The soft light of dawn slowly creeps across the sky.
Peeta stares at the horizon, where tendrils of lilac and pale pink fanned out above the trees, pale gold light growing stronger by the second, feeling numb and chest aching.
The night is over.
He glances over at Katniss, resting against the spire of the cornucopia, her bow slung across her lap, her mouth set in a hard line and gaze determinedly not looking in his direction. She isn't happy with him, or their fight last night.
Well, the feeling is mutual.
Silently he makes his way to the front of the cornucopia again, kneeling to look down.
The two bodies sprawled gracelessly out on the bloody grass are gruesome to behold and he feels his stomach heave with it. The worst of it is how he can see the chest rise and fall with shuddering breaths on the larger figure, and can see the other, smaller shape, twitch occasionally.
Cato is unconscious, he has been so for an hour or so, sluggishly bleeding out onto the grass around him as the wolves tore him apart. His breathing is thick and wet, like his lungs are full of fluid, and occasionally blood dribbles past his lips and drips onto the ground. His arm, hand still clutching the sword, lies tossed away on the other side of the cornucopia, but his other hand is still attached, and remains touching his companion's.
Sky, however, is still conscious, and he's not sure how or why. She's been so horrifyingly savaged it makes tears sting Peeta's eyes. Her moans of pain are soft, little puffs of pure agony, and he can hear every drop of it. He's been hearing it all night in between snarls, Cato's bellows, her screams, the clash of sword and trident against the cornucopia walls and the sounds of wet, rending flesh.
He turns back and stalks back over to Katniss, reaching for the bow. As he knew she would she scrambles to her feet and clutches the weapon to her chest, glaring at him.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"It's dawn." Peeta snarls, because he's had enough of this, had enough of seemingly endless hours of listening to two people dying, suffering, smelling the overpowering smell of copper and iron in the air like a cloying blanket, unable to do anything and hating himself for it, "they've been there all night."
Katniss' eyes narrow, and she steps back even more deliberately, "We've been through this. I don't have many arrows left. Who knows what will happen after they die?"
"We win!" Peeta shouts, and he can hear the crack in his voice, "We can go home!"
"And what if we have to fight the muttations ourselves huh?" Katniss snaps back, "We need my arrows, all the ones we can salvage...we can't waste them on dead men and women."
But that's the problem, Peeta thinks, storming away from her again, they aren't dead.
Cato dies before the sun has reached above the trees.
Peeta bows his head as the cannon goes off, and he can hear the quiet, pain etched sobbing from below. Sky simply shakes, a breathless sound of pure sorrow wracking her mutilated body, as her fingers cling to Cato's lifeless cooling ones.
He squeezes his eyes shut, because her grief is a tangible thing, powerful and painful. And he's never felt more powerless.
Sky doesn't pass until midday.
Her breathing is laboured, quicker than it should be, and her body twitches agonisingly. Her entrails are spread out over the grass, a feast for ants and flies, and her skin is ashen white in the bright light of day. He can see every wound, every rend, every splatter of blood over her translucent skin.
Looking away feels like a disservice, like cowardice, like abandoning her, and after all this...after hours upon hours of suffering, to leave her to die alone is more than he can bear.
She shifts and his gaze snaps up, green meeting blue for a long moment, before the tiniest of smiles touches her lips.
"Cato…" they move to mouth the name, and Peeta feels his chest constrict in a vice, "Darrien…"
Her eyes fill with tears, even as her lips keep that tiny curl upwards.
Her eyes slide out of focus.
A cannon fires.
Peeta lets out a sob...unable to hold it back, and slaps a hand over his mouth.
A moment later he's glad he did because Katniss is suddenly there, muttering "Finally," and looking at the sky, waiting for the announcement.
Peeta struggles not to lose the remnants of his stomach.
And then Claudius Templesmith speaks.
The very act of returning to consciousness hurts.
His body throbs with a horrifying mix of agonising pain and swirling, nausea and he groans into his pillow.
He's never drinking again.
"Here you go," a cool, businesslike hand smooths over his curls and he shifts enough to accept the mug of something, "dear god you are pathetic, dear one."
"Shut up," he mumbles piteously, and sips the tea with a small wince.
Mags sighs at him, and brushes his hair with his fingers again before taking a seat beside him on the bed, "Finnickin…"
He winces again, she doesn't often use his full name.
A quick glance shows her gentle dark eyes watching him and he has to look again almost immediately.
Mags sighs again.
"We've had this talk before... about getting attached to your Tributes, my love."
Finnick shoots her a small glare, a surge of defensiveness stinging as he lowered his cup.
