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and our dreams will break the boundaries of our fears

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--

She says, "I can't let them have this. It feels like it's important."

He is remembering when they told him. He is remembering how scared he was. "Johanna," he says.

"Finnick," she says, and she swallows. "He wants me tomorrow. Do this thing for me."

(He will regret this until he dies and even after.)

--

At fifteen, she went into the arena. She turned sixteen somewhere between the Cornucopia and her crowning.

(She was starving at the time and kind of delirious. She kept the game going, even then.

Let no one say Johanna Mason did not deserve her win.)

When she got out, there was a party. Her mentor introduced her to Haymitch Abernathy, who gave her the first bottle of hard white liquor she'd ever had, and looked at her wryly, evaluating.

He was still sort of handsome, then; quick-eyed even through the liquor. He said, "Johanna Mason, you are dangerous."

She said, "Thank you," and took a long swallow even though it burned her throat and she felt like she'd choke.

He is how she met Finnick Odair.

--

He says, "I can't."

She says, "Finn."

She is so beautiful. So beautiful. He can't help but picture her sprawled across thousand-thread-count sheets, bleeding, with someone who doesn't love her kissing her throat, her neck. He can't breathe because she is his friend, his best friend here in this fucking city that he wishes would burn to the ground. "Jo," he says, almost pleading. "What about your family?"

Her hair is spilling down her back, dark and long in perfect waves. She crosses her legs at the knee, sits on the edge of the bed. "Sit down."

The bed dips under him. He splays his palm across the sheets, crisp and white and impersonal.

"How old were you," she asks, "when you went into Career training?"

He says, "We've had this conversation."

--

Finnick was sixteen too, Haymitch had said, lightly. "So the two of you should get along like a house on fire." He stopped, considering the both of them. "Please don't burn anything down."

They went out onto the balcony. She couldn't not look at him; he'd been the toast of the Capitol for three years, at that point, and he was crazy beautiful, the kind of guy that Capitol girls would put posters of in their rooms.

It was weird now, though, because he was staring back.

She sat on the railing, feet on the safe side, hands gripping the metal under her thighs. "So," she said.

"Nice strategy," he said, emotionless.

She thought about the people she'd killed, about the way they'd looked at her before they breathed out and were done. "Yeah," she said crisply. “No admirers to send me a gold-plated trident, of course, but it got the job done.”

"Touché," he said, sounding a little impressed. "I was wondering if they'd declawed you yet."

She bared her teeth, kicking her feet against the railings a little. "I'd like to see them try." She was getting kind of good at this bravado thing.

His smile was sweet and sort of sad. "I'm sure you will," he said, and gestured to the railing. "Mind if I join you?"

She appraised it, shook it. It didn't seem like it would fall over; Finnick was still teenage-boy thin. "Sure," she said. "Don't push me over."

"That would make for bad press." He laughed, swinging himself up beside her, so close she could feel his heat against her side. "So, Johanna Mason."

She kept thinking, he's a Career. It shouldn't make a difference now, right? They'd both lived: she wasn't going to have to kill anyone anytime soon. He hadn't been in her ring, hadn't even mentored anyone who'd tried to kill her. And yet, she kept looking at his beautiful perfectly-sculpted face thinking, you chose this.

"How old were you when you started training?" It spilled out of her mouth, almost unbidden; she winced.

"Six." He didn't even blink, his whole demeanor totally controlled, totally calm. "Maybe seven? Pretty sure I was six though."

She thought about her District Four pair, both of them with Finnick's bronzed skin and light eyes. The girl had been calm and lethal, the boy dark-haired and kind of handsome. She hadn't had to kill them-- she'd killed their killers, odds were. "That's useful," she said.

"It sucked," he said. "But yeah, it was."

"No offence," she said, "but I fucking hate Career tributes."

"Want to hear a secret?" he asked, leaning in closer. This took some doing; they were sharing a flimsy railing jutting off the sixth story of a ten-story mansion. They were victors, she thought. Death means nothing to us.

She could feel his breath against her mouth. It wasn't alcoholic yet; she was surprised, given the amount of liquor circulating the room. "Sure."

"We hate us too," he said. He was smiling but the self-loathing in his smooth voice was so genuine she flinched, disrupting herself, and all of a sudden she was weightless and her stomach was falling out.

