Okay, here's the thing. This started out as a one-shot for the History prompt in Piece in Their Game Awards on tumblr. It is currently looking like it is going to be a two-shot… But, I have sooo many ideas for this universe that I could see it potentially becoming a multi-chaptered fic once I finish my current WIP, When You Were Young.
This chapter is pretty tame, but Part 2 will definitely earn the story's M rating, so consider yourself warned.
I don't own The Hunger Games or any of its characters…
Go Down In Flames, Part 1
Katniss doesn't even bother to look up from the wooden barrel she is trying to tap as she hears Delly's excited words. Furrowing her brow she responds distractedly as she unsuccessfully tries to insert the spigot again, "Who's back?"
"The sharpshooter! You know the one: hair like golden wheat at sunset, a smile that'd make ya swoon, and a behind that'd make ya weep to the lord in gratitude…"
Katniss' head snaps up at this to discover the buxom blonde staring off into space dreamily. She tries to ignore the swooping sensation in her stomach caused by Delly's words and attempts to sound casual as she asks, "How do you know he's back?"
"Jo told me," Delly answers with a knowing smile, leaning on the bar so that her ample cleavage is threatening to spill out of her low cut bodice. "She just got back from dropping off our post and said she saw him while she was out."
Damn, Katniss thinks to herself. This was going to be so inconvenient. Every time he came through town he seemed to upset the balance her life. He never stayed very long, but she couldn't focus on anything the entire time he was around. She tried not to let it affect her, but whenever he was near she was just too aware of his presence- following him with her eyes whenever he was in the saloon and anticipating his return every time he left to carryout business around town. The problem was that he was just too damn good looking… and well he knew it. Not to mention the fact that he had enough charisma to charm a snake without a flute. No doubt about it, that man could easily make a good woman go bad and then go back for seconds.
But Katniss couldn't afford to think that way about any man. It was dangerous enough for a female alone in this rough wilderness was, but even more so for Katniss, being a female bartender at the rowdy Capitol Saloon. She knew that being tough and aloof, that commanding respect and showing no signs of vulnerability, were essential to her survival. And the cruel reality of Katniss' world was that, since she was a half breed, if anybody did hurt or take advantage of her, most people would look the other way. There was no hope for justice for a woman like her in this harsh land.
But she had it pretty good at the Capitol Saloon. As long as she did her job well she could count on the protection of the proprietor. Haymitch Abernathy may be an old drunk, but he was a good man otherwise. When Katniss had stumbled into town 12 years ago as a young girl without a penny to her name or a soul in the world she could call friend, Abernathy had taken her in, offered her work, and protected her from the fate that so many friendless women succumb to.
At the age of 23, Katniss had experienced enough tragedy in her life that she was willing to thank her lucky stars for what she did have. She had steady work, she a roof over her head, and she the reasonable assurance of safety. And she liked it at Abernathy's place. The people here were her only family now. Haymitch looked out for her almost like a father- as long as she looked past his surly, pessimistic nature. The saloon girls, Delly, Madge and Johanna, were her sisters. Greasy Sae, who did the cooking, was like a grandmother to her. And Sae's assistant, little Rue, whose young life had witnessed more tragedy than even Katniss could claim, was like the darling little sister that Katniss had lost in the raid that had also claimed both of her parents' lives.
It's Madge's words that snap Katniss out of her thoughts, "Hmmm, he just left town the last time what, five, six months ago?" Katniss looks up as the beautiful blonde approaches the bar. She knows that, in fact, it has only been four months since last time the gunslinger graced them with his presence, but she doesn't say anything. She doesn't want anybody to know that she's been keeping track. "Seems like he's been making this stop more and more regular," Madge continues.
"Well, maybe there is somethin' here drawin' him back?" Delly adds with a giggle and a wink in Katniss' direction. Delly isn't too bright, but she sure is intuitive.
Katniss snorts dismissively and says, "I don't know what you think you're insinuating. I haven't had a thing to do with that man."
"Yeah, Delly, what are you insinuating?" This time it's Johanna, who in her usual brazen manner is calling across the room from the stairs she is currently descending to insert herself into the conversation. "We all know that Everdeen here is colder than a witch's tit when it comes to men. Why, I bet her twat's drier than Ol' Greasy Sae's!" She laughs hysterically to herself as though she's said something brilliant.
"You're disgusting!" Madge speaks up as Johanna approaches the bar that the rest of them are gathered around. It's still too early in the day for the girls to have much to do. Men requiring them to ply their trade probably won't be showing up for another few hours. In fact, the only patron in the saloon right now is Cato, a regular that Haymitch forbids to have anything to do with the girls anymore. He's meaner than a snake and twice as dumb- and hurting women is his favorite way to get off.
