Love kid. Lost until you give it some kick. You’re too young to leave it. Too young to keep it. Love’s the breath a Life still lifts when Life is finally over with.
(ONLY REVOLUTIONS, MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI)
After the war, they built a monument for Finnick down by the piers and the fisherman’s wharfs in District Four.
Johanna has never seen it. She couldn’t even tell you what it looks like.
It’s gaudy. She won’t know that either, but she can imagine. The entire statue looks as though it was dipped in a corrosive, acid rain, a sickeningly green and tarnished hue to the metal and iron as it twists up into a three-pronged trident. It’s just a trident, large and ostentatious, the crashing sea behind it, and for the better part of a decade, funds funneled off to District Four will be further funneled into this project.
A lot of bad fish are caught in the nets, something off in the water, and a lot of bad oysters are harvested. The first decade after the war is a hard one, storms siphoned off the sea and rushed over the coastal land, the dunes collapsed, and the elder folk talked about how it was like the time before the Dark Days, but even coming from them, aged and wizened as they were, it was just hearsay.
It was a bad time, and the new government tried, and District Four built the statue, and eventually the rations came down again, harsh and strict.
To Be Hungry Is To Be Loyal. That’s what the banners read, the placards over the market. In District Four they caught dead, rotting fish, and Johanna will never once visit that statue.
She didn’t leave home much. Her house remained in District Seven and the small saplings planted all those years ago when she first won her Games and she first moved into the Village had begun to grow. On a good day they shade the sun from her front porch and she watched the empty road before her.
There aren’t that many good days here, even after the war.
They dotted the iron base that trident sits on with inlaid pearls fetched from the oysters they brought to shore.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
To the Children of Panem, we grant you this - history as you will never learn it.
This country has yet to learn (or re-learn as it were, if the records found of a Mister Jon Stewart are to be any indication of American culture under the governance of The United States, the turn of the twenty-first century) the humble art of self-criticism, and the understanding to be reaped.
You will be taught this is a grand country, a union of thirteen districts, and once there was a bad man and he was President Snow and that there was a bad woman and she was President Coin, and young revolutionary Katniss Everdeen killed them both.
This, you will learn. What they won’t tell you is the rest.
In this world, in this lifetime, a place where history is buried under the same layer of dust and filth that coats the earth, order is a blessing.
We will tell this story as it happened. We will grant them the order they never once thought to look for, sought to keep.
We want you to understand.
They took a lot. This has always been a country steeped deep in a blood legacy. Even before the Dark Days, this was a country that demanded more than a person might think possible.
They make you give it all. We just want you to understand.
Her name was Johanna Mason, and his was Finnick Odair.
She met him in a crowded hallway in the Capitol. She was dressed as Eve, and the boy, her counterpart, a shaking Adam.
Finnick had not been shy as he let his eyes travel over her scantily-clad frame and she had not been shy as she met his gaze, as it traveled up from her chest and past her neck, finally settling on her eyes.
“Good luck,” he said, a stupid, lascivious grin on his face, fake but not as forced as usual, a fact she would never know and a fact he was scarcely aware existed.
Johanna nodded, eyes still guarded, and if he thought he saw a challenge there, the thought would not surface again until later, much, much later.
Memory is a shade, colors events falsely but we embrace and cling to them as though they are real. As though this is what happened, this is what really happened.
They both were Champions. They both won, but at no point was it ever clear beyond another chance at life what the prize was.
(“It’s not really cheating,” she says, “if we’re both just about dead.” She bites his jaw. “Besides. I had you first.”
And, yes, yes, this is how Johanna remembers it. This is how she sees that scene expand and unfold in her head, and she would knot her arms about herself and glare, heady and strong and angry, always angry, and tell you with no room for doubt that she should know, she was there.
But that wasn’t it. These things, they don’t happen as we remember them. We’ll get there. Don’t worry. We’ll show you).
They don’t teach you these stories anymore, do they? Adam and Eve and that wretched garden and the snake, the serpent, the devil, that first bite at original sin.
They didn’t teach it in many of the districts at that time either. District Seven was housed in what Old America under The United States called the Bible Belt, and maybe that’s why these stories about Adam and Eve and Jonah and a whale, Noah and his ark survived.
You don’t know what a Bible is, do you.
That’s okay. Most didn’t. Johanna did. Her grandfather had one, all weather-beaten and torn, a few pages missing, but he said it was from the New Testament, so that’s alright then, but he told Johanna the stories. Tried to raise her to believe in forces beyond our control, forces on high, Our Father, Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name, but like most things forced on Johanna, it didn’t take.
Back in that day, you could meet your due in the public square for keeping a book like that in your house.
Come to think of it, that same fate could be met today.
The 65th Hunger Games were a good Games, a good year to root for a young champion like Finnick Odair. As reviled and feared as this annual event was, there was also a tangible degree of pride and excitement alive with them most were unaware existed.
Johanna had been young at the time, twelve years old, if even, but the neighborhood used to have viewing sessions where they would all gather around the television set and cheer for their own tributes. Her mother would make an apple tart on Sundays. The District Seven tributes had not faired well, and Johanna had only known them by name, names that instantly escaped her memory as quickly as they were erased from the arena, caught first in a net and then skewered by Finnick Odair.
He was an instant favorite in District Seven, even though he had brought death to their own. Like we said, memory is brief.
