A/N: A huge thank-you to the lovely koalakoala for beta-reading this, it wouldn't be half the fic it is without her advice.
This was written for Starvations Clever Crazy Completely Non-Canon Challenge. (CCCNCC.)
Warnings: Heavily implied sex. Nothing too graphic.
of the living
( listening to the wrong heartbeat )
Revolutions are costly and painful, that is what Katniss Everdeen knows better than anyone else. She was in the Hunger Games twice, after all, and being on the Capitol's hit-list and having thousands of citizens wanting her dead was also a contribution. She has starved, fought, and survived. She knows pain and is more familiar with suffering than she probably is with her own body.
Katniss Everdeen, the Burning Girl, has always expected deaths in her life. It was only natural.
(But she expected some survivors too. Alas, Death is greedy, but seemed to forget to take her as well.)
First to die is Gale. Peacekeepers are violent and unforgiving, everyone knows that. She never even got to say her goodbyes, and that is probably her biggest regret with her best friend. A bit of her breaks off along with him, so she takes refuge in counting the living, a rapidly shrinking list.
A hospital gets bombed shortly after. Prim and Katniss cling onto each other desperately as the news finally hits home and they realise that they're now a family of two. The tipping point for Katniss is when she stumbles into Prim's room and sees her fixing up a hole in her dress while tears stream down the girl's face.
The stitches are big and clumsy, far worse than what Mrs. Everdeen was capable of.
"I can't get this hole closed properly," Prim says when she notices her sister, hastily wiping away the water. Of course, Prim has never had a chance to practice her sewing before. There has never been any need. But they're orphans now, they must get used to relying solely on themselves.
Katniss's hatred for the war grows as she watches her little sister grow up far too quickly.
Peeta is next. Tortured to death before he could be rescued from the Capitol, and she knows that she has gone beyond the point of ever being whole again.
She throws herself into the role of being the Mockingjay, not really caring if she dies in the battles she takes part in. Luck seems to favour her, since she keeps only scraping death briefly. (After a while, she realises that she doesn't actually care too much if she survives or not.)
Then Death swings from greedy to plain cruel. Prim; poor, sweet and innocent Primrose. Katniss is too drained to feel anything but dull shock, and she tells herself that things will get better once the war is over. It becomes her mantra; just survive until it's over. Just survive for now. It beats in her skull and she shakes off each loss, saying that she'll only have time to mourn once this is done.
More names blur together as their battle continues. She can't be sad for them, not in the slightest. Her body has reached its maximum grief intake and she simply cannot bear any more of it.
Then the war finally ends and Katniss feels the most relief she's felt in years.
(But there's no one she can celebrate with.)
She realises that without her cause, she's just a survivor. She's burning, and oh, how painful are those flames that used to make her shine.
Finnick Odair's family died shortly after he won the Games for the first time. (He doesn't know what's sicker: the fact that his family was killed by the Capitol or that he actually participated in two of their twisted Games.)
Then Annie came along and Finnick's life was brilliant and dazzling, because he finally found someone that kissed and loved Fin, not the Finnick Odair: Victor.
Her death is his too. He wishes that he could've taken her place, because innocence like that doesn't deserve to die so violently in a crossfire. But wishing doesn't change the past; it only makes the future even more bleak and hopeless.
He's frozen and numb, like he's been swimming in the ocean for too long. His body feels too cold to be healthy, and Finnick can't seem to care.
Why should he? It's not as if anyone will be worried about Fin. People only care about his status and his body.
Oh, how alone they are. How they long for their darlings. They resent the Capitol as well as themselves, and hope becomes a foreign concept to both of them.
Katniss Everdeen, survivor, returned to the Victor's Village near the remains of District 12. Her only neighbour is Haymitch, and her visits provide one more thing that can occupy her time with.
She and a few select others are building the districts up slowly again, providing jobs and hope to others. Workers come and go and she throws herself into chores, hunting for extra meals for people and sometimes helping to get a structure off the ground. She tries not to think about how much Gale would've loved pushing up buildings from dust or how Peeta would've cherished baking goods and comforting the District survivors.
They're not here, she reminds herself firmly. And they won't be coming back. No use thinking about it. But the human heart and logic seldom work together. Memories still attack and bruise her no matter how many times she says it's pointless to remember.
Occasionally a camera crew asks her to spout words or show her face, and she complies. No make-up team is there to make her beautiful any more. She only gets light dusting of some powder from a clinical hand. There's no chatty prep team or brilliant designer, she dully registers with a slight pang.
Her life is filled with anything to keep her distracted. She springs out of bed in the mornings to get away from her nightmares and falls asleep in the evenings, grateful that the day is over. It's mechanical and simple, and no-one bothers her. Maybe it's her scowl that keeps people away, or maybe they just think that she's coping just fine.
Katniss knows that she can't die yet. She's still a symbol of hope to people trying to put their pieces together, and a broken Katniss is better than a dead one.
(She doesn't think so, but it's hardly her choice anymore, is it?)
