Disclaimer: I own nothing, least of all the creations of Suzanne Collins's magnificent imagination.
Contains mild spoilers for Catching Fire, though more will pop up as Annie and Finnick get older.
This story will be told both from Annie Cresta's and Finnick Odair's perspectives. And it's more like a bunch of one-shots connected together that take place at one year intervals. In this story, Finnick is two years older than Annie. A lot of things/people/names/whatever, I made up, but where Suzanne Collins gave information in the books, I use it.
A/N (06.22.10)- This is a repost of a story I took down a while ago. There aren't many changes to the first chapter, but I'll be tweaking things in forthcoming chapters.
Mad With Hunger
Anna, Age 15, Finnick, Age 18
I knew I should have pulled my hair back.
The manufactured breeze of the air conditioning unit keeps blowing it in my face, tickling me and making me want to scratch my skin. But I can't. I've been suspended on the bars for over a minute, and I need to stay up for another two.
There is a slight ache in both my arms and a tremor in my left. I shift more of my weight to the right side, and that seems to help. I know it's only a temporary fix.
I'd injured my arm. Or rather, someone injured it for me. I was sparring with another trainee, and rather than pull back as we are instructed, the guy actually cut me with his blade. It wasn't bone deep, but it required stitches, which are still in my skin. Ugly black reminders of my opponent's cruelty.
I suppose by now I should be used to it. I've been training here for five years, ever since I was eleven, and that's just how it is. We aren't supposed to inflict any real damage, but the trainers breed us to show no mercy. It makes sense. After all, there is no mercy in the arena. Only death, and if you're lucky, or more likely, skilled enough, victory.
Technically, we aren't supposed to train, but our Peacekeepers aren't all that strict. More victors from District Four mean more money for them. It's a sacrifice they're willing to make.
I should consider myself lucky. Not everyone gets selected to train. We've all been watched since we were small children; I was chosen based on my projected height and swimming ability. I've been able to stay because of my hard work and overall capability in all the training sections. There isn't really one area I shine in, and I like it that way. Everyone here is so competitive, to excel and be the best in any one disciple is the same as painting a big target on your back. I prefer to stay under the radar.
But what I'd really prefer is for the ground to swallow up the Capitol. I'd even settle for reaching my nineteenth birthday. Then I'd be able to sleep at night without the ever present fear that my name will be chosen at the Reaping. I only have three more years to go. Then I can leave all this training behind, and not worry about the Hunger Games ever again. Until I get married and have my own children.
I could refuse my training, but that would be ridiculous. If I actually did get chosen, this is exactly the kind of preparation I would need. So quitting isn't really an option.
Not everyone here is based on skill. The richer folks of District Four can pay to have their children join up, regardless of whether they can even lift a spear or shoot an arrow. Their fees, along with the odd donation from the District Four victors, are used to support the cost of having a training center. The instructors are adults, giving their free time. The victors visit as well, to offer training tips, share their own experiences, provide motivation, whatever. Some visit much more than others.
Even looking forward, intentionally trying to ignore the slowly gathering crowd, I can feel all their eyes on me, feel his eyes in particular. Caspian Bligh's to be exact. Unlike the trainees, he has no reason to want me to fail. He just watches because he's a pervert.
I only need to hang on for eighteen more seconds.
Fifteen more seconds.
By now I'm gritting my teeth, ignoring the way the sweat is dripping into my eyes and burning them. My breathing sounds about as labored as a woman giving birth, and my right arm is shaking. I shift my weight back to the other side and without warning, my left arm buckles. I kick my legs, try to push myself back up into position.
I'm almost there, but I can't do it. My arms are too weak from my vacation from practice, so I let go. It's a ten foot drop to the ground, and I roll, blunting some of force from impact. It still hurts, and I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling as I fight to catch my breath.
There was only six seconds left.
A face appears near mine. Blond hair, brown wide-set eyes, too thin of a nose, and multiple ear piercings which just accentuate how far his ears stick out from his head. I sit up quickly, not caring if my head hits his. It doesn't.