But everyone remembers this. Everyone is reminded of this, the televisions that switch on, an organ of the state, and the images are relayed, one after the other and the other after that. The trio of golden tines of Finnick’s trident dipped in blood, the smooth, effortless thrust as they penetrate and just as heedlessly vacate the flesh of a faceless opponent. The feigned innocence of Johanna’s face giving way to something clever, too much guile and not enough heart, as she swings the axe over her head and down, the blade catching in the space between neck and shoulder, throat, as the weapon thrums in her hand. And Annie, Annie drifts at sea, a pale face bobbing over the lapping waves, an impossible aqua blue cresting in a foam of white.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves again.
She’s all attitude and jutting bone when he first meets her, when he officially meets her. The Capitol has fixed her up, buffed whatever fleshy imperfections she might have possessed or earned, and he finds himself slightly disappointed.
He gets in her personal space. “I have to admit, that black eye was a good look on you. I’m sorry to see it gone already.”
Her smile is cutting and wry, far too wise for her age or his, all teeth and not enough lip. “I begged them not to take my dignity,” she drawls in a passable Capitol accent, too familiar even with the mockery that drips from it. Finnick can’t fight the smile that creeps across his face. “But, alas,” she says, and the corners of her own lips tilt up. He thinks it the most dangerous grin he has ever seen.
Johanna is unfazed when she meets him, the ferocity of the arena still present in her unforgiving posture, the bowed outward chest and set shoulders. His own pride has been smudged over by something far more lecherous than dangerous, so when he smiles it comes across more as a leer, more lustful than the cutting edge her own teeth take on against the slight swell of her bottom lip.
“You look better on television,” she says, and his eyes crinkle as his smile expands into a more genuine expression, more effortless.
“You don’t really mean that,” he chides, the space between them small, and she looks up at him, still defiant, still angry, so, so angry. He can’t remember if he was angry after he won. He can recall being tired. He can recall Mags, and how she felt the need to comfort him even though he never asked for it, didn’t think he needed it, too young and too proud. Yes, he had been proud, he remembers that, but he does not think he felt as though he had accomplished anything worth talking about.
Johanna concedes. “No,” she says, flippant, “but I always wanted to say that to someone. You struck me as an easy target.” He doesn’t think she means that either, but he doesn’t comment on it.
“Save it for Caesar Flickman,” he teases. Johanna doesn’t even blink as he moves a little closer to her, close enough to feel the ferocious amount of heat emanating from her.
“How many girls you direct that particular line at, huh?”
“I would never mean it that way,” he flirts, “least of all concerning you.”
“Aren’t you the charmer,” she snarls.
(And, oh, we promised you order, but you must know this: Finnick Odair felt he knew Johanna Mason before he even met her. Watching the games, watching her rip his own tributes apart, and listening as the crowd of mentors and government officials dissolved into an insect-like cacophony of disbelief.
Her body was beaten and near destroyed when they pulled her out of the arena. He had been there, and he had seen it. Her arm hung at an awkward and painful angle beneath her elbow, the skin scraped away revealing a stretch of bright pink and red the eye was never meant to see. Her bottom lip was split, her chin coated in her own blood, or maybe someone else’s, maybe several someones’, he didn’t know, but just as the blood coated her chin it was splattered across her neck, a neck too long and delicate, a swan’s neck, that feminine column of throat out of place against the stacked cut of muscle her collarbone spread across.
He had expected her eyes to be deadened, tired and worn down. He doesn’t know why he had expected it. He hardly knew her. Maybe it was the footage beforehand bending to create a frame of reference. Maybe he fell for the same tricks the rest of Panem fell for and he had cultivated a relationship with her based solely on what the television wished to show him. But that’s not entirely true. He saw more than the television granted. He had seen a collection of moments that now made a greater sense, made sense when he watched her raise that axe high over her head as she narrowed in on her first kill, the sound the blade made as it rushed down on the waiting tribute’s head.
When he died, he died alone. But we all die alone, and we are sorry, we keep skipping around here, this is harder than you think, but there is something you need to know, something you need to know now lest we forget: the first vivid memory of Johanna Mason Finnick Odair ever possessed occurred during training. Her fingers had been smeared a brown-gray green, no real gift for artistry apparent as she scratched her fingers through the palette of paint. Her eyes had wandered to a wall of axes, long wooden handles bursting up in twin blades, mallets and hammers, and weapons for which Finnick was unsure names existed. But he had caught her in that moment, staring off at the wall of weapons while her fingers stilled in the mush of paint. At the time he had thought her mind had slipped down into fear, remembering her nervous posturing during the opening march into the Capitol with the rest of the tributes, but then she turned her face towards him. Their eyes met, if only for a breath, and although her mouth did not open, her lips quirked up in the most mischievous grin he had ever seen.
She might as well have said, “Watch this,” he thought later.
She might have just said, “Wait for it,” and the impact would have been the same.
He died alone, and it’s funny what happens then, the briefest and the longest moment before the curtain completely falls. That mouth of hers quirked up, and this time, this time he thinks he heard her say,
“I told you so.”
But we are sorry. We are so sorry he died and we are so sorry we can’t seem to keep this story on a single track).
The 69th Hunger Games was a very good year. Johanna became the underdog, but only after the initial bets were placed, and no one even gave her much thought. The bulk of District Seven, the bulk who had never engaged words with the girl, thought it would be a blessing if she made it through and past the Cornucopia.