He grabbed her wrist, tugged her back; the force of it tumbled them both onto the balcony floor with a clatter. She was on top of him for a moment; she rolled, trying to get back equilibrium, but he was still holding her wrist so she couldn't help meeting his piercing eyes.

"Johanna?" her mentor asked. There were people at the door; she supposed they had made a lot of noise.

Finnick's hand pressed down against her shoulder, pushing her closer. All of a sudden he was kissing her, and all she could think about was the warmth of him.

They broke apart; she tried not to feel his loss too keenly. "What was that?" she snapped.

His eyes were hangdog, sheepish. "They would have made us come back inside," he said. "I didn't want to stop hanging out."

She hit him in the shoulder, but gently, and rolled off him, stretching her legs out along the tile. "You know," she said, "there are other ways you could've accomplished that."

"Sure," he said, smiling at her, seafoam eyes bright. "But they wouldn't have been anywhere near as fun."

As the cool night air hit her face, she realised that despite herself she was smiling too.

(She hadn't done that since she was fifteen.)

--

They are eighteen years old. "When I was six," she says, "my father joined a rebellion." She's calm about it, emotionless. "I don't know why. He must have known how it would end."

He says, "Johanna," without thinking; his voice is all worry, he can hear it. (He guesses at least one of them has to bring the emotion here; it's okay if it's him.)

Her eyes won't meet his, won't connect, stuck on a point somewhere to the right of his head. "I was fifteen when he got caught, when they killed him. It was quiet, but it was slow; they made us watch. It took him-- it took him hours to die." Her laugh is raw, rueful, harsh; so harsh he flinches. "The funny thing about it: my mother would never ever have thought of challenging them, would never have-- we had no idea he was being that stupid." This is where her voice stumbles, just a little.

Johanna's hand is next to his, palm-up, calloused from wielding her axes; instinctive he moves an inch and wraps his fingers around her wrist, gentle, careful; I'm not letting you go.

She breathes out, just soft, just quiet. "My mother--" she shakes her head, hair falling into her eyes. "People aren't made to handle that, you know? She held it together after he was dead, but losing me--"

Air scorches into his lungs, like he's drunk but he's not. "You were fifteen," he says. It is dawning on him, slowly, inexorably, like high tide against the shore.

Her smile is icy cold, broken; gone in half a second. "They pulled my name out of the reaping ball, that year; I can still hear her screaming. Like she hadn't been through enough. Hilarious, right? I bet it was a great joke in the Capitol."

Finnick knows, intellectually, that the Capitol controls everything. It should not be a surprise, but yet: his heart is beating so fast he expects it to bruise against his ribs. He swears, low, under his breath.

"They never expected me to win. No one expected me to win, not even me, not really-- odds were nineteen to one against, did you know that? I did my research." Her mouth curves up at the edges, briefly, but it isn't a smile; when her eyes meet his they're hard-edged, weary. "Anyway, she couldn't handle it."

"She wasn't on television," he says, remembering. "Or she wasn't on very long." (He remembers: a tall woman, with Johanna's dark hair, but not her bright, smart, vicious eyes.)

"President Snow offered her-- There's a sanitarium here, in the Capitol. She's getting the best of care." Johanna's voice is flat but she is staring at the joining of their hands, and he can feel her trembling, just a little, just barely.

He has never seen her like this: fragile, like she can be hurt. He wants to put his arm around her but she's all shoulders, all steel. If he touches her wrong now, says the wrong thing, she'll go off, like a trap in the Games.

"I could have lived with that," she says, and now all she sounds is tired. "Finn, I could have--" She's breathing in, deep. "I did live with them taking my dad, with winning, with them taking my mother too-- I can't live with this. I can't, it's just-- it's too much. They don't get this."

The silence between them stretches out, loaded with all the things he isn't saying, she isn't saying. He squeezes her hand.

She shakes her head, callous and lovely, defiant now. Her voice snaps through the air, like an arrow, like a spinning axe. "They took everything from me. Everything. Except this one thing, this tiny, meaningless thing-- and now they want that too." The set of her jaw is sharp like a knife, angry; she has never looked more beautiful. "I'll be damned if they get that without a fight."

He can't say anything to that; there isn't anything to say; except perhaps, I'll always have your back. He closes the space between them and presses his mouth to hers.

(When he was almost seventeen he kissed her, clumsy and young and more of a distraction mechanism than anything else. This, now, is nothing like that.

He has never kissed anyone with this much intensity, this much love in it. He can't breathe.)