Johanna rolls her eyes at Madge and says, "I've never known a whore to be such a prude. You're not livin' with your rich daddy anymore, Princess. You should maybe start getting used to words like 'twat.'" Madge just shakes her head and chooses not to respond, clearly seeing that any attempt to correct Jo's manners would be futile.
Katniss turns around to continuing her attempt to tap the barrel- it's a convenient excuse to avert her face so the others can't see the blush that Johanna's words cause. If only they knew… Katniss was anything but cold when it came to the handsome cowboy currently under discussion. She'd put her hands between her legs with his image swimming in her mind more times than she cared to recall. Just because she has chosen not to keep company with a man doesn't mean she's above wanting one from time to time. In fact, a few years back she even tried to have a fling with the smithy- an ill-fated attempt that that didn't last for more than a few weeks. Gale Hawthorne was a nice man, and had since become a good friend to her, but his clumsy efforts at lovemaking had either hurt or left her more frustrated than she had been beforehand, so she didn't put up with that for too long. Rumor had it that he was now keeping company with Madge (free of charge), which was just fine with Katniss. Maybe the prostitute could teach him a thing or two.
With one last shove and twist Katniss finally succeeds in inserting the spigot. "Ha!" she declares in triumph, wiping the beer that leaked onto her hands on her denim clad legs. She buys her clothes ready-made at the general store a few doors down- the boys' sizes fit her small, slender frame perfectly. Wearing men's clothing helps to further separate her from being seen as one of the saloon girls. If the flashy, low cut dresses Madge, Delly, and Jo wear are meant to attract a man's gaze, then Katniss' get-up is intended to deter it at all cost.
"Well," Delly declares, looking at Katniss, "if you're not going to stake a claim on that fine specimen of man tonight than I will!"
Johanna snorts, "Not if I get to him first! You had him last time!"
"Nuh uh! I've never had him!"
"You haven't?" Johanna asks, bewildered, "Neither have I…" She looks over at Madge, "I didn't figure him for a man who would go for the prissy princess type."
"Don't look at me!" Madge says. "He's never been in my bed."
"What? How is that possible? We're the only whores in this two-bit town. You mean to tell me a man like that has been comin' through this town regular for the better part of two years and ain't never gotten his jollies off with any of us?" Johanna asks skeptically.
"Look, I know I've been with a lot men, but I'd remember one that pretty if I'd had him!" Madge proclaims, laughing.
Damn, Katniss thinks to herself for a second time. It was hard enough trying not to want him before. Now she had the added knowledge that he has never slept with any of her friends. Hardly any man comes through this town and doesn't have a go at one of the Capitol's girls. The last thing Katniss needed was to start thinking that, on top of being more handsome than the devil, this sharp shooter might just be a decent man, to boot.
Katniss was having trouble figuring out how, despite the fact that the saloon was busier tonight than it had been in weeks, or maybe even months, she had somehow managed to keep track of the sharp shooter for the entire six hours since he'd arrived. The first two hours he spent up in his room- which had put Katniss on edge, because she spent the entire time envisioning him up their soaking in the hip bath he had ordered, shaving and combing his hair, walking around his room naked… other things a man might do in his private moments…
When he had finally come downstairs- scrubbed clean, face smooth shaven, sporting a pair of fresh duds- he had looked so good it made her feel weak in the knees. He had become quite popular in this town and Katniss had no doubt that it was his presence here that had caused the saloon to be so full tonight. He was currently sitting at a table surrounded by a rapt audience, which included both Delly and Johanna, regaling the group with the tale of an exceptionally exciting shooting challenge he had recently participated in.
She still had no idea what his real name was, but she had heard several people refer to him as Johnny Yank. She could only assume that he had earned the nickname by having gone turncoat during the war, a southern boy who chose to fight for the Union Army. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't seem to take her eyes off him as he held his audience captive with only his words, which fell effortlessly off his tongue- a skill Katniss had never mastered. He looks up unexpectedly, meeting Katniss' eyes for what is surely the hundredth time that night. Katniss looks away quickly, berating herself for having gotten caught staring at him yet again.
She turns her back to the room, deliberately trying to refocus her attention as Rue comes up to gather the round of drinks Katniss just poured. Rue is only twelve, and small for her age at that, but she is strong and hardworking. Having come from a life where she was forced to work hard for nothing at all, she is more than willing to bust her hump for the wages Haymitch pays her.
"Hey little one, how you doin'?" Katniss asks her with a smile, helping her load her tray with mugs of beer and shots of whiskey.