The rest knew exactly what she was playing at.
At no point in her life could Johanna Mason be accurately described as demure or afraid. She always hid her fear beneath a layer of bravado and an even thicker layer of surly disposition. None of this was present on the stage as she was introduced, her voice trembling throughout her interview, her eyes downcast, her score miserably low.
She went from being a frightened little girl in the eyes of the country to a filthy bitch in a matter of moments.
When she first got back, she’d fight anyone who looked at her sideways. After awhile they all just stopped looking, and her fists weren’t so raw and bruised anymore, settling now for snarls and threats instead of the tight swing of her right hook. They didn’t talk to her, and she became that churlish excuse for a girl who lived alone among the handful of aging men who managed to achieve victory, too.
She’s never looked innocent. There was never anything bright or girlish about her face; while she was pretty, she was definitely pretty, he would think, there was still a predatory element in the slant of her eyes and the tight, fanged bloom of her smile.
Here is another thing they forgot to tell you: while the Capitol was a dirty, dirty, filthy city, it was never just its own inhabitants who would partake in the various vices offered their way.
It was never just the bootleg white liquor you find brewing in old bathtubs throughout the district, the barrels of ale in the districts with access to the barely and wheat. Here, they had the good stuff, the stuff worth drinking, the kind you could drink without burning a hole through your stomach lining. They mixed it with fruity flavors and they mixed it with other drink, all of it addicting and delicious, and in those moments, the frothy concoctions and the first hit of drink, there never seemed anything wrong with that city or these people, and everyone was the same as those drinks: bright and bubbly and full of all sorts of ill-conceived possibility.
There were the drugs too, and not just morphling. There was the dust and the powder and the snow, all sorts of things they would snort off hand mirrors and glass tables. They’d smoke things too, stuff that reeked, pungent and thick about the room, and bodies would go limp with its influence, bodies draped over chairs and along the floor. She is smart enough to stay away from the needles, and so is he.
Finnick was eighteen years old when he first met Johanna Mason. It had been four years since his own victory in the Games, and she had only just won that year, all of fifteen years of age.
Being a winner in this city can get you anything and everything, everyone, anyone, you want.
They return her to District Seven.
And after she has returned home - she doesn’t dream, or if she does, she never remembers them. She lives alone, in a house too large, and the Peacekeepers won’t let her store any weapons in her home. She fashions a slingshot out of twine and leather and a branch from the tree outside her window and practices her aim against the jars of fruit preserves her mother left behind. She never misses. The raspberry mash splatters deep red and human against the clean wood of the front porch.
She is brought to District Four during her Victory Tour.
They are so young at this point. So young and so brash, and they are still both strangers to each other, but they think they know each other, so that counts for more than we can imagine. She can hear the sea from his house, and she has never had that before: the rush of the surf in the early morning gloom, the smell of salt and the less desired stench of fish.
“You’re so lucky,” is what she tells him, and he can only look surprised. For a sixteen year old girl who thinks she is a woman, she’s still built like a boy - no discernible curves to her frame, small breasts, small hips, legs that wobble under his hand. She reminds him of the young horses that used to take to the sand and run for the islands every spring. There aren’t as many horses anymore, and everyone fears they’re dying off, and when he mentions the horses to Johanna she raises her eyebrows and tells him she has never seen more than one at a time.
“It’s not about being lucky,” he tells her, and their tongues meet before their lips do, her skin sweaty, but it tastes more like dew than salt. They are unable to hide the violence between them. Her teeth will descend upon his lip, and he’ll grunt, he’ll throw her against the bed, not on it, her back curving over the mattress as her legs collapse limp and open like a disused ragdoll.
The sex they have is filthy and borderline demeaning. Finnick’s large hand bracketing the back and side of her head, pushing her down into the weak mattress as he fucks her hard from behind; she fucks him with her fingers even though he won’t admit he wants it -
He keeps her at a distance in public and if she gets angry and offended about it, this will not happen until later, much later, time as cruel a mistress as she is to him.
She can’t remember their first kiss.
He can. It was on the beach. She instigated it.
Time is more fluid than we give it credit - it slips and sluices over the days and weeks, and finally months, years. There are the people we can return to where this elapsed time has not made a dent. For these two, this is how it worked. They met in the Capitol, they slept together in District Four, and after that, each time they met, each time the country of Panem brought them together it was as though little to no time had passed in the interim.
But it had. Of course it had. That’s the fallacy of conducting relationships this way. Finnick had always been under the employ of the state, and his services for the wealthy of Panem had only escalated.
He’s not very vocal with her; it’s all heavy breathing and the occasional gasp here and there, the sound colored harsh by the pained look his face takes on as it escapes him.
“You this quiet with your customers?” she goads, and his face takes on an expression she can’t read. He thrusts into her hard once, enough to jerk her body further up the bed, and her mouth hangs open at the force of it. He stops then, the tip of his dick brushing against her, teasing, and he holds himself steady as he eases in barely an inch, only to pull back out.
“What?” he smirks. “That what you want?” He abandons the space between her legs and bears down on her. “Oh, Jo,” he hisses in her ear, “Johanna,” he whines, deliberate and over-the-top
She smacks him hard, the palm of her hand meeting his shoulder, and she isn’t sure if the sound that escapes him is more laugh than groan, but he seems to like it, his body shakes with it, repressed and then permitted laughter erupting from him as he moves inside her.
