Thank you for the lovely reviews you guys gave me last chapter! I'm feeling much better about this story now I know you're actually enjoying it. It's nice knowing that you like my work and I'm not just writing it for my own entertainment. You're all amazing, believe it or not. Anyway, here's the next chapter. Enjoy! There's a big dose of Finnick in this one, just for you! I don't know what's up with me recently but as of late, I've not been amazingly pleased with my work. I don't know, maybe it's just me. Enjoy this, anyway! :P
"Logan, stop fussing! Fiona, do stand up straight, dear."
Effie Trinket is like the overbearing, fussy mother of each and every tribute that walks out of District 12. With her crazy hair, eccentric clothes and Capitol accent, you'd think her more of a clown - or, in District 12 we would - but with a touch of some sort of strange beauty. In reality, she's just an over-organised, do-it-by-the-book kind of woman, who bares way too much enthusiasm for a 'game' which kills people. You can't blame her, though. It's how she was brought up to think.
It's how we were all brought up to think, really. It's just that some of us could see the brutality in it.
Cinna shakes his head at Effie, smiling slightly. "They're fine, Effie," he says. He turns to the twins, looking a lot more sympathetic now he's facing the nervous pair. "You're going to look great. Just remember to hit the buttons on your sleeves like Portia and I told you, okay?"
Logan and Fiona nod, though Logan asks nervously, "And it's completely safe?" By now, it is obvious to everyone he wants to hide his anxiety and fear from Fiona, and does so successfully. She seems oblivious to his emotions; it's as if she thinks he's just worried about her safety and that he's totally unperturbed by the fact that he may, in two weeks time, be dead. Or maybe she's just too caught up in her own fear to notice.
I answer Logan on behalf of Cinna. "Don't worry about it," I say, though I have no idea what their costumes entail. "Last year, I was put on fire and I didn't burn to death."
It suddenly occurs to me that what I said was, probably, not very reassuring.
Logan, regardless, nods and looks a little uplifted. "Okay, cool," he says. "So long as I don't die before my time."
And your time might be very soon.
Fiona seems to share my thoughts because she looks to him, wide-eyed, and whispers, "Please don't talk like that. I can't bear to think about you..." It's as if the word 'dying' is some sort of hex which she forbids herself from saying. That, or she's distracted by the tears she's now rapidly blinking out of her eyes.
Logan shakes his head and pulls her into a long hug. He looks so pained, so young and so kind for a moment, that I'm stricken with thoughts of Peeta - and instantly, a depression slams into me like a metal-headed bull charging straight at my abdomen. Along with a tidal wave of guilt. I haven't been thinking of him as much as I should be.
God, the guilt. It's like... I feel like I'm dishonouring him by not thinking of him constantly because if I'm not the one thinking of him, then who is? Maybe his mother or his brothers are but... What if they aren't? What if I'm the only one left who has the time and the freedom to think about him? It's absurd, really - I'm absurd. Yet I can't help thinking about whether it's true, and because of that I tell myself, force myself, to think of Peeta more often.
And that leads me on to Gale.
Oh, dammit! Gale. Gale, the man who loves me, the man who's waiting for me in District 12, the man who has no idea I'm giving my body away, the man who's alive. Yet he's also the man who has no clue I feel like I'm betraying my heart by being with him. Maybe that betrayal is to do with Peeta but... God, I don't know. I just don't know. I'm my own person and yet I don't know a damned thing about myself!
I blink suddenly, caught of guard. Yes. Finnick does know me. He knows me really well, in fact. Maybe he can help me figure out this mess? I mean, the mess being the love and the guilt I feel over and for Peeta and his death; the wrongness and the betrayal I feel by being with Gale; the confusion I feel by only ever wishing to be with hi-
No. Maybe it's best not to mention that last one. Regardless, I should go to Finnick; I'm going to go and talk to Finnick. Get some advice. He's a man, after all. A man who knows me more than others. He'll know what to do. Hopefully.
Crash-landing in reality, I turn to Cinna, who's frowning concernedly at me. "Sorry, what?" I ask.
"I said we've got to go wait for them on the other side, now." His eyes linger on me for a moment more before he turns back to Logan and Fiona and says, "You'll be great. Smile. Look proud. Really exaggerate your relationship."
