As an early Valentine's Day present, here's a A/U story about Katniss meeting Finnick while they're touring all the districts. Peeta's in the story too. And I made them a little less miserable than Suzanne Collins had them.
Rated T for inappropriate (sometimes risqué) flirting, too much kissing, bad party conversation (and tricks) and Finnick in general.
Disclaimer: Do not own Catching Fire.
I run my index finger slowly over my chapped and slightly swollen lips. There's not enough lip balm in all of Panem to soothe my lips from the spectacle Peeta and I have been staging every night. I sigh and apply a dash more of the cinnamon-scented concoction to the center of my lower lip. I need a day off.
On cue, Peeta bursts through the door to my dressing compartment. He wastes no time in wrapping his arms around me. I do my best to shield my lips from any potential extra duty. "What's the plan?" he asks while nuzzling my neck. "Sneak off to a closet? Kisses on the dance floor?"
His visit is mostly social, but it's also part strategy. We don't choreograph every kiss during stops on the Victory Tour, but I'm less likely to slug Peeta when I know he's planning on sneaking up on me and tickling spiders down my bare shoulders. If I know in advance, I can greet him with a kiss so sweet they could serve it between the petit fours and the bubbly ipecac seltzer.
It's like a dance. A shy kiss by the punch bowl. Step. Flirtatious giggles while whispering secrets by the canapés. Ball change. Eskimo kisses while chatting with the gregarious guests. Reverse. Lingering kisses during a slow number where I will most certainly be twirled, possibly dipped, followed by our finale, an obvious trip to the nearest closet or storeroom.
"We've done that," I complain. "We need to liven it up some. Otherwise they'll be expecting it. Oh, look he's feeding her dessert again," I say sarcastically. I didn't really appreciate the ice cream that ended up in my lap and I'm pretty sure the chocolate that ended up on my nose wasn't an accident.
Peeta furrows his brow. "There's always the annoying kissing over the dinner table."
"Ugh! Last time you had too many onions." Even now, those onions come back to trigger my gag reflex. I search for a mint container.
"I could just be spontaneous," he says, kissing my hand.
I roll my eyes.
"Well, one way or another you're kissing me." His lips are dangerously close to mine, and there's a mischievous look in his eyes.
"Closet," I sigh. He smiles and it's a plan. "And we can just stay in there and hide. If one more person asks me my favorite moment from the game, I will scream."
I pretend to inspect my nails hoping that he'll take the hint and go away. Instead he sits down next to me on my chair where there's only room for one.
"What do you smell like?" Peeta asks, leaning in and claiming more of the chair.
I hold out the round tin Cinna just gave me. "Want some?"
He gives me a sly smile and dives in for a kiss.
"No," I push him away. Sometimes I think he's having a little too much fun with his free pass to kiss me as much as he wants. It's supposed to be for show, but apparently my ball gowns count as an audience. I hold the balm out to him again.
"Not that way," he playfully scoffs at the tin.
"Later," I say.
"Dress rehearsal?" he asks eagerly, even though there's been a show every night.
Peeta moves in.
"Do you two ever give it a rest?"
Haymitch has picked this moment to barge into the compartment.
"Strategy meeting." Peeta switches to business mode, turning off the teasing he'd been brimming with for the last few minutes.
I leave Peeta the chair and slip off to the floor, where I unzip a bag of hair accessories my prep team has haphazardly left on the floor by the vanity. My gowns and other clothes are hung on racks that line the walls of the train car. Matching shoes and wraps are stowed in the bottom of the hanging wardrobe bags. Peeta has his own dressing compartment. It's a sea of black and dark colored suits. I try clipping a pink flower on Peeta's shoe without him noticing.
"Tonight it's a dinner," Haymitch says. "Here's your plan: Peeta, make an overly sappy toast to Katniss and your undying love for her. Katniss, you blush. Don't say something stupid. There you go."
Apparently that was it, because after that off-the-cuff advice, Haymitch leaves. He probably just came in to interrupt us, and for that I'm glad.
Soon it's time for the prep team to paint my nails the color of the day. Today it's silver to match my dress. They jab an excessive number pins in my head for some elaborate hairdo that weighs heavily on my head. I'll have a headache within the hour, I'm sure. I wonder if it's punishment objecting to the neon green eye shadow yesterday. I might be a victor from a poor district, but I still don't want to look like something that crawled out from under the slagheap.