(She’s hiccuping parts of his name when he comes, her body still wild and rigid with him, and he finally says her name again, no hint of irony or sarcasm, just her name, drawn long and low down the side of her throat, impossibly steady despite the stuttering of his hips between her bent knees.)
She caught him on film once. She was in the Capitol, another year brings with it another Games, another promise of glad tidings and youthful death, and everyone, not just the Capitol, loves a winner.
Johanna was not a mentor. “They don’t trust you,” was what Blight back home had told her, one of the few exchanges they ever engaged in, and she hadn’t bothered to ask who the “they” was he referred to, but she had scoffed, thumbed her nose at him and said: “Have fun prepping your little piggies for the slaughter.”
Her presence was requested anyway. They put her up in a nice hotel, the Capitol Arms, and despite the plush carpeting and the candelabras mounted on the wall, the old man at the piano who plays old torch songs but never opens his mouth to sing, the entire place feels more penitentiary than palace.
Finnick was on the television. There were options here, not like home, other channels to watch beside the official Panem programming, and even though the small print on the screen warned her that her room would be charged for any successive viewing, she continued to click through. Hell, this room was on the government’s tab, not her own.
She froze on the muscled expanse of bare back, tanned and even skin; the ripple of movement beneath his shoulder blades and the taut set of his neck suggested an internal war of tension and effort. She bit her lips as the camera panned lower down, the sharp, shallow jabbing movement of his hips into the woman under him. Objectively, Johanna could acknowledge this as the turn-on material it was meant to be, but there was something unsettlingly mechanical about the persistent rhythm into and out of the prone woman beneath him. She leaned forward, her elbows braced on her knees, a small frown on her face. There was no element of passion here, his hands gripping the mattress next to her body, his chest arched away from her, the only parts of them touching dictated by sheer necessity and biology. The woman did not appear to notice any missing element to the encounter, her face screwed up in some unknowable pleasure, and Johanna dimly recognized her, the socialite daughter of one of President Snow’s advisors.
Finn’s face was only shown in profile: the blank eyes, the opened mouth, the measured breathing. He maintained the set beat between them, and he also maintained a perverse litany of truly terrible thoughts and words on his lips: he invoked god and praised the woman under him, told her how wet and tight she was, called her baby, babe, told her how good she felt, but never once did he call her by name.
Johanna sat still on the edge of the bed, the remote control sweaty in her hand. She waited until he came, the tell-tale shuddering down his spine, the way he couldn’t control the movement of his hips any longer, the dry, wheezy sound pulled from his throat. He did all of that. He put on a show, loud gasps, the word baby again, his head tucked down so his face was mired in shadow.
She turned it off after that. A perverse smile twisted its way onto her lips and she shook her head slowly, her expression mirthless and cold. Her hotel room felt too empty, too quiet after that, the direct contrast from the loud television to the muted noise of the city outside the building’s walls.
It’s why, she would argue later, she left the room at all.
(“You know me,” she’ll hiss into the curve of his shoulder, the same shoulder she had watched on her television an hour before, but this time, this time she will feel the shake beneath the skin, the way he trembles under her mouth and under her hands, the way his own hands don’t clutch at the expensive sheets but rather her, flat hands against her ribs, closed fist at her hip and down her thigh, and she’ll hiss, a twisted little snake, and maybe he has called her that before, in tenser moments, moments colored less by lust than these, but she will hiss, and remind him, “you know me,” she’ll say, tongue flat, tasting sweat, herself, before she adds, “I never know what to do with the quiet.”
And he must know, but she’ll never have the foresight, the understanding to see it. Because he will say her name after, a flat, single syllable, no finesse to it, just a name, her name. But she will be distracted, she will seek out the dip of his throat, the way it hollows out to be met by twin branches of bone, and Finnick will cradle the back of her head as he says, “Jo.”)
It was the saddest thing she had ever seen.
She does the obvious thing after catching him starring in his own porn film: she goes to his room. He isn’t there, but she waits.
After thirty minutes the door opens.
“Your room,” she says from the only lit corner of said room, “is, like, three times, at least, nicer than mine.” He eyes her quickly, the pile the shredded paper from the pad the hotel supplies next to her elbow, the lamp, the small collection of tiny empty bottles of white liquor.
He shrugs as he throws the keycard onto the table and slides his jacket off his shoulders, the obvious question - “how did you even get in here?” - going unvoiced. “People like me more. I’m likable. You’re distinctly not.”
“That may be,” she says, and then she pauses. “I did a pretty solid job of emptying your minibar.” She stretches her arms over her head and yawns. “I never much cared for bourbon.” He arches an eyebrow and rolls his shirtsleeves. The lack of reaction, of indicating any irritation or emotion at all that she’s in his room bites at her. “I do still get all the porn channels in my room though.” She looks up at him through her eyelashes after she says it, the smile on her face cruel, but the look on his own face completely blank.
“Now you know,” is all he says, and then toes off his shoes.
“What? Of your illustrious career as a male gigolo? I think that’s really only the tip of the iceberg, as they say, my friend.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he says, teeth grit and face bleak. “They make me - “ and then he stops. A part of her does understand how humiliating, how serious this all is, but she can’t help but feel bothered, hurt even. And as predictable as she is, and Finnick should have expected this, her defenses are drawn and raised.
