She was thirteen when Finnick Odair won his Games.
All the Districts hated him. He'd been the Victor from the start, really: ever since he'd ridden out in that chariot, his smooth skin embedded with seashells and a smile like nobody had ever seen before. None of the other Tributes ever had a fighting chance.
He was always on her television. She remembers that; when he wasn't doing another interview with Caesar Flickerman, or being photographed with another date in the shadowed back rooms of night clubs, he was breathing hard between the legs of another Capitol socialite. Johanna wasn't supposed to see those videos, but more than once she'd caught her father watching them late at night when he thought everyone was asleep.
Once, when she was alone, she watched them herself. She watched the taut muscles in his back as he thrust, the molten-gold contours of his thighs and stomach, the names that stuttered from his lips: baby and gorgeous and honey.
It was his Games that she thought of when he introduced himself at her Victory Tour. He'd murdered so many children (like she hadn't. Wasn't that what she was doing here?). She'd gotten her letter earlier that day, stating that the pleasure of her company had been paid for, and she'd stared at it for a long time. He'd guessed as much; is it Prentiss? Mhm, thought so. You could call him a collector, I suppose.
So Finnick Odair wasn't a bachelor. He was a whore.
She wasn't sure if it made her more or less disgusted.
You're a Career, she'd said to him in the heat of that ballroom, like she was making sure he hadn't forgotten, and he'd smiled so sadly that she didn't know what to make of it.
When he slid into her, on the couch in an unused study in President Snow's mansion, one of her feet grazing the floor and his hands on her ribs, all she could remember were those videos.
The next night, it happened in his room. The night after that, on the rooftop of the Training Centre.
The disgust had faded somewhat by that time, but then she had to go home, and missed him terribly.
Johanna had never liked dependency, and prided herself on the fact that it wasn't one of her attributes.
But that was before she met Finnick, and that was before fucking him had become sort of the only constant in her life. Besides the fact that it sucked, obviously.
She saw him once a year, for approximately a week; he'd meet her at the Training Centre, callused hands Johanna, and she'd nod Finnick. That night she would tug at his oak, seawater-coarse hair as he pressed his face between her thighs; she didn't try to keep quiet when she came, and he always made sure she did. And then, after they'd each watch their Tributes die whatever death was in fashion, they would part for another year.
She liked it more than she was proud of; liked him too hard and too much.
And so it killed her when, after three years of this little game, as her legs were curled around his hips and the plaster of the wall was searingly uncomfortable against her, it was not her name that fell from him—her one syllable Jo that she had come to love in his District Four lilt—but Annie, low and languid, long in his mouth against Johanna's throat. It broke some part of her that she either hadn't known existed or hadn't wanted to accept.
His head fell forward into the crook of her shoulder; still inside her. I'm sorry, he murmured. Her fingertips skimmed the nape of his neck, feeling the dappling pebbles of his spine; she mouthed Finnick into the salt of his skin, but she didn't say anything at all.
She wasn't quite that brave.
She'd killed seven Tributes in six hours on the fifth day of her Games. One of them had been twelve, and Jo didn't think she would ever forget the way his eyes had widened when he had discovered what his spleen looked like.
But yeah, okay: so she was a murderer. She could live with that, maybe; barely, but perhaps if she drowned herself in enough liquor and filled her nose with enough powder, she could do it.
She wasn't a whore, though. You could say what you wanted about Johanna Mason—and people did—but she was not a whore.
Here's the thing about Victors: they're all pretty fucking selfish. They kind of have to be; it's practically a prerequisite.
Well, except for Finnick. But here's the thing about Finnick: he had the biggest hero complex out of anybody Johanna had ever met.
She wasn't him, though. She was selfish, like Haymitch and Chaff, Seeder and Cashmere and Gloss and everybody else in that damned city. So when she didn't show up for her first "appointment" at her Victory Tour, and President Snow trotted all the way to her home in Seven to tell her that her family would die if she didn't open her legs to all his bureaucrats and aristocrats, Johanna just shrugged her shoulders.
She had to draw the line somewhere.
But I understand that you and Mr. Odair have become quite close, he said, at a second meeting with her some years later. She understood.
She stumbled into his room and kissed him hard, shoving him not onto the bed but against it, dragging her nails down the skin of his back, hearing him grunt, gruff and guttural when her hips matched his; she made sure she bit hard enough to bleed, because if she was going to have her life ruined for him, then he was going to be worth it.
Mostly, she tried not to think about Annie.
She knew it was bitchy of her, because above all else she was Finnick's friend, perhaps his only one (oh, who was she kidding; but he was definitely the only person in the world she could remotely talk to, and she wanted to be that for him so badly). But the problem came in the fact that she loved him so damn much, and he didn't even realise; didn't realise that every time he talked about Annie he got this light in his eyes that no amount of Jo could ever produce, and it just about killed her.
He called her my girl.
She's beautiful, he would say. My girl back home.
Not like you, she would finish in her head.
You'd like her, Jo. She's fiery; doesn't take things lying down.
She bet Annie took him lying down.
It scared her, sometimes, the thoughts she had.
