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Clove's knife unzips her cheek when she's inches away from the medicine.
She can hear Thresh raggedly yelling, and the crunching of bones, the pounding against the metal, and the sickly thump of something limp falling to the ground; the canon blast; the breath of someone else coming near her. Her plan falls to calamity, and she can't see, and she can't breathe, and she panics. She gets up to run because she doesn't know if it's Thresh or Cato or Foxface breathing so loudly behind her. It's red, red, red and she runs, runs, runs until the forest is a blanket around her again.
It's something like an hour later when she sags against a tree. She finds some moss to press against her wound.
Katniss Everdeen, Girl on Fire, cries for the second time in the Games. She tips back her head and wails to the tops of the trees, perilous, reckless cries. She wants to crawl up to the lofty heights and scream into the fake sky until it's out of her body, but she can't unfurl herself- she is drawn too tightly like the string of her bow. Fat tears pour and run, mixing salt with the blood.
He will die. It's her fault that he will die.
That night, she comes back to the cave with nothing but her new cut. Peeta sleeps in what smells like his own urine, but she doesn't care. She tucks herself into his sleeping bag. Her cut bleeds onto his shirt when she presses her lips to his back. Her lips burn.
Outside, she suspects everything is frosting over. He's so warm that she sweats.
In the morning, Peeta grumbles something incoherent that wakes her. His eyelids stay open long enough to see the crusty cut on her face, but he says nothing, and she suspects he hasn't got the energy to talk anymore. He won't eat what she cooks for him. He spends the day sleeping and waking in shakes, unable to do much of anything but move his lips, forming the words, but never following through with them.
She kisses him all day, even puts her tongue into his slack mouth. She keeps kissing him and kissing him with the hopes that it will be enough; that the sponsors will rain down medicine if she can draw out enough sympathy.
They send her nothing.
And Peeta does die the next day after puking his own blood. It looks like black, thick poison. She's sure that he's choking on it, and she tries to clear his airway with her fingers, slick and sliding around in his mouth as she mutters that it's okay, it's okay, he just needs to breathe. Then there is no sound but the air escaping the blood in little gurgles. She spends ten minutes with her ear to his chest, swears there's still a heartbeat in there, but then the cannon fires from miles away and it makes her own heartbeat fast, scared.
Katniss doesn't cry again, or dress up his body in flowers, or kiss his dead head. She sits across from the body for a long time until dusk comes. She sits there well into the night, but the hovercraft never arrives to take his body back to District 12 in a wooden box.
It's because they're still in the cover of the cave, she suddenly realizes.
She spends the next hour carefully pulling the dead weight of him across the stones, up over the entrance screaming, shaking, with aching biceps, fingers digging into him, dead skin under her nails. She slips and drops him at one point, and his body makes this sound against the rocks that causes her to vomit in her mouth. She swallows it down because she can' afford to lose the food in her belly.
When it's over, she catches her breath against the outer cave wall. She keeps looking up to the tree tops, it's the only place she wants to look, but she still sees his body in her peripheral. It's so sickening and so still, she just wants to scour every inch of her skin. She wants to say I'm sorry, like she said to Rue, but her throat tightens when she opens her mouth. So instead, she walks away with reckless abandon and loud footsteps that snap twigs and could give her away.
The hovercraft must come at some point because he feels gone.
In the night, she finds a hallowed out tree that's rotten inside. It smells dank and earthy, and it's cramped, but she crawls inside with her bow and knees tucked tightly to her. She used to be afraid of tight spaces like this, like elevators and mine shafts. Tonight she finds it comforting.
If the two star-crossed lovers of District 12 had won, she might have actually meant all those kisses.
Without thinking, her fingers press hard into the tight fabric between her legs. A little electric shock happens when she does it, thinking about the earnest kiss they shared and how much she really liked the sound of his voice when he talked about watching her in school, how might have kept on kissing him with or without the cameras. She really might have. When it's night, the sky shows Thresh and Peeta's faces as the fallen. Katniss thinks,
I just want to die, or go home.
Sadness is in the stomach.
Loneliness is in the chest.
Anger is in the neck and her neck throbs with anger that makes her eyes water. She almost likes the feeling. She feels like a career by the time morning comes.