There are now at least five hundred people going about their lives, fixing up the ruins and helping each other to stay fed. The forest is now public property, and Katniss hates it. (Although it's also a twisted kind of relief, because she can't hear that silence where Gale is supposed to be any more.)
Finnick Odair finds his way to the District 12 remains. He seems surprised to meet Katniss there, even though he knew full-well that this is where she would be living.
"Why are you here?" she asks, feeling something loosely like a touch of familiarity.
Finnick shrugs, looking confused. It's not a look Katniss is used to seeing on the typically gorgeous star. She waits for more of an explanation, but none comes.
"I've got wild squirrel and some roots for lunch," she says. "It's better than it sounds."
He smiles, but not the seductive curl of lips that used to shine on the screens on Panem. It's grim, but there's a flash of relief too. "That sounds a million times better than anything they could offer at the Capitol."
So they eat a simple meal together. Lunch turns into dinner, dinner turns into an overnight stay. He sleeps on her couch and simply doesn't pack up his things.
And Katniss wouldn't dream of asking him to, either.
He eventually moves into a guest room, where there's a huge double bed waiting to be filled. He starts buying some clothes for himself and the guest room quickly becomes Finnick's room.
He has nowhere to go; she needs a way to cope. Their arrangement is one of necessity. Neither of them complain because they both secretly love having someone to talk to again.
A year rolls by too slowly, and they gradually become sort of functional. The world whispers at their supposed romance, but they can't care anymore. They often fall asleep together, though – guilt and memories eat both of them – and try to ward off nightmares, usually by exhausting themselves through the day to put them into dreamless sleeps.
It's during this year after the Rebellion that Finnick feels something stir inside of him.
Finnick watches Katniss eat her first bowl of homemade ice-cream. He can't help but notice the way her lips form around the spoon or how her tongue darts out for a moment to catch some of the cream that's settled on the corner of her mouth. She smiles, and it's the first time Finnick sees her do so.
"Do you want some?" she asks, noticing the look of longing on his face.
"Of course," he replies, although they're probably both talking about two very different things.
Naturally, Finnick doesn't act on his desire. It's just attraction, he tells himself firmly. He'll get over it. (After all, they're both in love with dead people. It puts quite the morbid spin on their romantic lives.)
Finnick's want stops being unrequited two months later.
It starts with a dance.
Well, to be accurate, it's actually a song on the radio. A simple tune with a relaxed beat; the type of song that can play in the background for hours before anyone would notice. Finnick's mother would've called it dining music, whatever that meant.
"You know, back when the District…existed, Prim and I used to dance all the time." Katniss says, her mind filling with the images of her days of poverty, when her world was so much happier and brighter.
Finnick is surprised. Katniss Everdeen; the Mockingjay, Victor and killer, dancing?
"My mom used to teach me dances too, back when she was around. She said that every gentleman needs to know how to show a girl a good time."
Katniss smiles wryly and stands up, pushing a coffee table to the side to make space in their living room.
She stands expectantly in front of Finnick, waiting for him to make the first move. He gently touches her waist and they sway together, getting used to how each other's bodies move. "This one is one of the easiest," Finnick says with a bit of uncertainty. "All you have to is stay with me, and when I tell you to twirl; you twirl."
Katniss complies and their hands touch. Finnick lifts his arm, giving her space to slowly turn. He dips her and she feels the corners of her mouth pull up all by themselves. They repeat it several times, weaving a simple pattern of steps on their carpet.
"Okay, now we're going to try something a bit trickier. Just step out to the right and do a ball-change – wait, let me show you – and then cross behind… Yeah, that's perfect. Now we go the other way – no, step out with your left – Katniss, really. You look like there's a rod up your ass. Just loosen up a bit." He dips her unexpectedly and grins, before helping her up and giving her space to turn again.
Katniss feels kind of…happy.
No, that's too strong of a word. Not sad would be a better way to describe it.
Then their song ends and another, slower number comes up, and Finnick groans at the cliché. Nonetheless, their pace becomes lazy, with soft steps and gentle holding.
Too soon, the song slows down to its final chords. "You know, if we were dancing in Four, this would be the time for the couple to end with a kiss." Finnick says softly, his face only inches away from hers.
"Who am I to go against tradition?" Katniss asks, ignoring the part at the back of her mind screaming at her to say no. Finnick leans in slowly and touches her lips, and they both immediately realise that when it happens there's no space for hurt and loss. (That's actually a lie. Their suffering is still there, it just becomes easier to ignore.)
They try not to think about how awful this all is and how deep their betrayals run. Their hours need filling and minds need distractions, so this is just perfect.
…Who are they kidding? This is the furthest thing they could imagine from perfection. It's not happiness, it's not joy. It's just coping.
He tastes a bit like salt. She of ashes.
(And both of guilt. Oh, how that regret just pours and bleeds like a river out of their thousands of wounds.)
In the daytime they're friends, stumbling through whatever they can and trying to stay afloat in their grief. At night, they're distractions to each other, and Finnick touches Peeta's almost-wife with more intimacy than the Mellark boy himself ever did.
