Fandom: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Title: Echo and Narcissus
Characters/pairings: Johanna/Finnick, Finnick/Annie
Genre: Tragedy & Romance
Prompt: Johanna/Finnick and Finnick/Annie; something tragic and beautiful, but different than other ones. Up to you, really, of course. Just as long as it's got some Finn/Jo and it's sad.
Summary: "This time it's me who searches the sky for the stars. Because I want to make a wish. But there are no such things as stars in the Capitol, and there's no such thing as wishes coming true in Panem." She can't tell him; he's too distracted to even notice.
Disclaimer: Anything familiar? Probably not mine.
Notes: For SamiCatalfumo.
I have a client later that night, a well-known senator who likes it rough. And all I can think about it what happened in Snow's mansion with you and how angry and hurt I feel. I haven't felt this way since that boy from District Five had me pinned under him in the arena, his pants pooling at his ankles. But I managed to kill him before anything happened. With you...
You're all that's on my mind that night, and maybe I'm a little too rough.
Covering up the sudden vacancy in the Senate is enough to kill the rest of my family, and now there's no one else.
I want to blame you.
But I can't.
Ugh… I don't even know what I'm supposed to say. Why do people even talk to the dead anyway?
Once upon a time, there was a young and beautiful nymph called Echo, the favorite of the goddess Diana. She was good and sometimes kind, but she had a wicked spirit and a silver tongue. With her words, she could make any man believe what she wanted them to. She always had to have the last word. Sometimes, of course, she talked too much, and that would one day be her downfall.
"Ma," I say one day, sitting on the counter and swinging my legs. I'm nine years old, ready to spend this Saturday climbing up trees and cutting off the limbs at the very top.
That's the job I've been assigned since I was eight, and I'm finally getting good at shuffling up the tree trunks and between the branches with a heavy ax in my hand. I've never tried throwing them until they stick at the top of the trunk. That'll come later, when I'm ten and trying to get the Head Peacekeeper's attention.
My mother's concentrating hard on braiding my hair into pigtails, so it takes her a while to answer. "Yes, honey?" she asks, even though by now I'm sure she knows exactly what I'm going to ask. It's become a sick ritual, and neither of us are willing budge on this issue.
"Who's my daddy?" She explained to me once that Anthony, Louise, and I are only half related to each other, that she had us all but we each had different fathers.
It wasn't exactly the response my six year old self was looking for when I asked her why Louise is blonde and Anthony has blue eyes but I only have boring brown hair and eyes to match.
This daily ritual didn't start until this year, when I was struck with how familiar the Head Peacekeeper looks – even though I'd never met him before I began working in the woods – and how little Lucy has the same brown hair and eyes as me, even the same unflattering cleft chin.
The chin is actually something all three of us – me, Lucy, and the Head Peacekeeper – have in common.
"That's my secret." My mother grabs my shoulders and pinches them hard enough for me to try wriggling away. But she just squeezes harder and won't let go. When I go to bed tonight – my mother off "working" in someone's bedroom – I'll find handprints on my collar bones. "I don't want you asking that again, Johanna. You hear me?"
I bite my lip. She's never done this before, and I don't know how to respond. "Let go."
Voice hard, she digs her nails in my skin and says, "You hear me, Johanna?"
Um… Hey, Finn. How's it going? Uh, well, I guess that's a stupid question, considering you're… dead. They tell me you got ripped to shreds in the Capitol, that there wasn't really anything left to— God, this is stupid. You're not even buried here. It's just some stupid monument by the seashore in District Four. Why did I even listen to that flake head-doctor anyway? What good is talking to a monument going to do?
Now, one day the goddess Juno came down to confront the nymphs that lived in the woods by the riverbed. She had reason to believe that her husband was amusing himself among the nymphs, and she wished to find him there and punish the nymphs accordingly.
Fearing the wrath of Juno, the nymphs hurried to escape and hide. Echo captured Juno with her words and kept the goddess occupied as the others fled. When Juno discovered that she had been fooled by the loquacious nymph, she cast punishment on Echo, cursing her to only repeat the words of others, unable to start a conversation without another speaking first.
"Tell me about your family," I demand one night when we lie on the roof of the Training Center side by side. You didn't have any clients tonight, but I had some woman who insisted we use fuzzy pink cuffs instead of bruising hands around her wrists. As far as I know, you don't have much preference between men and women, but I absolutely hate the women, and I'm trying desperately to get her off my mind. "You've got to have some sort of family, right? Or else you wouldn't be doing… all this."
