They pulled him from the arena with his guts hanging out, or they would have been had he not been holding them in with his own two hands. Even years later, he sometimes thought the only thing that really kept him alive was the electrical charge that froze his muscles in place while he dangled from the rescue ladder. He couldn't have let his innards fall to the ground even if he tried.
If he'd known what was to come, he actually might have.
Haymitch woke in a Games-controlled Capitol hospital three days later. When he woke, he felt no pain. That came later, after the drugs wore off. Capitol medicine healed the wounds on the outside. The ones on the inside… Well.
A week to the day after they pulled him from the arena, President Snow crowned Haymitch Abernathy of District Twelve victor of the 50th Hunger Games. Winner of the Second Quarter Quell. Once crowned, the President turned him over to Caesar Flickerman.
For three hours, he alternated between watching the "highlights" of the Quell, most of which seemed to have something to do with him, and talking to Flickerman. Haymitch found it hard to believe that he was the only one who did anything interesting in the arena. But then, history was written by the victors, right? Or at least by those who controlled the victors.
Haymitch didn't feel victorious. He didn't feel like he'd won anything.
After the closing ceremonies came the parties. One after another. People screaming his name, wanting his autograph, wanting a photograph, wanting to hear his voice, wanting to touch him. His adoring fans.
He hated every minute of it.
The parties didn't end until he boarded the train that would return him to Twelve. He suspected they didn't end even then; the only thing that ended was his part in them. His Games-appointed mentor, who took far too much credit for Haymitch's win, saw him to the station and waved him aboard the train. Haymitch just nodded when the man said he'd see him again in a few months for the Victory Tour. All he wanted was to go home.
Leaning his head against the window, Haymitch watched first his mentor and then the Capitol grow smaller and smaller until they faded from sight. He could breathe again. He fell asleep on that train, the first night since the nightmare of the arena ended that was free of the memories of the kids he'd murdered, of the nightmares in which he relived the horrible things he'd seen and done.
That night on the train was the last night Haymitch Abernathy slept the whole night through.
When he stepped off the train, he smelled the acrid stench of old smoke. Days old, but not yet so old that it was actually in the past. Under the coal and the wood, there was something sweet and bitter mingled with something flowery. His mother wasn't there to greet him, nor his brother. And not his girl, either. He was a victor, the first one District Twelve had had since Ophelia McCoy, but the only one to welcome him home was his mother's friend, Sae Vickers.
She didn't have to say a word. Suddenly, he knew what that bitter-sweet smell was. He quickly learned that the other wasn't just flowers.
From that day forward, Haymitch couldn't bear the sight or smell of a rose.
The reaping the following year was hard, standing in front of everyone on that stage, knowing that there was every possibility that any kids who joined him there, who left the district on a Capitol-bound train wouldn't be coming back. Not alive, anyway. He stared out over the crowd of faces, Seam and Merchant alike, and he wanted to puke.
The girl was seventeen and Merchant and he knew her from school, or at least he recognized her, which was bad enough. The boy was twelve and Seam and he looked far too much like Haymitch's brother. A whiff of smoke and roses invaded his nostrils; he knew it was his imagination, but felt the bile rise in the back of his throat anyway, burning him, and choked it back down.
The train ride to the Capitol was awful. The boy, Canute Hutson, once he got over his shyness and some natural caution in his nature, treated it like some kind of holiday, running around, shouting about all the gadgets and geegaws. The girl, Sadie Crenshaw, chatted with their bubble-headed escort, Amelia Lucasta, about pretty much nothing; he suspected that was because the only things in Lucasta's head really were bubbles. Sadie kept sending sidelong glances Haymitch's way, as if asking him to rescue her.
He couldn't rescue her. He couldn't rescue the boy. He couldn't rescue himself. So he just stared out the window at the blur of the scenery.
Under any other circumstances, and dealing with anything other than the Hunger Games, Haymitch might have found all the behind-the-scenes activity leading up to the Games themselves at least interesting. As it was, things moved too fast to really focus on any of it. It didn't help that he had no idea what he was doing.
Canute and Sadie both looked to him for advice and guidance, and he knew he should be giving it to them, but he didn't know what to say. He parroted some of what his borrowed mentor had told him about what to do during the Opening Ceremonies, about training, about impressing the Gamemakers, but it all felt wrong. Haymitch was pretty sure his Games-appointed mentor would have been a better choice than him.
He said as much to one of his fellow mentors when he reported to Mentor Central that first day of tribute training. A few minutes later, an older woman, tiny and red haired and maybe in her forties, showed up at his side and just started showing him around the control room. All the while she talked about how to assess his tributes' strengths and weaknesses and how to use that to work up a strategy for them in the arena, or even earlier, in training, so as to not give away too much to the other kids about what they could and couldn't do.
Haymitch listened to Mags – from District Four, victor of the 10th Hunger Games, and a deal older than he'd thought – learning everything he could from her and the other victors she pulled in to show him the ropes.
Canute and Sadie died anyway, in that order, the boy in the bloodbath and the girl with whom he'd shared a history class, back in the day, almost a week later when the girl from Mags' district slit her throat in her sleep.
When both his tributes were gone, Haymitch learned more than he ever wanted to know about being a victor in the Capitol. A few hours after Sadie died, long enough for Haymitch to return to the Training Center for a shower and some sleep, broken and filled with nightmares though it was, Snow sent one of his assistants to fetch Haymitch to the President's office for a meeting.
That meeting was brief. Snow told Haymitch what the rest of his duties would be while he was in the Capitol, since his tributes were gone. When Haymitch protested, feeling sick to his stomach and wondering what the rosy old bastard would do if he puked on his shoes, Snow had laughed. Haymitch focused on a bright spot of red at the corner of Snow's mouth, contracting and stretching with the movement as the man began to speak.
"The choice is yours, Mr. Abernathy. You're an adult now, after all. But if you decide to ignore your duties as I've laid them out for you," the man smiled, red and raw, "well, I'm afraid there will be consequences."
Haymitch remembered the sight of his burned out home, smoke still rising from the ashes. His ma, his brother, sweet Connie who he'd planned to marry one day, none of them were there anymore, planted in the ground two days before he came back from his Games. There hadn't even been any reason for Connie to be there, when that fire broke out. Hadn't been any good reason for that fire to break out at all.
The stench of cooked meat and roses from that day filled his nose and his head as he stared at that bit of red at the corner of the President's mouth. The President was still speaking when Haymitch spewed all over his shoes and he didn't have to wonder anymore what Snow might do.
Raising one eyebrow, Snow stopped talking. He handed Haymitch the handkerchief from the breast pocket of his suit coat. "If you're quite finished, Mr. Abernathy…"
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Haymitch looked up at the President. "I won't do it. I ain't no whore." He felt cold and scared and about six years old, but then he supposed if he were really only six, Snow wouldn't be talking about using him like those hollow-eyed women and girls back home who kept the damn Peacekeepers happy for a few extra coins to buy their kids some bread. "And it ain't like you can hurt my family to make me do whatever it is you want."
Snow cocked his head to the side and stared at Haymitch long enough for Haymitch to become hyper aware of the vomit on the floor and on the man's expensive shoes. "No, Mr. Abernathy," he said in that smooth Capitol voice of his, "but you do have friends. And the people of your district would feel it keenly if even one shipment of grain were to be lost to a railway accident or perhaps to a bit of mold."
"As I said, Mr. Abernathy. The choice is yours."
Another year. Another reaping. Two more kids dead within two days of each other, but neither one of them in the bloodbath. In a way, that was almost worse. Crushed hope tasted like ash in his mouth.
When the kids were gone, the workout regimen, two hours in the Training Center gym every day to keep him healthy and in shape, and the "special engagements" began. There were more of them than the year before, half a dozen maybe. All of them older than Haymitch, but a couple of them not too. He tried to pretend with the younger ones that it was just a date, but it didn't work all that well. He couldn't forget that he had no real choice, no matter what that bastard Snow said; if he didn't perform, his friends or his district would suffer for it. And always in the back of his mind was that smoking example of just how bad those "consequences" would be.
One special engagement stood out over the others. Drusilla Lovage loved the opera and she loved the Hunger Games. She claimed that Haymitch Abernathy was the most refreshing thing to come out of the arena in years.
Haymitch didn't have many sponsors during his Games, not in the beginning, anyway. Not until he started to stand out from the crowd of other kids. Half of them died at the Cornucopia, but even so, that left twenty-four kids, Haymitch among them. As the field thinned, the money began to flow, as though the sheer number of tributes had blocked the flow of sponsors' gifts.
Sometime during the Quell, Drusilla noticed Haymitch and saw something in him that she liked. She sent him a first aid kit that he shared with Maysilee, his district partner, as well as a hunting knife that he used with horrifying efficiency in his effort to survive.
And when it was over, and Haymitch alone was still alive, Drusilla contacted Snow's Coordinator of Victor Affairs to collect her own form of payment. As she told Haymitch in her pretentious Capitol accents, "I would have sent for you last year, dear, but my husband fell ill and I couldn't leave his side."
Haymitch didn't understand how these people could even live with themselves. Wastes of oxygen, all of them.
Drusilla took him, all polished and pretty, to the opera, something she called a madrigal. Haymitch was surprised to discover that he didn't hate it. He didn't understand most of it and didn't care to, but if he listened to it with the notion that the voices themselves were instruments, it was tolerable. And there wasn't much in the way of actual instruments involved, which made pretending that much easier and the performance itself that much more memorable.
It started out with just one voice. That lasted for a bit, and then a second joined in and a third, finally ending with the first and the last when the second one faded away.
It was something Haymitch never forgot, so maybe it was safe to say that, rather than not hating it, he might actually have liked it, if not for the circumstances. The memory of that madrigal, the way their voices blended together into something stronger than any of them were when they were apart, was the only decent thing he took away with him when he left the Capitol for his cold and empty house.
Haymitch was nineteen for the 53rd Annual Hunger Games. By the time they were over and he could return to his house in Twelve's Victor's Village – he'd never call it home – he reckoned that he was responsible for the deaths, either directly or indirectly, of fifteen kids.
He couldn't escape the things that hunted him in the dark, couldn't escape the voices that whispered when he closed his eyes.
Haymitch Abernathy was nineteen years old, and when he could sleep at all, it was with the lights on and a knife under his pillow.
Aaron Schofeld was eighteen and Seam through and through, with black hair, gray eyes, and olive skin. He was a looker, better fed and stronger than even the Merchant kids Haymitch had been responsible for during the past few Games. The kid stood out, even in comparison to the Careers that year, for all that they didn't want him in their pack. For the first time in a long while, Haymitch felt hope rise up inside.
That hope grew stronger, though horror-tainted, once he talked to the kid about his strategy: Aaron Schofeld had a wife and child back home.
His wife was nineteen; the kid, a girl, was born just after the reaping the year before. Aaron had dropped out of school, lied about his age, and gone into the mines to feed his young family. Everyone looked the other way. No one wanted to be responsible for them starving to death even if they all privately thought they were damned fools to let themselves get in that situation in the first place or stay in it once they were there. Not while one of them was still eligible for the reaping.
With the help of Mags from Four and Woof from Eight, Haymitch and Aaron worked on the sympathy angle and actually managed to gain a few sponsors, but it wasn't enough. Aaron made it to the final three, but no one survives being all but torn in half by a tiger, muttation or otherwise.
Almost as soon as he finished packing the body in ice to await transport back to the kid's widow, Haymitch received word to report to Remake to get ready for a "date," the first of four that year.
On the way back home after the Games, unable to sleep at all, unable to escape the ghosts, Haymitch wandered through the train. His wandering stopped when he discovered the bar car.
A pep talk on the train to the Capitol, a week in training, and both his kids died in the bloodbath within fifteen minutes of each other. Half an hour after that, Haymitch was in the Training Center bar with Chaff from District Eleven. One of Chaff's kids had stepped off his platform ten seconds before the gong, the other only lasted five minutes longer than Haymitch's girl.
Around lunchtime, Snow's Coordinator of Victor Affairs tracked Haymitch down to give him his schedule for the week, telling him that scheduling of further appointments would depend on the progress of the Games. Haymitch stared at the man for a moment before dissolving into laughter. Chaff joined in; Snow's assistant did not.
