Chapter 1: Rule Change
I can hear Peeta's sobbing breaths as Katniss and I pull him to safety, out of the slavering jaws of the mutts.
"The wolves!" Katniss sobs, gasping for air as she clutches Peeta, "It's them! It's all of them!"
And I see that she's right. The eyes of the wolves are uncannily human, and I know that something of our former allies and opponents are within these creatures.
But I have no time to feel anything other than a jolt of sickening recognition and repulsion for what has been done to them before Cato is there, and hauls Katniss up with an arm around her throat.
"The Game ends here, Girl on Fire," he snarls as Peeta struggles to right himself, get up, despite his savaged leg, and I too stand, hand outstretched.
I don't know what it was that I want to say. I know it has to be this way, them or us, but still my heart quails as Katniss struggles in his grip, as he drags her towards the edge.
I move towards them, unable to stop my feet, stepping around Peeta as he lunges for me, suddenly remembering that I am Cato's partner as much as Katniss is his. Our first instinct isn't to hurt each other...and it costs him, as saving him might have cost me.
"Any last words?" Cato snarls into the girl from 12's ear, as she fights him tooth and nail. Her eyes are wild, but still her eyes find the camera, located on the tip of the Cornucopia horn. Her gaze locks onto it, and she speaks just four words.
"Don't let them starve."
Cato barks a savage laugh, he's almost wild with it, the fear and adrenaline, turning him away from the boy who'd painted me this morning, and back towards the frightening monster from 2. He turns, moving to throw her from the edge, and I find my voice and my footing once more.
His muscles lock, and he glares at me as Katniss teeters on the brink of the Cornucopia, just above the wolves seething below.
"Not like this…" I move forward and something returns to his eyes, something familiar and painful and wonderful, "Make it fast. Make it a death...worth remembering."
It echoes his promise to me, long ago, when he'd promised me a good death, and I can see that he remembers the words too.
He yanks Katniss back, and with one swift movement, he snaps her neck.
Shock frissions through me in conjunction with the cannon booming above our heads.
Peeta screams and scrambles to a crouch, but he's got nothing on Cato, who strides forward yanking the hunting knife out of the vest I wear.
One swift strike is all it takes and the cannon booms again as my legs give out underneath me, relief and grief striking me in equal measure, as I throw up over the side of the Cornucopia.
I sob for what feels like an eternity, but which I knew in reality is only a few minutes.
Large hands curl under me and lift, bringing me up against his chest and I cling to Cato, the warmth of him, the strength, the life of him calling to me.
I can't help but glance around and find that in my desolation Cato had moved the bodies. They lay side by side, fingertips touching, Katniss' head is at a strange angle from the broken neck, but Peeta's face is turned towards her, eyes closed.
Slowly the night fades, once more, the sun returning to the Arena, bathing us in a perfect golden glow.
We watch it emerge and I frown slightly.
"Why haven't they declared us Victors yet?"
"I don't know…" Cato sounds unsure.
"Tributes," the announcer speaks out across the Arena, and I feel Cato's muscles tense, "The previous rule change allowing two tributes to become Victors has been...reversed. There can only be one Victor. Good Luck...and May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor."
My breaths shorten, as I cling to Cato, who has turned to stone under my hands.
He doesn't answer me, doesn't even move a muscle.
"Cato...it's okay…" I don't know why I'm reassuring him, as fear pounds through my veins, as terror courses through my blood, "Cato…"
A tiny shiver ripples through him.
"Cato we knew this was the Hunger Games…we knew there was only one Victor…"
"You promised me…"
He pushes me away and I stumble, turning back helplessly to see him standing there, fury in every line of his body before he screams at the heavens.
It's a savage bestial howl of pure anguish, and it makes the hairs on my arms stand upright.
Slowly it fades, the echoes dissolving slowly across the treetops.
And the world remains the same.
Slowly I move to stand before him.
"No." he shakes his head, "I will not."
"You promised…" and now my voice does break, "Please...don't make this any harder…"
"Why are you giving up?!" he roars at me, gesticulating fiercely at the sky, "They said, if we worked together we'd both get to go home. They said you could be mine."
"I was always yours…" I reach out and touch his cheek, "First I was your kill, then I was your ally. Then I became your partner. But they changed the rule back Cato...we both can't go home."
"I've been trained my whole life for this," Cato breaks away from me, pacing around the cornucopia like a caged animal. I just...feel numb, like my legs have disappeared, "All my life. I wanted to bring glory to my District by becoming a Victor...by being the best. I can kill without question...I have killed without question." He wheels back around to stare at me, "And then you."
I stare at him, "What…?"
"Clove knew I couldn't kill you." His face works, "She knew. And I knew it too. I would have gone to the ends of this Game with her, but she would have killed you."
His face hardens, jaw becoming clenched like granite.
"No." He is implacable, "I will not kill you. Enough is enough."
