!"

Despite the apparent corner Elara has unwittingly fallen into, the Victor just purses her mouth at the man sitting across from her and purrs, "I don't kiss and tell, Caesar."

The crowd lets out an 'awwww' that makes Elara want to tell them to mind their own damn business, but she maintains the perfectly blasé expression that she carries and just shrugs. Caesar pouts dramatically at her, but he recovers very quickly.

"I suppose you're allowed your secrets, my dear," he concedes, but the smile on his face turns quickly mischievous when he adds, "However, I think I've made a discovery of my own. Shall I run it by you and get your response?"

Elara would very much like to tell him no, that she couldn't care less about his ridiculous speculations and ludicrous assumptions about who she's apparently sleeping with, but she doesn't have that luxury. Instead, she just sighs at if she's dealing with a child, and says in a drawling voice, "I guess you'd better, Caesar. You might explode if you don't."

Her sarcasm, as always, makes Caesar laugh out loud. He turns to the crowd and yells, "Isn't she fabulous? I love her wit! Don't you just love it?"

Elara tries very hard not to roll her eyes. According to her stylists, it isn't befitting for a celebrity Victor. She thinks that's bullshit, but she'd rather not get an earful from Ignatius later on.

With a beaming grin, the famous anchorman turns back to her and gestures to the screen hanging behind them, high on the wall. She glances over at it curiously, and stiffens just slightly at the picture that blazes across it.

Oh, it's her all right. The picture must have been taken by an errant paparazzi. She remembers the scene vividly. It had been during her last visit to the Capitol, only a few weeks before. The visit which, as fate would have it, had coincided with another's trip.

Gloss Augustine has his arm slung around her waist, and they're both dressed to the nines. He had only just stepped off of a photoshoot, modeling the latest line of finely tailored suits that are currently the rage in the Capitol. The top buttons of his shirt are undone, showing off just the barest hint of chest, and his light brown hair is sinfully mussed up as if he's just rolled out of bed. He hadn't, of course, but the effect remains just as potent – especially with her by his side.

They're strolling down the sidewalk, in plain sight. It isn't as if they're trying to hide anything, considering the fact that they're in one of the busiest parts of the city. Wild Capitolites line the streets on each side, going about their own business while they ogle the celebrities who pass them by. It's a relatively common sight to see Victors in the streets of Panem, but it never fails to amaze these silly creatures whenever they catch sight of the proclaimed legends.

Wearing a slim fitting dress with her auburn hair piled up in intricate knots on the top of her head, Elara Winston looks just as polished as the man at her side. They're both wearing large smiles, as if they're joking back and forth. Elara is glancing up at Gloss with twinkling eyes. She can see why Caesar, and the Capitol at large, would wonder at their relationship. They do look very cozy, after all.

With a huff, Elara turns to Caesar and waves her hand at the picture as if she hardly thinks twice about it. In a calm voice, she tells him, "You are aware that I'm very good friends with both Gloss and Cashmere, aren't you Caesar?" With a smirk, she adds, "Though I do understand you're reasoning. Gloss can be a hard man to resist."

Caesar laughs and nods, "Yes, he certainly can. So there's truly nothing going on between you?"

Elara just responds, "I think of Gloss as more of a brother. We're like siblings, you know? He drives me crazy half the time."

The explanation makes Caesar pout. "Well I guess I'm not surprised. You've been friends since you won your Games. It's nice to see some camaraderie between Victors, am I right folks?" The crowd cheers out their agreement, and Elara gives Caesar an indulgent smile that edges on a smirk. Oh, if only he knew…

To consider Gloss a brother would be like seeing the President of Panem as a father figure and role model. The thought is laughable. She can't have it getting around that her relationship with Gloss is more than shallow, though. If these people knew the sorts of things they get into when they're alone, well…frankly, that's none of their business, and it would very dangerous to boot.

She keeps these escapades to herself. She won't mention that she knows how Gloss looks when he first wakes up – the specific set of his expression and the sleepy crease of his eyes as they lock with hers from across the pillows. She won't say that she knows how beautiful he is when the sunlight hits his bare body just right, or the sound of his moans in her ear or the imperfect way he loves her. Or – the other things, the more mundane things. Like how he likes his eggs cooked if she's able to stay long enough for breakfast, or how he obsesses over skin products like she obsesses over electronics. And he does make her crazy, that part is true, but not in the way a brother might make his sister crazy. No, this particular form of insanity is very, very different.