Shooting Haymitch a sour look, the Coordinator for Victor Affairs advised him, "You're due in Remake in half an hour." Haymitch watched him walk away. Chaff watched Haymitch.
When he noticed, Haymitch downed another shot and asked, "What is that guy's name, anyway?" Chaff just snorted and refilled Haymitch's glass from the bottle the bartender had left them a good hour before.
"How would I know?" He cheerfully waved his stump at Haymitch. "Nobody's interested in any affairs with this victor." Haymitch laughed at the joke, too loud and too long, until tears leaked from his eyes. He had no idea if those tears were from the laughter or from the despair.
After that, he and Chaff spent most of their free time together in either the Training Center bar or in the victors' lounge. Chaff had more free time than Haymitch overall, but Haymitch still kept up with him, shot for shot. It made those appointments he had to keep more bearable, at least for him. Apparently, though, not all of his patrons felt the same way.
About a week into the Games, Snow called Haymitch to his office. He left him cooling his heels in his outer office for an hour or so before calling him into the inner sanctum, and then left him standing on the carpet in front of his desk for another ten minutes before looking up from his paperwork.
"Ah, Mr. Abernathy." Snow smiled a crocodile smile at Haymitch, full of bloody teeth. "That was bad luck with your tributes this year." Haymitch clenched his jaw to keep from rising to the bait. Eventually, Snow pushed back his chair and stood, then came around the desk and leaned against the edge of it, not quite in Haymitch's personal space. "I have had some complaints about you." Haymitch held the man's gaze; he didn't back down, wondering what would happen if he reached up and choked the son of a bitch. He figured it would amount to suicide-by-Peacekeeper, but maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
When Haymitch didn't say anything, Snow sighed and continued. "No more drinking, Mr. Abernathy. Your patrons aren't interested in babysitting a boy too drunk to carry on a conversation." His words stung, but Haymitch bit back the snappy retort that automatically rose to his lips. He didn't want to give Snow the satisfaction of knowing he'd gotten to him.
"You are dismissed, Mr. Abernathy."
Three weeks, two dead kids, and five patrons later, Haymitch arrived home to the news that a train carrying a large shipment of coal to District Three had jumped the tracks while crossing a hundred-foot-high bridge over a river gorge. The shipment was unrecoverable. Mine quotas, already high enough that most shifts were ten-hour days, had been doubled to cover the shortfall.
Blonde-haired and blue-eyed Maria Donner died at the Cornucopia. The boy, Luke Tanner, lived almost until the end, but without any help from Haymitch. When Maria died, younger sister to Maysilee and Maribelle, Haymitch gave up. He didn't stop drinking once he started, didn't notice who won the Games. It didn't matter. No one ever really won. Not even the kids from the Career districts.
There were fewer patrons that year, but not so few as to make much difference to Haymitch, although he did put in an effort to stay more or less sober while he was with them. He didn't want to go home to find more shit piled on his district because he'd pissed off Snow again. The kid from Four that Snow started with the year before picked up the slack.
Haymitch Abernathy was twenty-two years old, but he felt more like ninety.
One lived for three days, the other for ten. A kid from Five won the 57th Games a week later.
There were fewer patrons once Haymitch's part in the Games ended that year, but the ones that he did have were… not so nice. There were several trips to Remake and one to a hospital when a patron didn't take too kindly to something Haymitch said.
58 – 63
The years blurred together and so did the Games. The 58th. The 59th. Haymitch phoned it in. Every year, two kids, some with hope in their eyes, some with none, and always the knowledge that Haymitch couldn't bring more than one of them home alive. Eventually, after so many years and so many dead kids, even that faint hope died.
A girl from Eight, petite and pretty and who looked almost like she could have come from the Seam, won the 60th Hunger Games. Her name was Cecelia and Haymitch couldn't look her in the eye, knowing as he did what she was headed for.
The 61st Games came and went and Haymitch took two more kids home in body bags.
A girl from Two won the 62nd Games by tearing a boy's throat out with her teeth. Haymitch watched it happen while some Capitol slub who insisted on having the Games on while they fucked sucked at Haymitch's throat. The man was a little offended when Haymitch laughed.
The 63rd Games were almost entirely forgettable, won by a volunteer from District One. Haymitch was out early, as was Chaff, and so once more they spent most of their free time drinking and making up stories.
But in all those years Haymitch never got so drunk that he couldn't perform.
"And I'm out." Haymitch pulled off his headset and hooked it on the edge of his console. Lyme glanced over at him and then at the clock over the door. Ten-thirty in the morning on opening day, not quite a record, not for Twelve, but still, his kids were out of it fast. Meeting Lyme's eyes, he shrugged and stood up from his chair, popping his back as he did so. Somewhere mid-stretch, he noticed the new girl watching him with unreadable blue eyes.
"What are you looking at, sweetheart?" Rather than answer him, she stared at him a moment longer before turning back to her monitors.
"That's Cashmere," Mags said as she walked past him with a cup of coffee, strong and black, from the smell of it. "Why don't you join me, Haymitch?" Frowning, he glanced down at Chaff in the chair beside the one he'd just abandoned.
"Hell if I know what she wants," Chaff said. "She's Mags." With another shrug, Haymitch walked over to the District Four station.
"Something wrong?" he asked. Mags pushed out the chair beside her and patted the seat.
"Just a heads up, boy," she said once he was sitting beside her. "Victor Affairs showed some of the younger victors a tape last night." Haymitch felt the blood rush to his face and wished he could do something to stop it. He hadn't blushed in years. All of a sudden feeling parched, his fingers itched to pull the flask from his vest pocket. "Nothing for you to be embarrassed about. Apparently, President Snow is using you as an example. Cashmere didn't tell me what was on that tape, just that they showed it to her and Enobaria as a warning." Haymitch snorted.
"Well, if that's all…" He laughed, but there was nothing of amusement in the sound.
Haymitch rolled onto his back and pulled the sheet up to cover them both as Honoria Stoker switched on the TV. Immediately, the sounds of the Hunger Games – the rousing music of this year's soundtrack, the talking heads with their running commentary – filled the room and he did his best to tune it out. But of course Honoria wanted to talk about the Games.
"Oh, look. There's Gloss." There was brief flare of light followed by the scent of sweet smoke and he resisted the urge to cough.
Staring at the ceiling, Haymitch dutifully asked, "Gloss?" He vaguely remembered something about the male tribute from District One during training. The smoke was already starting to get to him and he pushed the sheet down before he swung his legs over the side of the bed.
"He's Cashmere's brother. I hear he's favored to win this year." Honoria stroked cool fingers down Haymitch's spine. "I do so hope he does. I called in a gift for him just before you arrived. If he uses it properly, then I may be able to have them as a matched set next year."
Haymitch barely made it to the bathroom, slamming the door shut with a little too much force, before he lost everything in his stomach. With shaking hands, he flushed the mess away, wishing he could follow it down.
He watched the last few days of the 65th Hunger Games from the relative comfort of an overstuffed leather couch in the victors' lounge. He'd really thought that maybe this year might be different. Both of his kids looked relatively well-fed and strong, both of them were smart, and both of them were over fifteen. They survived for nearly ten days before the boy died in a mutt attack. The girl lived a bit longer before she fell to Mags' junior menace.
The boy from Four was only fourteen, gangly as hell, but all lethal grace once someone sent him a golden trident. No one expected him to live, being so young, but once he had that trident in his hands, paired with a net he wove from the same mutt vines that killed Haymitch's boy, no one could stop young Finnick Odair.
Drinking straight from the bottle, occasionally sharing it with Chaff, Haymitch looked at the boy after his final kill, at his wild, feral eyes, his half-grown body and a face any girl might envy, and told Chaff, "Kid doesn't stand a chance."
Finnick stared at the body on the ground, the cannon's boom echoing in his head. He was shaking. He knew that he was bleeding, that the gash in his side from Haestia's sword was deep, maybe even deep enough to kill him, but he couldn't move. He could barely breathe. Sweat trickled into his left eye and he blinked it away.
The wind picked up, whipping his hair into his eyes to blind him. A heavy droning sound reverberated against his eardrums, vibrating through the ground at his feet. He felt lightheaded, but he had no idea if it was from blood loss or something else. Shock, maybe. He heard something behind him and spun, trident in hand, ready to attack. He couldn't use the net tangled around Haestia's arms, or he would have readied it to throw at whoever this new enemy was.
There was no one there. But then something caught his eye and he looked up. And up. When his brain finally made the connection, he lunged. No claw for him; Finnick gripped the bottom rung of the ladder dangling from the hovercraft above as dust and dirt blinded him. The electrical charge froze him in place. Although his eyes were wide open, his vision faded as the hovercraft rose.
"It's almost time for you to go home, boy."
Finnick couldn't feel his hands. He knew that his fingers maintained a death grip around his trident, but he couldn't feel it. Why couldn't he feel it? He blinked and raised his free hand to wipe at the sweat and blood that clouded his eyes. "Mags?" he choked out. He couldn't trust that what he saw and heard was real.
He felt it, though, when she pried the trident from his hand. Felt it when she gently stroked the hair from his eyes. "It's over, child. Rest now." Finnick closed his eyes and drifted away.
It was the first day of training and after sending his kids off, Haymitch headed for Mentor Central and the victors' lounge. When he arrived, he took one look at the boy sprawled across the length of the couch, feet on one arm and head resting on the other, and told him, "No kids allowed." Scowling, he shoved the boy's feet to the floor.
"I'm not a kid. I'm a victor and this is the victors' lounge."
Dropping into the newly cleared space, Haymitch began, "You're a kid and—"
"Haymitch." Mags cut him off. "Leave the boy alone." Her tone was mild, but beneath it was steel. "He has every right to be here, and he's better off here than with Snow." Haymitch couldn't argue that.
Pulling his flask from his inside vest pocket, he settled back into his corner of the couch. Finnick shifted to put a bit of space between them, dividing his attention warily between Haymitch and the television.
The second day of training, right after lunch, Haymitch got word that his boy had picked a fight with the boy from Two, resulting in two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken collarbone. It had been years since a scuffle between tributes before the Games had ended with anything more serious than a few cuts and bruises.
The boy from Two was fine once his shoulder and arm were put back to rights; the boy from Twelve ended up in a hospital overnight, paid for by fines levied against his district. They repaired his broken bones and released him the following day. He missed his chance to perform for the Gamemakers and received a score of zero for training. Haymitch tried to spin the pre-Games fight into something that might attract sponsors, but his attempts failed.
Between the girl who was afraid of her own shadow and the idiot boy, Haymitch seriously thought about telling them both the best strategy would be to step off their plates before the end of the countdown. In the end, the girl just missed being in the final eight. The Career pack, led by the boy from Two, hunted down Haymitch's boy before the end of the first day. It took him a long time to die. The ratings in the Capitol soared.
Haymitch had three patrons that year.
He started drinking in earnest the moment he boarded the train for home. He somehow managed to deliver his two dead kids to their families and make it back to his house in the Victor's Village where he did his level best to die of alcohol poisoning.
He failed at that, too.
Too young to be a mentor, Finnick planted himself in the victors' lounge the year after he was crowned. He didn't know anyone but Mags and Alisdair, the other mentor for the 66th Games, and they were both busy. He would have liked to be outside, but he didn't want to be around all those people staring at him, whispering behind his back, or shouting his name and wanting him to sign autographs or take pictures with them. It made him feel weird, like he wasn't himself anymore.
Other victors came and went through the lounge in the week leading up to the Games. Brutus from District Two taught him to play chess. He watched Cecelia from Eight sketch clothes in a little notepad she carried; when she saw him watching her, she had him name different animals and then she drew them in whimsical settings that made him laugh. Mags kept on him to do the homework the schoolmaster had sent; she ignored his protests, saying it was important that he continue with his education. After that, some of the other victors asked him about the lessons or, like Beetee, helped him when he got stuck on a math problem or the like. Finnick was pretty sure Mags had gotten on the others about his education, just like she'd gotten on him.