I stare at him, as my mind races, and slowly I start to understand.
There is no doubt of Cato's abilities, he could end me in a heartbeat, his skill is not in question. And if it were just a matter of the two of us being left in the Game, he would have reluctantly killed me then also.
But the Gamemakers changed more than the Rules when they said two of us could survive. Cato opened himself up, he allowed himself to care, to hope, to want. He'd trusted them, trusted in the Game he was born to play, and now he's realised that he's just a pawn, a tiny piece on a huge board, and something has snapped.
He doesn't want to play by their rules any longer.
He refuses to play by their rules any longer.
And I know in this moment, that had it been me, or Clove, standing here with him on this Cornucopia...his response would have been the same.
The only difference is that Clove may have taken her chance at being a Victor and killed him.
But I cannot.
My mind races over everything I know is true.
The Hunger Games end when one Tribute remains, becoming a Victor.
The Gamemakers are known for making things happen when they are unhappy or defied.
Cato won't kill me.
I won't kill him.
Slowly I walk over to him and tug his head down to mine, kissing him deeply. He holds me tight against his body, clutching me close.
"One of us will survive," I say quietly, "The Games will try and kill us, but one of us will survive."
Cato nods against my hair, "I will fight like hell to protect us both."
"I'll fight right beside you."
His lips curve up, I can feel them.
Then he stills.
"Why should they get what they want?"
I pull back to look up at him, "Cato?"
His blue eyes meet mine, "Why should they get what they want. They are the ones who lied, and cheated." I feel his vehemence like a burst of fire against my skin, "They broke the Game."
Slowly he steps back, and draws out two of the daggers from Clove's vest on my body.
Gently he presses one into my hands.
"Cato…" ice skitters along my fingers, "This is madness."
"This is freedom."
And it is, I believe him. Even as terror claws at my throat, I know he's right.
So I lift the blade and place it lightly at his throat.
"Through here, up through this soft bit into the brain." Cato directs my hand to the back of his neck, as his travels to mine.
I look up at him and he smiles weakly, before catching my lips in a kiss.
"I'll count down...on now...we both stab."
Chapter 2: Without You Part 1
Katniss and Peeta win the 74th Hunger Games over the bodies of the boy from 2 and the girl from 4, but at what cost?
Alternate Universe from Chapter 18 of The Lady of the Lake
Original Authors note October 2019
"So this was hard to write. As many of you know, from the newest post in Survival of the Fittest, I've recently suffered a shock loss. One of my dearest friends was killed in a car accident a few weeks ago, something which has, honestly, left me reeling a little. The subject matter of the Hunger Games was just a little too close to this loss, as are the emotions that my characters experience.
However this idea would not leave me.
Ayeinne requested this: Since this an alternate ending. Can you make one where Cato and Sky both died from the Mutts hours later? I love both of them (more than how I think Katniss is such BAMF) but I want to see how you would write that and how that would affect the rebellion afterwards. With Katniss refusing to let them die quickly, I want to see how the Districts would react. I can't just imagine Finnick joining Katniss' protection because her inaction and refusal can be constituted as merciless in the face of the ending even if he would support the rebels.
I couldn't shake the idea, how would it pan out? Would it be closer to LOTL even without Sky living, or would it default closer to the original books? How much impact did Sky's life have prior to the end of the 74th Games?
I immediately wrote out a plan, of how I could see events unfolding and I realised it centred around the two people living who cared about Sky the most, and who had the power to affect change; Finnick and Peeta.
The other big factor was the death of Cato and Sky itself. If it played out like it did in the books, then Katniss wouldn't use an arrow to end their suffering, she only did it in the orginal text because Peeta himself was hurt and might die from bleeding out. Without the injury...Katniss wouldn't act."
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.
Chapter 3: Without You Part 2
Katniss and Peeta win the 74th Hunger Games over the bodies of the boy from 2 and the girl from 4, but at what cost?
Alternate Universe from Chapter 18 of The Lady of the Lake
Once upon a time, Katniss had been the girl of his dreams.
She was confident, strong, vibrant in a way that made people love or hate her. She didn't cushion her opinions to spare someone's feelings and she was honest. She was brave, and he admired that bravery, even as he wished he had more of it.
He'd loved her for so long she felt like a part of him, for so long that when she finally returned his feelings, and looked at him the way he'd always dreamed she would, kissed him the way he'd longed for, it felt like fate.
It had hurt to realise she'd played him for a fool, that the girl he'd spent so long admiring was capable of this kind of deceit.
He couldn't even hate her for it...he was the one who'd put her up on that pedestal after all.
And her stunt with the Nightlock had saved his life.
When the announcement came, telling them that they were going to have to fight to the death, on grass already stained red with the lifeblood of the girl and boy laying dismembered in the mouth of the cornucopia, he'd been too tired to fight.
He'd felt numb, listless.
Katniss could have killed him, but instead she'd chosen to make the Capitol make the choice. Either both together...or none at all.
