“Having fun?” Johanna’s hips are tilted, half tease, half dare, and false hair tumbles over her right shoulder, curled and waved and pinned into place with golden butterflies. Their wings flutter gently, catching the half-light, matching the false eyelashes currently softening Johanna’s usually vicious eyes.
Both her tributes are already dead, but that doesn’t mean she can’t still be useful.
“Your night looks better than mine,” Finnick replies, casual, gesturing to the dress that clings to her slender form, making it look graceful and attractive instead of deliberately emaciated. He’s still got one tribute left: the boy, Axel, eyes like the sea on a stormy day and no chance at all of getting out of this alive. Despite his instructions, the girl died at the cornucopia, fiery red hair soaked with crimson of another kind entirely.
“That’s because you’re a slut,” Johanna replies, voice too weary to really be as cutting as he knows she’d like. She reaches for the butterflies in the hair that isn’t hers, and Finnick can see that her nails are covered in gold too, delicate black butterflies silhouetted on them. She fiddles with the catches but they’re more complicated than they first look, and her fingers just tangle in the false curls.
“Jo,” he says softly, as fuck spills between her lips, “Jo, come here.”
She walks over on six inch stilettos that click too loudly on the stone floor of his rooms, letting the door bang closed behind her. Finnick has been sat in front of the television screen since midnight, when Axel fell asleep, huddled in a cluster of rocks that he hopes might give him cover. It’s not a bad choice; he might survive the next couple of days, anyway. Johanna is too much for his rooms in her sparkling ensemble that he knows she’s only wearing under duress.
“Feet first,” he tells her, and she huffs but obediently stands on one leg, planting her foot between his open thighs so that he can work on the stiff buckles, easing the golden leather straps apart until he can free her from the shoe. The straps have cut into her foot, leaving it bruised and bleeding and swollen, but Johanna remains expressionless; she’s suffered worse, after all. He takes off the other shoe and then scoots over so that there’s space for the two of them on the couch.
“How’s the boy?” she asks as Finnick picks the shivering butterflies from her hair.
“Still alive,” he replies, and Johanna’s gold-leafed lips twist into something that’s nearly a smile.
Fresh water is this Games’ problem, and if someone doesn’t send Axel some soon it won’t matter that he’s still got a knife or that he’s thus far avoided septicaemia. This means one thing and one thing only, so Finnick puts on his best smile in the mirror, runs a hand through his hair and goes out to get him some.
He’s under no illusions when it comes to his value: there’s no sense in false modesty when you’re trying to keep a tribute alive, trying to keep yourself alive for that matter, and Finnick knows that he’s popular. He’s handsome and knows how to seem charming so that it doesn’t look like an act, and has always played the game the way they wanted him to. He knows that some of the Victors look down on him for it, but he’s seen what happens if you misbehave, has seen the way Johanna curls into herself when it’s late and she’s tired and all the blood on her rebellious hands is too much to ignore anymore.
They cannot be made into Avoxes because people would wonder where they went, but winning the Games does not make you exempt from the Capitol and its demands. If anything, you lose the shreds of freedom you had before, because anonymity is a blessing that you don’t value until it’s gone.
So Finnick goes out among sponsors and dignitaries with his favourite perfected smile, allows hands to caress his thighs, to close with familiarity around his wrists, because his body hasn’t been his own in longer than he can remember and personal space is a luxury he could never afford the price for. He received the most expensive gift in the history of the Games, and while he can’t hope to achieve that again – not with a tribute so obviously doomed to defeat as the ones he’s had in recent years – it doesn’t mean that he can’t use what he has to scrape together something.
He hesitates over the message to send with the water when he finally talks someone into buying some, because Axel is a sweet boy who won’t last much longer, but it’s impressive that he’s made it this far. Finnick is good with slick, sharp words and with razored charm, but kindness… no. Kindness doesn’t come easily, not anymore.
Keep your chin up, kid, he sends in the end, and doesn’t watch to see Axel’s face when he receives his parachute.
Johanna is sprawled over the couch in Finnick’s rooms, crumpled in a black dress with her hair back to normal – a crop that always makes Finnick flinch because it looks like she did it herself, the ends raw and jagged.