Not everyone wanted him there, like Cashmere and Gloss, sister and brother from District One. Finnick had killed the female from One during his Games; Cashmere was the girl's mentor. Finnick was pretty sure she hated him, and the way she and Gloss sometimes stared at him just made him nervous. Chaff from Eleven and Haymitch from Twelve both pretty much ignored him, so long as he stayed out of their way. They weren't unfriendly, or at least Chaff wasn't, but they didn't want a kid hanging around. Haymitch always seemed to have a bottle or a flask in his hand, although he never seemed to be drunk, at least not until after both of his kids were dead.
Once the Games began, airing twenty-four hours a day on the big TV in the corner of the victors' lounge, Finnick couldn't look away, no matter how much he wanted to. The Games that year tangled with his own Games in his nightmares. He woke screaming pretty much every time he fell asleep, but unlike back home, no one in the lounge seemed to find it unusual nor did it even seem to bother anyone.
For the first time since the hovercraft took him from the arena, Finnick started to believe that he wasn't alone.
Year after year, it was always the same. Two kids with hope in their eyes, even when they tried to hide it with bluster and bravado or when it was overshadowed by fear, sent home by the Capitol in a body bag, leaving Haymitch to look their families in the eye and tell them how sorry he was. And he was sorry. That was the thing of it. He was sorry. Sorry that they were reaped. Sorry that they died. Sorry that he couldn't do a damn thing to save them.
He started drinking on the train to the Capitol. Something to dull the edge of that knife twisting in his gut.
When he arrived in the Capitol, two hope-filled kids in tow, he received an invitation to a party at the home of Honoria Stoker following the Opening Ceremonies. Printed on familiar cream and blue stationary, it bore the presidential seal and the initials "CS." Haymitch shook his head and tossed it in the trash.
It was a memorable party, although that had nothing to do with Honoria. After she dragged him off for a quickie before returning to mingle with her guests, Haymitch headed to the bar in the corner. While he waited for his drink, he leaned against the bar and surveyed the crowd; a mixture of Capitol citizens and victors, uniformed servants – some Avox, some not – slipped in between. He spotted Mags talking to a man Haymitch half-recognized and, drink in hand, he headed that way.
Mags introduced the man as Plutarch Heavensbee; Haymitch knew the name. The man was a Gamemaker whose star was on the rise. While his first instinct was to turn around and quickly head the other way, something in the man's expression, the look in his eyes when he held out his hand for Haymitch to shake, made him stay.
The conversation that followed, with Mags and Heavensbee and Woof, who joined them a few minutes later, was the highlight of the evening. It started out innocently enough, a discussion of history, more than anything else, touching on the Dark Days and life before the Games, something which Mags and Woof were old enough to remember. But that conversation sparked an idea in Haymitch, something he intended to follow up on with Mags when they were someplace with fewer Capitol eyes and ears.
Who knew a stinking Gamemaker, of all people, could instill in him something resembling hope?
Although dawn was just around the corner, it was still dark outside when Haymitch got back to the Training Center from Honoria's party. Pretty lit, though not so drunk that he couldn't function, Haymitch was still dreaming about the possibility of a real future, even though he fully expected Mags to laugh at his ideas when he finally got the chance to talk to her in private.
Even better was the fact that Honoria had let him go without protest, having moved on to Gloss. Haymitch's Capitol star was waning, something he wished had happened a hell of a lot sooner. Maybe next year, he wouldn't have to be nice to anyone.
The lobby was dark when he passed through it; the only light came from a fixture in the far corner. He carefully wove his way through the tables and chairs in his path and passed the bar. He punched the call button on the elevator, and it was then that he heard what sounded like a choked off sob from the vicinity of the bar. Frowning, he walked back in that direction.
"Finnick?" The kid was huddled in a ball on the floor behind the bar. He was clearly trying to hide, but when he looked up at Haymitch, there was no hiding the livid marks on the left side of his face where someone had hit him, the beginnings of a black eye or the bite marks on his neck. "Shit." Haymitch reached out a hand to help Finnick up, but the boy shied away. The elevator announced its arrival, but Haymitch ignored both it and the fear in Finnick's eyes and hauled him up anyway, slinging one of Finnick's arms over his shoulders and sliding his own arm around the boy's waist.
"Let's get you up to your floor and cleaned up."
"No!" Haymitch looked into panicked green eyes. "I don't want Mags to see me." Haymitch felt a surge of rage and quickly masked his expression before Finnick could see it and somehow think that Haymitch was angry at him. That high he'd been feeling a few minutes earlier was nothing more than a memory.
"Alright. I'll take you up to twelve instead." He stabbed the call button again and the doors immediately opened. As soon as he and Finnick were inside, the boy pulled away from him.
"Aren't you going to ask me what happened?" He sounded a little defiant and a lot scared. He wrapped his arms around his torso, eyes darting here and there but not lighting on anything for long. Haymitch pushed the brightly glowing twelve.
They stood in silence as the car rose, Haymitch looking at Finnick while Finnick's gaze eventually rested on a spot on the floor. In the year since Haymitch had last seen him, the boy had filled out. When standing up straight, the kid had a good four inches on Haymitch's own five feet ten, the promise of height in previously gangly limbs and lanky torso realized. But just then, the broad-shouldered, handsome boy stood pressed into a corner of the elevator trying to make himself look smaller.
As the elevator passed the eighth floor, Finnick finally looked up. He couldn't quite meet Haymitch's eyes, but he tried. Haymitch had to give the kid credit for that.
"You're sixteen now, right?" Haymitch asked and Finnick nodded. With a snort, Haymitch continued, "I know exactly what happened." He watched as confusion clouded those green eyes and the color drained from his face. "You think you're the only one Snow ever sold?" The elevator doors opened onto the twelfth floor and Haymitch gave him a light shove when Finnick didn't move right away; Finnick only made it about two steps before he fell to his knees, vomiting helplessly on the floor.
Haymitch knew all about that, too.
Staring out the window at the Capitol sunrise, Haymitch waited for someone in the District Four suites to pick up the phone; after the seventh ring, he was about to give up when Alisdair finally did.
"Get Mags," Haymitch barked in lieu of a greeting. A moment later, she picked up the line.
"Hello? Who is this?"
"Mags, it's Haymitch. Just wanted to let you know your boy is with me." She let out a long and breathy sigh just before the sound cut off when she dropped the phone. Her voice was shaky when she spoke again.
"He's safe then? He's not hurt?" Haymitch couldn't recall a time when Mags sounded so thoroughly rattled. He had to wonder just how much she knew of what had happened to Finnick the night before. Closing his eyes, he gripped the phone tighter; this was not the conversation he'd expected or ever wanted to have with Mags.
"I don't think he needs a hospital, if that's what you're asking, but he might need a trip to Remake before he goes out in public." There was a sharp intake of breath on her end followed by a rapid and angry stream of words Haymitch couldn't understand. When there was no other response, he told her, "I brought him up here to twelve to get cleaned up. He didn't want you to see him looking like… well, looking like he did."
Her words were faint when she replied, "President Snow made it very clear that Finnick was to be told nothing." Another pause as she blew her nose. "I've known that boy since the day he was born, Haymitch." He heard the tears in her voice.
"Damn it. I didn't tell you any of this to push the knife in any deeper."
She snorted at that, and there was a little of her usual fire back in her voice when she said, "Just don't leave him alone, Haymitch. Can you do that for me?"
Behind him, through the closed bedroom door, Haymitch heard Finnick's voice, faint at first, but it quickly grew to something resembling a bitten off scream as Haymitch nodded, even though Mags couldn't see it. He remembered his own first time.
The last thing Finnick needed just then was to be alone.
For the rest of the Games, the boy stayed with him during the days and Haymitch let him. There wasn't anything either one of them could do about the nights when Snow had other plans, although Haymitch had more free time than Finnick. He could see the kid dying a little more inside each day and he did what he could; Finnick was about the only kid he could help, but at least he could do that.
He didn't get the chance to talk to Mags about his ideas. She had too much on her mind, what with having a tribute who was a real contender that year, as well as what was happening with Finnick. It came down to Districts Four and Ten in the final showdown, so even though the boy from Ten won, Mags worked sponsors up to the bitter end and there was never an opportunity for that talk.
Once again, Haymitch delivered two dead kids to two grieving families and returned to his house to drink in the darkness.
It didn't matter that it was bright daylight outside.
Battered, bruised, and hurting in both body and pride, Finnick stumbled out of the car before the driver could do more than open the door for him. He yanked the Training Center door open and hurried through it, intent only on getting back to his room where he could wash away the stink of what had happened and his own fear. Halfway to the elevators, he thought of Mags and he began to shake. Changing course, he hid behind the bar. He couldn't think of anything else to do. There was no way he could face Mags.
That was where Haymitch Abernathy found him. The man didn't ask questions, said some things that made Finnick think that what happened after he left the party with that man was no surprise. When Finnick said he didn't want Mags to see him like that, Haymitch took him up to the twelfth floor and let him shower there. He didn't say anything about how long that shower lasted, either.
He hid out in Haymitch's room, not touching anything but the chair in the corner where he sat until Haymitch and the others left for tribute training. He did his best not to think about the night before, but it was hard; when he caught a glimpse of his own face in a mirror once he thought it might finally be safe to sneak out, it all came flooding back. The crowd of people, the dancing, the drinks that kept replacing the ones he finished until his head swam, and through it all, Gaston Tyco, a man the same age as his own father and who stayed nearby no matter what Finnick did. He'd seemed okay, even made him laugh at some of the things he said when he'd answered questions about his own Games.
Finnick had been to Capitol parties before, so he didn't think anything of it when Tyco invited him to another. He'd told Mags what he was doing and she'd said she'd see him in the morning. And then Tyco… Finnick had fought, but he was drunk, his reflexes shot, and in the end, the best he could do was to not cry.
His hand on the doorknob, Finnick abruptly turned and dashed into Haymitch's bathroom to vomit into the sink.
When Finnick returned to his own room, successfully evading everyone he knew, he found a cream-colored envelope on his bed. Inside it was a note advising him of a meeting that afternoon with President Snow, instructing him to wait in the Training Center lobby for the car to pick him up. After staring at the note in his hands for a good minute, Finnick dropped it and went to his closet, rifling through it for something nice enough to wear to a meeting with the President of Panem. He'd spoken to President Snow several times since he became a victor, and the man had never been anything but kind to him; but this seemed different, more official.
It couldn't hurt to take another shower.
Finnick blinked back tears and fought to regain his composure. "I don't understand." His voice was steady, so at least he had that, at least he didn't fall completely apart. Mags knew? She knew? How could she know? Inside, he was screaming.
"Which part do you not understand, Mr. Odair?" Snow stared at him with one eyebrow raised and Finnick felt like the man could see right through him to the scared little boy who wished he'd never walked out of that arena. "The part about your new duties as a victor? Or…?"
"I don't understand any of it." Mags knew about Gaston Tyco, and, apparently, so did the President. She knew and she hadn't said anything. Betrayed as Finnick felt over Snow's pretending to be his friend these past few years, it was nothing compared to Mags. He loved Mags, and he thought that she cared about him. But she was a part of this? She knew that Finnick was going to have to "entertain patrons," as Snow so politely put it, for the "foreseeable future?" He wished the ground would open beneath his feet and swallow him whole.
While Finnick was still reeling, Snow warned him there would be consequences if he didn't cooperate, and then he showed him a tape and said that what happened to Haymitch Abernathy's loved ones could just as easily happen to his own. He didn't know what to think, didn't know what to believe or who to trust.
Between being raped, learning that Mags knew it was going to happen, and Snow telling him that it was going to happen again, Finnick wanted nothing more than to curl up into a tiny ball and die.
But he couldn't even do that for fear of what Snow would do to his family.
Deciding that there was one person he could trust, Finnick stuck with Haymitch Abernathy as much as he could for the rest of the Games. Haymitch never did ask any questions, nor did Finnick ask anything of Haymitch beyond just letting him stay. He and Chaff included Finnick when they sat around drinking and telling stories; Finnick didn't join in, but he did watch and listen and gradually, the terrible knot of fear and self-loathing inside him began to loosen. They didn't treat him any differently than they had before, except that maybe Haymitch treated him a little more like an equal than a kid. It helped.
