I know what you're all thinking. "Goodness, R&B. You take a week to post, and then the chapter you post is all short-like." Well, I wanted to introduce an interesting subplot, but I wasn't sure how. Here's the result.

Chapter XVII x2-26x+169

"Why don't they just kill her?" Finnick asked, balancing his elbows on the counter and resting his face in his hands. He was sprawled in one of the uncomfortable chairs in the District Four cubicle, watching Annie catch rain in her canteen.

Beside him, Haymitch knocked back another bottle of liquor, dropping it at his feet beside the others. Ever since his tributes died in the bloodbath, Haymitch had been occupying Mags' seat, making snarky remarks at the various actions of the tributes and growing serious and silent when something stirred the rebellion in him.

"After the way she talked that little girl out of killing her," Finnick continued. "After the way she told that boy that she wouldn't kill anyone and would keep him tied up unless he promised to do the same, why don't they just kill her?"

"This is the Capitol," Haymitch slurred. "They like to play with their food."

"What do you mean?" asked Finnick, reminded of something the boy from Six had said that had sounded similar.

"It's not enough to just kill her." Opening another bottle, Haymitch sighed. His weary tone hinted at the notion that he spoke from experience. "If she dies now with no kills it could look like she was a martyr to morality. And no one likes a martyr. No." Haymitch threw down half of the bottle in one swallow. "They don't want to just kill her. They want her to kill someone."

"Kill someone?" Onscreen, Annie raised her face to the sky, eyes closed and with an expression torn between a smile and a frown. Running a hand through his hair, Finnick puffed out his cheeks and slowly exhaled. "You're probably right." Unbidden, he thought of the girl from District Two in his own Games, who was adamant against torturing the other tributes. Until a few well-placed mutts changed her mind. Forcing Annie to kill someone was exactly something that the Capitol would do.

"Of course I'm right," Haymitch grumbled. He stood and stretched his arms over his head, popping a few joints in his back. At his feet, empty bottles rolled across the District Four cubicle. "But there's nothing we can do about that. At least not tonight."

Regarding the older man, Finnick laid a cheek on his open palm, allowing it to sag into it unattractively. "Headed to bed?"

"How long have we known each other?" asked Haymitch. "Three years? No, we're going out for drinks."

"We?" The last time Finnick had spent a night away from the monitor in the Games Room, he'd been woken up at three in the morning by the tribute heart monitor on his wrist and a very frightened and very treed Annie.

"You. Me," Haymitch said slowly, complete with unnecessary hand gestures. "Good thing I'm not looking for intelligent company." Reaching down, he snagged the remaining unopened bottle on the ground and opened it expertly, offering some to Finnick only to pull it away and down it at the last second. "I'm not giving you any liquor, so you might as well come."

"Well," Finnick deadpanned. "With such a charming invitation…"

The next thing he knew, he was sitting at the bar in O'Brien's, simultaneously trying to fend off overeager women and have a conversation with a very drunk Haymitch. In the muted light of the green light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, the man's face looked pale and drawn and so very, very old. Finnick had only seen Haymitch this way once before, two years ago when the District Twelve girl tribute that year a slight blonde girl with sharp wit was killed on the third day by a hawk mutt.

"Finnick." Amid the chaotic din of the bar, he had to lean in to hear Haymitch speak, slurred and hushed. "I'm alone."

Finnick flinched. The words were heavy with sorrow, burdened by years of watching children die and throwing back liquid fire.

Jostling his mug, spilling amber liquid on the sticky countertop of the bar, Haymitch caught Finnick's gaze in his own. His eyes shined in the relative darkness, pupils wide with drink but surrounded by a thin band of stormy grey. "Why are you doing this? Meeting in crowded bars and warehouses and half-finished buildings. Scheming."

Finnick blinked, caught off guard by the impromptu nature of the question. No one had asked him that since he joined their little victor-rebel circle three years ago, freshly sixteen and spending hours each night sobbing under a showerhead.

When Mags had first dragged him along to one of their little clandestine meetings, he had sworn his loyalty with violent fantasies of Snow's death rolling through his thoughts like a particularly gruesome clip of the Games. His jaw had been tight and unyielding, promising revenge in each word.

It wasn't until later that he thought of how his father's back ached every night he returned home from hauling in fish all day, burns on his hands from the tough rope used in the nets. Of how his mother's skin grew sallow from hours working in the cannery, her staggering beauty lost in sad wrinkles and streaks of grey in her golden hair.

It would be selfish almost a waste of time to tear down the Capitol for the sake of revenge. But doing it for his parents to see them happy and no longer staring at their shoes when Peacekeepers marched past, no longer digging deeper ruts in the skin of their foreheads when they heard of Finnick's "escapades would always be worth it.

And even later than that when an eighteen year old boy from District Two came out of the Games blind and skittish that Finnick thought of the tributes and how just as Casca Murellus had alluded to last night they weren't the true killers but always the victims, no matter the monsters they turned into in the arena.

He was doing it for revenge. He was doing it for his family. He was doing it for all the past and present tributes dead and alive.

Finnick shrugged. "Don't know."