Half a day later, Foxface dies with an arrow in her throat. She bleeds out for about two minutes as Katniss watches from the tree she's scaled. She tracked her, followed her very silently, picked her off from up in the branches. She imagines that she can kill everyone from up here, where she's safe and alone, and she wishes that this had been her game all along because it's easier than being on the ground and making allies and messes. When the cannon finally sounds, she lets out the breath she was holding. Black spots cloud her vision from the lack of oxygen as she lowers the bow.
Haymitch sends her bread that night. It's a warm, buttery loaf, rich with fat. She is almost too heartsick to eat it.
She spends the next day hunting Cato like she would hunt a big buck. In the afternoon, she actually finds his shit and and some bare animal bones in a pile, and she tries not to laugh because Gale was so right about the Games and it's exactly like hunting. Gale would do well here.
She's contemplating Cato's direction when the howling starts.
All the dogs in her District are so thin and diseased that Katniss never had trouble out running them. Of course, the wild dogs often found themselves as the main ingredient in someone's stew, but Katniss thinks about the time a dog tried to bite Prim in one of the dusty streets by the mines. It tore her dress and then Katniss killed it with a stomp to the head.
But these dogs are much different.
The one that looks like Rue really gets to her. She keeps finding herself turning her head to look at it as it catches up her heels, even though she should look ahead and push, push, push her legs forward.
The mutts drive her, panting and screaming, all the way to the cornucopia. They bite her ankles when she's pulling herself to the top, scrabbling at the metal she can't get a good grip on. One sinks its teeth in just as she gets her ass over the edge. A chunk of flesh is torn completely from her calf and she screams as the blood sprays out like a geyser. For a moment or two she pauses to watch the red, meaty inside of her flesh of her leg. She tries to bend her knee and another vein empties blood everywhere. She falls back. The cut on her forehead and cheek opens again and pours rivers down her face. At first, she can't feel anything except the adrenaline which makes her shiver like she's being shaken. And then, finally, she feels like the Girl on Fire. The pain's so heavy that she can't even scream about it. Rolling and rolling and bleeding and shaking on the metal surface of the cornucopia, she sees a blurry Cato in that shiny armor down below. The mutts close in on him while he slashes at their snouts and shouts for her to show her face, to fight him.
It's a close call, really. It's a mere matter of time. How long will it take for the mutts to finish Cato off and how long will it take for Katniss to bleed out completely?
Close to an hour.
Katniss lies on top of the cornucopia in a warm bed of her own blood. The only thing that keeps her alive is the screaming. Cato sounds like a girl when he screams, all shrill and piercing. She wraps her thoughts around every noise he makes, every sound when the mutts rip his flesh open. If she thinks of Peeta she'll slip under and die. So she thinks about the screaming.
She wants to kill him with her bow, but she can't move, and he just keeps screaming like a colicky baby, and he just keeps living forever and ever, and ever, and ever...
Katniss really wants to say something out loud to Prim and Gale and her mother, some kind of goodbye. She opens her mouth to whisper the words when she is cut off by the sound of a cannon.
Claudius Templesmith starts to say something. Then she's asleep.
Cinna puts on her dress, a red and black twisting thing. It's more subdued than the one made of fire, but it's meant to be sexier, she thinks, because her breasts are shoved forward and the fabric clings to her hips. Her legs show in the dress. She touches her calf and the phantom wound where the mutts bit her, now repaired and re-grown, it feels too smooth. It disgusts her in a dull way when she thinks about it.
Turning her back to the mirror, her face meets Cinna's and his eyes scream sympathy that is even more intense than the sympathy he showed before the Games. She doesn't know what to say when he comes toward her to hold her like her father used to hold her when she got a bump on the knee or a bellyache. One solitary sob escapes from its cage in her chest because she thinks about her father, gets confused in the moment, and gets swallowed by the rough fabric of his shirt. He squeezes her once and lets her go loose in his arms, rubbing gentle ovals on her lower back. She is glad that he doesn't constrict her with his arms.
"Okay?" he asks her when she pulls away.
She doesn't respond. She just lets the prep team work her face over one last time. Cinna watches from the corner of his eye in the corner of the room. Katniss decides that it's better to pretend he's not there at all.
She meets Finnick Odair the night she is crowned.