“You smell like Haymitch,” he remarks, stepping around the boots she kicked off in the doorway.
“Then you clearly haven’t been around Haymitch in a while,” she replies, making a half-effort to sit upright before sliding back to lie down again, limbs spilt over the pillows.
Finnick hasn’t; both the District Twelve tributes died at the cornucopia, thin pale ghosts whose blood was startlingly bright.
He doesn’t bother asking Johanna why she’s here, just walks over and slumps into a chair near hers, watching her watch him with slitted eyes. There are bruises blooming on her knees, her lips tilted in a smirk that looks painful.
“Your boy’s still alive,” Johanna remarks at last, and her smile is terrible.
The Careers are hunting in two packs now; Finnick has dealt with Axel’s potential dehydration but there’s nothing he can do for him now except watch and wait.
“Want to bet on how he dies?” Finnick asks dully.
Nothing’s tasteless anymore, not now. Johanna considers it, struggling into a sitting position, loose-limbed and pale. “Do we still do that?” she asks.
Finnick spends a lot of time fighting not to care, because caring leads nowhere good. He spends time with Johanna more out of habit than because he truly likes her, or at least that is what he’s been telling himself. It’s difficult to like Victors; it leaves bone-deep marks on you, ones that never heal, and it makes them brittle and rude and more than a little insane.
“We could,” he offers. He should ask Johanna why she’s here, why she’s alone, but her fellow District Seven mentor has a habit of disappearing into his own brain and the answers Finnick would get would be ugly.
She watches his face for a moment, then lets herself slide sideways until she’s lying flat, smudged into the couch. “Fuck you, Finnick,” she mumbles.
Against all the odds, Axel manages to join a Career pack. Finnick thinks it’s a terrible idea, but the way he won the Hunger Games is not the way that many other people can win the Hunger Games, and Johanna reminds him of this, curled up on the floor next to his chair, eyes fixed on the screen.
“Not everyone can win it your way either,” he reminds her.
Her smile flickers, twists. “They hate me for winning it my way.”
“No they don’t,” Finnick replies, fights to swallow down they just hate you. Johanna won’t smile for anyone, won’t do as she’s told, has nothing left to lose and no interest in gaining anything anymore. People with money love taking their Victors to parties and then to bed, but Johanna scowls too much, looks too bitter; she’s mostly bought by people who think they can tame her, who’ve misread her entirely.
Johanna rolls her eyes, bares her teeth for a moment. “They like it if you’re the underdog and you come through, or if you fool the other tributes, but they don’t like it if you fool them too. They don’t like it when they’ve written you off and then you cut open everyone else’s throats. They feel cheated, and they blame you for it forever.”
Finnick sighs. “That’s paranoid, Jo.”
“Nobody would ever deny you anything,” Johanna spits. “They gave you a trident and let you stab everyone the fuck to death, applauding while you did it. I was too much of a twist, and they’ve never forgiven me.”
“You’ve never forgiven yourself,” Finnick corrects her. “And that’s your own fault.”
“You’re just the Capitol’s fucking pet,” Johanna snaps, pushing herself to her feet. “You don’t know what it’s like not to be, and it’s ruined you. Rotted you.”
Finnick watches her leave and doesn’t try to say anything, while Axel stumbles on behind the District One tributes, looking pale and small and not entirely unlike Johanna, all those years ago.
Finnick misses the water when he’s in the Capitol; it seems trapped in ornamental pools and fountains, muted and silent, restrained. There’s a decorative waterfall in his rooms, constantly splashing away, but he’s never found it comforting or cheering or whatever he’s supposed to be feeling; instead, he feels mocked.
Johanna’s rooms involve a lot of wood, which is probably even more irritating than the waterfall, and they feel strangely oppressive. He sits and waits, the screen playing the Games silently; it’s a quiet afternoon after the District Five tribute strangled the boy from Eight with her braids, frantic and sobbing. It was an ugly death and took a little too long and the constant replays are starting to get to Finnick, crawling beneath his skin.
“Better get your bets in – they’re in a state of freefall,” Johanna says when she walks in, and if she’s surprised to see him she doesn’t show it. She kicks off her frilly high-heeled shoes, throws her lace hat onto the floor, and continues dissembling her outfit has she makes her way over to the couch.