They nodded nervously and started to climb into the chariot. I manage to get in a few words of encouragement and a goodbye before I am dragged away to where the tributes will re-enter the Training Centre. The room is large and spacious, though all around are mentors and stylists, laughing and talking. It's sruprising, seeing them all talk to each other; I though the Districts would remain to themselves. I'm forced to remember that they've all probably been in this game for so long that they know each other like the backs of their hands so, of course, they're friends.
Then, not a second after I turn to the large, HD screen which we'll watch the ceremony on, I'm reminded that I have friends from other Districts, too. Or maybe just one.
"Dressed to impress, girl on fire?" Finnick asks in my ear. His breath smells unmistakeably and familiarly of sugar. As always. "You know you're already loved."
I roll my eyes. "I dressed so I'm not walking around naked," I say. "Some of us like being clothed."
"And some of us would like it if you preferred being unclothed, thank you." Finnick, slowly and sensually, glides his index finger up the length of my inner-arm then down my waist and hips. He's so close to me that I can feel his warmth radiating from his chest.
It takes all of my restraint not to do something I'll regret - like touch him, lean in to him, turn to him and-
"Goosebumps." Finnick Odair's laugh is so silky and golden that if I could only listen to one sound for the rest of my entire life, I know I'd choose that. His laugh. "I gave you goosebumps."
I ignore the deep, satin quality to his voice and focus on breathing. His finger is running up the length of my arm again. His breath is still brushing over my neck. I can feel his presence, so strong and tall and masculine behind me, and suddenly I find myself turning around and meeting him dead in the eyes. "Yes," I say, because it's true. A shiver tries to burst through me. I suppress it. "You did."
Finnick's eyes burn through mine like hot honey. They look a darker, deeper shade of green, and his pupils have dilated. "Don't you get goosebumps because you're cold? I thought you were the girl on fire, Katniss Everdeen. Getting cold is not what you do." His words are tender, whispered and warm, and they melt me to the extent that it takes me a moment to realise that what has clouded his eyes is desire. A smirk pulls at the corners of his mouth. "Or maybe you've got goosebumps because you're thinking about seeing me naked."
That severs the trance immediately. I step back. His pupils shrink again. The thick, sugary, sea-salted shroud which had engulfed me seems to be, now, only a wisp. "No," I say. There's a blush on my cheeks and I feel a stab of irritation in my gut. "I was cold."
His grin slinks into something small and sexy. His eyelids droop and he bends down, breathing a hot gust of air over my face. This time, I do shiver. "Oh? Well I know a few techniques to warm up..." He steps closer to me, drawing me in. "...Though I very much doubt coldness is what made you shiver just then."
I want to reply - I try to! - but by the time I finally manage to string my thoughts together in a fairly comprehensible sentence, the Capitol anthem is blasting out of the speakers behind me and the screen is flickering to life.
Caesar Flickerman introduces the show. And then, the chariots ride on in.
The costumes are as they are every year, though stylists have tried to steal a few pages from Cinna's and Portia's books. The fish-people's scales from District 4 glow, which is about as reasonable as the ideas get. Other than that, the outfits are insane. Caesar is ever the optimist, however, and says nothing of the sort.
And then, we see District 12.
They spark. Not as in sparkles, like the fireworks I've seen in the Capitol before, no - but they spark. It's a spark like the lighting of a match or the heavy, echoing clink of a pickaxe against rock, which ricochets off the mine walls. They look young and powerful - the sparks burst to life whenever they move the slightest amount and trails after them, mirroring their actions - and the dark, almost powdery-style of their outfit completes the look completely. Their hair is wild yet somehow tamed, too, and Fiona's make-up is so dark and alluring, with little tip-ends of silver and blue, that it's hard to think she's a shy, scared girl. Logan's wearing just a smidgen of blue and black around his eyes but apart from that, there is nothing. And he looks strong. Together, they stand united as twins, gripping each other's hands between them and acting as if the audience does not exist, and they're just sat at home with each other, as if it's an everyday occurrence.
And it works like magic.
When the chariots stop and President Snow makes his speech, I look to Cinna with a smile and shoot him a thumbs up. He smiles back at me and shrugs, and we watch the rest of his speech until Finnick leaves me to congratulate his tributes. I do the same.