The districts blur together and I'm not sure whose ball we're at tonight. The dinner is like any other. It starts with a green salad; Peeta gives me his tomatoes, and when he turns to chat with the mayor's wife I hide all the onions in a napkin. There's a soup with a name I can't pronounce, followed by an entrée so small I think it was supposed to come out with the appetizers. It's beautifully plated with orange sauce. Too bad there's only one bite. Dessert is buffet style with fountains and sky-high tiered displays of tiny confections. Peeta feeds me chocolates so delectable I don't try to bite his fingers like I usually do. It must be hard for him to mask his disappointment.
After dancing, we can't get enough of each other and try to slip into a coat closet. We're caught by bright white pops of light and Effie's practiced laugh. We blush pink, devastated that our plan was foiled by photographers and our escort. Effie takes Peeta's arm and marches him away. She tells him she expects better and walks him toward a tray of immaculately decorated cookies she thought he would like to see. I stay by the closet waiting for the black spots to clear from my vision, hoping to slip away and hide from the rest for the never-ending spots to clear from my vision, hoping to slip away and hide from the rest of the tour.
My fingers go to the fissures forming on my lips. I reapply the balm to ease some of the burn. My prep team would reapply the lipstick too, but it never stays on. I taste the cinnamon. It's a strong flavor with a hint of heat. Venia had offered me some overly sweet strawberry balm, but that wasn't a flavor I wanted to taste. Strawberries remind me too painfully of the reason for the charade.
I'm never alone long at these functions. Someone always wants to snap a photo or ask me what it feels like to be a victor. Fantastic, I tell them. And by fantastic I mean the sensation is similar to inching my feet over hot coals. And while I might be the girl on fire, firewalking is not one of my skills.
My attempt at ignoring everyone fails. Despite my downcast gaze, I can sense my space being invaded. I see his polished shoes first, black tuxedo pants tightly fitted, a sleek jacket and a disheveled tie that begs to be straightened. He leans into me, resting his hand on the door behind me so his arm about two inches above my shoulder.
I immediately know what district we're in. This green-eyed man has to be District Four's infamous Finnick Odair. Even if I had never seen the Hunger Games, I would know him anywhere. His face graces the locker of every town girl in school.
"Is he a good kisser?" he asks without pretense. It's not the question I was expecting.
My cheeks burn in embarrassment. "Sure."
He wags a finger at me. "Tsk. Tsk, Katniss," He fake scolds me in a low voice, his face almost touches my nose. I'm overwhelmed by the smell of aftershave.
I try to push the door he's leaning on in with my foot so he'll fall on his perfectly chiseled cheekbones. He moves closer to me, whispers in my ear. "I don't think you're doing it right."
"We are," I say this a little louder than I mean to. Everyone here is drunk, so maybe he'll just think I've had too much champagne. This isn't the case, though. Effie makes a habit of prying anything alcoholic my hand after I got a little tipsy in District 5 and hiked my skirt up too high when I was dancing. And by too high, I mean my ankles were visible. I can do without the headaches, so it's fine with me.
"It probably feels like there's an eel darting into your mouth." He fans his fingers across my cheek. "I don't like eels," he cringes.
Funny, he seems kind of slimy to me. "Too much in common, Finnick?" I ask.
I'd run away if he weren't blocking me so completely. He's positioned himself directly in front of me, one hand over my shoulder and now that he's sensed my unease he's moved his other hand to the wall by my waist, pinning me in place. "Mind your tongue, young lady," he chides. "Unless you want me to mind it for you."
He winks at me and I send out a silent plea for Peeta to come rescue me. I'd even be happy to hear Effie's heels clacking toward me. Where are the photographers now and why isn't someone coming to get me? Interview me? I try to duck under one of his arms, but he snakes his arm around my waist and laughs. He brings me in like we're dancing. "I wouldn't kiss you like that," he says in a well-practiced seductive purr.
"No thank you," I muster all the iciness I can.
Before I can make another break for it Haymitch's drunk staggering demolishes a lofty tower of champagne flutes. As the glass rains down on the buffet table and before I know what's going on Finnick pushes the door to the closet in and whisks me inside.
He flattens me against the door and locks onto my lips. His lips are softer than expected but the kiss isn't. It's assertive. Without words he's telling me there's no getting away. His tongue flits against the edges of my lips and I try desperately for it not to go further than that, but it does. This golden-skinned Adonis rolls his tongue over mine. He pins my limbs as he sucks on lips, my tongue and for half a second I stop fighting him. After that it's a playbook of ridiculous swirls and tricks. He's clearly showing off and I'm sure most girls, guys even, would be out of their minds for the lesson in technique I'm unwillingly and impatiently getting.