“Oh please. Don’t give me that heroic song and dance. ‘I fuck rich people so the government won’t kill my family,’ wah, wah, I’ve heard it all before.”
“Are you pissed I didn’t tell you, or are you pissed you have no one they can use against you?”
“Fuck you, Finnick. Besides, how do I know I’m not one of your clients? ‘Fuck Johanna and keep her quiet.’”
“Is your sense of self really that elevated that you would believe the Capitol, or really even, anyone at all gives a flying fuck about you or your well-being or whatever imagined ability of hell-raising you’ve created for yourself?”
She widens her eyes in mock innocence and simpers, “A girl can dream.”
For a moment, he looks as though he might hit her.
He kisses her instead, his mouth just as brutal if not as precise as his fist would have been.
They lay together in bed after, neither of them touching.
“Do they pay you?” she asks.
“Not like that.”
“What? In kindness?” she teases, her head tilted to face his.
“A form of it.”
She frowns a little, but ducks her head. She doesn’t want him to receive her pity. She doesn’t want to feel it for him, but in this moment she is, because she gets it. Blackmail, Capitol threats, the visits from President Snow, his face all over the media, tied to this person and then that.
“Well,” she says, and then nothing after.
“It’s a job,” Finnick says, voice tired.
“Back home in 7? I chopped wood for money, I didn’t suck it.”
“Shut the fuck up,” he teases.
Nowhere is safe. They teach you that early, and they both get that.
There are parts of yourself you long to keep hidden, parts no one else has any business in knowing.
Like any two people, there are the things they will not discuss. This is not the result of a formal edict or declaration, but rather an unspoken, common understanding. He will not tell her what his parents think of him now, if this is what they wanted for their child was they raised him to be a tribute. She in turn does not discuss her own parents, the subject closed, but Finnick knows they both are dead. People talk. During her Games, it was quietly referenced that once there was a mill accident and her father had been a casualty, but they never mentioned her mother. That barbed personality of hers always made him think that’s what kept her alone, but maybe cause and effect doesn’t work quite that way and he has this picture of her all wrong. He thinks she has the picture of him wrong too, and this will be yet another thing they do not talk about, so he will never know that she was always closer to the mark than he could ever hope to be.
Everyone knows about Annie.
The 70th Hunger Games happen, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, Annie wins.
(And later, oh later, he’ll tell Katniss, “She crept up on me,” he’ll tell her that, and it will be true, and later, but before that, Johanna will yell, Johanna will say, “I don’t get it, Finn. What’s your game here exactly? You think you love her hard enough and long enough that’s somehow going to make her a full human again? Nah, that’s not it. You think you earned her? You think all your suffering was for something and you gether because of it? That’s it, that’s it, isn’t it. You dumb fuck. You stupid, stupid son of a bitch. You haven’t earned a blessed thing, least of all her. And I think we both know, it’s not that she isn’t good, Finn. She’s just too fucking nuts to be anything other than innocent.”
And if Finnick ever hated her, if he ever hated Johanna, he hated her here.
“I love her,” he will have said, and, yes, she might have hated him, too).
The next time they see each other, President Snow has decreed the rules of the Quarter Quell.
“I’d request a truce, but something tells me that’s beyond our control right now, huh?”
Johanna extends her hand. “Friends,” she mutters, a pointed glare, “I guess.” And then she laughs.
She strips down before she enters the elevator, enjoying the obvious look of shock on Katniss’s face and the equally obvious look of glee on Peeta’s. When they leave, Finnick enters.
“Get the fuck out,” she tells the District Nine winner.
“You just love to tempt fate, don’t you,” he sneers as the elevator doors slide closed. He doesn’t even bother to disguise his appraisal of her, but then again, he never has. It’s been awhile. She’s thinner than he remembers. She takes a step forward.
“Fate, the Capitol, you. It’s really all the same.”
The elevator doors part and open and he takes a long step away from her. She follows, eventually overtaking him.
“That’s right,” she drawls, eyes wide, face innocent save the intense mockery gleaming in her eyes. “You’re a taken man now.” Her back presses bare against the door to his room, the bones of her clavicle in sharp relief against her skin, her protruding chest and the lines of her ribs that descend underneath.
“We’ve never had the pleasure. What’s she like? I mean, other than barking mad.”
He fixes her with a stare. “She’s nothing like you.”
Johanna laughs; her breasts shake with it. “Good,” she says.
“Are you going to let me into my room?” he snaps. Johanna raises her eyebrows. The handle to the door is cool against the bare small of her back and she fights against the urge to shiver in front of him.
“Temper, temper,” she tsks, and sidesteps just far enough to allow him access to the handle, the tip of her right breast brushing against his arm as she moves. She catches the way his body goes rigid, if only for a moment, and she lets her lips and teeth part in a slow grin, a silent laugh.
“Sort of like the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it,” he murmurs, slow and distracted, as he fumbles with the keycard and the door. He pushes the door open and Johanna loses her balance, stumbles back into his room, the back of her heels hitting the door with each step. “Please do, come in,” he snarks.
“I like your little skirt,” she says when he closes the door. He glares at her. “While I wouldn’t say it highlights, I would definitely say it does nothing to hide your assets, measurable as they are.” He shakes his head, the look of disgust still on his face but blended with a quiet kind of amusement he is not going to acknowledge. “Especially in your current state.”
The amusement sluices off his face. “Goddamnit, Johanna. Always that last parting shot, huh?”
