Would you like to dance?
Finnick twirled Annie around the dance floor. The dark haired girl laughed and her messy curls bounced around her head as he swept her into an embrace.
Johanna Mason sighed. She leaned against a table that had been pushed along the wall to make room for dancing. She looked around the cafeteria.
Katniss was swinging a little dark-haired girl back and forth with the help of her gorgeous friend Gale. Johanna smirked. Gorgeous but smitten with Katniss.
Tough break, Hawthorne, she thought. She knew what being in the Games meant. You can't relate if you haven't been. Her shoulders slumped. No one else gets it. She looked around the room of wedding guests again.
She envied Peeta Mellark, locked up in the psych ward for the night. He didn't have to come out to a party and pretend everything is great. He's not pretending they all might not die in the next week or two. She was tired of pretending she was all right.
Annie laughed. Johanna glanced over at the Victors celebrating their wedding. Finnick had never looked so happy.
The only thing Johanna ever regretted was the night she met Finnick. She had been insulted and angry when he refused her entrance to his room. She cringed whenever she remembered the names she'd called him. But then he'd confessed he was in love.
Love. It was the first time she'd heard a Victor say the word. It was the first time she knew it was possible after what they'd seen. It was the first time she'd ever wondered if she could have that too.
She was glad he'd said no. She apologized and he said it was okay with a smile. He asked her not to say anything. She promised. She kept her promise.
And now he had married his love and she was happy for him.
And incredibly lonely.
Her eyes scanned the wall for potential comfort. She only took partners when she was mentoring or on the rare Victory Tour. She never took anyone from home.
She caught the eye of the man leaning against the wall across from her. He looked away as she let her eyes linger. She glanced over at the woman to her right. She offered her a suggestive eyebrow, but the woman smiled politely and then waved at someone on the other side of the room. Johanna sighed heavily.
She pushed herself off the table and grabbed her empty cup. She stomped over to the stockpot punch bowl and refilled her cup. She searched the room for another source of comfort. She found him.
"Abernathy. Hit me up," she said, extending the cup at him.
"What are you talking about?" he feigned, turning away from the group of older Mentors he'd been conversing with. "I have no idea what you mean," Haymitch reiterated, pulling the flask surreptitiously from his pocket and pouring a shot into her cup.
"More," she demanded.
He sighed and added more. The fellow Mentors grinned and held out their cups.
"Thanks," she nodded, patting his arm and wandering back to her wallflower post. She leaned back on the table and took a deep draw from the cup. The liquor made her shudder.
"Are you cold?"
She coughed and sputtered and turned to the voice. "No."
"Oh. I saw you shivering," the bespectacled man said, shuffling his feet nervously.
"It's the booze." She tipped the cup.
"Oh," Beetee said, furrowing his brow. "I didn't know there was any."
"Only if you know the right people." She turned dismissively back to people watching.
She realized he hadn't left. She eyed him. "Yes?"
He pushed his glasses further up his nose. "Oh. Um. I think...I meant to say thank you. Yes. Thank you."
Her brow furrowed. "For what?"
"Um. For. The Beach. In the Arena. You came back for me. You saved us at the Cornucopia. I saw you fight off Calibratia when she was going for Wiress. And. I thank you."
She blinked at him. "You're welcome." He smiled. "I mean, it was for the Mockingjay. I mean, Katniss. She wanted you guys," Johanna stammered. "So. I got you. For her."
"Oh." Beetee blinked and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Still, I suppose. Thank you."
"Okay." Johanna stared at him. "Sorry about Volts. Wiress."
It seemed like years since she'd thought about that mad little songbird.
Beetee fiddled with his shabby tweed coat. Where had he found a coat to wear to a wedding? She wondered how much older he really was. He was graying at the temples around his bent wire gold-frame glasses, but the Games made most of the Tributes gray early. That's why she kept painting green streaks and pinning leaves in her brown hair; to hide the emerging gray.
"Would you like to dance?" he blurted out.
He glanced nervously to the crowded floor. "Would you like to dance?"
"Um. Yes. With me. Yes."
"I don't dance."
She watched him. Something make her smirk. "I'll dance with you."
"Oh!" he said in surprise. "Okay."
He smiled. She smiled back.
He was a terrible dancer. She laughed as she tripped along with him. The punch was making her warm.
He was shocked when she pulled him out of the dance hall after a few songs and asked where his room was.
"Um, just down this hall. I'm by the engineering computer bank so I can-"
She cut him off with a messy kiss. He was very nervous. She wondered how long it had been since he'd been with a woman. It hadn't been so long for her this time. Not so close to the Games when she met plenty of strangers.