The crown is heavier than it looks, uncomfortable on her head. The President looks her in the eyes long enough that her fake-smile falters, and he heart palpitates enough that she takes an irregular breath. This is the first time she has seen him up close. Here, she can smell him. Here, she can rip out his jugular with her teeth, like that scary canine Victor did to the tributes from years ago. There's a smugness about the President. She feels it when he looks in her eyes, when he presents ownership over her, crowning her head like you might collar a dog.
The hate that Gale might feel for Snow is there, but it's a weak, half-lit kind of emotion. She tries to thrust the hate forward more, especially when his odd face and smell is just inches from her, because she may not have that many opportunities to be this close, to hate this close. She tries, but she can't get it up. And the president steps away from her before she can feel anything about it.
Backstage, Effie introduces her to a million garish Capitol people. They touch her hair, ask her to sign things, ask her for kisses. She tires to remain placid and neutral even though she's seeing body parts and strangeness that she's never known. Haymitch told her to act nice for the cameras because she's in now position to piss people off. There is a bad energy in the Capitol, a sad one, because Peeta died and the star-crossed lovers story died with him. Now that he's gone, she is supposed to make herself enough for them.
Out of all the Capitol freaks, she spots an oddity. She spots normal, tanned flesh and makeup-less eyes, the colors brown and copper instead of pink and blue. He is a man, tall and too handsome. So handsome that one look at him has her suddenly vain, and she touches the back of her neck, oddly wishing she was prettier. He's so handsome that everyone is licking their lips and nodding in his direction.
He looks at her, too. He's on the arm of a man with periwinkle hair and a diamond jacket. The jewels of his date's jacket glisten in the sea-green eyes. He bends to whisper something to the Capitol man, and they laugh together in an intimate huddle. When they walk toward her, the Capitol man trails him like a pet.
"Katniss Everdeen!" says the Capitol man. He's no different from the others. "What a fantastic display this year, I must say. Finnick here was positively raptured by you, weren't you Finnick?" His turquoise eyelashes flutter when he looks up at the beautiful one.
"Positively," says Finnick. She remembers him when she hears his name. Finnick Odair is a Victor, one who managed to stay on television and in the spotlight for all these years. His green eyes run up and down her like she's on display (which she is in the Capitol).
She remembers Finnick especially because she has seen his body on television before. She's seen him do lots of things on television. Sometimes, when she was alone, she would flip through the late night Capitol channels and pause for mere seconds to look at the sex on the screen. Only for seconds. Only out of curiosity.
"Thank you, it means so much."
At this, Finnick cocks a smile toward her. For a mere moment, she perceives it as genuine, because he has narrowed eyes and wrinkled mouth corners, and it seems to say, you're a liar, before it's gone. Then his face goes back to a smooth Capitol expression. It's very practiced, very precise, very beautiful. He takes her hand to kiss it goodbye.
Before they leave her, she smiles back at him, also genuine, also seeming to say, It takes a one to know one.
When she gets home, there is a tightness to the air. The crowd seems reluctant to celebrate when the train rolls in. She guesses it's because they think Peeta should have come home, too. When the two-victor rule was announced, they must have all been filled with evangelical hope. They were supposed to be the precedent, maybe the start of a new era.
They still cheer because she at least came home, because she is the first District 12 victor in so many years, because they will receive delectable food rations for a few months.
She is so nervous to see Gale and her mother. The first one she hugs is Prim, who smells like familiar, pungent goat milk, who starts bawling in her arms. Katniss soothes her like she would if she was waking from a nightmare, slowly rocking her side to side. She smells Prim and feels a rush of warmth that is long overdue. The cameras catch all this and will air the footage in a matter of hours, but Katniss pretends that the Capitol folk are not in her peripheral. They don't belong here.
Her mother kisses her cheek. Gale wraps long arms around her and tugs on her braid tenuously. She regrets that their eyes meet, because when they do, there's something terrible in them; pity, which she has never seen from Gale.
They move their small collection of things into the new house. It takes a few days to get used to. Katniss keeps coming home from the woods and going to her Seam house, even opening the door and calling out before she realizes that they no longer live there.
She is surprised by how things go on normally. It's not quite right, but she adjusts to it like you would adjust to clothing that doesn't fit perfectly. She still hunts with Gale, but only on Sundays, because he's taken a job at the mines. It was inevitable and Katniss accepts that.