“I’m just saying it’s nice to know I can still get your dick hard. That’s all.” She looks young and impish, playful, but Finnick knows her better than that. There’s something frightening to her eyes, her tone of voice.
“You worried about cheating on your beloved? Is that it? Because I think,” she says, then pauses, a heaviness and gravitas to her he can’t ever recall her possessing. “I think when you are already through the front gates and you’re crawling up the walkway to death’s fucking doorstep the rules don’t really apply, arbitrary as they were in the first fucking place.” He stands over her.
“Besides,” she says in a far harsher tone, judgmental and angry and familiar, the Johanna he has always known returned to him, “I had you first.”
He blanches, if only for a second, his mouth parting as though to say an, “oh,” he never does vocalize, and she sits there, perched on the end of his bed, naked and nowhere near as defiant as she thinks she is.
He kisses her, and her hands go instantly to that stupid netting knotted low around his hips.
They had met with Haymitch before. The plan was dumb. From the get-go, she told them the plan was dumb.
“We’re gonna bust our asses to save Catfish here, and she of all people is going to bring about emancipation and freedom and blah, blah, the Capitol burnt to the ground, everyone danced in the streets?”
“Your words, not mine,” Haymitch snarls.
“I don’t like it.”
“You wouldn’t,” Finnick chides. “You’re not the star of the show.”
“Oh, fuck off. Besides, you sure this is a smart idea for you?”
“What exactly are you saying?”
“I’m saying you’re wading through some deep shit, and you don’t have the fucking shoes, let alone the stomach, for it.”
“Children, children,” Haymitch admonishes, and they both scowl in his direction.
She is exhausted when she finally falls into her bed. Alone - they are both alone.
She hopes he is thinking of Annie.
Everyone knows what happened in the Quarter Quell. This has been well-documented, combed over year after year, a curious bit of nostalgia fastened onto the bloodbath.
He brought her to the water when she first came back, when he found her on the beach covered in blood, their bodies wriggling against each other in the surf.
She had been screaming, teeth gnashing, spitting mad, and, “You agreed to this,” he hissed in her ear and along the side of her face, her skin still coated that sticky rust-colored red.
(You didn't see this: during the Quarter Quell, she wakes to his hand latched sweaty around her wrist. Katniss is still on watch. She turns her head slightly, body sore from sleeping on the ground. Finn’s eyes are half-lidded, and he brushes his thumb over the knob of her wrist bone, their hands hidden from view in the shadowed ground between their bodies).
He runs into the wall, a moment everyone remembers in all its macabre and melodramatic glory, blood everywhere, Finnick shellshocked over Annie. Peeta takes to Katniss, and Jo stands over Finnick. She kneels down and rubs away some of the blood under his nose and he winces, face still pale and drawn.
“It wasn’t her,” she whispers. “You know that. Pull it together, Finn.”
You can’t hear that on the audio. You can’t hear it, but it happened.
“They can’t hurt me,” Johanna tells Katniss in the frame. “I’m not like the rest of you. There’s no one left I love.”
You heard that. Everyone heard that - even him.
A long time ago, President Snow approached Johanna in the Capitol. Finnick had already met Annie, and maybe he was already in love with her - Johanna did not concern herself on these matters.
But the President told her he knew, that he was aware of her liaisons (his word, not hers) with Mr. Odair. Johanna had simpered, said sweetly that she was unaware she was engaged in a menage-a-trois with both Finnick and the Capitol.
Finnick had been furious when he found out about it, his source being Snow and not Johanna. The strangest part, she had thought, had been that he was not mad at Snow, but rather at her. He had stormed to her hotel room, his fist loud against the door, and he called her name until she opened it.
He crowded her back against the wall, his hands tight on her upper arms, and if she had been afraid, she had not shown it. He said to her, he said, “you are so stupid, you are so fucking stupid,” until the words were practically sobbed against her throat.
It took her a long time to understand. She understood what Finnick did not. Snow wasn’t warning Finn, not only him. He was warning her, too.
And wasn’t that so like Finn to forget she had something left to lose, too.
(Snow spoke to Finnick, too. He showed him a videotape, the stars of which, Finnick and Johanna. He recognized the hotel room as his own, the two of them rutting against each other first against the door and then finally on the bed.
“The public would go wild,” Snow said. “Two champions. Your performance is far more convincing with her. But I don’t imagine I need to tell you that.”)
There are lessons of history the future is deaf to, that never get passed down as they should. They teach you the heroes are good, that they are the best, and the bad are the worst. We wish we could tell you it is that simple. It never is though. The good can masquerade as the bad, or even more confusing, they hide among us as those we don’t believe deserve much of our time at all. And the bad, oh the bad we speak of as wolves in sheep’s clothing, but even that is too obvious and too unlike how anything in this country works.
At one point, those at the top wanted the best. At one point, the government had a vision. But all visions and all leadership, much like fruit left on the vine for far too long, can sour and rot.
Finnick wanted to be good, he wanted to be better, but he wasn’t, not really. As heroic as he may be framed, he was still just as violent as a creature like Johanna; they both won their Games by being ruthless, both fueled their survival with a bloodlust you and I like to think we do not understand.