He avoided Mags. He didn't know what to say to her, didn't know how to act around her anymore. And every time he had a "date" – there were nearly a dozen of them, and at least two of those hit the tabloids, before Jayce from Ten won – it got worse. It got worse because not only did Mags know what he was doing with all those people, but also, because of the reporters and photographers. His parents knew about it, too, and it didn't matter that none of it was Finnick's choice. No one back home would know that. They would believe whatever they saw about him on TV.
Finnick desperately missed his family, but he just as desperately did not want to go home.
Haymitch wasn't required to attend any of the pre-Games parties the next time he was in the Capitol, but he went anyway. He hated the damned things, but they were still one of the best ways to round up sponsors, which were hard enough to come by for Twelve, so he couldn't afford to stay in the Training Center and read. Or drink. But for the first time in years, the impulse to imbibe was more or less under control.
At Honoria Stoker's party, he sought out Mags and told her he wanted to talk to her on the Training Center roof later that night. She didn't ask any questions, but she did agree to meet him before Honoria spotted the two of them and called Mags away. As Mags left him, Haymitch's gaze fell on Finnick in a heated embrace with an older woman at the edge of the dance floor. Feeling a little sick, Haymitch turned away. There was nothing he could do about it.
Not yet at least.
Mags was already on the roof when Haymitch got there, the wind whipping at her hair and the fabric of her long skirt as she leaned on the low wall surrounding the rooftop gardens, watching out over the city. Between the noise of a dozen wind chimes and the fountain burbling merrily away toward the center of the flowerbeds, no one should overhear them. Listening devices were hard to use in that environment. If they wanted to use them, they'd have to put the roof under a dome to keep out the wind, and for whatever reason, that was something they weren't willing to do.
Joining Mags at the wall and keeping his voice low, Haymitch began, "After our talk last year, I got to thinking…." He talked for a good ten minutes, laying out his case, citing the rising quotas for coal and shrimp and cloth that they'd spoken of with Heavensbee the year before, and how they never seemed to go back down again. He mentioned the twenty-three dead kids, year after year, and how being that one kid who lived was, in a way, far worse. He pointed out that the only people who moved much between districts were the victors and how the government was used to those victors doing what they were told to do.
"Most of us have a measure of respect in our home districts." He didn't include himself in that number. "We could leverage that. It won't be easy, but if we're smart about it, if we take it slow and steady, we could make a change."
Mags didn't say anything right away, just continued looking out over the city; but he could see from her face, even in profile, that she was thinking about what he'd said. After who knew how long, she turned toward him, sweeping her hair from her eyes when the ever-present wind blew it over her face.
"Woof will join us," she said and Haymitch nodded, his heart picking up its pace at the way she phrased it as a given, not only that Woof would join them, but that there was something there to join. "We need to keep it small, for now, and recruit more people only as we need them." Mags smiled then and it was the most beautiful thing Haymitch had ever seen. "It'll take a bit of time to properly plan a rebellion."
That year, the Games flew by. There were no miracles. Haymitch's kids still died. He still drank too much. Nothing at all had changed.
But everything had changed.
Still too young to mentor, at least according to President Snow, Finnick entertained another dozen or so Capitol citizens to the backdrop of the 68th Games. Four of his patrons that year were not just rich, but high profile, too, so Finnick had to worry about what his family and friends back home thought about seeing him with these women and men. But if he was honest with himself, he knew what they thought.
They thought he was a slut. That he'd won his Games too young and the lifestyle of the Capitol, so different from that of the districts, had gone to his head. And no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't say anything to set them straight.
The only times he felt like himself anymore were the afternoons he spent with Haymitch. Even though everyone in Mentor Central knew what he was doing, even though he'd cleared things up with Mags and understood that she'd had no choice – none of them did – Haymitch was still the only one Finnick felt comfortable with. The older man even showed him a little bit of how to mentor while his district was still in the Games.
Finnick Odair spent his days in Mentor Central with his fellow victors, his nights with strangers, and he wanted to die.
But he was a victor. A survivor. And even as he wanted to die, he slowly began to learn how to live.
District Seven won the 69th Games. Haymitch's kids never had a chance. Even after his district was out of the Games, both kids on the first day, he only had a couple of patrons, women he'd been with before. And he learned that the tape Snow showed Cashmere a couple of years earlier had become kind of a thing. Cashmere. Gloss. Finnick. But not last year's victor, a kid from District Two. The Twos only rarely wound up as part of the circuit; Enobaria was the exception.
He wondered if the new victor, a sixteen-year-old girl whose looks were striking rather than pretty and who turned out to be downright vicious with an axe, would end up seeing that tape, too. He still didn't know what was on it; he had never asked.
Finnick stood on the stage at the reaping and watched as the kids climbed up the stairs to join him and the other District Four victors, just as he did every year, but that year, it was different. He wasn't just a victor, he was now a mentor. Calleen Delmar was eighteen – the same age as Finnick – and a volunteer, trained as Finnick had never had the chance.
Calleen made it clear on the train to the Capitol that she wanted Finnick; he made it just as clear that that wasn't going to happen. From that moment on, she ignored everything he said. He tried to switch tributes with Coral, his mentoring partner, but she refused on the grounds of District Four tradition: mentor-tribute pairs were comprised of opposite genders, because the powers that be back home thought it best to have a different perspective during that week before the Games began. Nothing Finnick said swayed her.
He wished Mags was there.
In addition to fighting with his tribute during that first week, Finnick had to keep two Capitol citizens happy. He was off the hook during the Games themselves, which was a pretty powerful incentive to keep his tribute alive, but he learned quickly – and Haymitch confirmed it – that there wasn't all that much he could do to influence things once his tribute was inside the arena. The only thing he could do was solicit sponsors and, feeling sick at making promises he would later have to make good on, Finnick amassed quite a bit of money for District Four; but in the end, it didn't matter.
Four was out of the Games within a week and Finnick ended up repaying the generosity of half a dozen sponsors before the closing ceremonies ended.
He wondered if it would ever get easier.
The axe slipped from nerveless fingers to the bloody, muddy ground. Johanna Mason followed it down, landing on her knees, staring into a pair of light brown eyes. Dead eyes. She couldn't have stopped the tears that leaked from her own if she'd tried, so she didn't bother. Didn't bother to stop the wracking sobs that followed, either.
A wind from above blew dirt and leaves into her face and she finally tore her gaze away from the girl from One who had once been favored to win. "What good is all your training now?" she asked. Of course, there was no answer.
Johanna watched the hovercraft descend. It stopped just above the tops of the trees and a portion of its belly slid back to allow a ladder to unfold. Whoever was flying that thing had damned good aim; all Johanna had to do was push back up to her feet and reach for it. Drawing on reserves of strength she didn't know she had, she managed it.
What followed was a blur for years afterward. The memories of the four days between killing the last tribute and walking off that Capitol stage with a crown on her head returned to her little by little, and always at a bad time. She did remember Caesar Flickerman remarking that her family would be so proud of her, and she remembered thinking that no, they really wouldn't, but they would be happy she was coming home.
She returned to District Seven with Blight and Burr and the knowledge that she would have to go back to the Capitol every year for the Games because District Seven finally had a female victor.
Johanna never wanted to see the Capitol again.
The 70th Games were nothing special, at least not by Capitol standards. None of the tributes really stood out from the crowd that year, not even the Careers.
The number of people involved in the fledgling rebellion had grown, and it included not just victors, but Capitol citizens, and even a Gamemaker, when Plutarch Heavensbee threw his lot in with theirs. As real plans began to form, they needed solid information, not just anecdotal. The victors with the most exposure to those citizens with access to the types of information they needed were the ones Snow sold, but they knew that not all would be receptive to what Haymitch and the others worked toward.
Mags was certain that Finnick, who had mentored for the first time the previous year and took it pretty hard when he realized just how helpless he was to prevent his tribute's death, would be on board. While she wanted to bring him in, she was equally certain that if she were the one to broach the subject, he would almost automatically agree to whatever she asked him to do, as respect for his elders was that ingrained in him. And so she asked Haymitch to talk to him; she wanted it to be his choice whether or not to join the rebels, rather than him trying to please her.
Early in the afternoon of the first day of training, Haymitch was alone in the victors' lounge, slumped into the corner of his favorite couch. Feet propped up on a table and his eyes closed, he was almost asleep when someone dropped heavily beside him, an arm coming to rest along the back of the couch behind his head.
"I hear you want to talk to me?" Finnick asked and Haymitch opened his eyes, swiveling his head to the side to look at him.
"Not here, I don't," he replied, studying the young man next to him. Gangly at fourteen, still filling out and growing into those long limbs at sixteen, now at nineteen almost nothing boyish remained. Most definitely a looker, as they said back home in Twelve, Finnick projected an air of self-assurance and even arrogance; he was well aware that almost everyone's attention focused on him when he walked into a room.
Nothing about Finnick changed at Haymitch's response, not outwardly, but Haymitch felt the sudden tension in the arm behind his head, saw the subtle tightening of his jaw muscles and the slight narrowing of those green eyes.
"Breakfast at Nero's?" Finnick asked without missing a beat.
"Don't you mean lunch?"
"Where I come from, breakfast is the first meal of the day," Finnick said with a cocky grin. "C'mon, old man, we can talk while we walk."
Finnick listened to what Haymitch had to say, but didn't immediately agree to work with them, instead asking for some time to think about it. Haymitch found that he was happier with that non-answer than he would have been had Finnick joined their cause right away. He asked for the week and said he'd give them an answer when the Games started, but then his tribute got caught up with the Career pack and, not long after that, she seemed to have a complete mental breakdown. It wasn't unheard of, but it was rare, and it was only Finnick's second time out as a mentor; he was, to say the least, distracted.
Two days after that, Haymitch's boy died at the hands of the boy from One and the girl from Two, the same pair who decapitated Mags' tribute and sent Finnick's girl into hiding. At about the same time, the girl from Seven literally walked into a patch of quicksand and disappeared without a trace as her ally, the boy from Six, watched without even trying to help her. The girl's cannon didn't fire until several minutes later.
Johanna Mason watched from her seat in the control room as her very first tribute lost her Games. When the cannon sounded and the second District Seven screen went dark – the boy lost his life the day before – Johanna stood up, tossed her headset onto her console, and then suddenly and with great force sent her chair careening into the District Six console; it clipped Natasha Daimler's elbow on the way.
"What the hell?" the District Six mentor shouted, jumping up from her chair and clutching her elbow as she turned toward Johanna, who just shrugged.
"Oops," Johanna said, not looking at all contrite, and walked out of the control room.
"I think I like that girl," Haymitch remarked to no one in particular. Chuckling, he watched as the door clicked shut behind her.
The Games dragged on. The arena, the center of which was a deep caldera, was too large and had too many hiding places. When only ten tributes remained, scattered and hidden, nothing short of Gamemaker intervention could force a confrontation. They arranged a feast to draw them out, but as most of the tributes – all save the girl from Four, who stubbornly stayed hidden – made their way to the table, the earth began to shake. That shaking quickly grew in intensity. The earth rippled beneath their feet. Fissures formed in the ground and in the edges of the caldera.
The boy from Three scrabbled to get a grip around the trunk of a tree as a crack opened up under his feet, but then the crack widened, swallowing the tree to which the boy clung; a cannon sounded a moment later. As suddenly as it began, the earthquake ended, but the damage couldn't be undone. The cracks at the edges of the caldera continued to grow. Water began to trickle through several. The trickles grew to streams and then, without warning, the walls of the caldera broke.
There was water everywhere. It washed away rocks and trees and tributes. Over a period of seven hours, one after the other, the cannons spoke. Some of those tributes died with the impact of the water as it dashed them against those rocks or trees. Some died later, as they drowned. In the end, the only one who remained was the one for whom swimming was almost as natural as breathing.
They pulled Annie Cresta of District Four from the water eight hours after the caldera broke, flooding the arena. Five days later, Snow crowned her victor. Watching her on that stage, Haymitch had no idea if she even knew what had happened.