Caspian offers me a hand up, but I'd rather use my bad arm to push myself off the floor than accept his help, so that's what I do. Caspian won five years ago when he was eighteen. He's one of those victors who visits the center a lot. Too much, if you ask me.
If it were because he actually cared about our progress or our well-being, I would welcome his help. But he's here for the flesh. And even though he's rather plain looking, there is plenty to be had. Because he won the Games, he's rich, and the girls, trainees or not, throw themselves at him.
I don't know why the girls sleep with him. For one thing, he's twenty-four. That should be enough to keep them away. But maybe they like that he's older. Maybe they think he'll protect them. That he'll marry them and care for them. And I think he knows that. Like any good Hunger Games' victor, he exploits this weakness and uses it against them. Turns that innocent desire into something that shatters each and every one of their hearts, but only after he's taken what he wants from them. They think they can be the one that changes him, but they never are.
Hunger Games Rule Number One: Know thine enemy. He does. Why can't they?
I can hear some of my crowd laughing, even see some of them pointing. The trainers don't stop them. As they're always saying, we need to grow tough skins.
I prepare myself for the barrage of teasing and insults, but by some weird twist of fate, they all turn away and leave. Even Caspian Bligh. The only person who remains is my best friend, my only friend among the trainees, Coral Malley.
She looks like she doesn't want to be here with me, and the second she speaks I know why. "Finnick Odair just entered the complex."
I play stupid just to get a reaction. "Who?"
"Are you kidding me? You've never heard of Finnick Odair?"
Of course I've heard of him. It would be easier to find someone who hasn't heard of Finnick Odair. He was all everyone talked about in District Four—"One of the most beautiful boys you will ever see," they all said. And after he won the Hunger Games, he is all anyone in the whole of Panem ever talks about. And two years after his victory, talk still hasn't died down.
Quite frankly, I'm sick of hearing his name.
I have nothing against him. That would be foolish as I don't even really know him. Still, from what I see of him on television, I'm not sure I could like him. If he's anything like Caspian Bligh, he carries the taint of the Capitol. Probably worse, because ever since he's been of age, he visits the Capitol constantly. At least Caspian stays around to troll on naive girls in his own district.
I can see both of their heads bobbing above the crowd. They're taller than most everyone, but Finnick's copper hair stands out from the sea of brown and blond. I look away. There's really nothing to see. Just another Caspian, and I don't want to waste my time. I have homework to do.
I try to head toward the shower, but Coral's dragging me toward the sea of admirers. "Anna, I'm not letting you leave before you see him."
I pull my still aching arm from her grasp, rubbing it slightly, careful not to snag the stitches. "I've seen him plenty. I'd rather take a shower before everyone heads back there."
"But I want you to be there with me when I say hi."
I pat her on the head, perhaps a bit condescendingly, but I'm tired and cranky. "You have plenty of personal charm all on your own." Or at least physical charm. Everyone's agreed that Coral's the most beautiful girl in the Center. Her hair is black, tinted blue, with eyes as bright as the ocean. She doesn't need my help.
"Why is he even here?" I ask. "He's never come before."
"I don't know. Maybe he decided to take his mentor duties seriously. Who cares? He's here and he's hot, and I'm going to try to speak with him."
"Good luck with that, Coral. And don't forget to send me a wedding invitation." I turn and head straight to the showers.
"Anna! Anna Cresta, come back here." She yells so loudly, I turn to see if anyone's looking. She's caught someone's attention, and wouldn't you know, it's Finnick Odair's. I look down quickly, hoping that the faster this moment's over the sooner he'll forget he even saw me. Turning the corner, I disappear behind the bathroom door.
The hot water is wonderful, and I lean against the shower wall, letting it beat against my sore body. But I can't take too long. Three minutes is the most we get before it turns ice cold.
As the spray hits my neck, I try to let go of my anger and irritation.