Johanna's hand is on his cheek and it's burning, it's like a brand, like she's the fire from Seven's timber; but he's District Four, he's the waves. They balance each other out.

He says, "I have to go."

Her eyelashes are long and dark; her hair is spilling across her shoulders. The anger in her eyes is so young, so raw it catches him off-guard.

"I'll be back," he says, though part of him is yearning for the warmth of her against him. "I'll be back soon."

--

This is how they told her: there was a letter, and a name. There was a picture.

It was resting on the pillow next to her head when she woke up: a thick white envelope, heavy, smelling faintly of roses. She knew it was bad news, but she didn't know it would be that.

She tried to put off reading it: showered, brushed her teeth, had a cup of coffee. It was still sitting there when she went back into the bedroom. Finally she picked it up, slipped her thumbnail under the flap, felt it give against her touch.

Congratulations! it said, (the first sign she was going to want to rip it up into shreds). Johanna Mason, your virginity has been selected as a reward for Lucius Cornelius.

She stopped there for a moment. Her hands were trembling. She swallowed, kept going.

A transport will arrive for you tomorrow at seven o'clock. Your preparatory team has instructions to make you look your best.

Yours,
President Snow.

She called Haymitch. That is what you do if you are a victor, when something hurts.

--


Haymitch is drinking, as usual.

Finnick knocks twice on the open door and walks in.

"Hey," Haymitch says, looking up. The bottle dangles from his hand. "Want a drink?" He's wearing pyjamas, silk with cats on them. Finnick thinks they might be a present from Mags, who likes to fuck with Haymitch whenever possible.

"Not really," Finnick says, "but yes." His fingers brush Haymitch's as he takes the bottle; the neck of it is warm from Haymitch's mouth. "Johanna got her letter."

Haymitch's eyes are all guilt, slow and sad. This is the look he wears every time Finnick gets a letter and tells him. Finnick's stopped telling him, whenever he can. "She told me," Haymitch says. "I told her to do it."

The idea of meeting Haymitch's eyes hits Finnick's heart hard, so painful he swallows to avoid it. The alcohol is so strong it feels like it's scorching off his tastebuds. He winces.

Haymitch says, "It's from the new still."

"That explains it," Finnick says, staring into the bottle. Beetee is good at inventing and building; Haymitch is good at drinking. They work well together. He sighs. "She wants me to sleep with her so she won't be a virgin anymore."

"Fuck," Haymitch says. "Finn, you know you can't, not if that's what they want from her."

He sighs. "I know, but-- she's a mess."

"Do you have any idea what the fuck they will do to her if you do this?" Haymitch snaps. "Finnick, this would in no way be a kindness."

"She doesn't have anyone left," he says. "Apparently." He doesn't know why he's even considering this, except that she is his best friend here, except that she is defiant and sparky and beautiful and he loves her.

Haymitch sighs. "Finn," he says. "You have someone left; you have a lot of someones. You have that girl."

Finnick never even considered not doing it, when they told him; he has brothers and sisters and a mother and a father and a best friend. He can't afford the Capitol's wrath. "It's not about me," he says. He is glad Haymitch did not say their names. District Four is not this world, is not the Capitol. They can never, ever touch.

"Did you ever watch my Games?" Haymitch asks, taking the bottle back.

Finnick shakes his head, almost asks about relevance but thinks better of it. "I was born a year after, and my age group wasn't in line for a Quarter Quell, so we didn't-- and then I knew you, and it would have been weird. Wrong."

Haymitch's laugh is heavy, no mirth. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah," he says. "Well, Sunday morning recap, because I like you: the second-to-last kid died when I bounced an axe off the arena boundary into her skull. I won, but they killed everyone I loved because I-- I barely exposed a chink in their armor. This is how they work."

Finnick tries to swallow but his mouth is dry. "That's why you never had any letters."

Haymitch shrugs. "They didn't have anyone to hold over me. If you're willing to risk that, then go ahead, knock yourself out but--" The please don't hangs there in the air, like a time bomb, like a hand grenade.

"Yeah," Finnick says, finally looking up. Haymitch's gaze is too heavy, too weighted for him to breathe. "Can we just keep drinking?"

--

It gets dark. She thinks about calling Haymitch again, but she doesn't.

She thinks about what she'll do if he doesn't come; maybe he'd be doing her a favour. Sprawling ungracefully across the sheets, she hugs a pillow to her chest.