There are miniscule differences in their friendship now; an unspoken resentment, unspoken fear and pity. She has been knocked out of place with him, but she's trying to catch up, trying to get back into the rhythm of their days. One day, she accidentally turns her loaded bow toward him while looking around for the wandering rabbit, and she sees him jerk his own bow up slightly in defense, then their eyes meet, and drop away from each other all in one instant. They don't talk about it after, and they don't talk about anything anymore. She adjusts to that, too.
For a few weeks, she walks around town and spends her money. It's death money, but it tastes good. She stuffs her face, fattens it up. Her and Prim have candy and cakes for dinner. She buys cattle meat, fries it in butter, eats it with her mother as a snack. She takes large meals to the woods and gobbles it until her belly's swollen as Gale pockets things to bring home to the kids. She buys a bag of peppermints and sucks them til her tongue's raw. There are even days where she eats so much, it all comes back up over the bowl of her toilet. When this happens, she pinches the thick skin of her thigh until her eyes water.
She replenishes the apothecary stocks without asking and her mother thanks Katniss with a tender squeeze to her hand. Not much changes between them. Her mother was always wary of Katniss as the hunter and provider. She acts the same way with Katniss the Victor, and really, the whole District treats her with an extended wariness. She tries to walk through the Seam without feeling a hundred eyes upon her. It's impossible to ignore the stares.
She starts to forget things quite frequently. Like checking the snare she sets in the woods, and one day, Gale comes up to her with a rotten, fat beaver that's been trapped and decomposing for days.
Night time always comes, she always dreams, and it's always them. It's always the fox-faced girl with the arrow in her neck, and the boy with the spear in in his chest, and all their mouths are opened for Cato's girly screams to project through her sleeping head. But mostly, she dreams of Peeta. She dreams the edges of him; the out of focus blonde hair close to her eyes in the sleeping bag and his long eyelashes; his frosted cakes in the window of the bakery.
In her dreams, they are in the cave and he is deep inside her like no one has ever been. She wakes up from these dreams wet and half way there. She finishes herself of with her efficient fingers in the dead quiet, holding her breath, hating herself.
One morning in mid-autumn, Gale and Katniss hike silently up to the old structure in the woods and it starts to rain. Gale wants to turn back and check the traps before it gets too wet, but Katniss turns to look at him and feels a sudden desperation, like she's about to misplace him, and it's like she's about to die. When they're outside the cabin, she tugs on his arm to pull him against the wall. She presses her torso close to his.
His eyes are full of questions, but then he just cautiously leans in and kisses her because she put them in this position, and it's true what she's suspected- he wants her. She tells herself that this is what she wants. After, she steps back and tries to find it in herself to smile, but really she just has an alien ache in her gut; emptiness that needs to be filled.
They go into the cabin. She says,
"Have you ever...?"
"Have you ever done this before?"
He wipes at his dripping forehead. They are both chilled from being in the rain, so he goes to the stockpile of wood and starts a small fire. He sits down in front of it, not looking at her, not answering her.
Katniss kneels beside him.
"Have you ever been with a girl, I mean?"
Gale still doesn't look at her. The fire crackles and whistles as the moisture is drawn out by the heat, and she unconsciously leans away from that fire. Fire is not something she is keen to associate herself with anymore.
"Once," he says, finally.
Katniss is beyond curious, but she doesn't ask him who. She's scared. However, fear is relative to her. She has felt worse fear than this, and compared to the arena, this is nothing. So she stands up and removes her belt. Gale watches.
Her body is still much more manicured than it would normally be because the prep team made her scarless and her hair subdued. She wonders if it's something he notices.
When she's naked, she kneels down beside him again. He is breathing heavier, looking at her body, looking between her legs and making her feel like she's boneless.
"I want you to," she says. She is surprised at how wet it makes her to just be naked beside him. It's so private, so intimate. She wiggles her hips the tiniest fraction of an inch, trying to feel something. Gale grabs the back of her head and kisses her and his tongue in her mouth makes her want to groan.
He pulls away. He takes off his shirt to show her her the angles and planes she's already seen before. She doesn't know what to do next.