Then, the chariots enter and District 12 pulls to a stop. Effie is glowing. "That was incredible!" she says, fanning herself. "Truly marvellous! Well done, you two! Well done!"
Logan shrugs and a shy smile pulls at Fiona's lips. "We did exactly what you said," she says, glancing at the stylists.
"It's harder when you're out there." Everyone turns to me so I shrug and explain, "Well, it is, isn't it? There's a sort of resentment inside of you. It makes it harder to act."
No-one says anything for a while and I realise that is the first time I have ever said anything so... open. To them, anyway - Effie, especially. She looks sort of appalled.
"Don't let anyone catch you saying that!" she whispers frantically. "No-one! Not a word!"
I suppress the urge to ask her why I'd tell anyone who adores the Hunger Games that, and instead only nod tightly. Attention is then drawn from me as everyone starts cooing over the twins again. Cinna and Portia tug at the outfits and grin, nodding, whilst people compliment them and the heavy eyes from other tributes linger hatefully over us. They tell Logan and Fiona how amazing they performed before Haymitch, with a belch, stumbles forwards and starts clapping loudly.
"Really, bravo," Haymitch says. He smells like a brewery. "Nicely done."
Fiona blushes. "It wasn't anything special," she mumbles.
Sea-salt sweeps through the air. A hot, strong presence makes itself known beside me. "Oh, I think it was very special," Finnick says. He smiles down at Fiona kindly. "My tributes are spitting fire."
Fiona's blush brightens and she moves closer to Logan, who wraps an arm around her protectively. "Thanks," he replies for her, if a little stiffly.
Finnick shrugs and nods towards Cinna and Portia. "It's them you should be thanking. You're the talk of the show." Finnick smiles at the group as a whole once more before he turns directly to me and, as if everyone's just disappeared, he swoops down to meet me dead in the eyes. I had almost forgotten how green his eyes were - like crystal pools. His large hands grip at my upper-arms and his attention focuses purely on me.
I vaguely feel my heartbeat slow down.
"Mags is letting me off for a bit because I have an appointment in an hour." My lip curls up in distaste as I watch Finnick's eyebrows furrow slightly. "I don't want to leave my tributes but there's not much left to do tonight and Mags knows I want to see you before I go."
A smile tweaks at my lips. "You do?"
Finnick raises an eyebrow. "You don't?"
My reply of, "Of course I do!" is a little too quick and a little too urgent; Finnick wears a widening, cocky grin the second it pours out from me. I inwardly sigh at my desperation and mutter, "Okay, yeah," after a second of feeling flustered. Then, hastily remembering I have a duty, I shake my head and glance at my tributes. "Oh, wait. I can't. I-"
"It's okay," Logan interjects weakly. I notice the large bags under his eyes. "We're just going to eat something then head to bed. Right, Fiona?"
Fiona nods meekly, casting a shy glance at Finnick who waves at her and grins. A hot blush smothers her cheeks and I squash a smile down because, dammit, I did not just think of Finnick Odair as adorable. "Yes," Fiona mumbles. "Right."
"Then that settles it!" Finnick bends in close to me so I'm only a centimetre from touching his lips. My tongue darts out and wets my own, nervously. I can feel my pulse thumping in my wrists ecstatically so I grind my fingers together in some form of restraint. It barely works. "You and me, for an hour, starting from now."
I nod. It's a subconscious action and one I barely have control over but, before I know it, Finnick's large, warm hand had enveloped mine and I'm being tugged away from everyone after I've said a quick goodbye and goodnight. I can't find it in me to care much for what I'm saying, however, as Finnick's hand is so reassuring in mine that I find myself focused on the heat it channels into me. It's like a beacon of strength.
How can one little touch affect me to such an extent?
"Where are we going?" I ask. I blindly let Finnick tug me into a lift.
His smile is quick, quirky and filled with amusement. "The roof, of course." Finnick sways towards me so his lips brush softly over the barrel of my ear and he says, satisfied when he hears my sharp intake of breath, "It's more... intimate."
I step away, abruptly. There's a light blush on my cheeks and I clear my throat to shake off my daze. Finnick is grinning. "I think this is intimate enough," I mumble, yet I don't say anything more as the lift climbs floor after floor.