Let’s say a man has a coin and that man knows there are two sides to that coin, two sides he thinks are as different as night and day and good and bad as a man can get when he holds a coin in his hand. Let’s call one side “heads,” and we’ll call the other side “tails,” when we both know we might as well call the first Annie and the second Johanna. A man, a smart man, though maybe not a particularly wise man, a man who has what he thinks is his own self interest at stake, hot in his mouth, wants the first, he wants that coin to come up heads, he wants to be able to say, yes, heads is good, the good is mine. Annie is the good, Annie is what I deserve and if I love her that has to make me good as well.
Johanna is the other side of that.
You’re beginning to understand, we hope.
You’ve heard what happens next, you’ve heard it so many times. Peeta Mellark used to go on the televisions and talk about the horror he remembered at the hands of the Capitol on a pretty annual basis, and Johanna always figured pretty heavy into that treatise.
She knew the most out of the ones they captured. She told them the least. They never told you that, did they? That she never broke? That after awhile they didn’t know what to do with her any longer, that she didn’t bend to their will under the zap and the wire, when they shaved her head and lit her up like the city at night, so much electricity made to course under her veins, pumped into her wet, broken body. It is a pain beyond imagining, but she took it.
What you’ve been told of Finnick Odair during this time is that he wept for days. That his mind was destroyed by the events preceding, that he cried day in and day out for his beloved Annie Cresta, who like Johanna Mason, had been delivered into the cruel hands of the Capitol. This is partly true. The finale of violence had done something to Finnick’s head, though it was mainly related to memory and motor function. Katniss did not know of this, and Finnick and most other witnesses to his behavior and faltering mental health did not survive the war to speak of it.
He cried for Annie, yes. But he also cried for a great many things. He would forget, and the memories would return, twisted and out of order, some too bright and too vivid to handle, memories of himself running wild through terrain cultivated by the worst minds the Capitol could provide, a trident in hand, and a small, writhing body pinned at the end of it, the explosion of human entrails and flesh, blood, always blood, every memory washed in it, even where it did not belong - the sting of blood beneath his nails as a woman lay under him, his own skin stinging under her hands, the wrong woman, the woman crushed under the heel of the Capitol, the wrong woman, they kept asking him about an Annie and he couldn’t understand where this other woman belonged, but how he wept for her, this monster of a woman.
They bring her back alive. They bring her back.
They bring both of them back, and as the day wanes on, Finnick alone with Katniss, similarly anxious, a handful of rope tied in a knot, they brought them both back alive.
“You doin’ alright?” he asks her. Her vision is in triplicate as she looks up at him, blinks rapidly.
Her smile is watery and her eyes unfocused. “I’ve got enough morphling in me to light those freaks from 6 up for weeks. I am peachy, my friend.” He sits next to her.
“I hear you’ve been a real crybaby lately,” she says, voice cracked.
“I think when I was injured, back at the arena, it did something, you know,” he tries, and she laughs a little, stops, coughs.
“You honestly expect me to believe that?” She snorts. “I always knew you were far too soft. Actually, I think I normally reserve other words for that sort of behavior. Words like pussy. I hear you’ve been a real pussy lately, Odair.”
He doesn’t say anything at first, just shakes his head, lowers himself into the chair next to her. “Always gotta bust my balls, don’t you.”
Her face goes serious.
“Annie’s fine. I saw her,” she jerks her head, “she’s fine. You can stop crying any time now.”
Finn frowns. “Yeah. I know. I’ve been with her. She seems - she seems okay.”
“Or as okay as that girl will ever be,” she drawls. Finnick gives her a look of mock admonishment.
“Annie’s fine,” she finally says, her eyes a little too bright. “Or, I mean, she’s going to be fine.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I know.”
“Go see her,” she says, tired. “It’s been awhile.”
“Yeah,” he repeats. Her releases her hand and it rests limp beside her thigh.
“I made sure we brought her back. For you,” she says slowly, and Finnick doesn’t think this is Johanna speaking anymore, but rather the drugs.
“Please don’t do that,” she says, and then he thinks she’s asleep.
He doesn’t visit her all that often. She doesn’t stay long at the wedding.
“Ah, inevitabilities,” she hisses in his ear as she hugs him tight. He can tell from the blown-out pupils, too dark in her eyes, that she’s high, but he holds her to him all the same.
He visits her later, Johanna still holed up in the hospital, an anomaly among the other patients as she huddles restless on her bed.
“You’re angry,” he says, his frame too large for the chair next to her bed. She is quiet before she answers, eyes still too bright and not her own.
“Fuck, Finn. We knew the risks. We knew what we were getting ourselves into way back when. It’s sorta hard to begrudge anyone anything that has come after, you know? I mean, I’m mad as hell. But I’m also pretty fucking tired.”
He only nods. He doesn’t know what to say. He wants to say something about how a lot has come between them, how a lot has always stood between them, but none of it ever seemed to matter. He wants to tell her that he cried for her, too, that he missed her, he feared for her, but they have never spoken this way. He doesn’t want to be the one to start now.
“You could stay. If you wanted,” she says.
He crawls into bed beside her and neither of them moves for a moment. She rolls a little to look at him, his face gaunt in the dim hospital lighting. She clenches his jaw with her hand and he turns to look at her, a mix of surprise and worry on his face.
“You need to eat more, Scarecrow.”
He pokes at her prominent ribcage under her hospital gown, and it hurts, but she doesn’t say anything.
“You’re one to talk.”
He has her arm in his hand next, thumb rubbing over the bony crook of her elbow.