"Busy night," Rue says simply, turning away to deliver the drinks. She never does say much.
Katniss is just beginning to walk back to the kitchen to check on Sae when she hears a voice that sends shivers up her spine, "'Scuse me, darlin', but I would like to buy a round for the house." She turns slowly, trying to tamp down the excitement that hearing the low, smooth timber of his voice causes to wash over her.
When she finally forces herself to look up at him, she is surprised to see that he is standing there with his Stetson in hand, as though he is addressing a real lady in some formal way, rather than a bartender at a rowdy saloon. She can see now that he has a head full of thick, beautiful blonde curls, which have been pressed flat against his head by his hat in a few spots. It's enough to make a woman want to sift her fingers through the soft curls to muss them up around his head.
Katniss wills herself to meet his eyes before she begins speaking to him, and immediately regrets it. As soon as her eyes land on his piercing blue gaze she feels like she has been struck by lightning. And the worst part is that he's obviously aware of the effect he is having on her. His lopsided smile stretches open even wider to reveal a set of even white teeth that stand out in stark contrast to his sun kissed complexion.
The arrogant confidence with which he surveys her causes her hackles to rise just enough that she snaps out of her trance and finds her voice. "Okay, will that be a round of beer or whiskey."
He turns to crowd around us raising his hand questioningly and the crowd erupts in a chorus of "Whiskey!" Katniss is disconcerted to realize that the crowd is actually closely observing their exchange.
He turns back to her, laughing and says, "Well, I guess if the folks want whiskey, we better make it whiskey, darlin'." Her stomach clenches upon hearing the endearment spoken again in that slow drawl.
Moving further down along the bar she begins lining up glasses and pouring the whiskey in a continuous line to fill them. Rue comes up to help her start distributing them amongst the crowd and the noise level escalates as the bar patrons begin toasting loudly to everything you can think of. Several times the toasts are to "Johnny Yank!"
It takes several minutes for her and Rue to finish passing out the shots and Katniss is sweating profusely by the time they're done. As she raises her arm and tilts her head to wipe her brow on her sleeve she is surprised to see that the sharpshooter has seated himself at the bar near where she has been working. She is suddenly conscious of how she must look- sweaty, various alcohols spilled down her shirt, hair precariously close to falling out its loose braid. And he is staring directly at her again, his arrogant grin firmly in place.
She looks away, trying to discretely straighten her hair as she moves a few feet down the bar to where Cato is sitting- where he has been sitting for several hours, getting drunker and drunker. "You need anything, Cato?" she asks, making a deliberate effort to not look up at the gunslinger despite the fact that she can still feel his eyes on her.
"Yeah, I do need something," Cato slurs, and Katniss can tell by his tone that he's working himself up to belligerence. "I need you to get this turncoat piece of shit outta here!" he yells gesturing at the young cowboy. The crowd falls silent, bracing for the ensuing conflict.
"You got a problem, friend," the other man asks remaining seated, his voice congenial but with an edge of steel underneath.
"Yeah, I got a problem! I got a problem with a coward Yankee bastard comin' into my town, spinnin' a few fancy words and buyin' a few rounds, and suddenly everybody's willing to forget the fact that he's a traitorous disloyal pile dog shit!"
"We all had a choice to make in that war. You made yours and I made mine," the cowboy says calmly.
"That's right! I made the choice to stand by my home, to stand by my brothers! I made the choice to do what was right! What was honorable!" Spittle flies off of Cato's lips as he stands, staggering drunkenly toward the younger man.
Katniss doesn't miss the way the sharp shooters eyes dart over to where Rue is moving silently on the edge of the room as he calmly stands up straight facing Cato who is swaying dangerously on his feet, and says, "Well, friend, I think you and I have very different ideas about what is right," his face betrays the utter contempt he feels for the other man as he continues quietly, "but if you feel the need to defend the honor of the South, you're welcome to accompany me outside."
Cato is mumbling drunkenly, clearly having trouble forcing the words out past his lips, when the silence is rent by the voice of another man yelling angrily, "Goddammit, Cato! You're gone! Get the fuck outta my bar you drunken sonofabitch!" It's Haymitch, who has appeared out of the back room, where he has presumably being drinking by himself all night.
The whole thing is rather anticlimactic as Cato spins to look toward Haymitch, loses his balance, and falls flat on his face. He's out cold in seconds and a few burly men grab him on each end and, carrying him to the door, toss him unceremoniously into the street. This is neither the first nor the last time Cato has been thrown out in such a manner.
After he has been dispensed with, the whole crowd seems to turn back to the young cowboy and in a gesture that seems wholly expected by now he raises his hand good naturedly and with a smile on his face declares, "Another round!"