"There's my dad," you say. Your easy smile falls into a frown, and your eyes are distant. "He doesn't understand why I'm… doing this, and I don't want to tell him because…" You trail off, but I think I understand. He'd still tell you to stop doing this, and you know that if you did, he'd be dead.
"Yeah…" Anthony, Louise, and my mother still live without me in the poverty of our childhood home, rather than with me in the comfort of Victor's Village, so I've never even had the chance to try to explain myself to them. I don't know if I'd be willing to if I did.
Then, your face lights up. "And there's also Mags." You shoot me a look through the corner of your eyes, and I nod.
Of course I know who Mags is.
"She gets it, of course. And she's the sweetest old lady in all of Panem. She's the one who mentored me, you know, for my Games."
I try to think of Blight as family. It doesn't work.
"And there's also Annie," you say quietly after a while. Even though you pause, I can tell that she's not an afterthought.
I prop myself up on my elbows and swipe hair out of my face. There's something about the way you say her name that makes me pause and clench my jaw. "You mean the nutcase?" I ask, more biting than I mean to.
You frown, and it's the first time I've ever seen it directed at me. Opening my mouth, I try to take back what I said, but you cut me off.
"She's more than just a nutcase."
"Yeah, okay," I say, settling back down beside you. This time it's me who searches the sky for the stars. Because I want to make a wish.
But there are no such things as stars in the Capitol, and there's no such thing as wishes coming true in Panem.
Hell, can you even believe that they made a memorial for you? When I die, they're probably just going to throw me in some hole in Seven. You know, I only put my life on the line for the leader of the rebellion, saved said Mockingjay's ungrateful ass, and then was tortured by Snow's lackeys. Memorial? Please. That isn't even grounds for a headstone.
Okay, let's try this again. Heartfelt, sob-worthy stuff.
They won't let me go anywhere alone until I've proved that I'm not going to have a panic attack whenever it rains or jump off a cliff if someone mentions your name.
It's kind of pathetic, really. Your pregnant wife's handling your death better than I am.
The first thing I notice is that she's prettier than me, in that tragic, heartbreaking kind of way.
It makes me want to reach out and rip out her hair – which I can't help but notice you staring at – because she's hurting me and that's not how it works. I'm the one who hurts people. People don't hurt me, especially not this half-gone girl with sweet eyes and perfect teeth who couldn't handle a fraction of the things that I've done.
I don't think you even notice what you're doing. To me. To her. And that's disgusting.
And that's not how it's supposed to work between us. You're not supposed to hurt me, even if I realized a long time ago that you do that every time I see you, hear you, taste you and know that this isn't how I'm supposed to feel.
I decide to bruise you next time I've got you under me, to bite your lips and tear your skin until you cry for me.
Okay, heartfelt stuff. Just talk as if you're really here.
Well, how about this: I visited Seven for a while. But I couldn't stay for long. There are too many ghosts hanging around there. Every time I turn a corner, there's something there that reminds me of the days Anthony and I would race through the square or Louise would bring us all into town trying to sell clothes for food.
I know a lot of people think that I hated my family. I mean, what kind of victor lives in Victors' Village while her family lives in a rundown shack on the edge of the district? Heck, I sometimes got the feeling that you didn't think I liked them much either. That I was taking clients out of some sick sense of obligation instead of actually caring about them. It probably didn't help that I avoided talking about them, even when you asked.
"Tell me about your family," you demand one night when we lie on the roof of the Training Center side by side. The moon's already half set, but we've only just finished our jobs for the night. Your eyes are closed, and your mouth is in a tight line beneath your nose. I can't tell whether or not you know that I'm counting each individual eyelash that sweeps against the hollow between your eyes and cheekbones. That I'm watching your stomach rise and fall with each calm breath.
My family. I roll onto an elbow and move my gaze back up to your face, suddenly overwhelmed with the thought of punching you in that ski hill nose or gouging out those pretty green eyes or—
I exhale slowly, as if I can dispel the building warmth in my gut and ache in my chest out of me with the air in my lungs. My hands still twitch with the urge to rip something apart, so I bury them in my hair, pulling at the roots. The pain helps, a little.
When I look up, your eyes are open and you've caught me in your gaze, eyebrows mashed together. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," I snap, yanking harder at the hair locked in my fists. Part of me wants to jump you and make you yowl with pain and pleasure, and another part wants to draw up against you and rest my head against your chest, listening to your heartbeat. The two seem to blur together into one me, and I roll over so you're staring at my back.