She doesn't breathe a word of that, though, and Caesar doesn't seem to suspect that there is more to her connection with the famous Victor from District 1. They've been 'best friends' for years now, and apparently that's enough for these silly Capitolites, who so often don't look past what is right in front of them.

Caesar reaches out a hand to take hers, and says, "It's just as well, really! We want you all to ourselves – don't we? We do!"

The crowd erupts in loud, uproarious cheers, in total agreement with their dear anchorman. Their approval of Elara's single status is another reason why it's so important to keep her relationship with Gloss hidden. These people seem to dislike when their Victors find even the smallest bit of happiness. Their petty hearts are rife with jealousies, and Elara isn't stupid enough to undermine that. Snow isn't, either. So Elara just smiles as if Caesar's words make her immensely happy, and allows him to guide her into a standing position. She turns to face the crowd with that smile blazing across her face, though the edges of it are a bit blander now.

No one notices. As Caesar shouts, "Elara Winston! Thank you – thank you – ", the dimmed light in her eyes die down and she just stands there like a statue with that picture glaring down at her from behind her head. Seeing him again, in whatever form, only makes her miss him that much more.

No one takes any notice at all. No one in this room, anyway. But a hundred miles away in the living room of District 1's beloved Victor, there is one man who sees. He seems to see everything, when it comes to her.

Gloss stares at the screen with an unreadable expression on his face. He studies her with a hunger that always surprises him, whenever he feels it, because –

Honestly, he's never been without much of anything before. District 1 is a wealthy place and he's always had everything he needed, until she had stumbled into his life with her maddeningly sarcastic voice and fierce eyes. That was when he realized just how little he actually had.

It's amazing what one person can do to you. How just one variable can change the direction of your life. How you think you know exactly where you're going, until Fate crashes headfirst into your path and in less than a moment, everything changes.

Elara Winston is that variable, for him.

District 5 is the electric capitol of Panem. It's a rather gloomy place with its dark buildings and circuit lines, but it is home. Elara can't help but feel relieved when she takes in the familiar sight of it. She steps off the train in her fashionable dress, hardly looking like she would fit into this dirty place. She could daydream, only briefly of course, that she hadn't spent the last week in the Capitol at all. Her sentiments don't last very long, of course. Elara Winston does not daydream. Not much, anyway. Realistic as ever, she immediately pulls her hair out of its high ponytail and shrugs out of the expensive jacket she's wearing. These pretty things aren't meant for the squalor of District 5, where its near impossible to so much as walk down the street without getting dust on your person.

The Coriolanus 9 rises up in the distance, its towers brimming with what must be the grandest light source in the entire district. The weather here is often as dark and dismal as the town itself, and the huge power plant is like their own personal sun. Elara gazes at it as she walks down the street, ducking between factory workers and men dressed in the customary white lab coats that mark them as scientists. She often wonders what would happen if that power plant ceased to exist. If it stopped powering the Capitol as it does. Such rebellious thoughts plague her more than they should, considering her precarious status in society – a status that President Coriolanus Snow, for which that plant has been named, makes certain she upholds to.

Elara shakes her head of the thoughts and turns down the street. The Victor's Village looms ahead of her, its neighborhood marked by the tall iron wrought fence that separates it from the rest of the district. There are about a dozen houses, all kept clean by Capitol workers, but only two of them are occupied.

She is one of only two Victors here. District 5 does not often win the Hunger Games. Its tributes are small and thinly framed, often favoring the pursuit of intellect over physical strength, and it is of little surprise. To land a job as a scientist or an engineer is usually the goal of every student. It is the highest paying position here and is seen as a very successful career. It certainly holds more favor than some of the other jobs in District 5. Even Elara herself dreamed of such a life, once, but that was a long time ago. She does not have the luxury of dreams, now.

"Elara! You're home!" cries a familiar voice, and Elara smiles as she turns to see her younger sister, a girl of eighteen, rush out of the house several doors down.

In less than a second, Amelia Winston is throwing her arms around her sister and exclaiming, "Finally! I'm starving. Make me pancakes for dinner!"

The sudden energy that her younger sister pushes upon her makes Elara grumble, "Seriously? That's the first thing you think to say? Can I make you pancakes?"

Amelia pulls back to grin at her and says in a faux sweet voice, "Well it's not like you can cook anything else."

Mouth agape, Elara stares at Amelia for only a moment before slapping her arm playfully. "Why I never! When did you get to be so disrespectful?!" There's a gleam of mischief in her eyes, though, that offsets the harsh tone she's using. With a grunt, Elara pushes her sister towards the house and mutters, "You little brat."

