Peeta can't remember the last time he saw Haymitch smile. Come to think of it, Peeta's not sure he's ever seen Haymitch smile. So when Finnick and Chaff advance on Peeta after training and he sees Haymitch lurking in the corner, grinning like a cat faced with a bowl full of cream, he breaks out into a sweat worse than anything he went through in the hand-to-hand combat station.
"Haymitch tells me," Chaff says, claps an arm around Peeta's shoulders and wags his stump in front of Peeta's nose in admonishment, "you and your girl didn't get any fun in back home."
Peeta's pretty sure he reddens down to the tips of his toes. "We managed all right," he says, searches for escape routes. Finnick moves to cover the doorway before Peeta can get there, though, and Gloss is camped out at the other end of the hall, smiling like his teeth hurt.
Finnick examines his nails. "I'm sure Twelve throws a good party," he says like he doesn't believe it, "but you haven't had a real stag party until you've had one in the Capitol."
He mouths stag party, more to himself than anyone else.
"You've heard of stag parties, haven't you? What do you people do for fun in the mountains?" Finnick asks Haymitch.
"I've heard of them," Peeta manages before Haymitch can say something Peeta never, ever wants to hear, "but—"
Chaff sweeps him into a headlock. "So we thought, hell, the wedding might be called off, but no reason you can't live a little while you're still alive, huh?"
Peeta tries to smile, but Chaff's cutting off the air to his lungs and he makes a funny gasping sound instead. "I don't think—"
"Don't think, drink!" Chaff says, and he and Haymitch burst out laughing. A few of the other male victors have come to circle the rest of them, all whispering and nudging each other and occasionally letting out a sharp whistle, and a flush creeps past Peeta's collar. He wonders if this is some kind of initiation rite. Like the way they teased Katniss last night, but since he's not as, well, Katniss as Katniss is, they're stepping it up a notch for him.
"Tomorrow's a long day," he says. "There are a lot of stations I haven't visited yet, and I'm not sure if—"
"It's highly unlikely that you'll manage to acquire any skills you don't already have some foundation in, in the space of time we have." The lights glint from Beetee's glasses; he slides the frames further up his nose. Beetee, too? "You might gain some short-term competency, but I don't know how much of it you'll retain."
"I still think I should rest," he says, and twists out from under Chaff's arm only for Finnick and Gloss and Brutus—Brutus?—to grab his shirt and yank him back. (Maybe that's why so many of the victors seem to go without shirts. Less to hold onto.)
"You'll have plenty of time for that when you're dead," Brutus says, and whacks him solidly across the shoulders. Peeta thinks it's meant to cheer him up, oddly enough.
"We've already booked the club," Gloss adds, "so you might as well."
"Katniss," he starts feebly, shoots another desperate look at Haymitch, but Haymitch says, "The girls'll do something with her, she won't get left out."
Peeta has a hard enough time imagining Katniss at the kind of bachelor parties they throw in 12—they're simple, as far as he knows, an excuse for the groom's closest friends to sneak to the Hob for a bottle of something you'd usually use to clean floors with and sing and dance at the pub until they've run through all the most obscene drinking songs. Parties at the Capitol must be like that, but a thousand times more so, and for all he knows they re-enact the filthiest verses and don't just sing about them.
(He tries not to picture what they'd do with Eskimo Nell in the Capitol. Really, he does.)
"We thought Katniss was a little—you know," Finnick says, covers his chest and groin with dramatically splayed fingers, "but we didn't think you'd be such a stick-in-the-mud."
"I'm not a stick-in-the-mud. I'm just not sure this is such a good idea."
"You can sleep it off tomorrow," Chaff says, and he, Finnick, and Gloss start to escort Peeta out the double-doors, Haymitch and Beetee and Brutus and who knows who else trailing in their wake. "What's that thing they like to say out here, Haymitch?"
"Carpe noctem. Seize the night."
I spent two days bleeding out in a ditch, Peeta reminds himself. How bad can this be?
Not bad, as it turns out, but definitely awkward.
The victors spend most of the way there swapping jokes about people Peeta doesn't really know, though judging from how hard they're laughing in his ear, they must be funny. They try to steer him into the conversation a few times, but since their efforts at including him mostly involve saying "the girl on fire" with different kinds of leers, Peeta doesn't much feel like participating. They're definitely trying to get under his skin, he decides. Either that or get to know him better, and if they get to know him better they'll know how to get to him. He sighs. It's probably too late to order a cab back to the training center, and he doesn't know if the cab drivers here take "I'll pay you as long as they don't confiscate my winnings after I die" as payment.