The atmosphere isn't thick or awkward. It's there and it's touchable but in a warm, pleasant way, as opposed to a hard and cold way. In fact, it makes me want to step closer to Finnick, which annoys me immensely. I'm not sure why or even how it irks me, yet I have to swallow down the frown that wants to force itself onto my face. Instead, I simply ignore the urge to be closer to Finnick and focus on Peeta. Peeta, who I have neglected thinking of. Peeta, who loved me and made sure I was safe. Peeta, who I watched die. Peeta, the boy with the bread.
My guilt crushes me again.
"Are you all right, Katniss?" Finnick asks softly. He's staring down at me. His eyebrows are slightly furrowed which crinkles the skin around his eyes a little and his mouth is pressed into a titled, curious smile. His skin in golden and clear, which brings out the shiny, crystal appearance of his eyes - eyes which search my face, hiding their concern.
I blink myself from my thoughts, rapidly. Then I nod. "Yes," I say, a little stiffly. "I'm-"
It's the doors opening that stops me speaking; because it, the roof, is exactly like I remember.
Capitol city looks bright and metallic, even under the canopy of the growing night sky. It's silhouette is luminescent under the incandescent stars, which are strung together like a translucent net of beads. A breeze brushes softly over my face and tangles into my hair. My head, by it's own accord, tips backwards to stare up into the eternal night and something hard lodges into my throat as it does so. My slow, shallow breaths brush over my parted lips.
How many hours did I spend up here with Peeta? How many times did we sit here and stare out at everything, wondering if it was one of the final everythings we were ever going to see? It seems so far away - like it happened in another lifetime; like he was part of another lifetime. It was only a year ago. It was only a year ago that we had sat opposite of each other on this roof and shared our deepest thoughts and feelings, which were hidden from everyone except from each other. What did we have to lose? We thought we were going to die.
Peeta knew he was going to die.
Suddenly, I feel tears spring to my eyes. At some point I had ended up next to our spot; the spot we had sat at in silence, sometimes, just focusing on breathing; because when you're going to die, you appreciate the small things like the drawing of each breath, the feeling of the oxygen filling your lungs, or how you go dizzy if you hold it for too long - because that's life. It's living. Something Peeta is never going to experience again.
Not since I watched him die.
"I could have loved him," I whisper to myself, blinking back heavy tears. "Maybe I already did."
I wonder how true that is - if I truly did love Peeta Mellark. Probably, it is a lie. I would have had mercy if I loved him; I would have shot him, in the heart, to spare him the agony of being ripped apart by those monsters. Yet I didn't.
And wasn't that because I couldn't bare to kill Peeta? Because I loved him?
Something warm envelops me, suddenly, and I bury myself into it without a care. The tears sting at my eyes and rip at my heart; I can feel them ebbing through my veins like a sadness that will always stay with me, and my arms furiously wrap around the warmth surrounding me and i breathe in the scent of sea and sugar and care.
"It's okay to be confused," he mumbles, holding me tighter. "I'm sorry that I didn't realise-"
"No!" I close my eyes and focus on keeping a handle on my emotions. "It's not your fault. You didn't know I came up here with him. I didn't know I'd have such a strong reaction..." The melancholy echos in my mind, rebounding off my skull like thrown pebbles. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's not your fault. It's mine. I didn't save him; I didn't kill him; I didn't-"
Finnick pulls back from me and as he does I press my fingers into my eyes, willing the tears to leave. You're not wanted. You're weakness. Leave. "It's not your fault," he says, fiercely. "You couldn't save him, Katniss."
Finnick cuts me off. "No!" he says, and sits me down on the wall.
The tears in my eyes somehow grow stronger as I realise I am sat in our spot.
"No, Katniss." His voice is much softer, now, and his breath brushes over my face. I look up from my lap like I am not Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, and I am instead someone like Fiona who is shy and vulnerable. Finnick is crouched down in front of me with his hands on my thighs but his eyes are gazing at me, strong and sure and sorrowful, as he says, "You didn't kill him. It's not your fault."
I don't even let one tear fall. "How do you do it?" My voice is hoarse and quiet, and hitches slightly on a silent sob. "How do you deal with having lost Annie?"