A smirk spread across Haymitch's mouth, more bitter than amused. "Of course you don't," he chuckled. "The same way you're Panem's playboy." Drawing his hand away from his drink for the first time that night, he rubbed at the stubble collecting on his face, and Finnick knew that was the closest thing to a moment that he and Haymitch would ever have.

In the ensuing lull in conversation, Finnick ran a hand through his hair, bringing his hand away and cringing at the auburn strands stuck between his fingers and glinting in the dim light. A brief spike of panic rose in his gut. Was he losing his hair? If word spread through the Capitol that Finnick Odair was losing his hair, would Snow still force clients on him? Would clients still want him? Would his father or his mother die because he was losing his hair?

Finnick took a deep breath. He was being ridiculous. The only reason he was losing any hair was stress. Stress.

Beside him, Haymitch laughed, his eyes on Finnick's hand. "You're nineteen," he said, as if reading Finnick's thoughts. "If you're losing your hair now, then there's no hope for the rest of us."

"How old are you, Haymitch?" Mags and Beetee were old, but at least in Finnick's mind Haymitch was timeless. Wrinkles pinched at his eyes and ruffled his forehead, but his hair was still just a few shades lighter color of the coal his district mined.

"Thirty-seven," Haymitch grumbled, a bit reluctant to answer. "You're just lucky I'm not a woman, Odair."

Finnick tilted his chin downward and peered up at Haymitch through his eyelashes, smoldering. "Why of course, Mr. Abernathy," he cooed, as sultry as he could manage without laughing. "A woman never reveals her age. Especially," here he punctuated his statement with an upward pitch in his voice, adopting the Capitol accent he had heard too much of over the past few years. "Here in the glorious Capitol."

In response, Haymitch downed the rest of his drink in a single, long gulp. "Never," he commanded, expression dead serious but for the gleam in his eye. "Do that again. It's no wonder everyone here seems to think you play both fields."

Well I do, if not by choice. But Finnick refrained from saying that aloud. Instead, he hailed over the bartender and ordered the most ridiculous sounding beverage he could think of.

"You know," Haymitch murmured, the pensiveness from earlier still lingering. "You're lucky in some ways, Finnick. Ways that matter."

Swallowing, Finnick bit his tongue. If he could help it, he tried not to think about the broad picture of his life. The only way to survive was to remain thinking about other people, other people's problems. In his own Games, he'd only thought of himself. In his own Games, he hadn't really survived. And before that, he had no siblings, only his mother who was always at the cannery and never at home and his father. For a long time, he had been all about him. But over the years, something had changed.

And sometimes, Finnick had to wonder whether the change really was for the better.

"How am I lucky?" he asked.

But the older man's attention had been drawn elsewhere, just over Finnick's shoulder. "Maybe not too lucky," he mumbled.

Finnick swiveled around in his bar stool, almost colliding with a boy who stood behind him, dressed all in white and clutching an envelope in his hand. His hair and eyes were both dark, black in the lighting of the bar. For the past three years, the little boy who delivered Snow's client lists had been shorter, with shaggy blonde locks, striking blue eyes, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. Nothing like the dark, muscular boy standing before Finnick now.

"What happened to the other boy?" Finnick asked, recalling the look of panic in the blonde boy's eyes a few nights before when he had stopped at the Games Room to deliver one of Snow's letters.

The dark boy shook his head and shoved the cream-colored envelop into Finnick's hands, scurrying off in a shroud of uncanny silence. He moved differently than any other Avox that Finnick had ever seen, each step precise and regimented, like a Peacemaker or a foot soldier.

But there were no real militaries in Panem. Were there?

It was then that Finnick realized that the envelope did not smell like roses. Turning back around to Haymitch, the two men shared a look, and Finnick moved to open the letter, each sleight of hand slow and steady, as if he were unveiling a great secret.

Judging by the smattering of unintelligible print on the paper inside, he was abruptly certain that that was exactly what he was doing.

x2-14x+49=0, x2-178x+7921=0

x2-214x+11449=0, x2-46x+529=0, x2-178x+7921=0

x2-14x+49=0, x2-214x+11449=0, x2-34x+289=0, x2-202x+10201=0, x2-146x+5229=0, x2-142x+5041=0, x2-82x+1681=0, x2-158x+6241=0

~ x2-26x+169=0

"We need to show this to Beetee," Haymitch whispered.

Finnick had a feeling that he would be losing more hair.

The 2s that are after the xs in the above problem are actually x raised to the second power. Unfortunately, this site sucks with that symbol stuff. "Writers must not be able to do math!" Way to perpetuate a stereotype, FFnet!

Alright, readers. I have a little proposition. Anyone who can name who (or what or where) sent this little secret message gets the next chapter dedicated to them. Anyone who manages to decode the code used in the message, I will write a one-shot for. Their choice on topic/characters/whole-shebang.

So get your thinking caps on. I will even give you a clue for the coded message:

Notice that once the math part of this code is simplified the resulting numbers are all odd. The solution to the code has to do with something that odd numbers can be but even numbers almost never can be.

I'll be interested to see what people think.