"Sky was special."
Mags' eyes softens softly and she nods sadly, "Yes...Sky was special. And she reminded you of Annie...it was a potent combination."
Finnick put the cup down, "I didn't just care about her because of Annie!"
"I know," Mags soothes softly, "I know...but it helped you attach to her more quickly than you would to a Tribute like...Darrien."
Finnick feels another faint pang at the reminder of their other loss this year.
"Perhaps I should have seen this coming," Mags sighs softly again, "Perhaps I should have insisted on being Sky's mentor."
"I wanted Sky." Finnick sits up and winces as his stomach rolls, "Hells, I don't regret being her mentor, Mags! I don't regret anything about her except…"
"She's dead." Mags' voice is gentle, but firm, "She died horribly and brutally and ever since you've been…" she shakes her head and swallows, "Finnick it's been weeks and you've been worrying me."
"You're not fine!" her voice rises slightly, one of the few times he's ever heard her do so, "God, Finnick you're not fine! You're medicating!"
Finnick looks away from her, thinking of Haymitch shoving a bottle of drink into his hands with as much sympathy as that man ever showed, "It helps."
And it did in a way, it numbed the terrible ache in his chest, the grief, the pain of seeing a girl he'd come to love ripped apart over the course of half a day. It meant when he thought of her bright smile; those doe like, intelligent green eyes; her soft voice, he didn't want to immediately start crying...or hurt someone.
He'd won at 14, the youngest ever, but he knew there were a lot of factors that had helped. His looks, his popularity...the fact the girl from his District had been killed in a sneak attack, the arrogance of that girl from District 2...He'd been lucky.
She'd played her cards perfectly, using that big heart of hers to win over the girl from 5 and the most brutal Career of her Games. She'd given the Capitol a love story that rivalled the Star-Crossed Lovers of 12, and she'd nearly won.
She'd been so close.
Images flash before his eyes and he struggles not to retch as the alcohol mixes with the memory of carnage.
"Finnickin," Mags reaches for him and he has to move away from her.
"I failed her. In some way I must have failed her."
"She deserved to come home! She belongs here, with me, with you...with sodding fucking CATO!" And he's shouting now, unable to stop himself, "SHE DESERVED EVERYTHING!"
Mags' face crumples and he realises he's crying. He hadn't even felt himself start.
He sinks back down on the bed and covers his face with his hands as she hugs his shoulders tightly.
"How could I have won...and someone so good...so positive...how?"
Mags kisses his hair, and her answer is simple.
"It's The Hunger Games. Nothing pure...nothing good survives that. Not intact."
He waits until she's gone before he throws up every last thing in his stomach into the toilet.
Once he's done he goes down into the kitchen and opens a fresh bottle of fishmonger rum.
He just wants to forget.
Is that so much to ask?
Mags tries again and again to get him to open up, to put away the bottles of hard liquor that fill his kitchen cabinets, but it's like the floodgates have opened. Almost 10 years worth of abuses, hurt and heartbreak have built up inside him and Sky's horrific death is the mouse that sank the boat.
Even her quiet words about the Rebellion picking up momentum does nothing to pull him out of the overwhelming tiredness and heartache, and no matter how much she tries to rally him to fight, he can't help but turn away.
Only Annie is a comfort, lying on the other side of his bed and holding him in her arms as he once held her. Her fingers carded his hair and her soft scent filled his nose with something that he thinks smells like something close to peace.
He loves her, drawn to protecting her at first and then understanding her. Where others see madness he sees fractured shards of her mind. He understands it because he's felt his own mind creaking with pressure from time to time, felt cracks form and darkness creeping in.
He's felt it for years, since his Victory, since the first time he had to submit to the desires of a Capitol socialite. But he's kept it at bay until now. And now he wants nothing to do with the Rebellion at all.
It's not just Sky, not entirely. Her death makes him sad, sorrowful in a deep way that feels like bruising over his heart, but it also fills him with anger.
It begins a month or so after his return from the Capitol, a rage so destructive and so furious that he just wants to rip apart all the Capitol officials and the Gamemakers with his bare hands.
He hates them. Hates them for what they've done to Sky, to Annie...to him.
So logically he should want to help the Rebellion even more, should be even more committed, even more determined to free Panem from Snow's clutches.
But something feels off about it.
And then Kallian tells him about the Mockingjay.
Finnick quits right then and there, and drinks himself so blind drunk he wakes up with the pattern of his kitchen tiles against his face.
But even though his head is pounding and he wants to be sick as a dog, something has clicked inside him, settled.
He has a plan.