“She’s not going to use that trick twice,” Finnick says, shrugging, while Johanna peels stockings from her thighs.
“Who knows what she’s going to do?” Johanna responds. “Maybe next time she’ll even plan it.”
She turns, and Finnick begins to unlace the back of her dress. He’s good at this, because experience has made him good at this, but Jo’s never appreciated any of the skills the Capitol have instilled in him. She claims to hate perfection, but Finnick thinks that she’s afraid of it. In any case, it’s too early for him to bring that up; their last argument is still too fresh, and next time they will draw real blood. It wouldn’t be the first time.
The dress falls to the floor, and Johanna steps out of it, kicking it carelessly away.
“Do you think she’s going to win?” Finnick asks as she slumps down on the couch beside him, scratching a hand through her hair to remove the stiffened curls it was teased into.
“I think she’s going to get her neck broken before sundown,” Johanna shrugs. “But she tried, and I like that.”
They introduce the flesh-eating virus two days later, at midnight. Finnick leaves Mags sleeping and dresses his best, preparing a louche but beautiful smile in the mirror while he fixes his hair. After all, there may be an antidote to procure, and not much time to work with. He’s Finnick Odair, though, and nothing is impossible for him.
Well, it’s a nice story to tell, anyway.
At least one mentor from each district is present, with the exception of Haymitch. Nobody comments on his absence: it’s expected, after all. Johanna is all in black, as though in excessive mourning; her lips painted blood red and her hair pinned up with jet flowers. She looks down at her fingers, while the politician beside her holds her wrist and looks just a little smug. Jo widens her eyes a little at Finnick when he walks in, and then looks away.
Finnick watches some of the tributes sleep onscreen, watches others prowling through the rocky landscape, wonders if it’ll be the kind of virus that keeps you half-conscious while it destroys you or if there will be screaming. He hopes it’ll be the former; callous, maybe, but, there is always so much screaming. If he didn’t have to keep returning here, if they didn’t monitor you, he wouldn’t watch the Games anymore; there’s nothing new to see, nothing left to catch his interest. He isn’t squeamish, but he isn’t entertained either.
There’s nowhere to hide in this big bright room, with everyone dressed like there’s going to be a party of some description. Finnick keeps his expression neutral and drinks whatever he’s offered.
The Game Makers are gleeful when they release the virus into the atmosphere of the Arena; they view this as a triumph, and the viewers will be captivated, delighted. Finnick thinks it’s cheap, has no desire to watch children writhing in agony while their faces are eaten away, but he doesn’t see the point in saying this aloud.
Johanna and her politician leave after an hour; he’s grinning, bright-eyed, while Jo just looks resigned.
There aren’t a lot of places to hide in the Capitol, and while Victors have been known to travel between districts to maintain friendships of one sort or another – usually heavily publicised for a public who like to think that they know them – Finnick will never visit Johanna and she will never visit him.
They’re not friends. They just know one another all too well.
There are forcefields and cameras and voice recorders and Finnick sometimes wonders what whoever’s watching makes of them, of the awkward alliances mentors make because, well, no one else can understand.
He doesn’t want to be at this party; he’s tired of being charming and kind and desired, but he’ll never let his bitterness show. Somehow, Axel hasn’t caught the virus yet; the boy from Two died last night, chest gaping open and lungs broken through. It’s not just his own life that he’s protecting by keeping the Capitol citizens happy.
Johanna turns up in silver; dripping from her eyelashes and hair and fingers, a wry smirk on her mouth.
“I’m not here for you,” she says, but she is.
Finnick looks around automatically, between the beams of coloured lights and sparkles. “You haven’t got an escort?”
Johanna shrugs. “He’s somewhere, but Enobaria’s just arrived and I think he’s a little more captivated by her.”
That’s the thing they never tell you when you win the Games, the thing they let you find out for yourself: the Capitol own you, and you’re a prize belonging to any citizen who can pay enough. Sometimes, Finnick wonders if he would have fought so hard for survival if he had known, but he was a child then, and he wouldn’t have really understood anyway.