'Spread your legs," he says against her neck. She does it, feeling the excitement build in her stomach.
His hand creeps from her knee to her thigh. She closes her eyes, and feels his lips press against her breast and the sensitive, cold skin there.
"What do you want?" he asks with his forehead resting on her shoulder.
"Make me-" she says, not knowing how to word it. She knows the technical terms, but she's shy to tell him. After a second he says,
"Make you come?"
And she nods.
His hand goes further up her thigh until it's teasing her at the apex, and then he says,
"What did they do to you?"
Oddly, it makes her want to laugh.
She doesn't have time to react or respond because then his hand is there, feeling around for the bundle of singing nerves, making electricity on her skin. She groans and moves her hips restlessly. She wants to bite and suck. He crooks two of his fingers deep inside her and it hurts, but he presses down on her until it feels so good, she wants to cry.
Gale sucks on her neck, and she does something she didn't plan to do. She fumbles around at the buttons on his pants, and hastily grabs at the flesh she finds. It's warm and wet in her hand, and Gale gasps a little which makes her thrust her own hips up. She moves her hand up and down him like she's seen Finnick Odair do to himself on television.
She mouths Peeta's name. She hope Gale doesn't notice it.
He comes first, making her hand sticky and wet, and when he moans into her shoulder, biting her and cursing, she comes almost painfully around his fingers until all that's left in the room is the movement of his chest and the percussion deep inside hers.
When he takes his hand away from her, she sighs with relief.
Something washes over her, some kind of clarity. She realizes that she doesn't need all the food that's been going down her gullet. She needs this- she needs the listless, agonizing death that Gales fingers can bring.
She wipes her hand on the floor before she gets dressed.
Gale stays sitting by the fire, and she thinks she sees his head moving gently from side to side, as if he's saying no.
She meets Finnick Odair for the second time when Snow summons her to the Capitol, only a few weeks before the Victory Tour.
Prim and her mother worry about the summoning, but Katniss feels conflicted. This will be the first time she's been to the Capitol without an escort. Effie is not waiting for her at the station, Haymitch is not coming at all. She is told to pack nothing. Something like detachment and curiosity fills her with a strange urge to get on the train, even though, when she thinks about it, she doesn't want to see Snow. No, she doesn't want that.
Finnick Odair is on the train instead of Effie.
He sits crossed legged on the dining room table, in his hands, he holds a length of rope with frayed ends. He is still terribly handsome, even with clothes on. Katniss stays standing at the entrance even when the train starts moving toward the Capitol, feeling awkward.
"Hello," he says.
They are silent for a few long seconds. Then he says,
"We're having dinner at the President's. There's a dress on your bed."
She starts walking toward the compartment door, but she feels compelled to ask,
"Do you know why?"
To which he replies,
"I expect he's going to ask you to fuck one of your sponsors."
Katniss doesn't know what to feel about that, so she picks out the tangible things that are sparked in her mind. The word "fuck" and the way it sounds coming from that man's pretty mouth; and the echo of Gale's gasp; the grotesque image of herself fucking a brightly colored stranger. The rest is too much to imagine.
She goes into her train compartment and strips off her clothes, stares at her body with an uneasy stomach, and she dresses slowly like it might be the last time she gets the chance to dress herself, which might be true once the Prep team is involved.
She is clamping down on her lip. Fucking her sponsors? Fucking her sponsors? Fucking her sponsors?
Finnick raps on her door when she gets the straps on. There are buttons she can't reach, so her back is bare. She answer the door with trepidation, because he scares her a little bit. Her mother would call him a "handsome devil".
The rooms on the train are much smaller than the ones in the Training Center. When he steps inside, she feels like they're in a closet space.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I shouldn't have said that."
His eyes are soft like Peeta's were. The resemblance strikes her like a white-hot dagger. She licks her lips.
"Is that what you do? Fuck sponsors?"
He looks beyond her, at the tray beside her bed of various beverages provided for the compartment.
"I fuck who they tell me to."
Her heart quickens.
"Is that what I'm doing here?"
He doesn't answer her, but his eyes are as sorry as Cinna's and he kisses the top of her head like she's seen Gale kiss his brothers and sisters. She's shaking.