His second year of mentoring, Finnick was determined to do better. Annie Cresta was pretty and smart and resourceful, but despite the fact she was a volunteer, she was no Career tribute. Not like Calleen, the year before. In some ways, Finnick couldn't be happier about that; maybe Annie would listen to him instead of just trying to seduce him.
Annie did listen to him. She laughed at his jokes, even the stupid ones. And he caught her, more than once, watching him when she thought he wasn't looking. It became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that Annie had a crush on him, and that was much harder to deal with than Calleen's outright lust. Because he liked Annie. He didn't want to hurt her feelings or alienate her, but he also didn't want to encourage her. Nothing could ever come of it, even if she won. Snow wouldn't let it; Finnick didn't want it.
After Finnick saw Annie off to training that first day, he went searching for Haymitch. He'd heard from a couple of his fellow victors that Haymitch wanted to talk to him about something, though neither of them knew what about. When he wasn't in the District Twelve suites, Finnick headed to Mentor Central. If Haymitch wasn't there yet, he would be eventually, and Finnick could make sponsor calls just as easily from the victors' lounge as he could from his bedroom.
But Haymitch was there and he did, indeed, want to talk, but what he had to say wasn't something he wanted overheard. So Finnick suggested they walk to a nearby restaurant, his favorite in the Capitol and the only place outside of District Four where he could get a good gumbo. As soon as they were outside the Games complex, Haymitch talked and Finnick listened.
The things Haymitch said made Finnick's pulse race and his heart pound in his chest. He spoke of rebellion, of straight up treason and of the need for information Finnick was uniquely positioned to obtain, more so than any of the other victor-whores simply because of the frequency of his engagements, the high-profile ones in particular.
He didn't tell Finnick who else was involved or even that there was anyone else involved, and Finnick didn't ask. Nor did Haymitch pressure Finnick for an answer right away. When Finnick asked for time to think about it, Haymitch readily agreed.
Finnick didn't know what to think or how to feel. There was no one he could talk to about it; the decision whether to join Haymitch or not or even to turn him in was Finnick's alone. It was a situation he wasn't at all used to.
With Mags' help, he and Annie worked out a training strategy. He coached her on the interview and if he was flattered by how much she liked his Caesar Flickerman imitation, he wouldn't let it go to his head. She received a respectable score of seven in training, because she was good with knives and traps. Although the crowd didn't love her after her interview, they at least liked her well enough that when Finnick made a few calls for sponsors, he didn't have to promise – and deliver – the moon to be able to afford a couple of gifts in the arena.
When Annie broke three days into the Games, hiding in a cave, Finnick thought it was all over. But nearly two weeks later, she was still alive. District Four was still in the Games and Finnick still had duties as a mentor that overrode any other duties he might have to perform. When Templesmith announced the feast, Annie left her cave, but she stopped short of joining the others. Tangled hair, thin almost to the point of emaciation from eating little more than moss and berries for days, she looked feral. Even so, when the dam broke and the arena flooded, he willed her to swim. And swim she did.
Annie Cresta may have been a victor by default, but she was still a victor.
Thanks to Annie, Finnick only had four patrons to keep happy that year, even if they were all high-profile and thus fodder for gossip that reached all the way back home. Two of them came before the Games began and two more while Annie was in the hospital after they fished her from the arena. When the last of them tried to give him a diamond bracelet, a sop to the woman's conscience for using him, Finnick declined, asking instead for something more valuable. He asked her to tell him a secret, and she was more than happy to oblige.
It was a good year.
Johanna hated the Capitol. She hated it the first time she saw it, when she was pretty sure she was going to die, and she hated it even more the second time, when she was pretty sure her tribute was going to die.
Elisabet Pierce was Johanna's friend. They'd grown up together, talked about boys and clothes and dreams for the future, once they were past reaping age. They'd even made out with each other once on a dare. It was Elisabet's last year of eligibility and damn if old Keller hadn't pulled her name from the reaping ball. There were no volunteers to take her place. There never were.
Johanna was scared and she was angry. She'd never mentored before, but she and Lis both knew it was a joke. Everyone knew that, unless something crazy happened in the arena or unless Lis was very, very lucky, she'd be dead in a matter of days. Seven was never awash in sponsor gifts and Johanna didn't see why this year would be any different.
Lis was strong, smart, and knew tracking and hunting like nobody's business, but that might not matter. It all depended on the arena. But Johanna did her best to prepare her friend for the fear and the hunger, the sleepless nights and the constant stress.
The night before the Games, Johanna spent the night in Lis's room. They lay in Lis's bed and just held each other. And when Lis went to the Launch Room with her stylist, Johanna locked herself in her bathroom where nobody could see her and she cried. By the time she hit Mentor Central, she was back to being angry and defiant and there was no sign of any tears.
The second day of the Games, when Johanna walked through the victors' lounge on the way to the control room to relieve Blight, she overheard Natasha from Six talking to Finnick from Four. Natasha mentioned "that girl from Seven," so of course, Johanna stopped to listen.
"I told him to ally with that girl from Seven, but not get attached, you know?"
"Attached? You mean like a Career pack hookup?" The Careers were usually the only ones in the arena secure enough to even think about sex or romance, even though that was the kind of thing that did occasionally result in sponsor gifts. Johanna hadn't even thought of that in regard to Lis.
"Well, that, yes, but I also told him if he saw an opportunity, take it. There can only be one victor."
"That's pretty cold, Natasha. And pretty short-sighted. Pierce seems, at least to me, to be someone he should keep around. They shouldn't be a danger to each other unless they make it to the very end."
Johanna headed up the stairs and away from that conversation. She wanted to punch Natasha in the face, but she was impressed by Finnick. He actually knew Lis's name when there was no reason for him to know it. It almost sounded like he cared.
When Lis walked into a patch of quicksand six days later and couldn't escape it without the help of her so-called ally, Johanna remembered that conversation. When the cannon sounded and Lis's screen went dark, Johanna protested her friend's needless death by sending her chair hurtling at the District Six mentor, and she took great satisfaction when it hit where she aimed it.
District Seven was out of the Games. As Johanna stalked from the room, she heard Haymitch Abernathy say, "I think I like that girl." Tears streaming unchecked down her face, Johanna didn't feel quite so alone.
Resting her arms on the wall surrounding the roof of the Training Center, Johanna stared out over the lights of the Capitol. She hadn't even known the roof was open to Training Center residents until earlier that evening.
Finnick Odair had been at the Training Center bar when Snow's driver dropped her off. It was crowded and she'd slipped into the space beside him and ordered up three shots of whiskey and downed them in quick succession. Then she'd asked for the whole damned bottle and he'd looked at her, apparently saw something in her eyes, read it in her face, whatever, and said, "I'm guessing Snow had you in for The Talk." That's how he'd said it, like it was a thing with a title, capital letters and all, and Johanna had felt the heat rush to her face as the bartender set the bottle down in front of her.
"So it's not just me." He'd laughed, the sound bitter, and looked down at his own glass, spinning it so the blue liquid within sloshed and picked up the light from behind the bar.
"Nope. There are a few of us." He looked up at her again and smiled and it was unlike anything she'd seen of him on TV or even in Mentor Central the past few days. It was a little lop-sided and backed by pain. "If you need to be alone for a while," he nodded toward the bottle, "the rooftop gardens are nice. No one will notice if you have to… vent. It's also a good place to talk, if you ever need to. The bugs can't handle it." Bugs? When Johanna stood and grasped the bottle's neck – nowhere near full, from the feel of it, which was probably just as well – Finnick stopped her with a brief touch of his hand to her wrist. "You're not alone, Johanna." She'd shrugged and turned away to hide the sudden scratch of tears behind her eyes.
And so here she was, alone, listening to the howl of the wind and the play of the chimes. It smelled good up here, clean, the stench of the big city kept at bay by the force field that kept tributes – or victors – from throwing themselves over the wall.
"The choice is, of course, yours, Miss Mason."
Johanna shuddered. It wasn't herself she'd like to throw off the roof.
As she sat in that uncomfortable chair in the President's office, mere hours after losing one of her closest friends to the Games, it was all she could do not to launch herself at him and tear his throat out with her bare hands.
He had informed her of her new duties as a victor, since she no longer had a tribute in the Games, and he told her about what could happen if she didn't do as she was told. There'd even been a nifty little film to illustrate that particular point. But the choice was hers, of course. Probably so the bastard could tell himself anything that happened to her or her loved ones was all her own fault for being so stubborn.
She reached up to wipe the moisture from her eyes. Finnick had told her she wasn't the only one this was happening to, and he'd said "us"; he'd faced this non-choice, too. She wondered how many of the others were for sale. No one back home would believe her, if she told them that victors were a commodity.
Her first appointment was in just a couple of hours; she expected someone would come up to the roof to collect her soon. First Remake, then style, and then delivery. She was being "given" to a man she'd never heard of, but who Snow said had paid a great deal for the furs that had kept her from freezing to death in the arena. The son of a bitch had had the nerve to tell her she should be "properly grateful."
Something made her turn around, and when she did, she saw Haymitch Abernathy standing in the doorway that led back into the Training Center, a bottle of something in his hand.
"I can leave, if you want to be alone. I didn't think anyone else would be up here."
"You can stay if you're going to share," she said aloud, glancing pointedly at the bottle in his hand. Her own had run empty after only a few swallows. Haymitch bowed extravagantly, just about the most sarcastic gesture she'd seen in ages, and joined her at the wall.
"Johanna Mason, right?"
"For what it's worth." He cocked his head to one side and studied her for a couple of seconds before handing her the open bottle. From the weight of it, he'd already consumed some, but it was still more full than the one she'd brought had been before she finished it. He didn't seem particularly drunk. Suddenly curious about some of the things Snow had said that afternoon and about the tape, she remarked, "I saw a… a training film about you today."
He stiffened, and she watched his hand, the one that had previously held the bottle, spasm as though trying to tighten around the neck of it. But then he snorted, the sound equal parts amused and skeptical – I've got to learn how he does that – and asked, "Was it any good?"
She smiled at that, feeling so brittle she thought her face might crack. "It sure seemed to give Snow a hard on." She waited for him to ask her what was on it or what it was about, but he didn't, so maybe her first instinct was off and he really did know all about it. She lifted the bottle and downed a good swallow. Once the shock of it passed, she handed it back to him and asked, "Did he really have your family killed?"
Haymitch seemed to down half the bottle, he drank for so long before lowering it and turning once more toward Johanna. "Did he tell you that?" The only thing she could see in those gray eyes was a reflection of herself. She shivered, feeling as though someone had just walked across her grave.
"Not in so many words. But the tape…" Her stomach clenched and bile rose up in her throat just remembering it: an older woman, a girl not much younger than Johanna, and a boy around eight or nine years old, shot in the backs of their heads, and after, the house burning around them.
A hand between her shoulder blades made her jump. "If you're gonna puke, sweetheart, you might not want to do it into the force field." Instead of throwing up, she grabbed the bottle back from him and drank. He leaned against the wall, his back to the city below, and his jaw worked for a couple of seconds before he finally asked, "So what exactly was on the tape?"
"You don't know?"
"Wouldn't have asked you if I did."
She handed the bottle back to him and wrapped her arms around her torso – trying to hold in her body heat or hold herself together, she didn't know – before she described the tape.
"When it ended, Snow said, 'Mr. Abernathy did what was best for his district once he understood how important it was.'"
Haymitch's expression grew bleak, his eyes distant as she spoke. When she was done, they stood there in silence, not even passing the bottle, until someone came to take Johanna to Remake. When she turned back, Haymitch was still there, standing like a statue, his back against the wall.
District Twelve's new Capitol representative and escort hurried over to introduce herself to Haymitch the moment he set foot on the stage. She was bubbly and chirpy, much like her predecessor, and eye-bleedingly pink; for Haymitch, it was hate at first sight. Her name was Effie Trinket, it was her first year as a Games representative, and she was so fucking enthusiastic and earnest that Haymitch wanted to dive off the back of the stage to escape.