"That's how he should kiss you," he says when he finally comes up for air. Me, I thought I was suffocating about three minutes ago. I try to catch my breath without being too obvious about it. Finnick is a stranger, not someone I want to kiss. It's utterly unwanted and yet my head is spinning.
In the second it takes me to react, he blocks the door and I realized I'm stuck in a coat closet with a trident-wielding ladykiller: a playboy who can break hearts with a sultry purse of his lips but is just as deadly with a net and a spear as a Hunger Games victor who beat out the other older tributes entirely too easily.
Finnick looks smug at his conquest. His grip has loosened so I take the opportunity to tell him how I feel.
Slap! My hand hits his cheek hard. He just grabs my wrist and proceeds to suck on my index finger.
I would say that I never see these things coming, but given our line of conversation, I should have stomped his foot and ran when I wasn't trapped in a coat closet with a muscular womanizer blocking my only way out.
What is Finnick doing? I don't know enough about him to know if this is typical behavior. Does he take every female victor into a closet on her tour? If so, why didn't Haymitch warn me? Maybe Haymitch was the decoy.
"But that's not how he kisses you," he beams with pride. "He's a 16-year-old boy that hasn't kissed nearly enough girls."
How does Finnick know how many girls Peeta has kissed? I never thought to ask.
I take a step backward to try searching the pockets of the coats in the closet for something sharp. I palm through silky floor length furs, thick wool dress jackets and shiny trench coats. Among the mints and shopping lists I pilfer, the most dangerous thing I find is rubber bands. I launch one off my thumb. Or I try to. He swats at me like I'm a toddler and confiscates the bands.
"And you kiss him….," he puts his finger on my lower lip. "Like you're the understudy in a bad drama department romance and he has a green festering cold sore that's oozing green pus."
"Green is my favorite," I retort. "And pus just reminds me of our time in the cave." I say this as dreamily as I can. I might not be overjoyed about the frequency of our public displays of affection, but I play the part the best the best I can. I don't mind Peeta's kisses, but I do need to be convincingly delirious—not indifferent and definitely not repulsed.
"Putting on a show?" he whispers in my ear. "Why would you ever do a thing like that? A ruthless victor like you...Couldn't you have anyone you wanted?"
He knows very well that I will forever be one half of the star-crossed lovers from District 12 and Snow's threat weighs heavily on me. If Finnick's not convinced, I've failed. My face falls in defeat. It takes me a second to recover the death stare I've been giving this Casanova.
"Don't worry, kitten. Finnick will help you out." He puts his hands on each side of my head by some magic maneuver my stylists' headache-inducing creation falls out like it was held in place with a sleek ribbon instead of 100 bobby pins.
He puts his forehead on mine and fluffs my hair over our faces. "Now, people think we're kissing." I almost smile at the trick until he pokes my nose. Is Finnick Odair mentoring me?
He cups his hands over my chin and covers our mouths. "Now we're kissing again, being so discreet because we're shy."
Apparently Finnick is no stranger to our act since his doling out tips like Effie barks out our schedule. He gives me suggestions about angles, corners and various props. I listen attentively as I'm grateful for anything that spares my lips in this cold weather. He even has some ideas for changing up our routine to include taking to the empty dance floor while the food is being served. He says we have the basics right but recommends turning it up a notch. After all, nothing says madly in love like "I love you more" contests. I 'll have to consider it good advice, since it makes me want to vomit tonight's crab cakes on his shoes.
"Believability," Finnick coaches me in what must be phase two of our session. "Try to make people me think it's not a chore." Finnick leaves his post at the door and paces the length of the closet. It's my opportunity to run, but I want to hear what he has to say.
"Kiss him back," he's emphatic. I look smug when he says this. Peeta, I usually kiss back. Strangers, that's another matter. "No one's going to believe you if you don't."
"Kiss him….." I think I can see the cogs turning under his bronze hair. His eyes light up and he lunges toward me. "Like he tastes as good as you do. Yum." His shoulders shudder. "What was that? Vanilla? No, it's spicier than that. Whatever it ever, it's fantastic. I'd kiss you all night too."
I back towards the door.
He says this just when I start warming to him. Finnick is in my space again. His nose is practically touching mine. If a black eye wouldn't draw even more attention to him, I wouldn't hesitate. "Got it," I assure him, making it clear I'm not interested in sharing my lip balm with him again.
"Do you?" He eyes me.
His look intensifies.
"We'll figure it out," I assure him.
"That is the fun part," he says with a genuine smile, that's quickly replaced by a devilish grin. "Ooh," he rubs his hands together. "Do you want me to go find him? I can show him how to—what was that thing you liked?"