Amelia just laughs and snarks, "I learned from the best."

She's clearly referring to Elara herself, who isn't exactly the most respectful or proper woman alive even on her good days. The reminder, though, makes Elara sigh. If she hadn't refused President Snow that first time, then Amelia wouldn't have ever turned to her as a mother figure of sorts. She'd still have their mom to show her how to be a far better person than Elara could ever be. Instead, Amelia is left with the snippy, sarcastic sister who hasn't been the best role model these last eight years, as Amelia grew into the young woman she is today.

Amelia doesn't seem to notice Elara's sudden silence, though Elara suspects that she knows exactly what her sister is thinking. The two of them have a strange relationship, where they express affection through less friendly means. They keep their sentimental hearts on a very firm leash. God forbid they actually tell each other how much they care.

"I really hope you haven't gotten into any trouble while I've been gone," Elara drawls as she shuts the door behind them. Before it closes all the way, Elara sees the curtains shift in the other house across the street, and Harley's face peers at her from the window. She raises a hand to him, but doesn't wait for a response, because Amelia is complaining about how Elara never trusts her.

"What kind of trouble could I get into?" she sarcastically asks, heading over to the kitchen to pull out the pancake ingredients.

When she turns an expectant gaze to her sister, Elara rolls her eyes at her antics and snipes, "Oh I don't know. How about tagging the Coriolanus with your ridiculous smiley faces? Seriously, if you keep doing stuff like that, you're gonna get into trouble, and it won't matter who you're related to."

Her Victor's status won't save her sister's rebellious spirit forever. To be honest, Amelia's tendency of breaking the rules is worrisome to Elara, who is only too aware of the potential repercussions that might occur in the aftermath. Not that it stops her, either, to some extent. After all, she's not supposed to be in a relationship with Gloss Augustine from District 1, but it doesn't stop her from jumping into bed with him the first moment she can. Bad habit and all.

Amelia, as ever, just scoffs at her sister's carefully framed concern and changes the topic. "So. Pancakes?" she prompts, pushing the bowl forward expectantly.

Elara sighs. "I literally just got home. I'm taking a shower first, and then I'll make your freaking pancakes."

She doesn't complain beyond that, though. Making pancakes for her younger sister is the least she can do, after splitting their family in half with one single word to President Snow. Just a simple 'no', one time, and both her parents were found dead the next morning. An accident, she was told. They got electrocuted in one of the power plants because they made a mistake in the operation room, which they both happened to be in at the same time. It's frankly laughable. Her parents were geniuses. They wouldn't have made such a trivial mistake without taking precautions.

Elara knows that they died because she had refused to be Snow's sex slave – not that it had mattered much, in the end. Snow doesn't hold back when pursuing vengeance. After killing her parents in a freak accident that was really just a haphazardly construed murder, Snow had proceeded to threaten Elara with Amelia, who was only ten years old at the time. He had given her an ultimatum: obey him, do everything he says without question, and he will let her sister live. Disobey, and her sister will meet the same end as her parents. There is very little one can do, when they are pressed into a corner like that.

She leaves Amelia downstairs to take her shower. Washing off the stale scent of perfume and Capitol shampoo is only her second priority. The first is the need to wash off everything else. She hadn't taken a shower that morning, deciding to just get out of the Capitol as fast as she could. She regrets it a little, but only because she can still smell the barest hint of Seneca Crane's cologne on her and it makes her nauseous.

Honestly, she's actually fairly lucky. Snow doesn't control her nearly as much as he controls Finnick Odair, who is notorious in the Victor community as being the most expensive plaything in the Capitol. By comparison, her schedule isn't nearly as full. Not that it makes her feel any better when she's sitting in a hotel room waiting for the next man who has bought her company that evening, or going out on dates with people she couldn't care less about, forced to smile and play pretend despite wanting to do the exact opposite.

Turning the hot water on, Elara sighs out and steps into the shower, tipping her head back and drenching her hair. She scrubs her body until its red and raw, as is her custom upon returning home to ensure that she washes away every single trace of the Capitol. By the time she's done, Amelia is banging on the door and demanding pancakes in an insistent voice, and Elara is sighing out again and wrapping a towel around herself with an aggravated huff.

She can't imagine living without Amelia. Her sister is loud and annoying, but her life would be so very dull without the girl. She's the only one who can make Elara genuinely smile. Well – there is one other person, but he is far, far away from her.