Sometimes it's just so easy to get upset with Coral, with all of them really. To just roll my eyes at how idiotic all the girls are for throwing themselves at these people, but I shouldn't. Who's to say if Finnick Odair turned the charm on me, I wouldn't melt like everyone else? I know I would. But I also know I don't like pain, and I know that anyone who loves Finnick Odair is in for a world of hurt. There's a lot to be said for self-preservation. I'm sure it's even one of the Hunger Games Rules.
I like to think of myself as a realist. I've been told I'm good looking, and since I own a mirror, I can confirm it. Pretty on most days, and occasionally, when I'm all dressed up, I can look downright beautiful. But Finnick is on a whole other plane where mere mortals do not dwell. And I don't want to be a mere anything, certainly not to the man I fall in love with. I see the way my dad looks at my mom. That's what I want for myself, and I doubt Finnick or any other victor has that to give.
I finish my shower with one second to spare, feeling a slight drop in temperature just as I turn the nozzle off. Wrapped in my towel, I sit in the front of the cloudy mirror and braid back my long brown hair, hoping that when it dries, there will be none of those annoying wisps that tickle my face. I can hear a few voices from the girl trainees. My solitude is coming to an end. Quickly slipping on my clothes, I grab my bag and pass them as they enter, ducking my head. And just so no one will see my face and stop me, I put on my old hat.
I'm about to leave the training complex, but I take one last look to see if Coral is on her way to becoming Mrs. Odair. I don't see either of the future couple, so I make my way to leave.
It's a male voice calling after me. One I've heard countless times before, but never in person. I pull the ratty cap off my head before I turn around. "Yes?"
He's holding out his hand, and I'm wondering why he wants my hat. It's old. Belonged to my dad before he got a new one. Then he says, "My name's Finnick. Perhaps you've heard of me?"
The question is too stupid to answer. But that doesn't stop me from almost telling him that, yes, I have heard of him. I shake his hand, trying not so smile at just how gorgeous he is. While I can't manage that, I do remind myself that when Finnick Odair leaves to go flirt with the Capitol women as he most certainly will, it would be nice to have my dignity still intact, so I pull myself together.
"My name's Anna Cresta."
"So I heard." Finnick raises one of his copper eyebrows, his full mouth quirking just before his tongue darts across his lower lip. "Though you look more like an Annie."
I don't care how beautiful he is, Odair doesn't get to call me Annie.
"Only my dad calls me that."
Just then Caspian comes up and slaps Finnick on the back. "So, Odair, here to check out the talent."
I feel my face heat up as Caspian looks me over, like I'm a piece of meat. I wish I hadn't taken off my hat, because now I have nothing to hide behind. He reaches for my braid and I try not to flinch as he runs it through his fingers. It's degrading and makes me feel about two inches tall, but what can I expect. The Capitol treats us as if our lives are worth less than anything you could buy in the butcher's shop. They don't even pay the parents when they take their children away to die for their entertainment. It had to eventually trickle down into the way the victors saw us, their own people.
But my parents had taught me better. I'm worth more than that. This knowledge keeps my chin lifted high.
"You could say that," Odair answers, and then he's looking me over too. And it doesn't matter that he is infinitely better looking than anyone I've ever seen in my life. When placed side by side with Caspian's attention, he makes me feel just as cheap. I don't want to be near either of them.
"Well, I'm sure you have plenty you want to catch up on, seeing as how the Reaping is coming up. I'll leave you to it." And before they can stop me or Caspian can pull on my braid, I turn on my heel and walk away. I know they're watching me as I go. Unnerving doesn't even begin to describe what I feel.
I'm about twenty feet outside when Odair catches up to me. I keep walking.
"I was hoping to go home with you," he says.
I laugh. And not because I actually think him funny or because I'm filled with joy. His audacity's unbelievable. Who says that to someone they haven't even exchanged ten sentences with? Then again, maybe that's what they do in the Capitol. I don't really know what happens there. Hopefully, I never will.
I stop and turn, punctuating every word with an anger that keeps swelling. "Look, I don't know what kind of girl you take me for, but I'm not interested in that kind of thing."
Odair tilted his head to the side, sea green eyes twinkling. "I notice you didn't say you're not interested in me."