(She is thinking about her father, in a way she hasn't since she watched him scream his throat raw, since she watched his blood spill out across the floor, so much fertilizer; since she shut down all thought of him to stay alive, to stay safe, to stay sane. Because that worked so well, she thinks wryly.)

There is a knock on the door, one rap, sharp and short.

"Door's open," she says.

Finnick's hair is falling into his eyes; he's leaning against the doorframe and there's a bottle of Haymitch's white liquor in his hand. "Hey," he says. "Told you I'd be back."

The curve of his neck is golden, long, elegant. She steps back, grins. "Thank fuck," she says, "I was needing a drink."

(He kisses her and it doesn't taste like alcohol, it tastes like him.

Despite everything, it is good.)

--

He wakes up and her hair is falling across his shoulder. The sunlight is streaming across their bare skin. His temples are throbbing. She's curved into his side and his fingertips are splayed across her stomach. He can feel her breathing, the rise and fall of her chest under his arm. He didn't leave any marks, or tried not to; she was not so cautious and there are sore places all along his back.

"Hi," she says, twisting around. Her eyes are bright, even with the sleep in them.

"Hi," he says. He is remembering what she looked like when she came.

"So that didn't suck," she says. She is yawning. Her mouth is dark red, lips bruised.

He laughs, lazy, sleepy. At some point he will panic, but not now; at some point, he thinks, she will panic.

She laughs too, light, kind of happy. "Okay," she says. "Bad choice of words."

"Little bit," he says, grinning.

They lie there for a little while longer; just comfortable, just friendly. He loves her so much but not in a way where he wants to kiss her, wants to see her neck thrown back because of him. She does not make him think of waves, not like-- He just wants her to be happy, to be okay. He just loves the warmth of her, and the way she fits against him.

--

They make coffee, swallow hangover pills; sit next to each other at her tiny kitchen table. It could be larger-- she could certainly afford that-- but Johanna likes this place, this little apartment. It's neat and compact and everything fits together. It's not safe, nowhere is safe; but sometimes at night she can almost pretend.

"Are you hungry?" she asks, belatedly. She is wearing his shirt; it's soft and smells like him.

He is wearing yesterday's pants; he raises an eyebrow. "Does that mean you want me to make you eggs?"

"Maybe," she says, grins. (She is a terrible cook, but even her burnt toast and shell-filled eggs are better than eating Capitol food, or having an Avox in her house. Finnick, on the other hand, is competent with basic foodstuffs, and you should see what he can do with a fish.)

"Fine," he says, "show me where your pans are at."

She wraps her fingers around her mug, watching him work. There are little red marks all along his neck, and she grins to herself, thinking, I did that. It's a nice feeling; it kind of thrills through her stomach and settles there. This isn't fire, isn't passion; it doesn't have to be.

She doesn't want to disturb this moment, stretching out warm and comfortable around them, but she is curious; this is something the Games did not beat out of her. "Hey," she says.

"Mmm," he says. He's cracking eggs.

"What made you come back?" she asks. The ceramic has absorbed the heat of her coffee and it's pleasant against her palms. She stares into the liquid so she doesn't have to see him twist around to look at her, so she won't see the pity in his eyes.

"Jo," he says. His voice is sharp and clear and calm. She wonders if he's been thinking about what to say; probably, knowing Finn. She hears his footsteps, feels the weight of him leaning against the table to look at her.

She doesn't look up.

"Hey," he says. "Hey, c'mon. I love you and you were upset and scared and angry and I could do this thing for you. So I did it." He leans across, hand on her shoulder. She meets his gaze, even. There's something in it that's not pity, not even sympathy.

"And-- it wasn't just about you." His voice is so kind, so sad, it hurts. "My first time-- I didn't want it to be like that, for you."

She slides her palm around the back of his neck to tug him in for a kiss. "Thank you," she murmurs, head dropping, face turning into his skin so her words are barely audible. "I'm sorry."

--

There is a knock on the door, when they're done with the eggs.

Finnick says, "Jo, are you expecting someone?" and she shakes her head, worried, before stripping out of his shirt and tossing it to him.

"Get the door," she says, backing into the bedroom.

They're friends; it's not unusual for them to stay at each others' places. It is unusual for neither of them to be dressed. He shrugs into his shirt, buttoning it one-handed before opening the door.

Haymitch frowns at him. "You're a fucking idiot," he says. "And your shirt is badly-buttoned."