Is this really how they want to spend their last days? Drinking, swapping stories, teasing each other? Maybe, he thinks, it's less about what they're doing and more about who they're doing it with. How many of them have friends, families, lovers? How many of them are like Haymitch, keep themselves company with bottles and pills when they don't have each other to turn to for a scant few weeks out of the year? When he thinks of it like that, he can't blame them much, not even for his own abduction.
Then they pile out of the limousine and into the club, and his goodwill fades.
The first thing Peeta thinks is those aren't natural.
The second thing Peeta thinks is nothing in the Capitol is natural.
The third thing Peeta thinks is I can't really breathe through these feathers. Or what's under the feathers.
By the time he gets to will Katniss kill me? the woman who—greeted, greeted is a safe way of putting it—greeted him at the door is dropping down, rubbing her chest against his own, which at least gives him room to breathe. Or would, if she didn't seem determined to sink lower and lower.
"Thanks," Peeta manages, and uses one of the moves he picked up at the wrestling station to dislodge her. Gently. Well, that skill seems to have stuck. "But you might have better luck with one of the other guys."
She pretends to pout, but he sees her smile slip out from underneath. "I should've known I couldn't hold a candle to Katniss Everdeen," she says.
He smiles, too. "Not many people can."
"Hard to hold a candle to a bonfire," Haymitch says over Peeta's shoulder, his smirk dripping from his jaw. "Still, you're not holding up too badly, Philia." He tugs at one of the feathers covering her breast, but she slaps his hand away before he can do more.
"No touching," she says. "Not my girls, not my boys, not me."
Haymitch rubs his hand, grimaces. "Then what the hell was that?"
Her smile flashes more teeth than Peeta's comfortable seeing. "We can touch you, if you're very very good."
"Don't tell me, tell these delinquents," Haymitch says, jerks his thumb at the rest of the victors clustered behind him. "Especially Chaff. Don't let him get away with that 'my stump slipped' bullshit."
Peeta sneezes, and Haymitch ushers him inside.
The lights pulse from blue to pink to gold, and he's not sure what kind of sound's driving up through the floor but it's nothing he recognizes as music. The bar itself is made from some kind of glass, twisting along the back wall, and Peeta tries to focus on those curves instead of, well. The stage, and who's on it, and what they're doing. One of the tables is stacked high with some kind of pastry, and he makes a beeline towards it, cites professional interest when Haymitch asks him where he's going. The display's eye-catching: mounds of black and white chocolates stacked on tiered glass plates, and each chocolate has a pink dot in the center.
The next table has chocolate fondue with bowls of whipped cream on the side and bananas for dipping. Haymitch flings a spoonful of whipped cream at Finnick; it splatters on his cheek, and he rolls his eyes, wipes it off with two fingers and licks them clean, and says, "Very funny." Peeta decides to give the rest of the desserts a pass for now. Maybe there are appetizers.
Chaff and the mentor from District 5 are having a mock duel with cocktail hot dogs, and Chaff picks up an oyster and tries to trap his opponent's hot dog in its shell. Come to think of it, Peeta isn't really that hungry.
(Chaff's older than his father. He's starting to wonder if he should've used something stronger than freak show to describe the victors to Katniss at the opening ceremonies.)
The beat picks up under his feet. The dancers undulate faster. He sits at the bar, rubs his forehead, and wonders if he can claim he has a headache and go home early.
Beetee's hunched over next to him, scribbling something in the condensation on the glass and frowning at it, scratching out a row of scribbles. He blinks twice when Peeta clears his throat, his shoulders jerking back. "You're not dancing?" Beetee asks him.
"I think they're the only ones dancing." He gestures towards the stage. "And I don't feel like eating."
Beetee nods, short sharp jerks of his chin. "You should, though. It helps absorb the alcohol."
"Tell that to Haymitch."
…Haymitch is trying to use his teeth to grab a banana from one of the dancers'—technically Peeta supposes it counts as underwear.
"I think he knows," Peeta says dryly.
"Funny, I didn't think he had that much in the limousine." Beetee pauses. "That much more than usual, anyway."