I try not to blush, but know I'm failing miserably. Really, what does it matter? I'm never going to see this guy again, so I might as well be honest. Perhaps I can find some way to show him that people deserve more than to be treated like his play things. "I realize you're an extremely attractive guy. The handsomest guy I've ever seen and will most likely ever see in my life." I pause. Let it sink in that I actually said that and he hasn't laughed in my face. So far, so good.
"Thank you," he says, and from the sound of his voice I can tell he finds me amusing.
I want to look away, but I force myself to continue. Taking a deep breath, I try to rationally explain why Finnick Odair will not be accompanying me home. "But you aren't really interested in me. You don't know me or anything about me. But I know me. And I know that I could easily fall for you, and just as easily get my heart broken. And I don't want it to be broken. I want what my parents have, and there is no way I'm going to get that by sleeping with you. I see how you act in the Capitol, flirting with women almost three times your age. And they think you're in love with them until you leave them for someone else. I refuse to be one of those people. So please, leave me alone." By now I'm out of breath, and I feel like I'm just getting started, but really I have nothing left to say. I wonder if any of my ramblings even made sense.
Odair actually has the decency to look ashamed, and part of me is happy that maybe I got him to think, that maybe he'll be more careful with the way he treats those people.
He brings his hand up to his hair, scratching his scalp. "While all that's true, I just wanted to see your father. When I was little, I used to work on the same boat as him, and he was always kind to me. I thought it about time to repay the favor."
Now I just want to die, and it's in that moment, when I'm most humiliated, that I realize I've become one of those silly girls. Had I really thought I had changed him? I had poured out my heart to this stranger, shared my romantic ideals, scolded him for seducing and using vain and vapid women, and all he really wanted was to do something nice for my dad. I bury my face in my hand. "I'm so embarrassed."
"If it makes you feel better, that was a good answer."
I still can't look at him.
He keeps trying to be nice to me, which only makes me feel worse. "If I had to judge myself based on what I saw on television, I'd say you came to the right conclusion," he says.
I look at him in disbelief, my mouth surely hanging open. "And you're ok with that? Just going from girl to girl?"
His eyes spark, and for a second I think he's angry, but he just blinds me with the brilliant white of his teeth. "You act as if they have hearts to break. Besides, I make them no promises, and I don't even do half of what you think I do." Finnick laughs, and I'm reminded then of a very key piece of information. This boy, this man really, has killed people in cold blood. "Seriously, Annie, do you really think I've slept with all those women? I may be a victor, but no one has that much energy."
I don't really want to think about Finnick Odair sleeping with anyone. I hold up my hands, trying to wave away the images that pop into my brain. I'm too young to be thinking about that stuff. "I don't know, and I don't really care."
"You're impassioned defense of true romance would beg to differ."
He grabs my hand, placing it on his chest like he's going to make a pledge. His heart beat is slow and even under my palm. "Rest assured I haven't been completely defiled by the Capitol."
I move my hand away, not liking how it reacts to him. "Well, I was right. You weren't really interested in me." I try to chuckle, show that I can laugh at myself when I make a mistake. I still feel stupid though.
"I never said that."
Now I'm just annoyed. My mom is always telling me it's rude, but I roll my eyes anyway. I hate it when people play games, especially when I've been nothing but honest with them. "I don't want to like you, and I'm not some Capitol tart, so stop trying to butter me up."
"Fine. From here on out, there's nothing but honesty between you and me, Miss Annie Cresta."
"My name is Anna. Now let's go before it gets late."
Our house is about a mile away from the beach where the Victors live, which is about a twenty minute walk from the training center. My family is what people would call middle class. Dad even owns his own boat, so thankfully we never go hungry. It's impossible to miss amongst the surrounding row of white houses. Dad painted it my mom's favorite color, teal.
Along the way, Odair tries to engage me in talk, but I've already said more than enough. Monosyllable answers will have to do.