And they had to have their Victor. So here they were.
But where he'd thought she'd chosen him out of love...he'd come to the realisation that to her it had been a strategy, like her fire dress, like the innocent act at the interview.
He'd been a fool.
He comes awake with a scream, Sky's soft voice echoing in his ears, her green eyes impossibly sad as her hand reaches toward him and his chest aches from the strain of trying to reach her. For a moment he lays there, chest heaving, in his impossibly soft bed, before he rolls over and promptly throws up into the bucket left beside his bed.
Tears prick his eyes, stinging like nettles, and he heaves again even as nothing is left to come up.
Sky haunts him, her face, her voice, her gentle hands. Sometimes he thinks he can feel them brush through his hair, thinks he can hear her voice whispering "I missed you."
When he closes his eyes he can see her standing there beside the river, that impossibly hopeful smile on her lips as she moves towards him. Trusting, despite the knife in his hand.
He's dreamed of her almost every night, happy and sad, heartbreaking and comforting. One night he dreams of her by the river, and when she moves towards him, trusting as a doe, he slashes his knife across her throat, his body acting of its own volition as his mind scrambles with horror. Her green eyes widen in betrayal as blood bubbles from her lips, forming his name, and then she crumples to the ground, gone.
After he's sick he can't help but bitterly wish he'd done just that. Better that quick than the long drawn out death she'd suffered at the hands of the Capitol's wolves.
One night he kisses her in his dream, and he feels her lips under his, form his name with a smile, before she slowly crumbles out of his arms, blowing away like dust.
Another night he betrays her after the Bloodbath, and she's killed in the bushes they'd run to, stabbed through the heart by Cato's pitiless blade.
Sky haunts him, her kindness lingers with him as do the phantom touches of her gentle hands. In another world, another life he could have seen them being the closest of friends...he's never felt so immediately in sync with another person before.
So he clings to her memory, dreads the dreams even as a part of him longs for them.
When he's out in town he quietly does what he can to ease the burdens of those in the Seam with gifts of baked bread, some of which has extra coin hidden within the soft crusts. A soft warmth fills his chest as he sees fewer hollow chests, and the children's faces look less haunted.
He has to be careful of course, if the Capitol was to find out, or if someone were to rat him out...well he's heard enough from Haymitch to know the punishment would be severe, and impact all those he loves.
Still he can't sit back any longer, not while he's haunted by the memory of Sky's kindness, like the way she'd tended to his leg before he repaid her with a blow to the head. Or the way she'd always asked after how he was feeling, genuinely wondering, genuinely concerned. He can see her soft smile as he gives out his bread and subverts the Capitol in his own way, and it gives him the only small measure of comfort he has.
He and Katniss have a cool working relationship right up until the man is executed in District 11.
"You have to calm down," Haymitch hisses, gripping his arm tightly before he wrenches it free.
"Don't tell me to calm down!" Peeta growls back, feeling his bitterness and fury seething to the surface, "This is just so…typical of her."
Haymitch drew back, and his eyebrow arches questioningly, intrigued, "I don't think I've ever heard you say anything but good things about our Girl on Fire." he murmurs back, voice acerbic and mocking, "What's the matter, trouble in paradise?"
Peeta shoots him a withering look, pacing away from him again, "Everyone thinks she's some kind of hero…"
"But you don't?"
"No." he flicks his gaze to Haymitch, whose expression is carefully neutral, "No she's not. She has a big heart, no one can deny that, but it only seems to extend to certain people…"
"I'm not talking about me!" Peeta shouts the words before leashing himself back, "I'm talking about her not telling me about the President's warnings and mission and just thinking of herself and her own family!" he kicked an abandoned box, "I'm talking about the things she did in the Games…"
"What she did in the Games was to survive." Haymitch reminds him firmly, "You know that."
"Not Cato...Not Sky."
That makes Haymitch pause, "Ah yes...Sky."
There is something complicated on his face as he murmurs her name, and Peeta can't help but ramble, "Sky didn't deserve that end, Katniss could have helped her, helped both of them…"
"She didn't know what was going to happen." Haymitch's voice is quiet.
"You can never know what's going to happen," Peeta growls back, fingers tightening, "Sometimes you have to...just do what's right. And fuck the consequences."
Haymitch chuckles quietly, "Careful baker's boy, that almost sounds like Rebellion."
Peeta rolls his eyes tiredly, "Shut up…"
"For what it's worth…" Haymitch moves over and grips his arm gently, "I think we're all going to be feeling the consequences of that choice of Katniss' for a while yet.
"I miss her," Peeta laughs hollowly, "Can you miss someone you barely knew?"
Haymitch's hand tightens on his arm and he nods quietly, "Sometimes it's not how long you knew them...but how much they touched your soul," he murmurs softly, "Don't do what I did kid. Don't let the ghosts haunt you too long."