“You’ve got track marks,” he says, and she rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, well. Drug addicts do carry their marks with them, hmm.”
“You’re not a drug addict.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing. Ask around. I basically am. They have me on, like, eight different kinds of watches. I’ve got eight different doctors looking after me. There’s the suicide watch guy who doesn’t let me near razors or ropes or even soap, which, just, what? And there’s morphling watch, but that’s sort of easy to skirt in a hospital, if you catch my drift, and, like, the post-traumatic stress watch guy who always wants to talk about feelings, and some other shit, some other assholes, but they’re mainly about making sure my heart doesn’t stop because get this: being electrocuted numerous times is bad for you. Who’d a thought?”
“You’re not funny.”
“I’m not laughing.”
Her last memory of him is a sad one.
There had been water, all that water, and she had been so stupid, been so afraid, hated everyone she could think of, that they would dare use such an obvious weakness against her.
They put her back in the hospital, and it’s funny or it’s sad or it’s something else she doesn’t have a name for how she hadn’t really expected him to come. But he did. And just like those weeks before, the Quarter Quell, the blood and the surf, he dragged her body into the water.
He got her wriggling body into the shower, the water spilling out of her open mouth as she opened up in a wordless, strangled shout. And he held her to him, her back to his chest, and she had sobbed, water everywhere, his hands everywhere, and she thinks she had said, “I love you.”
And then he died.
Katniss comes to visit Johanna, only once.
“So what do I owe a visit from the hero of the hour?”
Katniss only shrugs, and Johanna does the same.
They’ve all become the sort of people who speak only of the dead.
“It was like I could see everything he was seeing before he died. The trident and Annie and . . .” Johanna slams Katniss’s mug of tea down on the counter hard, liquid sloshing hot over the side and down over her hand. Johanna glares as she flicks the spilled tea off of her hand and Katniss frowns as she looks at the other woman, asks, “What?”
“Stop romanticizing it,” Johanna sputters.
“It?” Katniss asks.
“Death, him, everything. Just. Stop it.” She shakes her head and grabs a rag, mops up the excess tea still left on the counter. “He didn’t see any of that. You just wanted him to.”
Katniss looks genuinely surprised. “Why would I want that?”
“Because it fits. It fits whatever heroic story you made up in your head for him, and now he’s not here to negate any of it.”
“I don’t - “
“That’s not him!” Johanna shrieks. She ducks her head then, looks down at the counter and takes a deep breath before looking at Katniss again. “That’s not him,” she says, quieter this time. “So, please, kindly shut the fuck up and drink your goddamn tea.”
Katniss looks doubtful. Johanna rolls her eyes.
“I didn’t lace it with anything. Although now I’m reconsidering.”
Johanna was right. In a way, Johanna was right.
Finnick didn’t see anything before he died. It happened too quickly: the sudden light of ferocious pain, the way his mouth rapidly filled with blood his open lips did nothing to contain, the way his fingers went lax, seemingly of their own accord. He didn’t think anything, he didn’t see anything. There was terror, terror was still very much alive in him even as the rest of him was dying, and he didn’t think of anything as his knees buckled, and then -
Johanna Mason dies in her fifty-third year. It has been thirty-one years since the last Hunger Games. Memorials were built in the various districts, twisted, youthful frames cast in iron and other precious metals carted from one of the districts and into the fallen cities. Johanna didn’t have much to do with that, nor much to do with anyone or anything. She tried to build a house for herself, the ax still swift and familiar under her guidance, but she tired midway through and the half-built house remained, a skeleton structure, all hollowed beams and a yawning mouth of entry where a wall should have been. Birds roosted in there first, and eventually the grasses and the weeds took over, shot up through the open slats of the incomplete wood floor.
She never does move down to the sea. They never left a place for her.
Under all that water, under him, she had said: “I love you so much.”
Oh, please know this: in the real world there is no poetic justice. Closure eludes us. The dead do not cast messages received by the living and the in tune. The closest this world will offer is irony, a small twist of the metaphorical blade, but even this element is absent here.
Finnick died. And even if he saw anything, say a face, say her face, but not the face Katniss claimed she saw, Johanna would still never know. He died. Eventually, so did she.
Children of Panem, there are too few justices in this world. The hardest ones to stomach are the ones we have no say in righting.
These people believed in change, and they have told you that and they have taught you that, but what they aren’t going to tell you is that there used to be an old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
You’re not allowed to go to the Capitol, and they tell you this is a good thing, but no one has ever been allowed to go to the Capitol, not unless they invite you in, but that was before. Now, now it is nothing more than a glorified prison, high up on a mountain of rock, the offspring of past perpetrators left to suffer for their misdeeds.
How does it feel?
Katniss Everdeen didn’t die during the war, she went home. They told you the old government, the bad government, they brought her down and she went up in flames and settled in ash. And maybe that did happen, maybe that’s why she returned to a home that no longer existed and closeted herself away like that, who are we to say.
A lot of lies get tossed around, in this country and the ones that came before. You come across the strangest things sometimes, things that haven’t got a meaning today, not anymore, but you knew once it did.
We want you to know the truth. We want you to know there’s still something worth fighting for on this land of ours. It doesn’t end here. President Snow is dead and President Coin is dead and Katniss Everdeen has been dead for many, many years. The more these things change the more they stay the same.
We’re signing off now. We wish you luck in this brave new world.
We’re signing off now. Good luck.