Johanna shouts, through the closed door, "You asshole, I almost had a heart attack!"

"Put some fucking clothes on," Haymitch calls back at her and sidesteps Finnick neatly to sprawl across Johanna's clean white couch.

"Coffee?" Finnick asks, fixing his shirt. "Eggs?"

Haymitch raises an eyebrow.

"Whiskey?" he tries.

"I would very much like some whiskey," Haymitch says, acerbic, "but, unfortunately, this is the kind of situation for which I need to be sober."

Finnick's blood runs ice-cold. He sits down on the coffee table, carefully. "Well," he says, lightly, "we must have fucked up pretty bad."

Haymitch's eyes are flashing worry and anger. It's a concentrated level of emotion Haymitch doesn't usually show, preferring to bury it with alcohol. "The two of you," he snaps, "just said fuck you to President Snow. Personally. So yes, you have fucked up pretty bad."

Jo comes out in jeans and a t-shirt. "It's okay," she says, painfully calm. "I have a plan." Her hair is scraped back, away from her face. She's pale, drawn.

"It better be a fucking good plan."

"It's a terrible plan," Johanna says. Her smile is so far from real it hurts. "But it'll work."

"Elaborate," Haymitch says, clipped and short.

"Pretend it didn't happen," she says. "They can't acknowledge that we did something wrong because it shows that we aren't completely under their control. I'll go tonight, and it will be fine."

"It really fucking won't," Haymitch says. He's scared, Finnick realizes; he hasn't seen this from Haymitch before. "But okay, fine. Maybe it will. Where's your liquor?" Haymitch's about-face convinces absolutely no one; the skin around his eyes is tight, worried, tired.

She points. "Through there," she says. "Bring me back a glass."

He laughs; it's a hoarse bark, no mirth. "Yeah right," he says. "You need to be sober for tonight."

"And here I was," she says, sharp, "thinking the only way I'd get through it would be totally wasted."

Haymitch's voice is just as sharp as hers. "You could've gotten away with that," he says, jerking his thumb at Finn, "had you not slept with this guy. In the unpleasant but sadly likely event that someone suspects that you two were fucking morons you need to at least have made it good."

She shrugs. Her tone is light but he can tell it's forced when she says, "Oh well. You win some, you lose some."

Haymitch glares. His walk is unsteady, as he threads his way through her furniture to the other room.

Finnick says, "He doesn't think we're going to be okay." His mouth is kind of dry.

"I've never seen him like this." She's chewing her bottom lip, eyebrows furrowed harshly, forcing her body still.

"Sometimes you don't realise he cares," he says, thinking about the panic, guilt, worry that had flashed through Haymitch's eyes the first time Finnick got a letter. "Well, okay. You realise he cares."

"He sobered up for us," she says, thoughtfully. "You know-- if we went back in there, god forbid, if they told us we had to play a final Game-- I don't think anyone would touch Haymitch."

He thinks about it, for a moment. "Maybe Brutus," he says. "Brutus kinda hates everyone."

"Brutus owes him, though," she says. "He covers for everyone."

He'll cover for us, Finnick thinks, seeing that knowledge in her eyes, too. There is a distinctive clatter, glass against bottle against Haymitch's hands. "We should probably go make sure he doesn't break anything," he says. "Your cabinet has glass walls."

"Hey," she says, unsteady, quiet; guilty, he thinks. "Thanks for last night. You didn't have to."

"Shut up," he says. "Of course I did. You're-- if we went in those Games, which we won't, but if we did-- it'd be you and me against the rest of them, you know that." He stops for a moment, caught in the truth of it; but he's started, it's too late to wave it off now. "You and me against the world. I will always have your back, no matter what."

"Careful," she says, grinning; painfully sweet, for Johanna Mason. "That's a little close to treason, Mr. Odair."

"Like what we did last night wasn't?" He's smiling too. He puts his arm around her, and they go to check on Haymitch.

--

Johanna is in with her prep team. They're giggling; this kind of work, they like. This kind of thing they don't even need to worry she won't come back. Her hair is being brushed out and her skin's tingling from all the purification. They haven't put her makeup on yet--small mercies--so her face at least feels clean.

Finn's sitting on a chair in the corner, chin on his hands. He likes watching this kind of thing, mostly because he's a sadist, partly because he thinks she's made of glass and needs him nearby. (He wouldn't completely be wrong.) No one else is supposed to be allowed in the room, but it's Finnick; he has almost supernatural powers of charm.