I roll over so I don't cross the line between whatever sick, twisted thing we have and… something else.
"You know." From the way your voice floats away from me, I can tell you've turned back to the sky, searching the inky black for a star. We've both been here enough times to know that real stars don't exist in the Capitol, but you look anyway. "When I first went home, after… After I won, I thought for a long time that I might end up… killing someone… else."
I turn to face you again. You won when I was ten; I've never really thought of you as a killer.
"Have you ever…" I can't put it into words, the combination of elation and self-loathing that builds in my ribcage. "Did you think about it all the time?" It's been almost a year since I've won, and it's still all I can think about.
You prop yourself up on your forearm. "Think about what?"
I'm silent for a long time. There's flesh stuck under my fingernails and blood caked in my hair, but no one can see it there but me. And Anthony. And maybe those squirrels before I cracked them open and reveled in their anguished cries. "Forget it," I finally say.
Your eyes flash in the dark, and you forcibly pull us both up so that we're sitting cross-legged and facing one another. "No," you murmur, your voice lower than I've ever heard it. "Tell me."
And of course you push this, because you never get this persistent when it's not important.
"Come on, Jo," You actually pout, eyes wide and eyebrows pressed into your forehead and lower lip quivering. I want it to be pathetic – or at least unattractive – but it's not, of course.
"Killing." The word leaves me without my permission, and I grit my teeth and clench my fists harder. "Do you think about killing all the time?"
Turning away, you stare at the sky again, scowling as if you're concentrating on the black nothingness with all your might. You go without speaking long enough for my breathing to speed up and my shoulders feel like the world is weighing down on them.
I want to scream. Or leave the lines of my fingernails across your pretty face. And those thoughts just make me hate myself even more because I can't help but think them and love the feeling that comes from acting on them, even though I know it's sick and disgusting to feel this way and that your silence just proves that.
It isn't until I stand to leave that your voice leaks into the humid summer air.
"I've heard that some people get that way. Careers mostly."
"Great," I say. "Next thing you know, I'll be filing down my teeth and ripping people's throats open with them." The thought appeals to me more than I want to admit, even while it makes me nauseous.
You make a choking noise that might be a chuckle. "As long as it's not me."
"I make no promises." Sighing heavily, I sit back down beside you, and – after a moment of hesitation – lean against you and rest my head on your shoulder. We don't do tender things like this. It's one of those unspoken lines that we do not cross, but right now, it's the only thing stopping me from screaming or crying or laughing or running away or a million other stupid things.
"I've heard," you say, your tone serious and deep again. From my place leaning against your chest, I can feel your chest rumbling. "That some victors get like that. Maybe they killed too many people or they never forgot that killing isn't the same thing as winning anymore. That being vicious won't get them any sponsors in the real world."
"Yeah." I snort. But it doesn't feel like I'm actually saying anything. My voice is hollow and the words are maybe the softest I've spoken since I stopped being the weakling of the Seventy-first Hunger Games and started being Johanna Mason, the victor of the Seventy-first Hunger Games. "Then it just gets you clients."
"No," you correct. "It gets you clients. My stunning good looks are what get me clients. Personality has nothing to do with it."
Maybe that's true. I've seen the way you act in public – charming and seductive and some other quality that I can only describe as sex. But I've also seen the way you act when you're pinned to a bedpost, and if you're anything like that to your clients, personality might have something to do with it.
But I did love my family. I loved them a lot. But I still chose me over them. Chose you over them.
One day, Echo saw Narcissus, the vain son of a blue nymph and a river god, so beautiful that fair maidens and strapping lads alike fell at his feet. Echo fell in love instantly and followed Narcissus as he scaled the mountains. When he heard her footsteps behind him, he called out, "Who's here?"
In response, Echo said, "Here," and rushed forward to embrace him. He let her, but she would end up just like the rest.
"So." The first time I hear your voice in person, it's a soft purr, breathing something sweet smelling into my ear. "How do you like District Four?"
I take a generous step away from you and try to meet your eyes, even though I'm distracted by the way your stomach rises and falls with each breath. It's true, what they say about the men in District Four. That they think shirts are optional. "Lot's of water," I say, mostly because – especially after my Games – I can't seem to think about anything else.