Finnick tips his head, wonders if he should be sweet-talking someone for his tribute; once Axel dies, he’ll be back to where he’s always been. A pretty Victor, a spoil for anyone and everyone. It isn’t vain to say that the invitations must be piling up by now, because Finnick is popular and beautiful and the best of fucking liars. But he can spare a few minutes, he decides, because he’s a puppet and a captive and that boy is doomed whatever really happens.
“Want to dance?” he asks, and Johanna considers him with glittering eyes. Even in her heels she’s shorter than him, and there’s something fragile in her hips, in her wrists, in the half-smile she gives him when she shrugs out an: “okay.”
There will be photographs of this tomorrow, taken for people who take an interest in a friendship that isn’t really real, in a relationship that they can never understand. Victors who form aesthetically pleasing friendships, who represent a purer world that they could never be part of if it actually existed.
“Smile,” Johanna warns quietly under the music, her eyelashes twice as long as usual and so silver it hurts to look at them, “your bitterness is showing.” She pokes at one of his cheeks with a fingertip until Finnick allows himself to dimple, obedience the only option he’s ever really had.
The way Johanna’s mouth shivers when Finnick curls his fingers just right inside her isn’t for the Capitol. It isn’t for the casual voyeurs with their cameras and microphones stationed inside all the rooms, keeping quiet ticking watch on the people from out of the city, from districts where they could have picked up all kinds of bad habits. Finnick has fucked and been fucked under the watchful eyes of who knows how many people, spread out in almost anonymous beds and knowing that he is being observed because, well, how could Panem really function if people step out of line.
It is dark in the closet, and not really big enough for the two of them, even with Jo as small and sharp as she is, rising up onto her toes to sink teeth into his collarbone, silent and certain, familiar with his body in a way that sometimes make Finnick wake in the middle of the night, floored. They never do this anywhere they could be observed, and that makes their options limited. Under beds, in closets, between water towers and electricity back-ups on the roof; tiny spaces where an elbow in the wrong place can lead to bruising, where they’re pushed so close together that when Johanna takes a breath in Finnick feels it in his own lungs.
No light, no air, and no space to move. Finnick has learned Johanna by feel; mapping her skeleton, knowing how to move and where to shift through the feel of ribs and hips and kneecaps, against his fingers, his mouth, his cock. Hot or cold and dark, with walls bumping his elbows and his shoulderblades, scraping skin and leaving bruises and letting him navigate through suffocation.
There’s no option to talk, either, and maybe that is the most appealing part of all of this, one of Johanna’s small breasts crushed against his fingers, her sharpness narrowed down only to touch, the one thing he knows how to handle. The way she can look at him, the things she can say – these are what cut him, what make him hate her in a way that feels tired and worn and inconstant. Her nails in his back, her teeth leaving a trail he will later touch in the shower and bitterly half-smile at; these are things he knows, things he can withstand.
This is not love, this is not camaraderie, this is not even a meagre slice of rebellion – Johanna’s party dress crushed beneath their feet, her stockings against his thighs reminiscent of carpet burn, the first shock of wet sand on a beach – and it is something they never speak about, these moments caught in closed spaces, the wild taste of Johanna’s heartbeat under his tongue, the sliding angry friction of her reciprocations. It is inelegant in the way things haven’t been since the Arena; hair and skin and sweat and breath and teeth and bones everywhere, tangled up in something frantic, something vicious and selfish and greedy.
It is too much to be acknowledged, by them or by anyone, and so they hide it in these incremental worlds, built and then broken, the only concrete evidence left behind for the Avoxes, who can’t speak anyway.
Finnick thinks he likes the aftermath best, the moment of silence and breathing when he can’t tell where he is or who he is anymore, Johanna’s body merely an extension of his that he can never understand.
She tends to leave first, leaving him to find the sequins smeared against his stomach, the raw skin on elbows and knees and buttocks and palms. Johanna who refuses to be attainable to anyone, and they probably both like it best that way, if they ever bothered with honesty.
Finnick escapes the closet and its secrets eventually; the air of his rooms feels too cold, and the world is fragile against his fingertips.
When he turns the television on, they’re showing the replay of Axel’s death, blood on the dirt, stormy sea eyes wide, for a moment seeing everything, seeing nothing.