Once home, I don't even stop to explain how I'd met District Four's most beloved victor, just push open the door and call out, "Mom, dad, Finnick Odair's here. I have homework to do. Bye," as I race to my room. I've taken about three steps when my mom says, "Anna, where are your manners? And it's summer. School doesn't start for a few more weeks."
"But there's summer reading that needs to be done, not to mention the essay Mr. Sanditon assigned."
"It will have to wait, my little brainiac. We have company." She's smiling politely, but I know if I refuse, there'll be hell to pay later.
Trying not to groan, I make my way back to the living room. "Mr. Odair told me he wanted to speak with dad. I didn't want to intrude."
Odair smiles, and I can see my mom is instantly charmed. And my dad looks half way to being there too. "It wouldn't be an intrusion at all, Anna. In fact, I'd love it if you stayed. And if you called me Finnick."
"Well, that settles it," my mom emphatically states. "Anna, why don't you set the table?"
As I do this, I listen to their conversation. Apparently, Finnick had been looking for my dad for years. We'd moved since my dad got his own boat, and Finnick hadn't known where to look. If it hadn't been for Coral yelling out my name in the training center, he still wouldn't have known. I'd have to thank her later.
For dinner, we have fish. No surprise there. I should be grateful. I see some of the other districts on television. Four is one of the luckier ones. No one has to worry about going hungry, since there's always seafood and the victors' parcels available. But sometimes I would like to try something else. Steak, for instance. Every time I see the kids in the Capitol feasting before the Games, I always drool over the steak. Still, the salmon is delicious. Mom has always been quite the cook.
As I eat, I watch my parents interact with Finnick. Dad and he seem to get along really well, and I wonder why Dad never mentioned they worked together. Probably because every time I saw Finnick on the television, I complained about him. Dad must have quietly laughed at me every time. I know I would have, because I'm almost laughing now. Who knew dad was friends with a celebrity?
"What's so funny, Annie?"
I look up from my plate, trying to come up with an answer. But the salmon is dead, and so it can't offer me any advice. Not that it could have when it was alive either. "Nothing, I was just thinking about something that happened earlier." It's lame, but true, and I think it's enough. Mom and Dad seem content to let it rest.
Unfortunately, Finnick does not.
"What is it?" he asks, leaning in, grin as wide as a shark's.
"Nothing that would interest you." My voice has a slight edge to it. Mom and dad might like him, but I'm not sure it's justified.
My mom clears her throat. Code for 'mind your manners.'
"I'm just surprised you know my dad, that's all."
"Finnick and I go way back. I was friends with his father, and when Finnick was five, he started as an apprentice on the Mariana." The Mariana was one of the fishing boats dad had worked on before he had risen in the ranks and got his own.
It's common practice in our district for boys to work on the boats at a young age. They'll clean the decks, gut the fish, practice knots on the rigging. But usually not at five years old. Most started at age eight, when they were slightly larger. It probably meant that Finnick's dad, or worse, both his parents had died. Dad had never introduced me to a Mr. Odair, and if Mrs. Odair were alive and he'd been friends with her husband, I'm sure I would have seen her around by now. I try to remember what had been said about Finnick's upbringing during his Games, but I can't. I must have missed it. In general, I don't like watching the Games and unless it's forced viewing, I spend most of my time reading instead.
Till dinner is over, Dad and Finnick regale us with tales from the sea. My mom is laughing, and even my sides are hurting. It's a nice feeling.
When we're finished, my mom stands up to clear the table and Finnick rises to help, leaving dad and me at the table. Once they're in the kitchen, Dad leans over and smiles. "Not so bad once you get to know him is he, Annie?"
"I guess, but I'd like him more if he didn't go through girls like they were underwear."
Dad chuckles. "Maybe there's a reason behind that."
"And what would that be?" I ask, trying to keep my sarcasm at a minimum. His behavior can only be explained one way and one way only. Just because Finnick is a nice guy doesn't mean I have to distort the facts to explain away all his bad behavior.
"I don't know," Dad says, but I can tell that he does. Dad does this at times, gets all secretive and thinks I don't notice. I've only stopped asking about it because my mom told me it upsets him. Still, Finnick's true motives, if he even has any, will have to remain a mystery. Dad won't tell, and I don't think I have the guts to ask Finnick about it myself.