The whole bar erupts into cheers and just like that the merry making continues.
Katniss and Rue begin working furiously again to furnish the patrons with their promised drinks and the gunslinger is swallowed back up into the crowd. He is back to charming the pants off of every person in the saloon again, as though the good time had never been interrupted.
An hour later Katniss can see that the cowboy is in fine form. She has seen him work several times now, and she knows how his game is played. He comes into an establishment and spreads his charm and charisma around- buying rounds, telling stories about his past glories as a sharpshooter, about the riches he has won and the competitions he has taken. He works so skillfully and so subtly, planting the little nugget of hope within the men present as they get drunker and drunker, that they might have a taste of the same glory, that they might win the same bounties. And, of course, they could start by beating him in a shooting competition to be held the next day at dawn.
It doesn't escape Katniss' notice that his skill with a pistol is only half of the equation. His skill at manipulating the crowd, bending them to his will without their knowing it's happening is equally important to his success as a sharpshooter.
Katniss begins to wonder what the outcome would be if he had a challenger who actually understood his whole game. How would he react if the person he faced at dawn tomorrow morning actually had accuracy and skill to equal his own? What if his challenger was not someone who was just manipulated into thinking they had a chance, but was someone who actually did stand a chance?
These are the thoughts that are going through her mind as he stands on a chair late into the night and declares, "Are any of you fine me here man enough to challenge me! A five dollar stake and I will give you 20 to one odds! Do I have any takers?" Several people in the crowd cheer and catcall, but nobody speaks up- five dollars is a lot of money, after all. "Come on," he declares with his irresistible smile stretching across his face, "you only put up five dollars and stand the chance to win one hundred! How can you afford not to take that bet?" To emphasize his point he pulls out a wad of bills from his pocket.
It is clear to Katniss that actually seeing the large wad of cash in his hand is having the exact effect he knew it would have. The men in the crowd are envisioning themselves with that money. She can see several starting to vacillate, starting to consider the possibility that they could walk away from the challenge tomorrow ninety-five dollars richer.
She doesn't know what possess her, but suddenly she is pushing her way through the crowd. As she goes the flashes of the fantasy she had about him earlier resurface in her mind. In flashes she sees his naked body as it appeared earlier in her mind's eye, then a vision of his lopsided grin and piercing blue gaze swims through her mind, and finally, she recalls him glancing at Rue as he declared that he and Cato had different notions of what's right.
She doesn't even fully realize what she is doing as she approaches him. "I'll challenge you!" she declares once she is standing directly in front of the chair upon which he stands.
Katniss can barely hear his response over the gasps and guffaws of the crowd upon hearing her proclamation. "You?" he asks incredulously, the arrogant set of his mouth stretching in delight.
"That's right," she says, "me. I've got the money to pony up."
"You're not exactly the kind of challenger I had in mind," he says with a chuckle.
Katniss opens her mouth to retort, but is cut off by Johanna, "What, are you chicken, cowboy? You asked for a challenger and now you've got one." Katniss can see by Johanna's knowing grin that the other woman understands what is happening here.
He hasn't taken his eyes off Katniss since she approached and they remain fixed on her now as he steps down off the chair, "Okay, darlin', if you wanna take me on, you got it." Katniss is torn between the desire to smack the cocky smile off of his face or kiss it off.
"Just one other thing though," she says. His only response is a raised eyebrow, so she continues, "I don't want your money."
"What?" he asks, confusion causing his arrogant expression to falter.
"If you win, you get my money fair and square. But if I win, I want to name my forfeit after the competition," she states matter of factly.
"What kind of dupe do ya take me for, darlin'?" he asks incredulously. "You could name anything. I'd be a fool to take that bet."
"You'd only be a fool if you weren't sure you were gonna win. Are you that unsure of your ability to win that you can't take the risk on a woman challenger?" Now it's her turn to raise an eyebrow at him.
"Fine," he states after taking a long pause to consider. "I accept." He holds out his hand to her, and she takes it in a firm handshake. Just as she is pulling her hand away, he clasps it harder, and raising it to his lips plants a gentle kiss to her knuckles.
She yanks hard to pull her hand away blushing intensely. As she walks away she tries not to think about how soft and warm his lips felt on the skin of her hand, and tries not to wonder about what they would feel like elsewhere on her body.
I hoped you liked part one! Don't forget there is going to be a second part which should be up in a couple of days, so make sure you add this story to your alerts if you want to see how it turns out ;)
Also, let me know what you think about this story's potential as a multi-chapter work. I would love to hear what you think! So, please leave a review or find me on tumblr (plumgal1899)!