"I wouldn't drink any, though," you whisper, somehow having closed the distance between us without my notice. "It's salty." Hesitation crosses your face – the only time I've ever seen your little act fall short. "And," you recover, smoldering and dropping your voice to a husky rumble. "There are much better things to taste."
There's something about how ridiculously seductive you're being – about the way your eyes flash and you subtly falter – that makes me think of my sixteenth birthday.
It makes me think of the way I lost my whole family with the death of only one. Of the way my sister's blood – at the end of the day, the end of her life – was the same as anyone else's. The whole situation was so underhanded and well thought-out; it was my first real taste of Snow and enough to give my mouth frostbite.
And there you are, standing close enough that I'm inhaling your breath – which tastes like sugar and feels hot and wet when it coats my mouth and lungs. I don't really think before acting, not any more than tiny flashes, like how much I love sweets and how thirsty I was in the arena and how the heat coming from you might heal the frostbite inside of me.
You taste like cake and sand, and when your tongue tries to brush up against mine, I catch it between my teeth and taste your blood too. It isn't like the girl from District Four's or Jove's, or even Lucy's. It's what I taste whenever I bite my lip too hard.
We're the same flavor, and I wonder what that means.
I'll talk about them now, if you want. It only seems fair, you know, since you're dead and all…
I guess I'll start with my mother. I didn't see her that often, and I didn't know her well, so there isn't really that much I can say. She was like us, though. I'm pretty sure the only kid she had out of love was Louise. The rest of us were unfortunate accidents, just extra mouths to feed, and – when we started working in the woods – different sources of income.
Over the years, I accumulate as much information on the Head Peacekeeper as I can. His name is Junius. He was assigned to District Seven about three years before I was born, leaving his wife and newborn son back home in District Two. He apparently misses them a lot, because my mother often frequents his bed.
I had two sisters, one a lot older and one a lot younger. There was Louise, who was more like my mother than my mother was. She was the one who took out the tesserae every year she was eligible, the one who sold our clothes for food, the one who cooked for us. She was the one who first reached out and fixed what was broken between me and the rest of my family.
I wake up to the foreign sound of someone knocking at my door.
Immediately, I clamber for the knife on my nightstand and fly down the staircase that leads to the entryway, jumping two steps at a time. Crouching low, I approach the front door and pause, my right hand hovering over the brass doorknob and my knife clutched in my left. There's shuffling just on the other side of the door, the soft sound of cloth rustling and boots kicking up snow.
"Hanna?" a voice calls out. I know that voice – even marred with hesitation that I don't think I've ever heard before – and there are only two people alive who call me Hanna. "It's me. Louise."
The doorknob turns in my hand, the door swings open, and – for the first time in a year – Louise and I stand facing one another, taking each other in.
She's dressed to fight off the bitter cold of District Seven winter, hands buried in too big woodcutter's gloves that reach past her wrists to compensate for the too-small jacket that pinches at her frame. Without a hood to shield her head from the cold and snow, her blonde hair is peppered with snowflakes and her cheeks are bright red.
I try to ignore the flash of fear in her dark eyes when she catches sight of the knife balanced in my hand.
"What are you doing here?" I ask once I get over the initial shock of my older sister – who slapped me across the face, spat at my feet, and called me a monster the last time I saw her – standing on my doorstep at the first light of dawn. I can't really think of any reason why she'd want to see my lying, whoring, murdering self, and my mind immediately jumps to the worst. "Did something happen? Is Anthony okay? And Ma?"
Panic blossoms in my chest as I scramble to think of anything I did wrong, anything that could prompt Snow to kill one of them off. Maybe I was too rough and someone complained. Maybe I shouldn't have told that Gamemaker that I'd seen peanuts bigger than his—
"They're fine," Louise says. "Can I…?" Her face screws up with hesitation, twisting her lip and squinting. "Can I come in?"
Opening the door wider, I step back, taking this opportunity to tuck the knife into the waistband of my pants. "Oh. Yeah. Sure. You, uh, want something to eat or drink?"
I've never really been able to talk to Louise when it's just the two of us. She's twenty-two, and I'm only seventeen, even though I feel so much older; we're too far in age to be rivals, but too far for me to be her "baby sister." That was Lucy, but now she's gone and Louise thinks it's my fault. I think it's my fault.
"No thanks," Louise murmurs, perched on the edge of the couch in the sitting room I never use. The woodcutter's gloves sit between us on the coffee table, but she keeps her too-small coat on.