"Do they still haunt you?"
A brief silence, before Haymitch's hand tightens on his arm gently, before releasing and he strides from the room.
Leaving Peeta alone in the silence which crushes his ribs with a desperate sadness.
"What can we expect from District 4?"
He looks up sharply as Katniss asks Haymitch her question, and catches Haymitch's eyes flicking over to him.
"It's not going to be pretty." their former mentor murmurs, leaning back in his seat, nursing a drink, "This lot don't usually hold grudges but when they've made up their minds. Stubborn...the lot of them."
Katniss' face had a complicated expression on it, "And they hate me."
"Pretty much," Haymitch doesn't blunt his words, and Katniss flinches slightly, "Surely you weren't expecting anything different? Not after Darrien and…"
He trails off, and her face shifts into a frown, "Sky wasn't my fault. I didn't kill her."
Peeta's fingers curl reflexively into his lap, something like fury zapping through his body.
"Ironically," Haymitch drawls, leaning back again, "It's because you killed him...and didn't kill her."
"They wanted me to kill their Tribute?" Katniss sneers slightly, folding her arms defensively.
"Mercy would have been nice." Peeta finds himself saying before he can stop himself, and he sees Katniss' eyes narrow.
"Let it go Peeta, I did what I had to do. You know as well as I do that the Gamemakers could have had anything up their sleeves. It was a waste of arrows when they were going to die anyway."
Peeta's glass thunks down on the table, as he glares at her, "That's not the point here though is it? Whether it was right or wrong...and for the record I'm on the team of 'wrong'...you can't expect these people, who loved her, raised her, grew up with her, knew her, to forgive you after you let her suffer there for hours. After your explosion killed Darrien?"
Katniss' face pales and then flushes, "Oh and you think you're going to be any better received? District 4 are Careers. They value strength and I did what I had to to win. What did you do again Peeta?"
He lunges out of his seat.
"That's enough!" Haymitch stands and pushes him back down, with a quelling glare, "Fact of the matter is that these people don't like you. So say the speech, get off the stage. Get through the dinner and get out of there. Simple."
"Sure," Peeta gets to his feet again, and heads to the door, "After this we only have a similarly warm reception in District 2 and District 1 to go." he shoots Katniss a nasty look, and sees her face pale again, before he disappears into the hallway, feeling hollow.
It's a beautiful winter's day in District 4.
When the doors to the Justice building swing open to reveal a huge courtyard, flooded with bright sunshine and full of people, Peeta feels his legs carry him forward on auto-pilot.
His relationship with Katniss has deteriorated to the point that he can barely look at her without feeling a visceral surge of…something toxic. It's like anger...like betrayal...like resentment, all of them but not wholly any of them.
So he looks out at the crowd waiting for them.
The people here watch them, but for the first time there is no hint of anticipation, no eager eyes lingering on Katniss. The square is awash with frowns and determinedly neutral expressions. No one here seems to have forgotten what his partner did, or the fact that she was directly responsible for the suffering of both of this years Tributes.
Katniss steps forward first and lifts her cue cards to read.
The air seems to get chillier.
Katniss' voice is almost jarringly loud in the utterly silent square, and her speed picks up as the awkward atmosphere adds to her nerves. Even once she is done and steps back there is no dutiful applause.
Peeta swallows and slowly walks forward for his turn, and sees a few postures relax, mouths softening from the hard lines.
He says his speech, beautifully written as always, and then turns away from the mic for a beat, preparing to walk away, before pausing and turning back.
"I'm sorry." the words flow from his lips and he sees shock on the expressions of the faces looking back at him, "I truly am. Sky was a beautiful soul...and a credit to her District. She touched me in more ways than you can imagine, and her memory is one I will cherish the rest of my days. She won't be forgotten."
He steps away, back beside Katniss and the applause begins, warm and appreciative, and he feels rather than sees Katniss shoot him an unfathomable look.
"I'm starting to think you're just jealous of the attention," she mutters at him, "You have no idea how difficult it is with Snow breathing down my neck."
"Mm it's always your neck isn't it," he hisses back as they leave the stage, "Unfortunately our necks are a package deal. For now."
The look she gives him could strip paint, but he can't bring himself to care.
He meets Finnick Odair at the dinner, who is even more handsome in person than he is on film.
He's charming and friendly but Peeta notices that Odair avoids the side of the room where Katniss is, and since he too is avoiding Katniss, it's only a matter of time before their paths cross.
"Mellark." Odair's sea green eyes are bright, intelligent and make him feel strangely nervous. His face is hard for a moment before it softens slightly and he shakes his hand, "I owe you a debt of gratitude."
"Me?" Peeta blinks, shocked, "I...why?"
The Victor's smile is crooked but warm, "You were a comfort to...her. She was very fond of you."
He sees Sky's face for a moment, and for a beautiful second it seems like she's there, standing beside them, watching them.