He was grateful and excited as she followed him to his room. He complimented her and said he admired her. She liked that. The first time she and Gloss had been together in the locker room in the Training Center he'd forgotten her name and called her Jasmine the whole time. When she'd gotten drunk with Abernathy that night and snuck down to the the second floor to proposition Cashmere she'd been thrown out by the blond's mentor. Fortunately, on the long trek up to the seventh floor she'd come across the distraught Cecelia and comforted her on the concrete stairs.
She knew it was a need, some small part of her that wasn't ashamed to admit she was desperately lonely. She was starving for anyone who understood. The partners always were too. She accepted that it wasn't her they wanted.
In his room, Beetee struggled with her bra. "I thought you were an engineer," she laughed, yanking it off and throwing it over her shoulder.
"It's not quite the same," he flushed as she ripped his shirt open. She shoved him back on the bed with an "oof!". He watched her unfasten his belt and yank his pants and boots off in one flourish.
"Um...you do this a lot?" he asked timidly.
"Not as often as I want," she teased, sliding her bare body up his to hover over him. "You?"
"Not very often at all," he blushed.
"Then hopefully I'll survive the assault and we can celebrate again," she whispered.
She breathed onto his wire frame glasses and they fogged up. He moved to wipe them and she mounted him. He gasped in sudden surprise.
"Tell me when you're going to go," she moaned, riding him quickly and roughly.
"Ok-kay. Kay. Okay," he gasped.
She grinned. She liked the roughness of taking him by surprise. It made her feel something. Anything. Like she was in control of something for even a short while.
He didn't last long. She covered her disappointment and rolled of so he could finish.
"Thank you," he breathed. "Thank you. It's been...it's been years," he confessed.
"It's been days," she sighed. "Thank you." She got up and looked for her bra.
"Oh. Are you seeing someone?" he asked worriedly. "I didn't mean to-. Oh dear."
"Me?" she laughed wryly. "Yeah, right. Everyone's clambering to get with Mason," she smirked, pulling her underwear and pants on.
"Um. Well," he stuttered, pulling his own pants up. "I...um."
She hauled her shirt over her head and looked at him. His face was red.
"I'd like to see you...again. I'd like to see you again. If that's okay."
She stared. "Me?"
"Um. Yes. You. Yes."
"Oh," she frowned in confusion. "Yeah. I guess. If I survive."
"Oh. Right." He looked crestfallen. "I hope you do."
"Okay," she stared in suspicion. "Um. See you around then."
When she got back to her room, Katniss wasn't back. She was glad. He'd gripped her hips hard and she had fingerprints on her skin she didn't want to explain to a teenager. She wiped herself down in the bathroom, rubbing her head with the faucet water to clean the hair that hadn't quite grown back in evenly. She splashed herself with water over the toilet to wipe away evidence of him on her.
She climbed into bed and shook her head. See me again? she laughed to herself. Now that's lonely.
She rolled onto her side.
At least I'm probably not coming back.
The Games Are Still Going On
She watched the monitors he'd hacked into so she could see her team enter the city. She was wrapped in a blanket. She was too embarrassed to wear her soldier's uniform.
"Would you like some coffee?" he whispered. She looked over. He knew why she wasn't permitted to go. She sighed.
"Katniss tell you what happened?" she snapped.
"No," he finally answered. He waited. "Finnick."
"That bastard. It's nobody's business." She looked at his dumbstruck face. "And no coffee."
He stood silent for a moment before lowering himself carefully to the bench beside her. They watched the team runs drills in base camp. She was about to ask him why he hadn't left her side when he spoke up.
"What did they do to you? When you were held captive?" he murmured.
She didn't answer.
"It's not shameful," he whispered. "You don't have to be ashamed."
"They electrocuted me and now I'm scared of water," she gritted. "It is shameful."
He was quiet for a long time. "You protected your friends. You kept Peeta Mellark alive for Katniss' sake. I think that's something to be very proud of."
She watched Katniss sitting in front of her tent on the grainy screen. Her eyes were on Peeta, sitting in the circle of soldiers, tying knots on a small piece of string.
She stood up and stomped away to her room.
The knock came a few hours later. It took her a moment before she remembered there was only one person left who knew her and that she was left behind.
She imagined his shift was over. He was allowed a break to rest before he had to keep watch on the equipment overnight.
He'd chosen to come check on her.
She yanked him into her room roughly. He'd mistakenly sat on Katniss' bed first, but she said no and moved him to hers. She had to keep Katniss' bed pristine for when her friend came back. One friend had to come back to her.
He didn't let her rush this time. He frustrated her as he slowed her hands and movements. She yelled at him but he didn't give in. He was gentle and thorough this time. He left her shaking and clinging to him while he wiped sweat from her hairline.
"Let's take a shower together."
He bit his lip. "Please?"