She misses him. She can't help it. To be honest, she doesn't even know for certain what they mean to each other. In the beginning, Gloss had been little more than a small sliver of comfort that he allowed her to steal from him, and he from her – a form of feeling something, anything, that would make them feel alive. But it's been eight years since they started fooling around with each other, and even though she had once been perfectly fine with the thought of him being her 'friend with benefits', that had changed a long time ago.

She is ever the realist, and even she can't deny that her feelings for him are deep and encompassing, but there is very little to be done about it. They can never be together the way she wishes they could. Snow would never allow it. The most they can settle for is the odd meeting in the Capitol when their schedules allow it, and seeing each other for the Games every year when they step into the role of mentors.

She should be thankful for that, even though her selfish heart yearns for more, always. When it comes to him, she always wants more.

Once Elara is dressed, she pads back down to the kitchen to make dinner. Admittedly, pancakes aren't exactly the most nutritious meal, but it's something of a treat for her and Amelia. The ingredients are hard to find in District 5, where such things as eggs and flour are more expensive. The meal has become something of a tradition that they take part in every time Elara comes home.

As she starts to whip up the batter, her sister walks in through the front door carrying a small stack of letters. No doubt the mail has been lying in wait in their mailbox since Elara left for the Capitol nearly two weeks ago. Amelia has a tendency of forgetting to collect it when her sister is gone. Not that there's much to collect anyway.

Some correspondence from Amelia's school is on top of the pile, which Elara huffs at because she knows it's probably a complaint. Amelia is not exactly a star pupil. She prefers to spend her time hunting down trouble as opposed to studying. Nonplussed by the mail and assuming that there's nothing worth her immediate time, Elara returns to the pan and melts a pad of butter on the heated surface. She's just about to start dropping batter onto it when Amelia suddenly says, "You got something. I think it's from your boyfriend in District 1."

Elara's head snaps up so quickly that she's surprised she doesn't get whiplash. She looks over at Amelia, only to see that the girl is smirking wickedly at her as she holds up a creased letter between her fingers.

Elara snatches the letter with a glower and snarks, "He's not my boyfriend. Don't talk like that." It's dangerous. Amelia should know better.

Still, she doesn't say another word as she tears the letter open. Her fingers shake a little. Whether it's from excitement or nerves, she doesn't know.

Amelia tries to peek at the letter's contents from over her shoulder, so Elara turns the pan off for now and grabs her coffee mug. She walks out of the room with another glower for good measure. Amelia makes a face at her, which Elara childishly returns.

"What about the pancakes?" Amelia shouts, but Elara is far too busy leaning against the wall and devouring the familiar scrawl of writing. The message is short, in his usual brief style, but potent in that it makes her heart race and her mouth edge up into an eager smile.

To Miss Elara Winston,

District 5

"A hard man to resist?" I'm glad you're finally coming around to my charms. It's only taken you eight years. Cashmere is breathing down my neck while I write this. I keep telling her to mind her own business but you know how she is. She says hello.

By the time you get this letter, you should be back in District 5. Either that, or your damn sister has opened your mail and you'll be in for a really long episode of teasing, because:

Elara Winston, you'd better get ready. The first moment I see you at the next Games, I'm going to make you even crazier than I already apparently do.

Cashmere tells me I should erase that because it sounds borderline psychotic. Thoughts?

I don't think our schedules will overlap in the near future, so I look forward to seeing you in two months for the Games. I'll think of you every day.

Your brother,

Gloss Augustine

District 1

Elara snickers to herself, staring down at the way he had signed the letter off. He had underlined the word 'brother' twice, and she knows it's because of her recent interview with Caesar Flickerman. Apparently, he thinks it's hilarious that she would refer to him like that, but as always, he's willing to keep up the pretenses. It isn't as if they have any other choice.

His whole letter is very carefully composed, with no obvious references to their relationship. From the casual observer's perspective, one might assume that he really is just a brother to her, and that his desire to drive her 'crazy' has more to do with endless teasing and brotherly conduct than anything else. From her perspective though, it's quite the opposite.

She shivers at the thought, and allows herself a brief, lovestruck grin that doesn't really go with the image she's cultivated in the Capitol in the last eight years. Elara Winston is tough, confident, and sarcastic, but when she's around him, she turns into a total idiot.

Love is chaotic like that. It has an awful tendency of turning even the most level-headed people completely insane.