"You were her Mentor, she mentioned you. Something about threatening you with a trident…"
Finnick laughs, and the sea green eyes grow a little misty, "That sounds like her."
There's a note of something in his voice, something sad and broken, and Peeta recognizes it deep within his soul. It's the same feeling that's been haunting him. Neither of them had known her long, but both of them had grown to love her…
Here was the one person in Panem who might understand.
"I loved Sky," he found himself quickly saying, keeping his voice soft, "She is...she was…" he struggles to find the words, "She was special...she made things seem...possible. Full of…"
"Hope." Finnick grips his shoulder, "She was. Thank you Peeta for...for trying to."
His stomach seethes unhappily, "I wish I could have…"
Finnick seems to know what he means, because he nods and the two of them stand there, in silence for a long moment. It feels comfortable...it feels safe…
"You remind me of her." the bronze haired man eventually breaks the silence to say, "You remind me of her so much. You have the same...kindness."
"Thank you." Peeta's smiles at Finnick with his throat tightening with emotion, touched beyond words, "I can't tell you how much it means to me."
And he does, Peeta realises, he really does know.
Arms wrap around him and it takes a moment to realise he's being hugged. He hasn't been held like this, like something important and treasured and valued since Sky beside the river, and it only makes Katniss' false embraces seem more hollow. His arms wrap around Finnick tightly in response, and he feels the man's chest catch a breath.
Neither of them are unaffected by this it seems.
And it's like a lifeline has been thrown.
He's not alone.
Chapter 4: Without You Part 3
Katniss and Peeta win the 74th Hunger Games over the bodies of the boy from 2 and the girl from 4, but at what cost?
Alternate Universe from Chapter 18 of The Lady of the Lake
"This year the Tributes will be Reaped from the existing pool of Victors."
Annie has a panic attack right there and then.
Finnick makes sure she's calm and tucked in bed before he has his own on his kitchen floor.
"You want to what?" Theo blinks at him, fingers twitching sporadically as they were prone to doing, a by product of the morphling constantly in his system, "Finnick that's...that's suicide."
"We were part of a rebellion, some would say the same about that. And we could be Reaped all over again..." Finnick looks at him intently, "Is it doable?"
"I mean," Theo twitches again, "Finnick...fuck…"
"Look just imagine it okay?" He leans in, "Imagine flying away...going wherever we want…"
"Panem is all that's left."
"That's the biggest crock of shit I've ever heard." Finnick informs him, "A huge world, and we're the only landmass to survive?"
"But you don't know."
"No," he shakes his head, "I don't know, but I do know this. I'd rather land a hovercraft into the ocean and take my chances out there rather than live here any longer. I could still be here watching beautiful young men and women getting massacred Game after Game for another 50 years. Or I could get Reaped for these Games...and end up dead...or worse, a double Victor."
Theo twitches again, "The Rebellion."
"You and I know it's more fighting...more death...more destruction. So much suffering and we might not even win," Finnick laces his fingers together, "I'm just...done. Even before the last Games I was wondering if we could win and now...the Mockingjay." his face twists, "I can't...I'm so tired of fighting."
The morphling addict nods, hollow face full of a deep understanding, "Run away...start a whole new life…the ghosts would still be there."
"But we wouldn't have to add more ghosts every year." Finnick points out, and he sees Theo waver.
"I want to…"
"I know you do...and I know it will have to be planned perfectly...but imagine it, a new world all our own...no Snow...no District 13….no Hunger Games. Just us."
"Survival isn't easy. There'd be no buildings, no society...no safety net...nothing"
"We've done it before...and I'd rather do it this way." Finnick folds his arms and rubs them slightly
Theo nods, and Finnick grins, "Transports then."
"I can do it."
"Be careful who you recruit...one leak and…" He makes a hand motion like a throat being cut.
Theo's smile is wry.
Slowly his idea grows and spreads.
"Are you insane?" Haymitch hisses at Finnick, "one person whispers of this to the wrong person and you'll all be executed. And that's if you're lucky!"
The pair of them are in District 12, and the place is just as utterly miserable and depressing as it has been every other time Finnick has visited. The snow mixes with rain and mud to make an icy slush on the ground and he huddles in his coat, looking forward to getting back to District 4.
Wherever they end up, he's got to make sure they end up somewhere warm. He's not living in a place like this.
"Most people just know it's a plan to escape. They know nothing more about it, not who's involved, not how it's happening, nothing. They just know there will be a signal."
"I think that sea water has curdled your brain." Haymitch glares at him, "How can you be so stupid!"
Finnick glares back, "Stupid is it? They say the craziest thing you can do is keep doing the same thing and hoping for different results. Every year we Mentor and we think it'll be easier…"
"It was easier. Mine didn't die last year."
Finnick punches him.
Haymitch reels and rubs his jaw, before chuckling weakly, "I deserved that. My apologies Finnick."