There's a knock on the door and she looks up. A man in a black suit is having a hushed conversation with Julia, who is nodding. She turns to Johanna. "Jo," she says. She's trembling. "The president wants to see you and Finnick. He's here."

Johanna swallows. She is not going to throw up. She nods.

Her prep team flood out, shooting worried looks back at Johanna as they leave. Probably they're concerned that she'll get mauled to death by muttations and all their work will have been wasted.

Finnick says, "Deep breaths. Don't show anyone your throat." His mouth is set; he doesn't even look terrified, but he is a good actor.

"Not for real," she says, wryly; you never show anyone your hand, in this town. It is hard to be dignified when you're naked.

That's Snow's intention.

"He's going to fucking terrify you," Finnick hisses. "Be careful."

She fucking hates President Snow. He is all out of proportion, even for the Capitol--just shy of handsome, in a grotesque way.

She smiles and bows when he walks in.

His gaze is sharp, snake-eyes deadly. "Miss Mason," he says, caressing the syllables in her name like his voice is poisonous. "You look lovely."

She doesn't look down at herself, but she lets herself flush. "Thank you," she says. (The last time he was this close to her, he was putting the crown on her head and she could feel nothing but the blood on her hands.)

"I regret that I am not here under better circumstances," he says. His voice reflects nothing of the sort. "I'm afraid I do not bring good news."

She closes her eyes, feeling sick, feeling scared. "It's an honor that you've come in person," she says.

"Your mother's dead," he says. "There was an--" his pause is delicate, intentional, "accident at the facility. Her death was slow; I'm sorry."

It's not that she didn't think they'd do it; she knew they would. It's that she didn't think it would hurt this much. Her mother had died, essentially, when her daughter followed her husband into slow and certain death. All that they've killed is the flesh. But he is expecting emotion, she knows; the tears that roll down her cheeks aren't entirely fake. "I'm sorry," she says, choking, "I--"

Finnick steps in front of her, calmly, elegantly, surreptitiously. She remembers, again, that he has been playing this game since he was fourteen. "Mr. President," he says. "Thank you so much for coming. She's-- overwhelmed."

"Of course," the president says. There is not even a pretense of sympathy in his voice anymore. "Completely understandable. It's good of you to look out for her, Finnick."

"She's new," he says, lightly, carefully. "She's-- still a little raw. It wouldn't be right not to."

"It's lucky she has you as a protector," the president says, mild-mannered, emotionless: this is not a threat, simply a statement of fact. I know what you did.

Finnick's pause is infinitesimal before he bows. "Of course, sir," he says.

The president kisses him on the mouth. She thinks she is going to be sick: it lasts half a minute. Finnick doesn't even flinch.

Then the president is gone; the door is shutting behind him with a quiet click.

"Fuck," she says.

Finnick's wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "You okay?" he asks.

She shakes her head. "Yeah," she says. "I mean. I can fake it."

"I'm sorry," he says.

She wonders if his mouth tastes like blood, like the president's breath always smells. "I'm sorry," she says. She thinks she might be shaking. "There's, um, alcohol in the bottom cupboard. The kind they use to get dye off."

He blinks at her.

"For your mouth," she says. "So you can, um, rinse it."

He ruffles her hair, but his hand is unsteady, trembling. "You're really impossibly sweet," he says.

"Shut it," she says. "Don't mess up my hair."

--

He doesn't sleep all night, sits up with Haymitch and Mags and Johanna's mentor Silva and watches a stupid Capitol drama about a girl in love with a guy in love with another girl.

Altogether they go through ten bottles of Haymitch's white liquor. It tastes disgusting, but halfway through the second bottle he stops noticing.

None of them really talk. All Finnick can feel is guilt, pounding through his temples, pulsing with every beat of his heart. He throws up five times but doesn't collapse into his own vomit, which he's counting as a win, since he can't say as much for Haymitch.

There is a knock on the door at sunrise. Mags gets up, opens it. "Finnick," she says, gently, "it's for you."

He staggers to the door, heart racing even through the numbness; "Hi," he says.

"Hi," Johanna says. Her hair's down, streaming around her face. Her makeup's running; she's been crying. "Thought you'd be here."

Mags has melted away; he is grateful. He wants to hug Johanna but he doesn't, remembering his first time, remembering how any kind of touch would have sent him into paroxysms. "You look like crap," he says gently.