The drug-addicts had their morphine, Haymitch has his alcohol. Finnick and Katniss have sex.
When he looks into her eyes, he thinks Peeta's when she looks into his, she thinks Annie's.
So don't examine each other's eyes that often, or the guilt would be too much. Katniss would rather close her lids or focus on his lips or perfect cheekbones, while Finnick would look at the freckles on her collarbone and her too-long hair.
Their hearts belong to different people, so they give their bodies to each other because that's all they have left to offer.
Once, they discuss afterlife.
"I don't believe in one," Finnick says with certainty. "When we die; we're gone. That's that."
Katniss thinks about his statement, and decides that she hopes that it doesn't exist. What would the horror be if she had to look into Peeta's forgiving eyes again and listen to him say that he missed her? Or how he would just forget all her sins and accept her readily into his arms?
"I hope not." She says and touches his thigh, not wanting his words anymore. She doesn't want to think now, she wants out.
Finnick complies and soon they're distracting themselves with skin touching skin roughly, with mad kisses and greedy hands, ripping at each other and trying not to feel anything except bodies and listening to their pounding hearts and jaggedly painful breathing.
"Katniss, what do you want for dinner?"
Finnick scrunches up his face in disgust. "Really? How boring. The least you can do is give me a challenge."
"Fine, surprise me with something wonderfully delicious that looks too beautiful to even eat." She sits down at the counter, pretending that she didn't do the same with Peeta when he baked cheese buns.
"Expect nothing less," he promises. Finnick fires up the stove and makes small-talk to fill their silence. "How was your day?"
"I went strawberry-picking with Madge," she says. "She wants to learn how to hunt. I think she'd be pretty good at it."
Finnick smiles lightly and tells Katniss about his newest building project. He can't help but notice that they sound like any couple making a life together.
Once he is done making their meal, he gives her one of the plates with a flourish and sits down next to Katniss. She avoids brushing his hand when she reaches for the salt. He makes a point of leaning back when she takes their emptied plates, careful not to graze each other.
Most of their days pass like this, with casual conversation and careful avoidance.
Then Katniss might bite her lip in a certain way or Finnick would wear a specific expression, and they throw away their words and pretense of friendship.
They have an unspoken rule. When their bodies are close or their lips touch, they do not talk. Ever. No mumblings, no words are allowed to be formed. The moan or surprised gasp is ignored, but actual phrases are completely forbidden. Maybe they're too embarrassed, maybe because then it would be too personal if their throats got involved with all this.
The first time they clawed at each other, they fell asleep on opposite sides of the bed. They woke up tangled together and both of them kept their eyes closed, Katniss pretending that the hair on her cheek was gold, and Finnick tried to convince himself that the hand resting over his heart wasn't a huntress's.
Then Finnick fully awoke and slid himself out of bed and put his clothes on, while Katniss pretended to be asleep, pulling the sex-soaked sheets over her bare shoulders to try and hide what happened. (She failed.)
After that first time, they make sure to part ways before dawn breaks. That way they can pretend that they only dream their encounters. Daytime would make things real, and that's exactly what they don't want at all.
Then one night she breaks the rule by gasping Finnick's name as he hovers over her.
The damage is done, their barrier is crossed. Finnick feels a bit of hope bloom and whispers her name into her ear, before kissing her lips with more intimacy than desire.
(They both regret it afterwards and pretend it never happened. Actually, there are many stolen glances and calculating expressions, but they don't mention it even though it's playing through both of their minds.)
They say time is a healer. In reality, it does nothing except for move forward at a steady pace, never speeding up or slowing down for anyone. Memories become blurrier, and the edges of pain become dull and eroded. Humans don't forget loss and suffering, but they're designed to lose some of their pain. It's part of their nature; a simple survival technique.
Their turning point is at a tea with a drunk man.
Katniss and Finnick make a point of visiting Haymitch daily. It's not exactly a pleasant affair most of the time, but the old man is bearable when the windows are open to ventilate the stench out of the living room.
Every time they go, Finnick and Katniss sit on opposite sides of the couch, not daring to touch each other in front of another human being. Surely Haymitch would chide the pair before condemning them for their lack of fidelity. Haymitch always has slightly-stale biscuits set out for them, probably his only formality. It's on one of these visits that Haymitch takes a look at the pair and lets out a fed-up sigh.
"Honestly, it's about time that you two realise that you should stop feeling so guilty about each other and just carry on living your lives." Haymitch says as he takes a swig from a bottle. "You're barely in your twenties, Katniss. You have a lot of time left, so stop being bloody terrified that you'll be spending it with Finnick. It's the best possible thing; don't be ashamed about it. People died for our freedom, so just bloody well use it already!"
Finnick smiles and Katniss looks down, and they both realise that maybe the drunkard has a point.
Finally, the day comes when she looks into his eyes and thinks, Finnick, and when he looks into hers he thinks, Katniss.