The green eyed man scowls at him, before nodding. He's too used to Haymitch to hold on to the flash of fury he'd felt at his words.
"So you won't join us?" he asks, tucking his fingers into his sleeves.
Haymitch hesitates, "Let me think about it...alright? I think we have a good chance with District 13...and the Mockingjay."
Finnick pulls a face, "I don't see it."
"Fair," Haymitch moves to close his door, "Doesn't change the fact the rest of Panem can."
"Asshole," Finnick mutters, and heads down the stairs of Haymitch's front porch and glances across the street, where a fair haired young man is talking with a young blonde haired girl.
He recognises her as Katniss' sister, a year older and his stomach clenches slightly.
He can't deny Katniss' bravery, stepping up to take her sister's place. It was brave, and potentially suicidal but it had saved the life of the young girl smiling across the square.
Finnich was the youngest Victor in the Games' history, and still holds that record...no one 12 years old has ever won. This little girl would have been slaughtered.
But Sky might have lived, a traitorous part of his mind whispers.
He pushes the thought away. What if's are a dangerous, slippery slope.
Slowly he walks across the road and smiles at Peeta who grins back, a little uncertainly at first, before warming into a genuine smile.
"Peeta," he greets the young Victor before smiling at Katniss' sister.
He can't see many similarities between them visually, one dark haired, olive skinned, grey eyed, with a beauty like the moon. This young girl is like the sun, with her pale blonde hair and sweet face.
"You must be Primrose," he adds smoothly, plucking the name from his memory. It's a skill he's cultivated over years in the Capitol's service, and it always serves him well.
Primrose dimples sweetly at him, and nods, as Peeta smiles a little with relief, "Prim, this is Finnick Odair. He's a Victor too...from District 4."
"I know." Prim nods again, before solemnly holding her hand out for him to shake. Charmed he lightly brushes a kiss over the back of her hand to make her blush and giggle before turning to Peeta.
"I was wondering if we could have a chat."
He hadn't been planning to talk to Peeta, not yet, but the young man is here, and after Haymitch, Finnick wants someone on his side.
They walk off towards snow covered forests, where no listening devices lurk, and Finnick tells Peeta his idea, quietly.
Blue eyes consider him intently.
"It's tempting..especially with the Quell…"
Finnick nods. District 12 only has three Victors, Peeta has a 50% chance of being dragged back into that Arena. And this time Finnick doesn't think he'll make it back out again.
"The people we leave behind will be punished...you know that...right?"
It's been something he's tried not to think about, but he knows Peeta's right.
The Capitol doesn't react to rebellion, or being thwarted, with anything less than a sledgehammer. If they disappear? People will die, become Avoxes, and the rebellion will be almost impossible to pull off.
It's almost enough to make him hesitate.
Sky was the one with a conscience, she worried about the everyman. Finnick can't bring himself to do that.
To pull this off he has to be selfish.
"I know," He sighs softly, "And it's something we'll have to live with if we go, the knowledge that those we left behind had to pay for it. But I can't Peeta...I can't stay. Not now...Sky...was the mouse that sank the boat. If I stay it's a choice between being Reaped again, or mentoring 50 more years of Tributes...like Mags."
Peeta's blue eyes are understanding, and for a moment they remind him of another green pair that looked at him in a similar way. But Peeta is more pragmatic than Sky, and where she would have argued with him, passionately advocating for change and caring, Peeta simply nods.
"I know what you mean." He kicks a small rock out of some slushy snow, "I'm in."
"Really?" Finnick is surprised, but can't help but be pleased. Katniss will be dragged into the Rebellion and by virtue of their story of the Star-Crossed lovers, Peeta will be the collateral damage. If he flees with Finnick...it will save him, but could condemn those he leaves...like Katniss.
"The offer doesn't extend to Katniss." He forces himself to say, "I can't…"
Peeta frowns at him, "I don't agree with her, but leaving her to suffer…"
Finnick struggles against his ingrained secrecy and caves, "Katniss is the symbol for a rebellion brewing. It's not the insurgent rabble Snow fears. It's a fully fledged thing, with resources and people planted in all the Districts. Some of whom are watching over her now."
"Haymitch…" Peeta breathes, and Finnick nods, pleased the boy is intelligent enough to follow the threads, "He's guiding her."
"Yes. Apart from my own personal feelings…" he pulls a face, "If we take her, the rebellion will have no hope at all."
Peeta nods thoughtfully, before looking at him again, "You were part of it?"
Finnick nods, "Before."
"Now…" Finnick sighs, "No. Not now. I lost my stomach for the fight."
"Ironic…" the blond man murmurs, and at Finnick's quizzical look he explains, "Sky wasn't a fighter, she was ever the peacemaker."
Finnick snorts, "Ironic indeed. But it is what it is...I can't...not anymore. And there are only three options. Fight...which I can no longer do, Freeze, which means everything stays the same...or...Flee."