They get to The Capitol, where Katniss walks on through the crowds of fans and onlookers outside the train station with Finnick on her arm. Men and women sometimes walk through the District with their arms linked like this. She wonders, amusedly, if this is some kind of date- only at a very strange venue, with very devious company.
They get in the back of a car that is metallic purple, and one of the strangest things that Katniss has ever seen. It goes so fast that she tenses up and holds onto the sleeve of Finnick's suit jacket.
"You've never been in a car, have you?" he asks. "It's no worse than the hovercraft."
Maybe it's the tenseness of the situation, or maybe it's desperation, but Katniss tells Finnick,
"I'm...I'm glad you're here." But what she really means is, "I'm glad I'm not alone."
Finnick holds her hand very tightly, enough that it makes her heart relax in her chest. He says,
"Snow wants me to make sure you understand everything." Again, he avoids her eyes.
"I don't understand." She doesn't. She keeps thinking about her body, Gale's fingers, the purple and pink and orange people, the programs on television that show men pumping into women, and all the exposed skin that she wears now, in the tight dress.
"Sometimes...you'll have to fuck people." He looks out the window for a stretched second. "You can blame it on your pretty face, or you can blame it on Snow. Everyone's willing to pay a price for a Victor."
Katniss thinks about all those thinly veiled warnings that Haymitch hushed in the corners of the Training Center. Cooperate, Girlie. It's all trouble if you don't cooperate.
"If I don't want to?"
She knows the answer."
"Snow always likes to do it the hard way." He squeezes her hand. She thinks of threats, of Haymitch telling her not to fuck up her post-game interviews. "They don't tell you about this part when you win. It's not all of us, just the desirable ones."
"What do I do?"
"Think of the people at home. It's always been for them."
She wonders who is at home for Finnick.
She starts to cry, despite herself. A part of her wants to go to sleep, another part of her wants to go underneath all that, there is a desperate cry from between her legs. The memory of Gale makes her heart race complicates everything about this car ride.
The Games are over, she should feel sweet relief for that, but this is not what finality feels like. She's opening the lid on a box of monsters worse than mutts.
FInnick gives her a handkerchief, he wipes the corners of her eyes. "I know," he says, and he sighs deeply like a tired person. "I know."
They pass through more rabid crowds outside the impossibly beautiful, large mansion. Katniss lets her smile falter, he mouth go agape as they pass through a garden and into a foyer the size of the Seam.
That night, there is a long table filled with Capitol men and women who are eating and then excusing themselves to vomit it all up, and then eating some more. Some of them paid for the burn medicine she needed in the arena, and the broth she needed in the cave, and the bread she received for killing Foxface.
Old habits die hard, so Katniss eats her fill despite feeling very sick and too nervous. Finnick doesn't eat anything- he talks and hangs off the arms of older men and cat-like women who pinch his ass, touch his face, beg for kisses and pour bubbly drinks down his throat. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Katniss, making eye contact every now and then as if to silently talk her through the production.
She should be making an impression on them all. Instead, she can only wonder if the empty seat at the head of the table is where Snow is supposed to be. Snow never comes, but she waits like the whole evening is a time bomb.
After dinner, she's still waiting for Snow to come- it feels a bit like the countdown in the arena. She tunes out the chatter of the people in the dining hall and remembers Claudius Templesmith's voice; Peeta across from her, and his head shaking from side to side.
But then they are leaving the dining hall and people are letting their goodbye touches last on her skin. She is afraid of them. She wonders which of them will get to see the inside of her thighs.
"When?" she whispers to Finnick when they're back in the car. It's very late. "Which one?"
"You'll get a call," he says. "They just wanted to meet you. There will always be parties- a lot of parties."
The drive through the Capitol seems to last the whole night. Before she can stop herself, she falls asleep in the car because of the bubbly drinks and the food. It's a tenuous sleep that is tricked by the colorful lights passing over her and the fact that her guard is still up, and she's still tense.
She must dream of something, of flying maybe, because she wakes and feels like she's been somewhere else for hours.
It's Finnick lifting her, she realizes, that's why she thought she was flying. It's too dark to tell where they are, but he sets her down in a cold bed and that's enough for her. In the dark, she can see the light reflecting off his skin where his collarbone and chest are exposed. She hums to let him know she's awake, rubbing her eyes, smearing thick makeup on her fingers.