"Well, if you don't want me to feed you, then why are you here?"
Squirming in her seat, she sighs and shakes her head like a mother scolding her child for doing something inappropriate but cute. "I forgot how… you can be." A little smile pulls at her mouth, but I can't bring mine out of the straight little line frozen under my nose.
"Yeah," I say. I settle back in the plush armchair that sits in front of the fireplace. "Me too."
We fall into an uncomfortable silence. I decide to just stare at her until she finally tells me why she's here. After about a minute, she does.
"I'm getting married."
I'm suddenly glad I didn't get us drinks. "What?"
"To Benjamin." Everything about her is light and dreamy now – her eyes shining, her smile bright, even her hair somehow glistening – and it gives me whiplash. "You remember Benjamin, right?"
Of course I remember Benjamin, who works as a logger at the end of the river that runs through the tree farms. When I was really little – maybe four or five – Anthony and I used to cling on the logs as they bobbed down the river and then help Benjamin and his fellow loggers take care of the wet timber once we reached the sawmill.
Ever since I became a victor, people do this to me all the time, asking me if I remember this or that. It's as if they assume that I can't remember anything Before.
"Not at all," I snark. "It's not like I spent almost every day of my impressionable childhood with him or anything."
Louise scowls but continues. "I'm getting married, and I… I want you to be there."
My breath leaves me completely, and I can't seem to get it back. We both know exactly what this means, what this implies. The last time I even saw Louise was two months ago from across the town square, and the last time we actually spoke, she left her handprint burned on my cheek.
"Who's going to be there?" I ask.
District Seven's got some fun traditions when it comes to marriage. The bride and groom dress in their reaping best – if those clothes still fit them – and sign official documents in the Justice Building surrounded by friends and family. Then, they all go out into the woods together and the newlyweds cut down a tree together using a two-man crosscut saw. They only get to keep some of the wood from the tree, enough to build a crib for their first child.
I don't think I've ever seen stick-in-the-mud, serious-business Louise this excited about anything before. "Anthony and Ma. And Ben's family. Oh, Hanna, I love him so much, I could just–"
"Do they know you're inviting me?" I interrupt, mostly because I don't think I'd be able to tolerate hearing my older sister gush and sigh and talk about love.
"Well, no, I didn't actually–"
"Do you really think they want to see me there? Especially Anthony? After what…" I don't want to say it outright. It might make her realize that I don't deserve this little peace offering. "After what I did to Lucy?" My voice has risen into an angry yell, and I have to breathe through my nose. Louise is cowering in her seat – no doubt remembering how Lucy's body looked, how I had bathed in our little sister's blood – so I quickly change the subject. "When are you even getting married?"
Louise deflates, pulling at the sleeves of her coat – which only come about halfway up her forearms. "Today," she mumbles, eyes downcast. "This afternoon." I must have a pretty intense expression on my face because she builds up a new, more frantic energy in an instant. "Please come, Johanna. I just want everything to be happy for us. For our family. I'm extending the olive branch. I'm… I'm sorry I slapped you in the face, way back."
I still don't know how to respond, so I pick the easiest thing to say. "It's okay. Just a love tap, right?" Louise has always been a gentle soul, the type who would go into the Games and come out in a coffin. Or like Annie. "If I were you back then, I probably would have…" I trail off, realizing a little too late that finishing that thought could completely shatter whatever tenuous thing that's going on between us.
"How about this?" I say instead. "Come upstairs with me, and I'll make you the prettiest bride District Seven has ever seen."
Louise beams, and my family's mine again.
Then there was little Lucy, who was scared of her own shadow. She was just… my little sister. That's all she was. I guess she might be the reason I couldn't stand Katniss, with her tragic little romance and that little sister who she saved. Where I ended up killing mine. It was when I killed Lucy – her blood pooling around me, an ax at my side – that the rest of my family broke.
I'm in that warm, peaceful state between awake and dreaming, about to make that steady drift into sleep. The pattering of raindrops on the roof and the occasional rumble of thunder is calming, like a lullaby, and I'm just about to get lost in bliss with the tail-end of a particularly loud roll of thunder when a little arm snakes around mine, squeezing hard.
"Lucy," I hiss. The serene drifting feeling is gone, and now I'm pissed. "What?"
"I'm scared," she whispers, strangling my arm with hers. "Of the thunder."
