ENTITLED: Where Children Are Playing
SUBTITLE: Ten things that never happened.
FANDOM: The Hunger Games
LENGTH: 1,500 words
SETTING: ALL OVER THE PLACE. Shocker. I think I spoil everything. Or at least make a solid attempt at it.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own The Hunger Games.
NOTES: Yeah, I know, as if Katniss even wanted a love life. Whatever. I ship hotness with hotness. Like this is anything new.
SUMMARY: For a moment, the flare burns the shadows out of his face and the man looking back at her is a breath away from wet paper. Begging to tear. — Katniss, Finnick

He'd watched her games, of course.

The worst part was just before, and looking four's tributes in the eye and grinning and lying, "I'm betting on you guys."

Because he wasn't. And he's almost glad when the boy drops at the Cornucopia, because then there isn't time to get attached. But it's harder with the girl. It's harder because Katniss is the reason she's dead, and he doesn't know what to think when he watches the Tracker Jacker nest tumble through the air, except—that was clever.

And it sickens him, distantly. The same distant sickness writ across Katniss' face.

He'd done more than watch.

Dying. All of them, dying, and he knows the pain on Katniss' face. Pain and fear and slowly, defeat. Her sticky skin shines dully in the camera, though she's running out of screen time. There's the occasional shot of her, her blunt teeth stopping most of a scream, blind eyes opening, closing, dark hair snarled with leaves. Dying, and not much fun to watch. They sexualize it, of course. The way her spine arches during a bad spell, the weak tears running up her face, the bared throat, the panting chest—

And when Haymitch comes to call, Finnick's already signing the check.

"You've got some money left over," Haymitch wheedles, "Come on, do a transfer."

"You know I can't hide three million credits," he caps the pen, "Chose one of them. Boy or girl."

"Peeta would be easier to control."

On screen, Katniss turns her face into the earth and moans, thin fingers clawing into the leaves, gripping. "Peeta's not what you need," Finnick says, "And he's as good as dead. You know it."

"He knows it," Haymitch corrects, with something of a sneer, "Always had a soft spot for the girls, didn't you?"

"It's not my money," Finnick hums, ignoring this. "What do you suggest?"

She almost ruins everything.

An ending to all of it. Her skinny shoulder set and her narrow jaw stubborn and the berries stain her lips the color of wet blood and for a moment, she doesn't need paint or jewels or anything to be the girl on fire.

Finnick has seen people die. Their final moments are tattooed onto the back of his eyelids. And they snuff out bad—sometimes too fast to even realize; sometimes slow and angry, spitting blood; sometimes shaking and covered in tears.

Katniss goes out blazing.

And he thinks—he studies the individual curve of an eyelash on her cheek, her closed eyes-that he has never seen anything so majestic.

She is almost exactly Annie's height.

The cameras make everyone look taller, but in real life (not the camera-life) she's a bit plain and a bit small and a bit too close to human. Victors were never supposed to be humans.

Masquerading humans number 65 and 74 eye one-another. He offers her a hand, "Finnick Odair. Congratulations on winning."

They've cut off her calluses. Her hand is soft as a baby's, and her hot grey eyes cut into him like mind-games and nightmares. And he knows even before she answers that it's good the cameras aren't watching.

"What exactly am I supposed to have won?"

She runs her tongue along a shallow cut on the back of her hand, catches him watching. For a minute, they regard each other. Her gaze shifts back to her wound. "I wish I could keep the scars."

This he knows. Because their bodies do not remember, even if their minds do, and Katniss still turns her head a little when she's listening, angling to favor the ear that's just as perfect as the other.

And he's left-handed now. The memory of that pain—of sinew and tendon being forced apart and then slowly, slowly severed, the pressure of a scream against his throat-still makes his right hand clench. The fake right-hand. The one they'd grown for him, just him, in an oversized test-tube.

It even tans the same as the left.

"I thought it was over," she confesses, "I thought—I thought, if I somehow got through the games, that'd be it. That nothing would ever be able to hurt me again, because nothing could ever be worse than that. Than this."

There's a crazy shift in his eyes, and a smile slurs across his face for just a breath. "There's always something worse."

"I don't see how that's possible," Katniss mutters, and kicks the wavering fire into a rebellion of sparks.

For a moment, the flare burns the shadows out of his face and the man looking back at her is a breath away from wet paper. Begging to tear.

"Sometimes it's not birds who're screaming."

He knows the exact moment she loses control. The moment something within her smashes, because it leaks out of her on the water running from her eyes, and at first she screams words, then just a boy's name, and finally she forgets even that. But the screaming goes on.

And Haymitch comes out with scratches down his face.

"Should have gone for the boy," he growled, "Damn it. At least he'd have listened."

There's a sudden explosion of noise from within the healing room. Incredibly expensive medical equipment, dashed against the floor. He winces.

"He would have killed you."

"No," Haymitch corrects, blotting at the blood that dangles from his chin, "He wouldn't have. He'd have been angry, but more than that, he'd have wanted her back."

"She knows anger better than love."

"You think I don't know that?"

Katniss isn't there when he finds out about Annie. That's probably a good thing.

There'd been a period, years back, when he used to cut her name into his skin. Again and again, and the people who saw it, (kissed it, licked it, bit and clawed and stretched the scabs open) asked, "Who's Annie?"

And he'd wake up in the morning with his skin unbroken, polished, and his stylist's frown.

Who's Annie.

Almost exactly the same height as Katniss. But all different. All water and no fire and she forever slid between his fingers and he was losing her again, and again, and again. His girl who broke the odds when he could only play them.

Nobody had ever bet on her.

She comes out of Peeta's room shaking.

Shaking and bleeding.

She slides down the wall to sit beside him. After a minute he reaches over and wipes some of the trailing blood off her cheek.

"I thought he was getting better," her voice is mostly even. "I thought. I thought if I just kept trying—and it really seemed like—"

She bites her lip, clamps down. He goes on cleaning her face, and understanding, because the first time he'd held Annie after her games, she'd tried to strangle him.

"I don't think love is supposed to be this hard," she concludes. And then turns from him, and buries her face in her hands.

"Probably not," Finnick sighs, and tucks an arm around her shoulders so she can lean against his arm, "Which is why you've got to be sure they're worth it."

She doesn't say anything to that, and they both pretend she isn't crying.

He thinks of his green-eyed girl and then of the other one, who'd held death against her mouth. Kissed it.

And he wants to say something to Katniss, because he's finally realized that Annie's smile reminds him of being miles underwater and looking up to see glitter upon the surface, and the girl on fire might not have a romantic bone in her body but he thinks she'd have understood.

Victors were never supposed to be humans.

And maybe they weren't. Maybe they were as fake as his right hand. But he still has the memory of a name cut into his skin, and they can't take that from him. They can't take the image of a poison-red mouth or the flash of sideways-glass green eyes.

Just once, he kisses those deadly lips.

And then he picks up his trident, and thinks that they will never be able to fix him when he's dead. It's very, very real.

And it's very, very human.