"Where did we go?"
"The Training Center," he says softly. It's so quiet. He hovers by her bed.
Eventually, she asks him to stay.
And he does.
They lie down with their clothes on, but it makes her feel warm and overworked like bread that's been kneaded too much. She spends the silence working up the nerve.
He takes her hand without her having to ask, which she likes. She wonders how he can read people so well, even when he doesn't know her, even in the dark.
"I've never," she begins, but she can't finish.
"I've never fucked anyone."
"You shouldn't have to."
"They'll kill Prim, won't they? They'll kill her."
"If you refuse," he says. "They killed my brother."
It stings to hear it, makes her chest tight, makes her eyes water.
She chokes on the air as a sad breath fills her lungs. She coughs, turning her head away from him. She curls into a position where her back is pressed against his side. He turns to tuck her to him, warm and soft with Capitol skin treatments. She shifts until it's right. She doesn't know if it's right.
He is so reluctant, so slow about it, not at all like Gale. She thinks that maybe he doesn't want to. She's moving her hips in circles against him, asking him in a hushed and desperate voice that she'll regret using later,
"Show me how to do it."
He presses his forehead into her back, breathing, breathing, kissing the place between her shoulders so softly, it's like his lips are just ghosts. Then he kisses the oddest of places; her wrist, her hairline, her hip, and never her lips.
The rest is fast. He slides off the dress as she closes her eyes, listens to the whisper of skin and fabric, thinking of Peeta's skin sliding with hers in the sleeping bag. He sits up, taking off his shirt with the kind of practice a man like Finnick has. She sits up with him. She kicks the dress off the bed. She's naked and it's no longer so warm.
In his eyes, she doesn't find desire, and she doesn't hear his breath catching in his throught the way Gale's did. Somewhere inside her, there's guilt for what happened with Gale, but for now there's this.
His hands on her legs, pushing them apart.
He uses his fingers first, then slides in between her and starts pushing himself, keeping a hand on her the whole time.
It hurts worse than skinny fingers that she's used to, but he goes slow.
And then faster. He asks her to move her hips in circles like she did before, he says that it feels better when she fucks herself on him, when her hips meet his half way.
He tells her where to touch, where to squeeze, and she does it all with shaking fingers.
It's too dark to see his face when he comes, but she hears him stutter. He hangs his head against her breasts to catch his breath, sliding out of her and making her wince.
She doesn't come. Maybe it's better that she deny herself that. She doesn't feel the complacency she felt when it was just a man's fingers. Now, feeling her thighs slick with Finnick, she wonders why the hollowness is still there.
They go back into their sleeping positions, with her side pressed against him, only now they're naked and their skin sticks together with sweat and come, with sadness and pity. She lets him hug her, trying not cry.
It shocks her. She was never this weak.
"Don't be scared."
Maybe it would have been better if Cato held out longer, and he would be the one made a whore. She worries over the strangers that she will have to do this with. She wonders if they will hold her after like Finnick is holding her, like a friend. He never kisses her and that's how she knows there is someone, that someone, at home for him. The person that Snow holds over his head. Katniss waits until they're close to sleep to ask about her. He replies,
Annie. She apologizes to Annie in her head, then she nestles into Finnick's arms until she can go no further.
"Thank you," she starts. It isn't easy to say. "I don't know what I'm doing."
"i'm always here, in the Capitol. Where they need me." And the words are shrouded with contempt, but she takes what she wants from them, hoping that he'll be here for her when she has to do what he does, when they're out with the Capitol animals at parties- she hopes it means she will have someone to look to. He will pick up the pieces of her when she has to follow Snow's orders. They will make silent contact from across rooms, from across naked bodies and they will sleep next to each other, and be the only bodies that wont hurt to touch at night in beds.
Finnick falls asleep quickly as Katniss's pillow gets soggier. She thinks he might be her only friend in the world.
In the morning, there is a note from Snow- an beautiful pink stationary dotted in roses that tells her the name of the man who paid for the healing salve. She will meet him tonight at a grand inn restaurant.
She joins Finnick for breakfast in the dining room, sitting in the exact place where Peeta sat during training, the memory tingles.
She softens bread with hot chocolate. She licks her fingers clean.