Peeta buries his face in his hands.
Two hours later, Peeta has learned the following things:
At least six verses of The Kraken and the Fisherman's Wife, thanks to Finnick, though privately Peeta wonders if some of the things he sang about are physically possible. They rhyme well, though.
All the different kinds of alcohol that go into a Shoreline Iced Tea, and something close to the correct proportions for each.
The Capitol, District 2, District 4, and District 11 rules for Coins, and some of the District 12 rules, too, but Haymitch isn't being particularly articulate.
How to hotwire a car, from Beetee.
Seven different things to attach to your stump that make the local children run away screaming, from Chaff. (Peeta thinks he'll keep his prosthetic where it is, though.)
Seven different ways of killing a man that leave no visible marks on the body, from Gloss.
Seven different ways of—actually, Peeta walked away before Finnick could finish explaining that one, which was probably for the best.
The taste of a blowjob—the drink, not the actual thing, which according to Finnick is very different—and how to drink it with no hands.
That Brutus is capable of putting his heel behind his head, which makes Peeta's groin hurt every time he pictures it, even though he's trying very hard not to.
By the time they bring out the blow-up doll, he thinks he's run through his lifetime's supply of shock. "It's funny," he says, slurs a little more than he'd like, "but I think she's realer than most of the women I've met in the Capitol."
The victors buy him another round of drinks, including another blowjob, and offer to show him the male counterpart.
"—and the proprietor said yeah, she's probably full."
The other victors erupt into laughter, and Peeta joins in almost in spite of himself. It's disgusting, but it's funny, and he guesses that applies to the other victors as well. Really, aside from that revelation about Brutus, this hasn't been so bad.
"Hey, kid!" Chaff hollers, his stump raised to his lips. "Heard you like cake, so we got a little something for you."
"Maybe not so little," Gloss says and whistles sharply towards the curtains at the back of the stage. The dancers have cleared it, Peeta notices; some of them are lounging at the bar, some of them are lounging around the victors, and a few look like they're trying to get the victors to break the no-touching rule. The curtains part, the poles hiss and sink into the floor, and two of the more muscular dancers wheel out a cake bigger than any Peeta's ever baked.
Haymitch asks, "Well? What do you think?" and nudges him closer to it.
This can't be hand-frosted. The texture's too uniform. Even the groove marks in the frosting form a rippling pattern across the cake's surface, a gentle rise-and-fall of pale yellow. And the fondant, look at the construction of the ribbon on top and the pearls circling each layer. The shapes are so much more lifelike than anything he's managed. Did they airbrush in any of those gradations in color or is that a trick of the light? He leans in closer to look.
The top layer of cake bursts off, and Finnick Odair springs up from inside the ruins, his arms stretched over his head.
Peeta stares for a very long time.
Peeta's not entirely sure what he's staring at, other than the senseless destruction of perfectly good cake.
Finnick grins and flexes. The victors and dancers wolf-whistle their approval. Peeta picks up one of the shattered bits of fondant ribbon from the floor and cradles it, because if he focuses on anything else he doesn't know what he'll do.
"I thought bakers had to pay some attention to what goes in the cake," Finnick says.
"Sorry." Peeta wipes a glob of frosting from his hair. "I've never had a cake with a person in it before."
"Got something on your nose," Finnick says, smudges a dollop of frosting on it and leans in, licks it off.
Finnick Odair just licked him, didn't he.
"Katniss said you liked sweet things," Peeta mumbles, and before Finnick can respond Peeta sprints to the bathroom to throw up those last few blowjobs.
…not like that.
Katniss greets him with, "You look worse than Haymitch."
Peeta squints—the lights around Katniss's head flare into a weird spiky halo and it hurts to look at—and mumbles something about hangover remedies to Effie, who rushes off to comply with a few cooing remarks about how he's all grown up.
Haymitch raises his head from his forearms long enough to ask, "You had a chance to look in the mirror, sweetheart?"
She thumbs at the bruise under her eye and glowers. "I told you, someone pushed me into the pole."
Into the—Peeta chokes and sits down very quickly so he doesn't fall over at that image.
"Slow down, Peeta. You still haven't recovered from Finnick Odair in that cake," Haymitch says.
"Finnick in the what?"
Peeta smiles so broadly his teeth hurt. "About that," he says. "We don't want any allies this year."