"Please." Scowling into the dark, I try to pull away, but she just buries her nails deeper in the flesh of my arms. "Seriously?" It's the night before the reaping, both Anthony and I are still eligible, and all my ten year old sister can think to be afraid of is thunder? "It's like a million miles away," I tell her. Lightning flashes, and I catch a glimpse of my own eyes staring back at me from Lucy's face.
"No it's not."
"Yes, it is." I shove her away from me, hard enough for her to fall off the tiny bed if she didn't have a death-grip on my right arm.
Thunder, and I think my arm might be losing circulation. "Nuh-uh."
"Louise," I call out. Our mother isn't home – probably "working" at the Peacekeeper's quarters or the mayor's house – and even if she was, Louise is more our mother than our sister. "Tell Lucy that the thunder's like a million miles away."
There's the shuffling of blankets from the bed shoved in the opposite corner of the shack, and Louise's silhouette sits up and rubs her eyes. "I wouldn't say a million miles, Hanna. But, Lucy, a lot of people say that you can tell how far away lightning is by counting how many seconds are between the light and the—"
A flash of bright light reveals each and every corner of our home, followed almost immediately by a clap of thunder that shakes the whole building.
Lucy whimpers. Of course.
"Hey Lucy," Anthony speaks up from his place at the foot of our bed. It was his turn to get the floor. "You know what they say about thunder?"
A wet sniffle comes from the little girl beside me. "What?"
"That it's actually God's laughter. See, he's got a really deep, loud voice, and sometimes he finds something so funny that he can't help but laugh so loud that it shakes the earth. And you know how sometimes when you laugh really, really hard you start to cry? That's why it sometimes rains when it thunders."
That seems to satisfy Lucy, and I actually get some sleep after that, enough that I wake up almost six hours before the reaping.
I can't say I sleep as well on the train the night after.
I had only one brother. Anthony, who always had his head in the clouds and a smile on his face. Until I broke him. Until he found me with Lucy's dead body in my arms.
There isn't even a scream to let me know that my little sister's just been brutally murdered in my own home.
I'm snipping the wild roses that have been growing in the backyard since before I was assigned this ugly, too clean, too big house in Victors' Village. All I can think about is Snow and how he wanted me to… sell myself, and what he said would happen when I told him no. I've seen too much happen to my mother to ever agree to do something like that. And I've wondered for too many years who my father really is to welcome any chance of that happening to any kid I might one day have.
I imagine that each rose is one of Snow's fingers, so I snip them off as slowly and unevenly as I can. I can almost hear him trying to hold back screams, promising me that he was bluffing about what he said about my family and begging me for mercy.
Once I snip off twenty roses – ten fingers and ten toes – with the rusty shears, I rip individual petals off the roses still clinging to the bush, pretending that these are his eyelashes and then – after tearing off enough petals – Snow's too-pale eyelids.
It's the most fun I've had in a long time, and that scares me.
When an unruly thorn nips the middle finger of my left hand, I finally realize that Lucy isn't sitting in the bench that Anthony and I dragged into the backyard a few weeks ago. About twenty minutes ago, she said she was going inside for a second to use the bathroom, and the fact that she isn't back yet sets off a red flag in my mind.
Lucy's scared of being alone in the huge victor's house. And I would've heard Anthony and Louise get back from town. By now, she should be back out and starting to color her picture of the twigs and stones that she laid down on the ground in a pattern that makes sense to her but no one else.
But she isn't back out here, and she'd never stay inside alone if she had the choice.
And without another thought, I sprint through into the house, frantically searching for the ten year-old coward that is my little sister. For some reason, all I can think of is the look of agony on the face of that girl from District Six when I hacked her into pieces, except not on her face but Lucy's.
When I get to Lucy's room, it's in complete disarray – her bed completely flipped, dresser drawers pulled and clothes tossed everywhere. But all I really see is the little girl lying in a slowly spreading pool of her own blood with an ax beside her.
Gathering Lucy in my arms, I search for a heartbeat, for a shallow breath, desperate to find something to tell me that there's still hope that I'll see my only full-blood sister breathing again, laughing at my poor attempts at humor, smiling at Louise's good natured but stifling coddling, panicking at the sound of thunder.
But there's nothing but the still-warm blood staining my hands, my clothes, my face, and all I can do is scream into my baby sister's hair.
Lucy – How could this have happened? I was just in the back garden, not even twenty feet from the house. I should have heard someone entering the house, heard the scuffle…
I can't be sure how long I sit with Lucy's slowly-cooling body in my arms, but when I finally place her gently on the ground beside me, my legs are stiff.