In spite of all her ideas to improve their standing in the Games, such as the whole "team" dressing alike to show some kind of unity, having a new escort made no difference for District Twelve's tributes or for their mentor. The kids received middle-of-the-road training scores, were both too nervous to perform well at their interviews, and, as a result, the media that surrounded the flashier tributes from the Career districts completely ignored them. Haymitch didn't expect much in the way of sponsorships that year.
Sometime after midnight on the first day of the Games, he headed down to the victors' lounge for a snack. Both of his kids were still in it, but they, along with most of the others, were asleep and it was time for a break. Allied with Eleven, Chaff would call him if something happened that might require his attention.
The lights were out in the lounge, but the big television in the corner played the requisite Games broadcast. A couple was making out on Haymitch's favorite couch; judging by the color of his hair in the flickering light of the TV, one of the participants was Finnick. They didn't notice when Haymitch walked over to the coffee table and picked up a book lying there, but they sure noticed it when he dropped it onto the glass table with a loud thud.
The two on the couch jumped apart like scalded cats and Haymitch flicked on the lights.
"What the hell?" Finnick's hair was tousled and his shirt undone, slid halfway down his arms and back. Glaring at Haymitch, he shrugged it back on. Scooting to the corner of the couch, Johanna Mason watched Haymitch with an amused smirk.
"And that's why we have separate rooms with beds in them," Haymitch told them, nodding his head toward the door to the sleeping room with its half dozen cots.
"You thinking about joining us, old man?" Johanna asked, her dark eyes dancing, her skin flushed. Looking at the two of them, he felt a brief flicker of interest, but quickly squashed it. While it was good to know that he could still feel honest attraction to another human being, none of them needed that particular complication.
Haymitch chuckled as he went around to the food dispensers. "Oh, sweetheart, I doubt you two could keep up."
He was pouring a cup of coffee when Johanna stepped up beside him and pulled down two porcelain cups from the shelf above the coffee pot and set them down on the counter. Haymitch filled them without a word.
"Unless those are both for you, little girl," he called after her as she carried them back to the couch, "you forgot something." Setting his own coffee onto a tray beside his sandwich, he added a bowl of sugar cubes and a creamer before carrying the whole thing back into the lounge.
"Thanks, Haymitch," Finnick said when Haymitch set the tray down on the table. His shirt was still unbuttoned, but he'd finger-combed his hair. Haymitch sat on the other end of the couch as Finnick dumped half the cream and five sugar cubes into his coffee. Johanna winced.
"Seriously?" She looked at the cup in horror, but Finnick merely grinned and stirred the light brown liquid with one finger.
"What?" he said, suggestively sucking coffee from his finger. "I like sweet." His performance was so over-the-top that both Johanna and Haymitch laughed.
Haymitch unwrapped his sandwich and began to eat. Johanna settled back against Finnick and he shifted to keep from spilling his sugary coffee. The two whispered to each other, a quiet conversation, and drank their coffee while Haymitch finished eating.
"Does it ever get any easier?" Johanna asked and it took him a minute to realize that she was talking to him, not Finnick. He looked up to find two pairs of eyes, one set brown and the other green, trained on him. He didn't need her to clarify.
"No. Not the mentoring and not the rest of it." Finnick's fingers curled around Johanna's as he whispered something else in her ear and Haymitch looked away. The three of them sat in silence after that, staring at the TV.
Haymitch had no patrons to entertain that year, not before the Games began and not after his kids were gone, which gave rise to the hope that that particular part of his life might finally be over. He was thirty-seven years old and a bit long in the tooth for the Capitol's rich and powerful. No longer young, he'd taken great pains over the years, indulging in both attitude and alcohol, to make himself as unattractive as he could. Maybe his efforts had finally paid off.
Snow and the Capitol were finally leaving him alone. He'd just have to work a little harder to get them to leave Johanna and Finnick, as well as the others, alone, too.
No more dead kids. And no more survivors forced into living a nightmare.
As soon as he had the opportunity, Finnick officially joined Haymitch's rebellion. He'd already started gathering information from his patrons and he passed what little he had on to Haymitch. He didn't know who else was part of it and he didn't want to know, although he suspected Mags was probably just as deep into it as Haymitch.
Things were bad for District Four, both in regard to the quotas back home and in regard to the Games that year. It was almost always rough the year following a victory, and the 71st Games were no exception. Both tributes from Four were part of the Career pack, but that only lasted through the first night. By morning, Finnick's girl, Belinda, was dead at the hands of the pack and Mags' boy was badly injured and on the run. Cian died of his injuries two days later in spite of the expensive first aid kit they sent in; he'd simply lost too much blood.
Finnick felt a little guilty about Belinda. While she was busy fighting for her life, he was busy with Johanna Mason. After Haymitch caught them in the victors' lounge, they'd stayed to talk to him for a while and then gone up to the roof. It wasn't the first time Finnick had had sex with another victor, but it was the first time that it maybe meant something more than exerting a measure of control over his life in the only way he could. He liked Johanna, and he thought it was possible they could have something more with each other than just a quick fuck between patrons.
It was ironic that the best way he'd found so far to escape the things he did with strangers who paid for it was to do those same things with a girl he barely knew for free.
Johanna had suspected from the moment she knew she was still alive that things would never get better. Her suspicions grew stronger when she watched her friend die in the arena the year before, only to have those images burn their way into her nightmares alongside the things she'd done in her own arena. First Finnick, and then Haymitch had only confirmed what she already knew.
Her life sucked and there was no end in sight.
The only bright spot that year was Finnick Odair, but even the time she spent with him was tainted by the Games. Tainted by simply surviving those Games. They were both broken inside, just as she was sure every victor was broken in some way, but they were still able to make each other laugh and to make each other feel.
The Games went on for thirteen days. District Seven was in the Games for six, two days longer than Finnick's district. The moment their districts were out, it seemed, they both had customers to keep happy, but they spent most of their free time together.
They didn't talk about what they were doing and they didn't talk about the future. They were both pretty sure there wasn't one. But lying in his arms on the Training Center roof one night, watching the sky lighten with the coming dawn, Johanna thought about it. She thought about how things could possibly work out for them, given that they could only be together for a few weeks out of every year, and those few weeks would always be centered around the Games. Just three or four weeks every year.
She wondered if that could be enough.
Plutarch started talking about the power of symbolism and brainstorming the merits of various symbols at Honoria Stoker's annual party, and by the time Haymitch left that evening, half the guest list had joined in. Some of the suggestions were hilarious, like when Johanna mentioned the platypus, an extinct animal that combined the traits of both mammals and reptiles. Or as Johanna put it when she whispered to Haymitch, the traits of both the districts and the Capitol, although she didn't specify which was which. Others made his skin crawl, like when Plutarch brought up jabberjays, so adept at mimicking specific human voices no one could tell the difference.
In the end, after listening to the merits and characteristics of dozens of suggestions, both animate and inanimate, Plutarch decided on the mockingjay, a bird the Capitol had created to help destroy another set of rebels and that was never supposed to survive beyond the Capitol's need for it. But the mockingjay lived in all the districts and thrived in most. Haymitch had suggested it when he thought about Maysilee and the mockingjay pin she'd worn into the arena, and that he'd made sure returned to her family.
While the general brainstorming session was quite public, the decision to go with the mockingjay as the symbol of the freedom they worked toward was private. There were four of them on the patio that night, the same four who started the initial discussion of rebellion five years before: Mags, Woof, Plutarch Heavensbee – now a senior Gamemaker – and Haymitch himself.
With that symbol in mind, the search for its human embodiment began.
Finnick didn't have to mentor that year, but of course, he still had to make the annual trip to the Capitol. And that meant that he had more time available for Snow's Coordinator of Victor Affairs to schedule. He made the most of it, collecting secrets. Some were big and some small, and he had no idea which of them could or would become useful to his friends, but he hoarded them like gold, especially the ones that could damage Snow and his fellows within the government.
He didn't see much of Johanna that year, taking care of more than a dozen patrons between them. In a way, that was just as well, because he had no idea how to tell her that he'd fallen in love. He hadn't meant to. He hadn't ever wanted to. But he couldn't deny it. He'd talked about it with Mags once, the idea of a victor falling in love, and she'd told him that more often than not, it didn't work out, but that if it did work out, almost without exception it was with another victor.
Well, Finnick had fallen in love with another victor. But it wasn't Johanna.
District Seven had a contender that year, and most of the mentoring fell to Johanna. Burr was with her, but he had a heart attack the day of the tribute interviews and they rushed him to the Capitol's finest hospital for emergency surgery. Scrambling for sponsors, Johanna was able to get a few things into the arena that helped her boy out, but in the end, he still died, killed on what turned out to be the last day of the Games by the eventual winner, Rhodium of District One.
She saw more of Haymitch than she did of Finnick that year. Because he wasn't mentoring, Finnick was busy with appointments both day and night. He wasn't around much at all, while she was stuck in Mentor Central. Even though Haymitch was out of the Games by the end of the first week, he stayed around to help Johanna, saying he had nothing better to do.
Even after the Games were over, there were still several more days before they could all go home. She saw four patrons in four days, or rather nights, and the last one was such an asshole, obnoxious and offensive, that she told him he could stick it in someone else.
That was two days before the closing ceremonies, but for Johanna, there were no more patrons. She didn't have a problem with that.
Effie just would not shut up. Haymitch replayed in his head the reapings for the other districts on the way to the Capitol, assessing his kids' competition, and, too, making a list of the ones that might have that spark that could become their Mockingjay. But Effie kept lecturing him about his posture and about setting a good example for their tributes. And when she wasn't lecturing him, she went off on a tirade at seventeen-year-old Cora and fifteen-year-old Ronnie about being little more than savages and how she despaired of ever making them presentable for the Games.
"Enough!" He slammed his drink down on the table and she jumped. She might also have squeaked, but he couldn't be sure. "Neither one of them has had what you would call a decent meal in their entire lives. They've never seen so much food in one place before, and if they want to eat themselves into a coma before we get to our destination, then you're going to damn well let them do it in peace." Two pairs of Seam-gray eyes and one of bright blue stared at him from across the table.
Effie started to say something else, but Haymitch cut her off with a sharp gesture as he stood up from the table. He took his drink and started to walk away, but then turned back. He picked up a pair of cupcakes and set them down in front of Ronnie and Cora, and then continued on his way out of the dining car. He headed for the bar car, one car over.
The Games only lasted a week. It wasn't a record, but it wasn't far off, either. A boy from District Two won using a club with terrible efficiency. Cora was injured in the bloodbath, but she didn't die right away. Her cannon sounded sometime after midnight. Ronnie died the next morning when a pack of jackals attacked him in his sleep. It was over quickly; the boy never saw it coming.
President Snow's assistant stopped Finnick as he stepped off the train. "President Snow would like a word with you, Mr. Odair. Please, come with me."
"Do I have a choice?" The man shook his head.
"No, sir," he answered as though it were a serious question, "I'm afraid you don't." Finnick knew from the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes that it was going to be bad. He was not disappointed.
Snow didn't play any of his usual games. He saw Finnick right away and he told him right up front that he was quite displeased by Finnick's duplicity. Suddenly unable to breathe, Finnick stood stiffly in front of Snow and waited for the other shoe to drop, terrified that Snow had somehow found out about their plans for rebellion.
"I am well aware, Finnick, that Annie Cresta is not nearly as incurably insane as you have led me to believe." Finnick took an involuntary step backward, unable to stop himself. He felt as though he'd just taken a punch to the gut. "In fact, I'm told that her only real issue is that she is prone to anxiety attacks. You lied to me, Finnick." He looked Finnick in the eyes and Finnick couldn't break that gaze. "About your girlfriend."
It was all Finnick could do to choke out the words, "I'm sorry, Mr. President." The endless possibilities for Snow's reprisal played out in rapid succession in Finnick's head. His brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, his parents. None of them were safe.
And Annie was the most vulnerable of them all.
"I'll do anything you want me to do, just please, don't…" His voice trailed off as the President watched him and Finnick willed himself not to fidget under that gaze. After a moment, Snow spoke, and Finnick listened. When Snow was finished, he dismissed Finnick and returned to his paperwork as his assistant escorted him from the President's office. Before he got far, Finnick ran for the nearest receptacle – a trash can with a bit of paper and the remains of a sandwich wrapped in plastic. He lost everything he'd eaten for breakfast that morning.