Finnick flinches like I've slapped him and suddenly, he seems weighed down with grief. He stares off out into the sky with glazed-over eyes then, abruptly, the looks fades and his eyes flicker back to me. "It gets easier," he says after a moment. His voice is quiet, too. Soft. "It never leaves you. It will always be there, rotting inside of you - but it will get easier and it will hurt less." His hands squeeze my thighs in a sort of desperate reassurance. "I promise you."
"You loved her," I say, staring at him. "Didn't you?"
There's a few seconds of hesitance before he nods ever so slightly. "I don't think I had ever loved someone as much as I loved her." The distance is back in his expression. "The Games, though... They ruined her. She was Annie and she was mine, as much as I could wish, but there would be times where she'd panic or fluster and she'd all but disappear. I used to have to calm her down." A soft, loving smile suddenly pulls at his lips and I find myself drawn in by it, entranced. That smile looks so right on him that it makes it harder for me to breathe. "I was the only one that could calm her down."
"I think I loved him," I say into the following silence. My tears have since dried up but there's an emptiness in my chest that wont go. "He loved me."
Finnick's eyes are cool and curious as he looks at me but something shines in their depths like a hot, blazing campfire. "And now?" he asks, as if prompting me.
"And..." My throat feels like sandpaper. I can barely force the words out through my teeth. "And now I'm with Gale."
There's a milisecond - only a millisecond - where a look of pure shock and regret crumples Finnick's face and even, I think, a stab of sadness - but it's only for a fraction of a second and if you blinked, you would have missed it; he covers it, impossibly quickly. Yet I did not blink and so I saw it; and for some reason, it makes my gut ache terribly.
"Gale?" he asks, picking up one half of his mouth in a lop-sided smirk. "How did that happen?"
The knife in my gut twists. "He told me he loves me." It's thrashes. "He got upset and angry when I told him I didn't know how I felt. He left. I chased him."
"And you told him you love him."
I nod, guiltily. The knife bashes the guilt around inside of me so it infects every inch of my body with it's poisonous stench. "Yes."
Finnick stares at me, stoically. "Why do you look like you regret that?"
"Because I-" lied; because I might still love Peeta; because I feel guilty about being with Gale so shortly after Peeta died; because whenever I'm with Gale, all I'm thinking about is being with you. "Because I think I said it so he wouldn't leave me."
"Well, I doubt you need to worry about him leaving you, girl on fire," Finnick replies. He speaks in an almost casual, almost amused tone but I can hear the subtext and the emotion written underneath - even if I can't understand it. "If he loves you, he wont leave you. It's better to be with the person you love and without their affection, then without both at all."
His sugary breath is still fogging over me like gentle rolls of the sea. His eyes look like the depths of an alluring sea-green ocean - and one I would very much like to swim in. He makes me warm, I realise, and he clears my thoughts. He helps me understand. He helps me breathe.
"You're better than him at this," I say suddenly, still deep in thought. "Than Gale. Maybe even better than Peeta but that's because we were on different wavelengths. You and I, we're on the same. You make it easier to breathe."
He smiles and cocks an eyebrow. "Wavelengths?"
"Peeta could afford to keep himself intact before the Games," I say. I pause, staring at Finnick indecisively. "We changed. We killed. We acted out things we may or may not have felt and did things to we didn't believe in to gain sponsors. Peeta never did any of that. He was always honest."
"He didn't want to be another piece of their Games," Finnick says, thoughtfully. He frowns. "I couldn't afford to do that."
Even though his words strike me deep in the chest because Finnick just said, precisely, what Peeta had said a year ago, I only agree, "I couldn't, either. And I can't now."
"None of us can. Not when we're at appointments or we're talking to the Capitol people, or even if only our arm is on camera." Finnick suddenly glances to his watch and looks away from me. I watch a mask of control and deceit settle on his face and I know that it's time. That he's got to go and give himself to someone who is either madly in love with him, or madly in lust with him. "I've got to go," he says. He gets to his feet pushes himself to his feet and turns - and then, he hesitates.
I look up. He looks back at me. Then, bending over, he whispers softly against my lips, "I'm glad I make you breathe, Katniss," and he kisses me tenderly, like I'm snow in the sun.
Then he walks away and doesn't look back.