Blood is all over. Hair, clothes, hands. Licking my lips, I'm met with a dark metallic taste. Just like when the blood from the girl from District Six went into my mouth during…
The Games, the Games. And all I can see is the arena. The overturned bed is a great flat stone. The scattered clothes around the room are patches of scraggly bushes, even one of the cacti that Tobias drank from and caused the odds of a District Seven winner to drop down to me. My fingers curl around my ax without a thought…
It's the ax from my Games. It has to be. It's the same size, bloodied on the blade. It has to be, it has to be…
I'm not thinking clearly. I know that. I whirl around, preparing to charge at the figure in the doorway. Male, on the shorter side. He has to be Jove, ready to twist his sword into my stomach and laugh at the horrible squelching noise it makes.
But his strong hands circle my wrists instead, dropping down to pin me as I thrash against him.
Not Jove… The boy from District Five who held me down just like this. But this time, my knees are locked under his, so there's no way to escape. No way to escape.
"Get off me, you bastard!" To my distain, it comes out as more of an anguished plea than an angry demand.
His hold on me remains just as tight, but he twists his head back far enough for me to get a clearer look at his face.
Tears build and spill over his eyes. "Lucy… Johanna, how could you?"
"Anthony," I murmur, relaxing against his harsh grip. It's not the Games anymore. It's not the Games anymore. I keep on repeating that in my head, and it makes it harder to say anything else. "Lucy– Lucy's dead. I didn't– I couldn't–"
The twisted look of rage on his face as he slams me against the ground shuts me up before I can say any more. "Johanna, I knew there was something going on with you – I found the squirrels in the backyard – but this…? Oh my God… Lucy…"
That night, Snow calls me up again and asks me the same thing he asked me on my sixteenth birthday. I'm the only one living in this victor's mansion now – Anthony and Louise don't have the heart to report me to the Peacekeepers, but they don't want to live anywhere near me after seeing me hovering over Lucy's cold, bloody body with an ax in my hand, so they're back in the shack we grew up in. Far away from me.
But I still tell Snow yes.
I'm… Let me… Just give me a second, okay, Finnick? And if you tell anyone I'm crying, I'll kill you, I swear. It's just… I did so many things wrong, and I can't just take them back. I miss them. It's been years, and I still miss them all. And it's fucked up, because I'm the one responsible for their deaths in the first place. If I'd just done the noble thing and died in that arena, they'd probably all still be alive.
Maybe if I hadn't been such a coward during the war, you'd still be alive too.
Echo knew that he did not love her, but she still spent every moment with him, loving him both from afar and up close but knowing that she could never say so.
"Please," I whisper, running my fingers through your hair. Pulling at the roots hard enough for you to yelp, I force your face to turn this way and that, inspecting it in the city lights coming from the windows. "With looks like yours, you can't really expect things to be easy for you."
Wordlessly, you take my hands in yours, clutching them firmly. Mine are so much smaller – paler too – and for a second I think that we might be sharing some sort of soppy romantic moment. But then you adjust my fingers so that they're around your wrists, and I get the message.
"Man-whore," I say, pinning your wrists above your head and squeezing them hard enough to bruise. There are mottled yellow and green marks that haven't yet faded, and in daylight, I can sometimes see you staring at them. I like to think that you're thinking of me when you tenderly dab at those bruises and furrow your brows, but that – like almost everything else between us – is an unspoken illusion.
"Bitch," you respond.
I relinquish my hold on your left wrist and slap you hard in the face. The involuntary whimper that leaves you makes me press my body harder against yours. "I'm the one who gives out the insults here."
Your lips twitch into a smile before the sides pull back down. "You probably shouldn't touch my face." As you bring your free hand to rub away the red mark blossoming on your cheek, I catch your wrist again, digging in my nails. "That's the money-maker, you know."
I want to tell you that your face is perfect no matter what – slap marks or not – but that's not how we work. "As if." Nails still imbedded in your skin, I trail my hands down your arms, shivering at the sight of the blood beading in the wake of my grasp. "Your eyes are too close together, your upper lip is huge, and I don't know who you think you're kidding with that nose."
You have the gall to laugh. "Nice to know I don't have to worry about you getting too attached."
When I twist my fingers deeper into the mess of your arms, you gasp and your nostrils flare. I don't want to think about what we don't really have together, and the best way to stop that train of thought is to distract us both, so I dive my face into yours, bumping into your nose before I can capture your lips with mine.