I throw a fist into Finnick's arm.
"Feisty, I like that." He puts his hand on the door and I'm ecstatic that he's leaving.
"One for the road?" he begs.
I bite at him.
"Please," he coos. "I do so love a biter."
"I'll be sure to let Enobaria know," I push at him to get out.
He turns back toward me and sticks his bottom lip out, staring at me with intent sea green eyes. Finnick Odair is pouting. I'm not sure anyone's ever resisted him before. This makes me practically giddy as I move my mouth towards his, stopping millimeter away and putting my hand over his lips. "I don't think so," I simper. He picks this second to lick my hand with all the moisture in his mouth.
Disgusted I pull away. I should have never given Finnick that much of a reaction. My penance is a large wet tongue curled sloppily up my cheek.
If I had my bow, he'd be a dead man. But all I have is a bobby pin so I pitch that at him as hard as I can. He catches it easily, puts it in his mouth like a toothpick. He then playfully pops me with a rubber band. "Wait a few minutes and then come out," Finnick instructs me as he eases out the door.
My head is spinning once again. What just happened? One minute Peeta and I were trying to sneak into a closet and then next thing I know Finnick Odair has his tongue on my molars. And when I think he couldn't get any more lascivious, he tries to help me. Maybe it's some kind of hallucinogenic reaction to those oysters Effie told me not to eat. I smooth my dress, comb through my ruined hair and pick out the stray pins. This never happened.
When I finally emerge, I spy Finnick chatting up a golden-haired woman who most certainly must be from the Capitol. Head to toe she's covered in gold glitter. She's had it embedded in her skin and weaved into her metallic-hued mane. Despite the chill in the air, she dons a short red dress so tight I can't help but think it might snap should she bend over. "Why do you smell like cinnamon?" she's falling all over his arm, giggling so hard she's spilling wine on her six-inch gold heels.
I try to pass unnoticed, but his long arms grab me. "Katniss Evereen? Are you really Katniss Everdeen?" he says this like he's not shamelessly sporting my tinted lip balm. Naturally, he wants to drag out my torture. He's having entirely too much fun with it.
"I'm Finnick Odair, Sixty-fifth Hunger Games victor. It is such an immense pleasure to meet you," he gives a flourished and overdramatic bow. "And obviously you know Cassa," he boasts, despite the fact that I know nothing about the woman with the glittery eye shadow, blush and lipstick. "Panem Passions is such a good show." He puts his hand on his heart. "I watch it every day."
Finnick doesn't really strike me as the type to watch soap operas. I think I saw a few minutes of one at the training center. I was too confused by the actors' body modifications to truly know what was going on. It's certainly quite different than what the Capitol broadcasts to the districts, not that we ever had enough electricity to watch anything other than news and the games. The one good thing about the show, tattoos, skin dyes, piercings and all, is that it gives me confidence in my acting abilities.
Cassa bats her four-inch eyelashes at his flattery. "Aren't you delicious?" she says.
Actually, he tastes like caviar and beer I want to tell her. Finnick, in turn, kisses her cheek.
"It's so nice to meet both of you." The well-practiced line is forced out of my mouth by habit. Honestly, I'd rather be testing the sharpness of my biggest hunting knife on my palm. But I give my best fake smile and try to stay unfazed and pretend nothing happened.
Finnick tells me about Cassa's soap opera filming on the beach. He sounds happy to be home, but he still keeps a death drip on my arm. When his date tugs her dress shorter, he wipes the glitter from her blush off his mouth—only breaking his smile for the smallest second. No wonder he liked my lip balm.
Cassa stares at me through the conversation. She's looking at me the same way I would look at a tailless fox and it's making it so much harder to keep the corners of mouth turned up. She hiccups at me, then whispers something to Finnick.
"Maybe she's not old enough," he says. Age didn't seem to be a problem a few minutes ago.
"Don't worry, sweetie," she rubs my arm. "One day when you're old enough, you can get yours done too. Then you'll fill out your dress better."
Finnick gives me an eyebrow. He wants to see how I'll react.
"Oh, that," I suddenly catch on that she's talking about my chest. "Thankfully my stylist refused," I say. I'm about to add: "I don't really want to look like a clown." Instead I say, "I wouldn't know what to do with them." How does she not tip over?
"Katniss is so sweet and...innocent," he winks at me. "It wouldn't fit her image."
"But, she's so," Cassa stomps her foot.
Finnick plies her with a fruity cocktail he swipes off a nearby waiter's tray. "Watch this, babe." He takes the cherry off the rim of the glass and bites off the stem.