Most years, Finnick took care of about a dozen or so patrons before and after his mentoring duties. That year, he balanced twice that number with his mentoring duties. It was a price he gladly paid to keep Annie out of the Capitol, and his family safe from harm.
By the end of the Games, he was exhausted, running on adrenaline and whatever chemicals he could pump into his body to keep moving. But he considered it well worth it, both for the safety of those he loved, and for the secrets he learned, most of which involved President Coriolanus Snow.
She didn't think it would be so hard, being around Finnick again, but it was. Not for the reason she would have expected. It hurt that he'd found someone else, yes, but it hurt so much more, the knowledge that he still had a home and family he could return to. A small part of her hated him for that.
Her own family was dead by the time she got off the train that took her home from the 72nd Games. The man she'd told off had complained directly to Snow, demanding his money back. And Snow had ordered them all killed. Her parents, her brothers, her nephew. Even her parents' dogs were gone. She never even had a chance to say goodbye.
He tried to not get his hopes up. He'd had promising kids before, but not like this.
District Twelve had a volunteer.
And as if that wasn't enough, she wasn't the only one with spirit. Both kids this year had a real chance. Haymitch had a choice to make and it was eating at him. He understood the girl, Katniss, on an instinctual level; the boy, Peeta, was Merchant, so not quite the same connection, but Haymitch just plain liked him.
There could be only one victor.
Peeta's bombshell – "she came here with me" – did everything Haymitch had hoped for. No one else even existed, as far as the Capitol was concerned. Everyone was talking about Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the "star-crossed lovers of District Twelve." For the first time in twenty-three years of hopeless mentoring, sponsors called Haymitch, all but begging him to take their money.
He felt downright giddy.
It was a sponsor call that gave him the idea.
Haymitch wished Mags was there to talk it out, but she'd had a stroke the previous winter and was still recovering, so he talked it over with Finnick in the victors' lounge one night. Beetee, their new member from Three, had amended the bugs in the lounge so that the only things a listener would hear were the TV, canned background noises randomized rather than looped, and voices holding normal to loud conversations.
Haymitch and Finnick spoke in whispers. "Do you really think Plutarch can pull it off?" Finnick asked. "Seneca is a major control freak." Haymitch shrugged.
"I'm going to get word to him that we need to talk. A change in the rules like this ultimately has to come from the Head Gamemaker." Which Plutarch was not, but he was a senior and he was influential, either way. If Plutarch thought it could happen, then Haymitch was going to do his damnedest to see to it both his kids made it out of that arena alive.
Public opinion turned the tide, but it was close. First the change was allowed, was recorded in the books, and then it wasn't.
Haymitch sat in the control room, his headset giving him everything Katniss and Peeta said to each other, even things the microphones in the arena couldn't pick up. He was surrounded by friends: Finnick on one side, Johanna on the other, Chaff and Seeder behind. Seeder had her hands on Haymitch's shoulders as though her own calm could flow from her body to his.
Templesmith announced the second rule change, pushing things back to the way they were. There could be only one victor.
Haymitch pushed the pain, the crushing disappointment down along with the despair that threatened to overwhelm him. He knew it would be Katniss, had really known it all along. She was just like him, after all, a survivor and not a particularly nice person, for all that the Capitol was head over heels in love with her. She was exactly what the rebellion needed.
But that meant that Peeta had to die.
"Haymitch, look." Johanna brought him back to the image on the TV as Katniss and Peeta started to count down in his ears. They lifted hands, filled with deadly berries, to their mouths in unison…
And changed history.
Haymitch was excited for the first time since Finnick had known him. Excited and sober. It was infectious, even when Coral's boy died at the Cornucopia at the hands of Lyme's girl. Even when Finnick's girl died when Haymitch's Katniss dropped a tracker jacker nest on her.
Once District Four was out, Finnick watched the Games in the control room with Haymitch or he hung out in the lounge with Johanna between patrons. And, as always, he kept those patrons, and thus his bargain with Snow, satisfied.
He missed Annie. He missed Mags, who was supposed to be here with him instead of Coral. He missed being home.
But mostly, he just tried not to let his dreams float too high.
Johanna's round of mentoring for the 74th Games lasted exactly twenty-two minutes past the opening gong. Both of her tributes died in the bloodbath at the Cornucopia, one of them trying to grab a weapon, and the other trying to run away. She spent the rest of the Games either in the victors' lounge, usually with Finnick, or with customers – she refused to call them "patrons."
Things had changed between her and Finnick, for neither better nor worse, but they were more comfortable with each other. He wasn't hers. Not that she could – or would – own him.
Something had made her talk to Haymitch about it, once Finnick had finally told her that he had a girlfriend back home. Annie Cresta, who'd won the Games the year after Johanna. Haymitch had told her it was just as well, because she and Finnick would have ended up hating each other, if they'd really tried to be some kind of a couple.
"You're too different, sweetheart. You'd have walked all over him and he would've let you."
She'd thought about it during the past year and realized Haymitch was right. She and Finnick were good as friends, but not as lovers. And because she valued Finnick's friendship, she let the other go. Not without some hurt, but then she was used to being hurt. It came with being a victor.
District Twelve won the 74th Games in spectacular style, a kick in the face to the Gamemakers and to Snow that Johanna wished she'd been a part of. She didn't wish the punishment that was to come on those two – two! – kids, though.
The night of the closing ceremonies, Haymitch pulled her aside while they were all standing outside in the City Circle, waiting for the new victors to take the stage with Caesar Flickerman. Johanna noted that ten years of wear and tear seemed to have dropped from Haymitch in the last few days, while Katniss and Peeta recovered. His gray eyes were clear as he looked at Johanna, and she found that she didn't really want to look away; he had nice eyes, she decided. The flecks of silver in his dark hair picked up the artificial lights and she smiled at the thought that he almost sparkled. Her smile made him scowl and that was even better.
"What do you want, old man?"
He leaned in close so that he could whisper in her ear. "How would you like to join the rebellion, little girl?"
The 75th Games were a nightmare. Haymitch's group of conspirators began scrambling almost the moment Snow announced the terms of the Quarter Quell. Sending their own into the arena along with Katniss was the best chance they had to touch the spark of the Mockingjay to the tinder that was the districts. Or maybe powder keg was a better term.
But no matter what happened, his friends – his family – would die.
Katniss was going in no matter what, as was Johanna. They were both guaranteed. The male for Twelve would either be Peeta or himself, and that meant Peeta, because there was no way the boy wouldn't volunteer to go in with Katniss. And when Haymitch suggested to the others that it might be a good idea for him to go in, regardless of what Peeta wanted, he'd been shouted down. Heavensbee claimed they need Haymitch alive and outside of the arena and the others, especially Mags, had agreed.
Once they determined the only two people who would surely protect Katniss, they also realized those two might not be enough. Plutarch had asked Finnick to volunteer, if he wasn't reaped, and he'd reluctantly agreed.
Those four in the arena – Finnick, Johanna, Katniss, and Peeta – meant that, for the second time in his life, Haymitch might just lose the only family he had.
Plutarch made what last minute changes to the arena design he could to give their group of allies the advantage. Even so, there wasn't much he could do. He told Haymitch that while meeting Katniss on her Victory Tour he'd hinted at the basic design of a clock, but the only other major change he could make was to the starting point, which was originally designed for a sprint from the platforms to the Cornucopia, but was now a touch more wet. When Haymitch asked him to explain, Heavensbee merely smiled.
By the time the jabberjays attacked Katniss and Finnick, Haymitch was cursing Plutarch Heavensbee, wishing all kinds of horrible deaths on the man. He knew the jabberjays were his idea; he'd brought them up as part of the discussion of symbols two years before. When Finnick and Katniss dropped to the beach and just held on to each other, trying to ride out that awful storm, it was all Haymitch could do not to storm into the Gamemakers' headquarters and commit another murder.
In the end, the arena fell. Six out of twenty-four victor-tributes survived, but half of those were in the hands of the Capitol. So, too, was Finnick's Annie, kidnapped from the home she shared with Finnick.
But Haymitch was free and so were Finnick and Katniss.
Katniss. Their Mockingjay was poised to fly.
Their war for independence had begun.
He wanted to promise Annie that he'd come home to her, but he couldn't. Finnick didn't plan to die, but obviously, he might not have much choice in the matter. He wouldn't lie to her, not about that; she'd borne too many lies in the last five years.
But he never expected her to be reaped. And having been reaped, he never expected Mags to volunteer to take her place.
When he asked Mags why on the train to the Capitol, she said it was the last thing she could do to help Finnick and the only way she had left to help the rebellion. She knew if Annie was in the arena with him, he wouldn't be able to function, and he certainly wouldn't be able to protect their Mockingjay. So she volunteered. He told her she'd just committed a slow form of suicide and she'd retorted that it was her decision to make. And when Finnick broke down and cried on that train, just as he had ten years before, Mags held him until the tears subsided.
As his platform rose, taking him into another arena, Finnick blocked everything from his mind but his objective: keep Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark alive. But if it came down to a choice between Katniss and Peeta, it had to be Katniss. She was their Mockingjay. No one and nothing else mattered to the rebellion, regardless of how much those others – Annie, back home in Four, Mags and Johanna, here in the arena – mattered to him.
He'd do what he had to do.
What other choice did he have?
Johanna was bitter, to say the least. She didn't want to be in the arena. She didn't want Finnick there, either. The rest could go hang, as far as she was concerned, except that she'd made a promise to Haymitch that she'd keep his girl alive, even if it meant Johanna herself might die. She'd regretted that promise twice already, but Finnick was keeping his part of the bargain, and so long as he was still up for it, then she was, too.
It was painful to watch Finnick, usually so full of life, just going through the motions after Mags died, but it tore her to pieces, watching him all but fall apart when those damned birds attacked, using his Annie against him, her voice a weapon. Johanna was helpless. There was nothing she could do to help him until it was over, and she hated it.
Rage grew within her, the way Snow and his Gamemakers played with their lives. When the invisible wall that stopped her from going to Finnick finally dropped, Johanna wanted to murder someone. Two someones, actually. But one of them was far away in a mansion that smelled like blood and roses; the other was in a tower of glass and chrome and was supposed to be on their fucking side, and she was helpless to do anything about that, too.
The time to commence Beetee's elaborate plan came, and she and Katniss headed out, trailing golden wire behind. Then the Careers interfered and Johanna had cut out Katniss's tracker in a hurry, terrified that she'd cut too deep and the stupid girl would bleed to death and it would all be for nothing.
She almost made it back to the others. She could see Finnick on the ground, Katniss standing with her bow and arrow in her hands, aimed at the sky, when the lightning struck. The explosion that followed knocked her to the ground. Everything went dark.
As with every other damn year for the last twenty-five, two kids he was responsible for, or at least who he felt like he was responsible for, were in the hands of the Capitol and facing a death sentence. There was nothing he could do for Johanna and Peeta, but Finnick and Katniss were both here and falling apart. There was very little he could do for them, either, but he did what he could, in spite of Coin's interference.
The woman was no better than Snow, when you got right down to it.
The raid went almost flawlessly; they couldn't have hoped for better results. Even if it was at the expense of Finnick's dignity and pride. Haymitch had told him he didn't have to go through with that propo, and he'd meant it, knowing as he did just how hard it would be; but for all that he hated that Finnick had to do it, he understood that if he hadn't, they might not have been able to recover the others.
Finnick was with Annie now, disappeared into his room in the bunker despite orders that Annie be seen by a doctor. "Good luck prying those two apart," he told Aurelius. All the "therapy" the man had put Finnick through, it only took five minutes with Annie to bring the life and light back into those green eyes.
At least one of his kids was okay.
Katniss had bruises around her throat and her voice was hoarse after Peeta tried to kill her. Aurelius had no idea if he could reverse what Snow had done to the boy.
Johanna looked like death warmed over, but she was alive and most of her problems seemed to be physical, or so the doctors claimed. Haymitch wasn't so sure. But he thought she'd be okay, just as he thought Katniss would be okay. They were both survivors.