And then there's something else too… I've never told anyone this, but… Do you remember my Games? Do you remember the last boy I killed, Jove? I was never sure, but I think he might have been my…
Hefting an ax in my right hand, I try to lob off the head of the plastic dummy standing in front of me, almost two feet taller than me and a lot wider. But the weapon wobbles as it arcs through the air, and I'm only able to leave a shallow mark on the left shoulder. Carried by the momentum, I fall in a heap on the floor, the ax clattering away.
There's laughter behind me, and I want to dart out, clutch that ax with my left hand, and throw it back at them. But instead, I burst into tears.
A pair of regulation training shoes steps towards me, and the boy from District Two – Jove – crouches down beside me and scoops up the ax, weighing it in his hand. After a moment of deliberation, he buries it deep into the dummy's skull, so fast that I almost miss it.
He chuckles, dark eyes flashing. There's something about him that tickles the back of my throat, something so familiar about the way he stands with his feet so far apart, about the wide swoop of his cheekbones. "What's your name?" he asks. "Johanna, right?"
I don't like the way it sounds on his tongue, but I nod anyway.
"Well Johanna," Jove laughs. "Maybe you should try something a little lighter, huh?" His amiable demeanor seems fake to me, but to the carefully constructed mess of snot and tears that I've made myself out to be, he sounds like a beacon of kindness and hope.
So when he offers his hand, I take it.
And when he pulls me halfway up only to shove me back down again hard enough to bruise, I clench my fists and bit my tongue until I cry.
Jove ends up being my last kill in the arena. When he manages to pull a sword through my stomach, it hurts so much and I'm so sure that I'm going to die that I crumple to the ground. When he turns away and begins prematurely celebrating his victory, I find the energy to extract his weapon from my gut and stab him in the back with it, falling down beside him as my vision swims from blood loss.
And as I watch our blood mingle in the desert sand, I finally realize who he reminds me of.
The Head Peacekeeper. Lucy. Me.
Never mind. It's stupid to even consider.
Everyone important is dead now, you know. I don't know if Annie told you – she told me that she comes out here all the time – but our precious Mockingjay killed Coin dearest, shot an arrow right through the old bitch's dead heart.
Snow's dead too. They're not sure if he choked on his own blood or got trampled by the crowd at his execution. Personally, I like to believe it was the crowd that killed him. There's something comforting and poetic in the thought that Panem itself killed him, I think. And there's no way that bastard's allowed the satisfaction of offing himself before anyone else could.
I don't just mean important in that way, though. You're dead now too – not that you aren't important in that other way, it's just…
That she could never say no.
At about four in the morning on my first night mentoring the tributes for the Seventy-second Hunger Games, you show up to my room and beg me to bruise you.
I can't say no. Not to you.
Diana, so taken by the plight of her favorite nymph, laid a curse on Narcissus, so that he might love something that he was unable to have.
When the Victory Tour hits the Capitol, we're both already there, and it's the first time I've seen you in about three months. You look… perfect, and I want desperately to feel you underneath me, your wrists limp in my fists and your shoulders marked by my teeth.
It's not hard for me to slip away – with a few well placed insults, anything's possible – but it takes you a while to evade your harem and sneak off to an abandoned corridor in Snow's mansion.
When you do show up, I stand on my tiptoes, dig my fingernails into your elbows, and crash your lips into mine hard enough for our teeth to clack together. You pull away a bit, so I move my hand upwards, weaving it into your hair and jamming your face even closer.
You taste like cake and sand – just like you did when I first met you – and I hold the flavor on my tongue for as long as I can before I need to pull away. I'm always the one who has to take a breath first.
"Jo," you whisper, tickling my ear with the air from your lungs. It's hard to hear what you're saying over my heavy, paced breathing. "Let's do this differently this time."
And I let you take me like I've never been taken before. It's not mindless fucking, it's making love. There's no fight for dominance or still, passivity. It's like a dance, like that peaceful moment between sleep and wakefulness, like how I imagine love tastes. Euphoria, elation, ecstasy makes me feel like I'm floating into the sky, not in the hallway of Snow's mansion, rooted to the ground by all this pain and hatred. It's like torture but better, because your blood doesn't trickle into my mouth and mine doesn't seep into yours.
And then you say it.
And I shatter.
I guess I'm just upset because I never got a chance to tell you I love you.