The closer that Annie got to Mags the colder it seemed to become. She wrapped her arms around herself to keep out the chill, but the raincoat didn't do much to insulate. At first Annie didn't know what to expect when she followed Mags out behind their houses, though she knew they weren't headed toward the ocean. The soft crashing lullaby of waves was fading behind her, and after a while the soft sinking sand underfoot turned to pavement and then finally to soft dirt.
The area become more and more populated and the occasional street lamp helped guide Annie onward. When she crested the last hill, Mags and her destination became clear to her. She saw the older woman sitting slightly slumped over a gravestone in the tribute graveyard that overlooked their part of the district. Annie didn't want to get too close, but Mags seemed to know she had been followed and that Annie now stood back in hesitation. Mags put her hand out to Annie and beckoned her closer.
The grave that Mags sat beside was freshly dug and Annie palmed the newly turned earth. "Ril?"
Mags confirmed with the shake of her head.
Annie shivered again, but this time not from the cold. It could have all too easily been herself buried under there.
"It's nice of you to come out here," Annie whispered. She felt strange at the thought of speaking too loudly in such a hallowed place.
Mags made to stand up, and Annie helped her. The older woman pulled a small booklet of thick parchment from her pocket with a stubby pencil attached to it and began to hastily scribble, 'I come here to remember them.' Annie knew that Mags had difficulty speaking from an injury to her tongue that she sustained in her own games so many years ago, but she'd also since learned that a stroke had acerbated her ability to vocalize even more.
After reading what Mags had written, Annie said, "I should have come here earlier, to remember him."
Mags took her hand and led her further into the graveyard. When she stopped, Annie looked down at the faded headstone: Erik Jenkins, tribute of the 13th Hunger Games.
Mags pointed at herself, then at the grave marker, and Annie understood. "Your games." She looked down at the name again. "Your fellow tribute."
Mags smiled sadly, then pointed at all the other gravestones that peppered the field from where they stood all the way down to Ril's. In her notebook she wrote, 'I have buried them all. I don't forget them.'
Annie took Mags' hand. She had never been here before, although she'd always known it was here, she didn't know anyone who came, besides the family members that still lived. But even then, it was something to be done without witnesses. Before being reaped she hadn't known anyone who was a relation to any tribute.
'Families,' Mags scribbled in her journal, 'fade away.' The wording felt ominous to Annie, she wondered if the word 'faded' meant something different to Mags. Seeing Annie's confusion Mags wrote, 'it's not easy to know and remember the ones we've lost. The odds fail tributes and families alike.'
Annie shivered again. Every child in Panem was taught that the odds were ever in their favor.
Mags pulled her shawl closer around herself against the chill coming off the water. It was late summer, but it already felt like autumn. She patted Annie's hand, and the older woman inclined her head.
"I'm so tired, Mags." Annie said wistfully. "I feel like I haven't slept since I came out of the games. Every time I try I see it all again."
Mags cupped both sides of Annie's face and mouthed the word 'sleep.'
"I'm afraid," she confessed.
Mags just shook her head, scribbling in her notebook again. 'Fear is natural. I'm still afraid to sleep. Everyone keeps their fear.'
Annie immediately thought of Finnick, and though he didn't seem to fear anything, she remembered how he had paced the train car on the ride back home. How his glass was continually full of that strange blue liquor. And how strained and ragged he had looked when he left her.
Mags seemed to read her mind. 'Even Finnick had his demons.'
Annie bit her lip as Mags pulled her back from the gravestones. She let the older woman lead her back on the path toward the victor's village. "You were Finnick's mentor, weren't you?"
Mags confirmed with a head nod.
"And he was a career?"
It was easier to see Mags notebook now that they were closer to the streetlights. 'It's not normal for a career to be reaped. He was only fourteen. He was a child. He was trying to be brave. He's always just trying to be brave.'
Annie felt uncomfortable talking about Finnick when he wasn't there. She felt the hair at the back of her neck stand on end, and her bare arms through the red rain coat prickled with anxiety. She was still curious about who the woman who'd called out to Finnick earlier was, but she wasn't comfortable enough with Mags to ask.
She had never understood Finnick. When she first met him after the reaping he seemed isolated and aloof. Annie saw how focused he had been on Ril, and she took that as proof that she wouldn't make it in the arena.
The politics of the reaping, too, perplexed her. If there were so many career tributes than why were so many children from district 4 taken from the populace.
Mags had a talent for reading minds. She tapped the top of Annie's hand. In her notebook she wrote, 'The tribute center is small. We're not like 1 and 2.'
Mags was right. In the televised reaping of districts 1 and 2 that they watched every year the career tributes always volunteered. The reaping in any form had become all but extinct.
'A child has to choose to be a part of the tribute center. We do not force anyone,' Mags penned.
Annie still didn't understand. She had never considered, or needed to consider, joining the tribute center. "So, Finnick choose to be a career…?"
Mags focused on her writing. 'The choice is never easy.'
By now they had walked back to the victor's village, but rather than reemerging back behind their houses they were towards the front where the tall iron gate rose above them like a jail made out of rigged snakes.
Annie couldn't help but notice that there was a light on in one of Finnick's upstairs rooms.
With a silent farewell, Mags kissed her on the cheek and disappeared into the darkness of her house. She pointed an accusatory finger toward Annie and again mouthed the word 'sleep.'
Exhaustion seemed to pull Annie down toward the ground. Her knees felt weak, and she knew she had to try to sleep. Her thoughts were all muddled and felt like they were turning to thick ash in her mind. She gave Finnick's house another quick glance, the light still yellow bright behind the closed curtain, before closing herself back inside the empty house.
a/n: I wanted to be true to both the novel and the film adaptation regarding Mags character. I think it's equally interesting that she suffered damage to her vocal ability, and that she had a stroke, so I'm using both for my story.
Thanks for reading :)