She clawed at his back and arms in fear. He winced and eventually wrapped her hands in washcloths to keep her from cutting him or herself with her torn fingernails. He scrubbed her hair while her teeth chattered under the hot water. He ran his fingers woefully over the scars she refused to explain.
The green dye washed out in the tub.
"It just turned gray after the Games," she said as he looked at her hair. "I'm not old."
"I am," he smiled.
She blinked. She looked at his body. It wasn't like hers exactly, but nothing she'd turn away. "You're not."
"I'm almost forty," he told her. "Can you believe it? I've been out of the Games for twenty three years." He shook his head and rinsed his own hair. "At the time, I didn't know how I was going to withstand surviving it. I wondered that for a long time."
She watched the green soap swirl in the drain. "I've been out of the Games for eleven years," she realized. She looked in his eyes. "It still feels like it's today. Like it's still happening."
He nodded. "I know."
And she knew he did.
He held her while he napped. She lay awake and watched him sleep. She'd never slept next to someone outside of the Arena. She always left when she had what she needed.
He kissed her goodbye when his communicator buzzed that he had to return.
She waited an hour before she dressed and followed him to the monitoring room.
Let It Go
She kept walking. He caught up with her. She knew he was angry. But he'd never really gotten angry with her. It was always more hurt. Disappointed.
"Why would you want another Games?" he murmured.
"Because it would be fair."
"For me! All right? For me!" she screamed at him. "For my dead friends and my broken family and my ruined life. For me!"
She ran to her room and slammed the door.
Katniss came by about twenty minutes later.
"They want us in place for the execution."
Johanna looked at her surviving friend. It wasn't the burns that made her unrecognizable.
"She'll be watching," she heard herself tell Katniss. "You'll make her proud when you end this."
Katniss nodded mutely and then walked out of the door in the fog that had followed her back from the Capital.
Johanna pulled on her shoes and opened the door. He was waiting.
"What?" she snapped.
"I'm not going to go."
He met her eyes. "I don't want you to go either."
She gripped the door.
"Hasn't it been enough? Aren't you tired of it?"
It took her a long time to admit it. "Yes," she whispered.
"Then let it go, Johanna. Let it go."
"He killed my friend Finnick. He killed my friend Blight," she whispered. "He killed my friend's sister Prim. He killed the person my friend Peeta was. He killed who my friend Annie should be. He should die."
"And he will," Beetee murmured, stepping forward to take her hand. "But you don't have to carry that with you. You can let it go. You can let it go and go on."
He kissed her forehead and pulled her close. "I'm so tired of being in the Games, Johanna. I want to let them go. I want you to let it go with me."
She let him hold her. She heard the final announcement calling for witnesses for the execution come over the loudspeaker. She looked up at Beetee.
"Do you want to go for a walk in the woods?"
A Train to Three
He had to go back to Three, she knew that. There was so much work to do. But with Annie expecting a baby, she had to go to Four to help Finnick's child. He understood what she owed Finnick.
They said goodbye at the train station. She was surprised how much it hurt. He asked her to call him so he knew she arrived safely.
She did. He told her to call the next day too.
She'd called him every day for two years.
Now Finn was walking and Annie was smiling again. She urged Johanna to get on the train.
"You gave me my life back," she whispered to Johanna. "Now it's your turn."
Johanna climbed the train, gripping the handle. She felt foolish. They'd never said what she thought they might be. Together.
But he always asked when she was coming home. Maybe they were together. Maybe this was hers, finally.
He was waiting with a grin at the train station. He was holding a cardboard sign that read "Treehugger". She laughed and threw her bag at him.
She hated Three. It was all metal and wires and motherboards. She got lost in the mazes of grey streets and harsh lamplights. But he was there. So she stayed.
After six months he said he'd had enough of her complaining, dammit, they were moving to Seven. She said fine, took him long enough to offer.
He hated Seven. It was all trees and poor reception and his glasses fogged up in the summer's humidity. She snickered as he would wake up cursing and wiping his glasses.
They fought. A lot. He told her she was unyielding and she barked that he was unfeeling. She thought about packing his bags. But when her fingers touched the handle she knew she couldn't. One person had come back to her. Again and again. It was all she'd ever needed.
So they picked Six. It was in between their two homelands so she could travel to trees when she needed and he could easily get to Three if he needed more parts or the full research. Twelve was accessible by the fastest train so she could check in on her surviving friends Katniss and Peeta. She'd heard from Annie that Katniss, her Katniss, was actually pregnant by Peeta, her Peeta, and she had to see it with her own eyes to believe it. And Four was only an hour away by train, and Annie had told her she wanted Finnick's son to know her.
When he asked if she'd like to get married she first burst out laughing. Her? Married? He nodded. Yes. Her. Married.
She stared. It could be hers.
She said yes. He smiled. She breathed on his glasses and fogged them up.