When Andromeda Cresta's name was pulled out of that little glass bowl, and Finnick looked like he was going to either scream or vomit if he opened his mouth, Johanna knew, and she had never felt so guilty.Like all that silent hatred for my girl had been the cause of this, like it was her fault that Andromeda Cresta was going to die.
When she saw him at the Training Centre, he had never looked so wild; he closed his fingers, tight around her wrist and whispered I couldn't leave, Jo; it was Leevy, he was so sick, I couldn't leave, I couldn't, Jo. Maybe he thought that if he could justify himself to her, then it would rectify things.
She couldn't look at him.
On the seventh day, Finnick's boy—Ty, she thought he was—had his head severed off by the girl from Two.
Annie Cresta went mad, and Finnick hitched Jo up around his hips and slammed her so forcefully into the wall that it shook and she had to swallow down her yelp. His breath was so stale and alcoholic that she could almost feel herself getting drunk off it, his pupils so big and large that there was no green left.
He bit down hard on her bottom lip, and she came so hard she nearly cried.
The next day, Johanna tracked down Seneca Crane, wearing a dress that was short but by no means sweet; put her lips to his ear and a hand on his thigh and whispered, what do I have to do to flood the arena?
He smiled, Cheshire cat like.
It was one of the better moments of the past few years, seeing the look on Katniss Everdeen's face when Johanna stripped naked in that elevator.
You're awful, Jo, Finnick laughed, when she told him. He was already waiting in her room before she got there.
Me? she said in mock-offence, swatting at him. What about you, Mister-Do-You-Have-Any-Secrets-Worth-My-Time?
He smiled; what can I say? but by then she had already leaned in, catching his mouth under her own.
He rested his forehead against hers. Jo. A half-whisper, half-moan.
Don't talk, she said. Her fingers were already working on the net knotted at his groin.
He kissed her jaw. We never talk. Meaning: it is different this time. I want it to be.
She was suddenly aware that it might be the last time she would ever get to touch him.
Okay. Let's talk, she allowed, becausethe realisation made her bones ache; the realisation that this would be the last time, and he was beautiful. He was so beautiful, and, sometimes, she felt that it wasn't because he had muscles in all the right places, and knew how to wet his lips just so; sometimes—then, now, always—she felt that it was because of the sounds he made when she closed her mouth around him, because of the way he smiled and she knew it was not a Capitol pout or grin but Finnick.
Do you know what, Johanna Mason? I think I love you.
They had never been soft before. They were never the type of people to make love: the charming and seductive lothario (but only because that was what they wanted); the hard-edged, vicious killer (but only because she had wanted to survive). But tonight, they made their rhythm different: she did not buck or grind against his mouth, desperate; their thrusts were slow, deliberate. Purposeful. Semibreves; not staccatos.
Don't say things you can't take back.
I'm not going to take it back.
Strange, perhaps: the one night they should have rushed, and instead, they took it slow.
You love her more, though.
She hooked one foot around his ankle, afterward; she did not say do not leave me but she knew he could feel it. She had never needed to tell Finnick that she loved him. She wasn't as coveted as she liked to think, and she could never hide anything from him. He was too much what she needed for that to be the case.
I love you differently.
You love her better. You can't have us both.
He pressed his mouth to her hairline, pliant against her.
Fine. I hate you. Is that what you want?
Yes, that's what I want.
She wanted to say, we could have been so good, but she wasn't that much of a masochist.
When he thought she was asleep, he whispered, I love you.
For a moment, she believed him.
She knows, now, that she had never been a true prospect.
It's not her in that wedding dress, after all.
He holds her strong and tight: holds her more than he ever held Jo, and for some reason, she can't find it in herself to hate Annie Cresta any longer. Maybe it's the fact that she's given up; maybe it's the fact that being held captive in the Capitol—not captive like she's used to but electrocution and rape and hijacking—brings people a lot closer than you'd think.
They were an inevitability. She understands that now.
She catches him alone just before he leaves. Wants to make some funny joke about how she hasn't seen him properly in months, because he's always with Annie or they're in training, but she's afraid it'll come out scathing.
I guess this is it, she finally says, trying to smile. They have so many last times that it's past melodramatic, it's Capitol soap-opera material. Normally we'd be fucking by this point, but I guess that's changed. Annie and all.
Don't be like that, he pleads.
I'm not, she sighs. Not really. She looks up at him, and her eyes are hot.
She's pregnant, he says. Careful, meticulous. It makes her sad that he feels he can't tell her this without breaking her, but she supposes she set herself up for it.
A hiccupped laughs spills between her lips; she rubs her eyes furiously with the heel of her palms. I never had a chance, huh?
He smiles, sadly, and she remembers that first smile back when he introduced himself at her Victory Tour. It makes her insides bleed. Promise me you'll come back.
Fuck. He's crying now, too. Johanna…
He chokes on it: I promise.
Finnick reaches out, cupping her jaw.
He kisses her steady, even though she can feel him shaking.
He kisses her for a long time.
The end of the world comes and goes.
He pulls back.
I love you. She might as well say it now.
I love you, too. She can't breathe, she's crying so hard. She doesn't think he's ever seen her cry before. Oh, well. That facade washed out a long time ago. Don't ever forget that.
She shakes her head. I won't.
She never does.