While Finnick is entertaining his vain friend with what appears to be his post games talent—knotting cherry stems with his tongue—I slip off to a bathroom in search of mouthwash.
That night on the train, Peeta climbs in with me. He's chirping about piping and glazes.
"That's sweet," I tell him, pulling the blanket up to our shoulders. The blanket is thick and red with just a bit of shine. I waste no time in curling up with him.
"Did you have a nice time?" His arms drape around me.
I shrug. "I met Finnick Odair." I say this like I'm telling Peeta I met the mayor of District 6 who resembled a walrus. I hope my even tone doesn't betray me.
"Yeah," Peeta looks coyly at me. "I did too." I hope he didn't lure Peeta into a closet too. "Apparently, he liked you a lot."
I gulp. Peeta talking to Finnick makes me squirm. The only thing that keeps me the least bit steady is that he isn't angry and doesn't seem to know. "He said you were a breath of fresh air and that I should watch out."
That last statement rings a little too true.
"He also popped me with a rubber band," Peeta complains, rubbing his arm. "Who shoots rubber bands at a gala?"
I hesitate to tell Peeta where exactly Finnick got those rubber bands. "Apparently roguish victors from fishing districts." I smile, thinking of the grey-haired lady with impeccable manners who had hopped into the air, shrieking when one of Finnick's missiles snapped her bottom so hard I could hear it by the punch bowl. Dignitaries in tuxedoes, former victors in ball gowns on the dance floor—no one was safe from Finnick's mischievous assault. All night long, people were popping up, rubbing their arms and looking angrily around. Finnick took this all in with a perfectly innocent face. When he caught my glance, he displayed an unapologetic smirk for the briefest second.
"Maybe he was flirting with you," I add just to tease Peeta.
I expected Peeta to cringe, to be annoyed and roll his eyes at me. "What about you? Was he flirting with you?"
"Shamelessly," I say in my best seductive voice. It's the closest thing he's getting to a confession tonight. Perhaps some other time when my family's life isn't on the line for the believability of our kisses, I'll let him know, maybe even show him one of those ridiculous swirls Finnick taught me.
"Aren't I the only one allowed to do that?" he asks. I shiver as he traces a finger down my cheek.
"Of course," I say. And because I don't want this line of conversation to go any further I make my move. "Goodnight," I kiss his cheek, and reach over and turn the bedside lamp off. It's not part of our bedtime ritual. He's the one who kisses me. It takes him completely by surprise and I'm confident that our pillow talk will no longer include a stunning green-eyed man with a fondness for closets and party tricks.
Our compartment is quiet except for the hum of the safety lights and the steady whirr the train over the tracks. I feel him shift his weight in the bed. His breath is hot in my ear. "Katniss, I think you missed."
"Nonsense. I have perfect aim." I try to quiet Peeta's teasing, planting my face in the pillow away from him. We're both exhausted and there have been entirely too many kisses today, but it comes anyway. It's been that kind of day, after all.
This small gesture, unwanted at first, wakes me up and I feel a tingle as I kiss him back. His lips linger on mine, warm and reassuring—even without the crowds and cameras. It means so much more than an over-the-top kiss from a beautiful stranger. I try to tell myself that I feel nothing, but the sensation spreads and my head goes fuzzy. It's something I have to do; yet Peeta's familiar kisses—full of strength and kindness—are the only ones I want.
Peeta settles back in under the covers and my lips burn.
The kisses are supposed to be for survival—an act to calm rebellious districts, to keep those I care about safe. And as much as I tell myself these kisses are empty, they're not. They're filled with hope that we'll get through this. And with every dance, caress and laugh shared, I owe him a little more. Each one means thank you for keeping the nightmares away, thank you for doing all of this—the games, the tour, the charade—with me. But does he feel this, or emptiness, in my kisses? Does he feel how much I truly want to keep him safe?
"Peeta," I whisper. He mumbles something telling me he's trying to sleep. I reach over and grab my lip balm off the nightstand. "I forgot."
"Do you want some water?" He sits sleepily up.
"No. It's just that...Your lips look chapped," I finally get out.
"How can you tell? It's dark," he says incredulously.
I love it that he doesn't know what's going on and it's hard not to laugh. The lip balm, the extra practice—they were his playful suggestions first.
"Oh." I can hear the smile in this one word when my cinnamon-scented lips reach his. "I think you're right."
So the moral of this story is:
The proper way to put a lip balm on a boy is through direct lip-to-lip transfer.
(J/K that was only one of the lessons is this story ;)