Peeta sighs softly and kicks his rock again, "Well...I'm in. How many are leaving?"
"Couple of hundred."
"Really?" Peeta looks up interestedly, "Can we have a few more?"
"Sure," Finnick fixes him with a stern look, "You have to be absolutely certain of them...that they won't betray us, and that they won't say something before we're ready. We can't take everyone, and we can't risk the Capitol knowing."
Peeta nods, face solemn.
"I'll be careful."
Finnick is visiting Lyme in District 2 when he's accosted by a woman who barks his name across an empty square, before striding towards him..
She's tall, very tall, even by District 2 standards, with fair blonde hair and sharp blue eyes that are too watchful to dismiss. She's flanked by two men too similar not to be related, one of whom has his arms folded and the other who idly flicks lint off his jumper.
"Hello…" he warily greets them after being manhandled into an alley, "You know Victors don't carry money on them right?"
The woman snorts at him, "Please, if we'd wanted to rob you, we'd be targeting one of our own myriad of Victors. We don't need a fishy one."
"Then how can I assist you?" FInnick gestures at them, "I'm assuming this tete a tete is not simply for your amusement?"
She grins at him, "Adorable. I'm Deccia Du'Grey. My brother is...was...Cato."
Finnick feels the air punch out of his lungs.
"You're Cato's family."
Deccia nods firmly, and folds her arms like the man behind her, "We are."
"We were," the man mutters.
"We are," the other corrects, shooting him a small frown, "His absence doesn't mean he's no longer a part of us."
"That's exactly what it means," the first male snarls softly.
Deccia shoots them both quelling looks, before turning back to Finnick.
"You're the mentor for District 4 yes?"
He nods, struggling to get a full breath into his lungs.
"So you were….her...mentor?"
"Excellent," Deccia steps forward and he wonders if he should try running for it, "Was it real?"
"What?" he blinks at them, flummoxed, "Sky and Cato?"
Three blond heads nod at him.
"Yes," he bit his lip, "God help them but it was real."
One of the men behind Deccia makes a sound, a pained whine, and she turns to the other one, impassive with his folded arms, "Satisfied Lucan? It wasn't some stupid strategy."
The man, Lucan, scowls at her.
"If he'd stuck to his strategy…"
"What if's are as much use as a fart in the wind," Deccia snaps back, and Lucan rolls his eyes, "Without her, he would have died when the tracker-jackers stung him."
"She was lovely," the remaining man says quietly, speaking to Finnick again, "Was she really that...kind?"
Finnick nods, feeling the grief heavy in his throat, "She really was. She cared….so much. Too much."
The man smiles, blue eyes kind but seeing far more than Finnick is comfortable with, and offers his hand, "I'm Septim. Come on...join us for lunch."
Finnick looks at them, seeing the grief in all of them, from the sadness in Septim's face, to the hard lines of Lucan's shoulders, to the pain in Deccia's blue eyes.
How could he refuse?
Lunch turns into dinner.
"You have any siblings?" Septim asks Finnick as they wash the dishes, the sound of Lucan and Deccia bickering in the background.
"No, only child…" Finnick sighs softly, "I've always envied people their brothers and sisters though…"
"Do you want one of mine?" Deccia calls out to him, before a clanging noise follows her words, accompanied by swearing.
Finnick wonders if he should go check on them, but when he sees Septim's amused smile, he decides discretion is the better part of valor.
"I think in time...had Sky she survived would have been like a sister." he admits quietly to Septim, who glances over as he wipes a plate, "I already loved her...wanted the best for her. I would have given your brother the 'talk' about ever hurting her…"
Septim laughs quietly at the thought, but lets him continue.
"I think she would have been a part of my life...forever. And if I feel this….messed up about her, I can't imagine what it's been like for you…"
Septim hums softly and hands him the plate to dry, "It hasn't been easy. Cato was the baby of the family, but he's always been the one I worried about the most. He's...he was...so arrogant, so determined...nothing was going to stop him. If any one of us was going to be a Tribute for District 2 it would have been Deccia...or him. And once Deccia aged out...it only made him more determinted."
"It's strange to think of the Hunger Games as something to be sought after."
Septim smiles sadly, "It gives us purpose...a sense that something is in our control. That the child we have to send will have the best chance to survive."
It makes a warped kind of sense. And it breaks Finnick's heart all over again.
Dinner turns into drinks around the fire.
"They rigged the system," Deccia informs him, gesturing violently with a pewter goblet, the contents of which slosh ominously, "That partner twist was put in to favor Cats-piss and her butterfingered boy."
"Could have been for Cato and Sky too," Lucan drawls, sprawled in an armchair broodingly, cheeks flushed from drink, "They were sucking each others faces off when they announced it."
"It was for Katniss," Septim agrees with Deccia, "It's what pushed her to go look for Mellark. It made it a battle of the couples...she wouldn't have gone to find him if it wasn't for that."