Annie was in Thirteen, and suddenly, Finnick was home.
Three weeks after the raid on the Capitol, Finnick and Annie married. They wore borrowed finery and the ceremony and celebration that followed were a strange combination of plain and spectacular, courtesy of the opposing forces of Alma Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee. Finnick didn't care. Annie was with him and they were happy. That was enough.
Another three weeks – or was it four? – and Finnick was once more in the Capitol. Or as he and Katniss only half-joked, they were in another arena for the 76th Games.
He was in another stinking arena and he was about to die. He knew it. The others had made it up and out of the sewers, all except for him and Homes. He couldn't escape them, but he could delay them, and so he fought.
His last thought as the lizard mutt's teeth closed around his throat was of Annie.
For weeks, Johanna lay in a morphling fog and there was nowhere else she would rather have been. But the powers in Thirteen frowned on that sort of thing; they took the morphling away.
She sobered up enough to attend her best friend's wedding, and that was alright. It was good to see him happy and she realized it was something she'd never seen before. The thought was bittersweet. She danced with Haymitch at Finnick and Annie's wedding and was surprised at how well he moved. She kind of liked the feel of his arms around her, but she didn't let on; she knew he saw her as one of his kids, and that was okay. She didn't need anybody like that, anyway.
Johanna actually enjoyed training with Katniss. Surprisingly enough, they worked well together. Better than they did during the Quell. And Johanna found that she liked Katniss, once some of that pressure was off.
It about killed her when she failed the test, when they told her she couldn't be a soldier. Johanna, Haymitch, and Annie watched as those they cared about headed out to war. Johanna stayed with Annie that first night Finnick was gone, because neither of them could bear to be alone.
Three weeks after the Star Squad left for the Capitol, there was a call for reinforcements. Two days after that call, Haymitch visited Johanna in the laundry, where she'd been assigned so she could be a productive member of District Thirteen.
The look in his gray eyes made her heart stop in her chest.
"Haymitch?" She dropped the stack of uniforms she held to the floor and hurried over to where he'd stopped. "Haymitch, what's wrong. You're scaring me." He swallowed hard and she could see that he forced himself to meet her eyes.
"He's gone." She felt the blood drain from her face and grabbed for the back of a chair.
"What?" She didn't want him to answer.
"Finnick is dead, Jo. Killed by muttations beneath the Capitol." His voice was rough, like he'd already done his crying before coming to see her.
"That can't be true." He blinked and she watched as fresh tears began to flow from already red and puffy eyes.
"Where's Annie?" he asked, and Johanna choked on a sob.
"She's with Dr. Gentian." She had a hard time swallowing past the lump in her throat. "Oh, Haymitch, this is going to kill her."
"I can't do this alone, little girl," Haymitch said, running a hand over his face to wipe away the tears. Johanna took his hand.
"I won't leave you, old man."hr /
Time passed. Wounds healed. Or they didn't, not entirely, but they at least stopped bleeding.
After Coin's assassination and the trial that followed, the new government allowed Katniss to return to what was left of District Twelve under what amounted to house arrest. Peeta remained in District Thirteen under Dr. Aurelius's care. Annie, heavily pregnant, went back to District Four and Finnick's family, and Johanna accompanied her to make sure she arrived safely before heading to her own home in Seven.
Of those few Haymitch cared about, Katniss was the one in the most immediate need, so he went back to Twelve with her, to his house in the Victor's Village. He neither expected nor necessarily wanted her to call on him for help, but he wanted to be nearby if she needed him, and he needed time himself to see to his own invisible wounds. Mags. Chaff. Finnick. Their deaths left gaping holes in his soul that would never heal completely. The best he could hope for was a measure of peace.
Haymitch and Katniss weren't the only ones who returned to Twelve, but there weren't many, not at first. There were a handful of people already there when he and Katniss arrived, at least a few of them living in the intact houses of what was once the Victor's Village, judging by the number of houses with lights in them the night they arrived home.
The following afternoon, Haymitch took a walk into town. There wasn't much left. Most of the wreckage was covered in snow, days old and crusted over with the cold, but there were a few buildings cobbled together from the remains of the old, smoke rising from them. In one of those buildings, he found Greasy Sae Vickers, who seemed pleased to see him. Haymitch was touched.
He asked her if she'd look in on Katniss, because he knew the girl wouldn't accept his help. She was too proud and too stubborn. Not to mention the fact that she blamed him for a lot of what she'd been through and what she'd lost. She wasn't wrong.
A pattern slowly evolved. Haymitch woke, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. He dug up whatever he could find to eat. He worked on repairing some of the damage first on Katniss's house and then his own, paying for materials by doing odd jobs for Sae, just as he had back in the day, when he was a teenager. By the time the sun went down, he drank to chase away the ghosts and to numb the pain that always seemed to creep back in as the light faded.
He and Katniss never crossed paths. From what Sae told him, the girl didn't leave the house. He also knew she dodged Dr. Aurelius's calls, because the man called Haymitch to make sure Katniss was still alive. Haymitch told the man he'd dodge his calls, too, if all he was going to do was yammer on about feelings. Katniss wasn't like Peeta, or like Finnick had been, social animals at heart who took comfort from interaction with others. No. She was like him; she needed to get things right in her own head in her own time. He told Aurelius he'd continue to keep an eye on her and the doctor said in turn that he hoped it would be enough.
One afternoon, Haymitch woke to find that Peeta had returned overnight. Returned and planted some scraggly bushes between the houses. The following day, Katiniss left her house for the first time since she and Haymitch returned, nearly two and a half months before.
He wondered if that was a coincidence. Probably not.
The geese were an accident. Or possibly a joke.
He'd been talking to Sae about security, since there were still so few who had moved back to the district and he'd made a comment about how a flock of geese always had sentries on guard that sounded the alarm if an intruder came too near. He'd seen them in action in the Capitol, of all places. One of his early patrons had kept a dozen of them penned in his yard because the bastard was too cheap to install a more traditional security system or hire a guard. Given how much Snow had charged for his victors, the irony of that had amused Haymitch, in a morbid sort of way.
A couple of weeks later, he woke to an awful racket outside his bedroom window and ran out of the house to find a flock of geese on his lawn. Well, technically, they were pretty evenly distributed over both his and Katniss's lawns. Rather than confronting Sae about it when he went into town that afternoon to start work on adding a room to her new store, he took some grain home that night and scattered it across the grass.
There were worse things he could do than keep geese.
The days grew warmer and more people trickled back into the district and the town. The grim work of removing the bodies of those killed by Capitol bombs began. Haymitch pitched in and when they dug through the wreckage of the mayor's home and found the entire family together in what was once the man's office, he had to wonder if they had been targeted because of their involvement in the rebellion. He thought it was likely.
Katniss and Peeta began to work on something they called a book of remembrance. Haymitch gave them some stories of the kids who never made it back home from the Games. There were far too many stories.
When Annie Odair gave birth to a healthy boy, Katniss received the news, along with a photograph, from her mother in District Four. Finnick and Annie's son was born on what would have been reaping day, if there were still a Hunger Games, and Annie named him Malcolm – no one asked her why.
Katniss carefully pasted both the birth announcement and the photograph, which showed Annie with her tiny, green-eyed, bronze-haired boy in her arms, into the book beside a photograph of Finnick laughing at something in the victors' lounge during the 69th Games. The picture of Finnick was one of Haymitch's contributions.
Haymitch looked at that page for what seemed like forever. Lost in memories, he turned around and walked out, trading Katniss's kitchen for his own. For the first time in more than a week, he drank himself into a stupor, face down on his kitchen /
Not long after Malcolm Odair came into the world, there came an afternoon that Haymitch's geese went wild. It was the first time they'd ever sounded an intruder alert and when he opened the door to see what was happening, Johanna Mason stood there, a fist raised to pound on his door. She lowered that fist and asked, "Mind some company for a few days, old man?" and he stepped aside to let her in.
At first, he thought she was taking a roundabout way back home from Four, but when he said as much she told him no, she'd left Annie with Finnick's parents months before and headed back to Seven. Little Malcolm's birth was news to her; she thought she remembered Finnick saying that was his grandfather's name.
She'd spent a few months in Seven, but the population there was too small and too scattered. "I guess I'm just not cut out to be a lumberjack."
"So you decided to come here?" Haymitch asked with a raised eyebrow and a dismissive gesture that encompassed not only his living room – the only decent-looking room in the house, since he never used it – but the rest of District Twelve. She shrugged.
"The truth is, I don't belong in Seven anymore." She looked down at her hands, her voice suddenly serious. She picked at a loose thread on her jeans before looking back up at him. "You lot," she started, repeating his gesture, "are the only family I have."
He watched her for a moment, taking in her shadowed eyes, her dark hair that had grown out some in the months since the war ended, framing her face with silk instead of topping it with spikes. She'd lost the starved look she'd had when she arrived in Thirteen; she looked healthy, if not happy.
Settling back in his chair, Haymitch told her, "That's the best reason I've heard yet for relocating."
They talked the sun down and Haymitch didn't think of pouring a drink for himself even once, although he did offer. Johanna accepted a glass of water, but nothing stronger than that. When it got too dark to see, Haymitch lit some candles. "We don't quite have the electricity turned back on yet, but we're hoping to change that before the cold weather hits."
They made a meal of leftovers and they talked some more. And when Johanna's voice became hoarse from all the talking, he led her to a guestroom that he hoped wasn't too trashed, silently thanking Sae when he opened the door to find it was clean and there were sheets and a blanket on the bed.
Haymitch hadn't realized just how much he'd missed Johanna, but it felt like one of those holes inside him wasn't quite so big anymore.
A couple of weeks became a couple of months. Johanna stayed. She reunited with Peeta and Katniss, both of whom she'd shared things with that Haymitch couldn't really imagine. She went into town with him and he introduced her to Sae and young Thom and a few others; when he went to work, rebuilding or stocking Sae's shelves or making deliveries, Johanna was right beside him.
Winter came and went. Johanna stayed. She worked alongside Haymitch and the people of Twelve – more of them now, as they slowly made their way back to their district from wherever they'd scattered. They built houses so that everyone had shelter. They got the electricity working, far more reliably than it ever had under the Capitol.
They learned to live again.
Spring arrived, blown in on near gale-force winds that cut through clothes and skin to chill those out in it to the bone. But behind that wind followed a warmer, gentler breeze and bright sunshine.
Haymitch watched Johanna from across the kitchen table. She sat in a patch of sunshine that warmed her skin to gold and put deep mahogany highlights in her hair. He'd never consciously noticed how beautiful she really was, no matter what the rest of the world might think of her.
"The roads'll be passable before too much longer," he abruptly said. "You ought to be able to head out to anywhere you want to go." He'd been thinking about how she'd probably be leaving soon, moving on with her life. Maybe find someone she could spend the rest of her days with. Someone younger, not so burned out. Johanna looked up from her coffee, suddenly tense. He could see the way she stiffened, her fingers tightening around the cup in her hands, and he wanted to kick himself.
"Are you trying to get rid of me, old man?" There was an undertone of hurt in her voice.
"Nope. Just an observation," he said in a weak attempt at recovery, but she continued as though he hadn't said anything.
"Because it's too late for that." The hurt was still there, but now a bit of her old defiance joined it. A kind of determination lit her dark eyes and she stood, walked around the table and stopped in front of him. She pulled his chair out and yanked it around so she could step between his knees. Leaning over him, she told him, "This is where I want to be, Haymitch Abernathy. And the only way I'm leaving is if you tell me straight out you want me to go."
She stared into his eyes; he blinked before she did. "Johanna, you're young—"
"Don't. Don't you dare patronize me. You, of all people. I know you, Haymitch, and I know me." Looking suddenly a little unsure of herself, she hunkered down in front of him. "I don't want anyone younger. And I didn't stay here because I wanted to rebuild a district I'd never even been in before, other than for my Victory Tour." She reached up to cup his cheek in the palm of her hand, warm and soft against his stubble. "I stayed for you."
Shocked to his core, Haymitch did the only thing he could think of: he turned his face until he could kiss the palm of her hand. "I don't want you to go."
Johanna smiled and it outshone the sun.