"Don't worry," she says, falsely bright, "I didn't start crying till I was safely out."

"Come inside," he says. "There's kind of a lot of alcohol."

"First sensible thing I’ve heard all night," she says, following him in.

"So how was it?" he asks, later. They are sharing the same armchair; they barely fit, but he thinks the warmth of him might be making it better.

"Shitty," she says, acerbic. She's halfway through her first bottle. "Thankfully I'm good at faking it. He fucked me, I made noises, I bled a bit; it was over. I left. Didn't even come, so you know, good time had by all."

Haymitch throws up again.

Silva says, "Jo."

She shrugs. "I did my job," she says. "I did a good job. I wonder if I can give myself alcohol-induced amnesia."

From the floor, Haymitch shakes his head. "You can't," he says, "believe me, I've tried."

"I guess you'd know," she says, but she drains the rest of the bottle anyway.

--

Finnick and Silva are passed out on the couch; Mags has gone home, assured that things are under control.

Haymitch and Johanna are sitting on his bed. There's an empty bottle dangling from her fingers; she can't be fucked to go get another one.

He says, "Finnick told me about your mother."

She swallows, mouth dry. "Of course he did," she says.

"Jesus," he says. "Jo, all I can do is worry about you."

"I know," she says. "I'm sorry."

It strikes her, all of a sudden, in the desperate way he is looking at her; she is all he has. She and Finnick and Mags and Silva and Seeder and Chaff; the victors are all Haymitch has. Well, she thinks, that makes two of them.

She leans forward and presses a dry kiss to his cheek. "Thank you," she says.

His eyes are soft, dull, sad. He says, "oh, darling."

--

All of a sudden it's the 70th Games. Jo's not mentoring this year, thank fuck. Finnick is, but he doesn't say anything about it to her; she hasn't done it yet, and nothing he can say will prepare her. To be honest he doesn't want to think about it.

They say goodbye at the train station, surrounded by all the bustle of the travelling circus that is the Games. She kisses his cheek; he ruffles her hair.

"May the odds be ever in your favor," he says, very light.

"Happy Hunger Games," she says, dryly. "See you on the way back."

--

She watches District Four's Reaping on the way to District Seven. Finnick and Mags are sitting together, along with the rest of Four's victors, whose names she doesn't remember.

It's a strange one, this Reaping; usually in the Career districts, someone volunteers. Not this time, not for the girl.

She's seventeen. Her name is Annie.

Finnick's face is impassionate but she can read him even through a camera lens: somewhere inside he is screaming.

She calls Mags as soon as it's over, fingers white around the receiver. "Who is she?"

"Johanna?" Mags asks. "What--"

"Who's Annie Cresta?" she asks, breathless. "Mags, who is she to Finnick?"

Mags' swallow is audible. "His best friend here," she says. "They were at school together. Johanna--"

Jo's eyes are closed, her mouth pressed together to stop her from crying out. "Fuck," she says, stuttering through the words, running her hands through her hair. "Fuck. Can you get him-- no, I can't-- Can you tell him I'm sorry?"

"Jo," Mags says.

She hangs up.

--

It's Annie. Of course it's Annie. He was an idiot to have thought he could get away with this, with fucking with the Capitol.

He can't help himself saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, almost incoherent.

She looks at him, calmly, gently, says, this isn't your fault, because this is Annie Cresta, who he loves. She says, I've been training for this my whole life, but both of them know she doesn't have that instinct that you need; both of them know this game isn't something she can do.

He spends all the time he can with her and then she's in training, and he can't be there because it's against the rules. He sits in his rooms. He doesn't drink; he needs to be aware. He needs to be networking; what good is it being the Capitol's whore if you can't occasionally call in some favors?

There's a double rap on the door, and someone is unlocking it, padding in. There's only one person with a key. He hadn't thought she'd come near him.

"Hey," Johanna says. Her hair's short. He doesn't know why she's cut it, or when. Between them leaving, probably, and coming back. He's been a little distracted.

"Hi," he says. He doesn't move.

"I'm so sorry," she says. She's been crying, he can tell by the jagged note in her voice. "Finn, I-- this is my fault. If I hadn't-- she'd be okay if I hadn't asked you to do that for me."

He should say something. He should say: it's not your fault. He should say: they’re psychopaths anyway. He should say: there were two of us that night; I did what I wanted to do. But Annie Cresta is going to die tomorrow and he can't breathe, let alone speak.