"It was for the drama," Finnick scolds them all, rolling his eyes, "And as soon as it was convenient they reneged on the deal."
For a moment he wonders what would have happened if Sky and Cato had prevailed on the Cornucopia, would the rule change have been reversed for them too, forcing Cato to kill the woman he'd grown to care for? Would he have lost Sky all over again?
Was there no way she could have survived?
"It killed my mother," Deccia whispers to Finnick, some hours later, tears gleaming in her blue eyes as she watches her twin brothers sprawled over each other on the couch, fast asleep, "Losing Cato. She thought she was ready...but...she got an infection in her chest...just after the Victory tour. It was quick at least...and my father...couldn't live without her. He just withered away…"
She looks up at him, and for a moment he sees Cato at his most gentle, "We love too deeply in this District...with our hearts...our whole hearts."
Finnick swallows and hugs her tightly, and the pair of them rock together.
"I know what you mean," he whispers into her hair as she shivers with the force of not shedding a tear.
She's too proud to cry.
So he cries for both of them.
On the train back to District 4 the next day Finnick is so hungover he thinks he's going to be sick with every judder of the machinery.
But his heart is lighter.
The three Du'Grey siblings will be joining them all, though he's not quite sure of their reasoning. Still he's not going to turn away the help.
Plus...he kind of likes them.
After that, everything comes together very quickly.
Theo contacts him from District 6, letting him know the 'liberated' aircraft are ready.
Seeder, Enrid and Fells send him coordinates for the food stores in each of their Districts that will be the easiest to hit. He'd been unsure of speaking to them, knowing their allegiance to the Rebellion, but when they'd heard his plan they'd immediately jumped on it. All of them bring things to the table they'll need if the group is to survive, and he welcomes them with relief.
Finally they are as ready as they can be.
And the date is set.
They are locked in.
No going back now.
The aircraft would be waiting for him and anyone else he was bringing, in the dark of pre-dawn.
That night he can't sleep, tossing and turning in his bed. His bags are packed, mostly with clothes, and cooking implements. He was going to be roughing it now for who knew how long….this was his last night in a comfortable bed.
And he can't sleep.
Finally the clock reads 3 am and he quietly gets up, showers, dresses and carries his bags downstairs and hides them behind some trees.
Then he walks to Haymitch's house.
"Are you coming?" he asks when his former mentor emerges, clearly as awake as he is.
Haymitch runs his fingers through his hair, "This is crazy...you know that right?"
"I'd rather go out like this…"
Haymitch pulls a face at him, but doesn't disagree, "Before the Quell...I would have stayed. Would have taken my chances…"
"With the rebellion?" Peeta asks, and is gratified by the shock on his face, "Finnick told me."
"Finnick told you." Haymitch sucks in a sharp, annoyed breath, "Course he did the meddling…"
"He wanted me to have all of the facts before I made my decision." Peeta holds his ground and for a moment he thinks he can feel Sky's gentle hand curling around his arm, and her voice whispers.
So am I, he thinks back to her.
"So you know." Haymitch rolls his head, "And you still don't want to stay."
Peeta nods, "I still don't want to stay."
Both of them glance at the house across the street.
"She's not invited…" Haymitch murmurs, "If we go...we're abandoning her here."
For the first time Peeta feels his own resolution waver. He'd be dead if it wasn't for Katniss...she'd saved him in the Arena...saved them both.
But for what? For this? Had she saved them, or had she simply made them a different kind of target?
If they flee, she'll bear the brunt of the punishment...but the Capitol won't be able to strike at her directly...she's too popular. They'll target her friends...her family. Even if only one of them goes, the other will be part of the punishment, and looking at Haymitch Peeta knows he's thought of this too.
Either they both have to stay...or they both have to flee.
"So?" Peeta asks him, "Are you willing to stay and take a chance on Katniss Everdeen and District 13? Without Finnick Odair and the others he takes with him?"
Haymitch glances at him shrewdly, "You don't think we can do it."
"I don't know enough about it to make a knowledgeable statement one way or the other." Peeta answers primly, before continuing, "But...They will go...with or without us…and the rebellion will be left. So I ask you... Can they do it?"
Haymitch frowns and sighs, "Maybe. But maybe isn't really good enough is it?"
Peeta shakes his head and his former mentor opens the door to reveal his bags, smiling ruefully.
"I hoped...you'd change your mind. But you're right...it's just hard….after all these years...all these plans."
"But you packed your bags…"
"Yes…" he smiles ruefully and shoulders them, "I guess...I hoped you'd change my mind too."
Peeta shoots him a small grin and they both head towards the forest, before the young Victor pauses once more.
"I'll meet you there,"
Haymitch arches an eyebrow at him and takes one of his bags, "Don't take too long…"
He nods and they split up, Haymitch disappearing into the forest, and Peeta slowly walking back to knock on Katniss' door.
There is someone else he wants to save tonight.