"I'm so sorry," she says, again. "Finn, I--" she stops, steps forward hesitantly, kisses his forehead. "I'm going to fix this," she says. "I swear to God I'm going to make this okay."

He doesn't say anything, can't even look at her.

This is Johanna Mason; he has never known her to run from anything, until now. The door shuts behind her with a final click. He hopes she isn't crying; she'll need to be on camera soon. They like her for strategy interviews.

He stays very still for a moment, and then does the only thing he can do; he calls Haymitch.

--

This is the hardest thing she's ever done. She stands in the foyer. The receptionist looks bored. "Do you have an appointment," she says.

"He'll want to see me," she says. She's not crying, she can't. She can't let her voice waver; it would be like showing her throat to lions. (Lions with guns.)

The receptionist gets up, goes in, comes back out. "Go on in," she says. She sounds unimpressed.

Johanna can't imagine anything would faze her; she probably sees people being fed to muttations on a daily basis. She takes a deep breath, goes in.

President Snow is sitting behind his desk. "Hello, Miss Mason," he says, sickly-sweet, terrifying. "What can I do for you?"

She had a plan; she had a way to say this. "Don't kill Annie Cresta," she says, forgetting all of that. "Please don't."

"That's awfully forward of you, Miss Mason," he says. He is steepling his hands in front of him on the desk. "What makes you think I have the power to do that? She is in the Games; it isn't I who makes those decisions."

"It's you who made the decision to put her in there," Johanna says. All she can feel is the fear, flooding through her. "You can-- you can change the Game so she makes it out."

He smirks. "Assuming I could do that," he says, "why in Panem would I want to?"

"Finnick's popular," she says. "Useful. You kill Annie he goes catatonic, he's no good to anyone."

Snow's mouth presses together in a firm line. She remembers how he kissed Finn; there’s nothing this man likes less than not being in control. "Better catatonic than rebellious," he says, pointedly.

She locks her fingers together behind her back, swallows, hard. "I'll do whatever you want," she says. Johanna knows she sounds desperate; that's all right. She is.

"Now we're talking," he says. His smile is like a viper's.

She has never been this afraid in all of her life. She closes her eyes for a moment, and falls to her knees.

"That looks good on you," he says, calmly.

She opens her eyes. "What," she snaps--she's so tired, goddamnit, she's fucking done playing nice-- "defeat? And here I was thinking it didn't go with my skin tone."

His hand's on her shoulder. She resists the instinct to flinch and then throw up. "You and Finnick will get letters tonight."

She nods, relieved in spite of the unceasing, sick churning of her gut; doesn't speak.

"Miss Mason," he adds. "Feel free to tell whoever you want about this meeting."

She’s so weary she can’t even bring herself to be sick of the machinations.

--

She's sitting on the edge of her bed, naked. Her skin is red, presumably from a shower.

"Hi," he says.

She looks up. Her eyes are red, too. "Haymitch," she says. "What are you doing here?"

"Finnick called me," he says. "He said you'd need someone. You look like shit, darling."

"I was kinda thinking he'd need you," she says. She sounds very young, all of a sudden. He has never seen her this vulnerable. "I fixed it," she adds. "At least I think I did. Most of it."

"What happened?"

She's making a fist, clenching and unclenching. There's blood oozing out of her palm. "Annie's going to win," she says. "I think. I showed him my hand. He wasn't going to kill her anyway, he needs Finn, but-- I needed to be sure."

He doesn't move, not even a hair, as if the room is filled with static electricity, or he's wired to explosives. He waits.

When she shakes her head it snaps too far forward, like she’s overestimated the weight of it. There’s leashed fury in the set of her jaw, but she’s all control, stillness. "He-- he wanted to show that he had me, you know? That he could-- that all of us are powerless, in the end, compared to him. That rebellion never ends well."

He swallows, sits down next to her; remembers what it was like to be the example. He can feel the heat coming off her skin and he hopes she hasn't burnt herself trying to scrub off the desperation. "Drink this," he says, handing her the bottle of whiskey he brought.

She laughs, raw. "It's full," she says.

"What?" he asks, reaching for light, failing. "You were using your liver?"

"Not really," she shrugs and drinks. She chokes somewhere around halfway, keeps going until she hits bottom. It seems appropriate.

--

Right after Annie wins, he gets a letter. It says, Thank Johanna Mason.

Finnick rips it into shreds, but he picks up the phone.

--