Mom and Finnick return a few minutes later, and Dad lets us know it's his bedtime. He has to get up before dawn to go out on the boat tomorrow. They're going out deep into the sea, and he won't be coming back for a few weeks. He'll miss my sixteenth birthday and the reaping. I know he hates it. I'm always a mess at that time, but it can't be helped. The fish don't wait for anyone, not even the Capitol.
I stand up and kiss him on the cheek. "I'll miss you." The tears begin to well up in my eyes, but I won't cry. I don't want to make dad feel worse, especially over something he has no control over.
"Be a good girl while I'm gone. And be nice to your mom."
"When am I not?"
My dad wraps me in his big arms and kisses me on the temple. "You be careful alright? Love you."
"I promise. Love you too."
Dad looks over my head, and I can see him wink. "Maybe you can watch out for my girls while I'm gone, aye Finnick?"
"My pleasure, Brian. I have to head back as soon as the reaping's done, but until then, I'll keep an eye on them."
The best looking guy in all of Panem as my very own babysitter. Just what I've always wanted. "Dad, is that really necessary?"
Mom hushes me, a weary smile on her face. "Oh let him, Anna. It would give me some peace of mind."
Well, I'm glad for that, but no one consulted me about my peace of mind. I don't see anything good coming from this. And what do we need protection from anyway?
"You should come over tomorrow and meet Margaret," Finnick adds.
I hope that's his girlfriend. You'd think being a womanizer would be enough to keep me thinking straight around him, but it's not. However, if he's taken, my heart would automatically mark him off limits. I can't explain it, it's just the way I work, but I'm thankful for the off switch.
"How is the old lady?" Dad asks.
I still hold out hope. I've seen Finnick bat his long lashes at women in their sixties. It would be gross, but I don't care. A girlfriend is a girlfriend, and he needs one.
"She's as quick as ever," Finnick says.
"My dad would tell me stories about the year she won the Games. And of course I've seen the highlights. She was brilliant."
Margaret? As in the tiny, hunched over lady that sometimes comes down to the complex and watches us train? "Mags Kelpley?" I ask.
Finnick nods, looking proud. "She's my neighbor."
I wait for him to add 'and girlfriend,' but even I'm not that delusional. She must be approaching eighty, and she has obviously not taken advantage of the free Capitol enhancements.
Dad lets out a yawn, and then smiles apologetically. "Well, I hate to leave, but I really need to get some sleep. You can stay longer if you like, Finnick." Dad walks over to mom and gives her a quick kiss. "I love you. Good night, Claire."
I know mom would go with him, but there's company here. Apparently Finnick gets that too, because he says, "I'll see myself out. Thanks for having me over."
Mom gives him a grateful look, and my parents say goodnight. Dad shakes his hand, and I could swear he slips Finnick a piece of paper, but it all happens so fast, I don't really know. Then my parents head to their bedroom, leaving me behind with Finnick.
"So, do you want to walk me home?" he asks.
"That doesn't make any sense. I'd have to walk back here by myself."
"It's not even dark out, and there's no rule that says I can't walk you back here one more time."
"Again, that doesn't make any sense."
Finnick shrugs. "I guess. Maybe some other time then."
I shake my head, but he just smiles. "When should I expect you and your mother tomorrow?"
"I don't know…" I really don't want to go. This is just a recipe for disaster. I'm trying to come up with an excuse, but he's already moved on.
"Well, I assume you have an hour or two of practice after work."
"Yes. And I need to read."
"You like reading?"
"Who doesn't?" I ask, offended that anyone would think enjoying books was abnormal. The Capitol rations out everything to us, including our education. I try to learn as much as I can, but it's never enough. I know there's more out there than the confines of District Four, but exploring it isn't an option. But maybe someday...If you ask me, it's the people who don't like reading who are crazy.
I blink, breaking out of my reverie. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"You'd be surprised how many people aren't into reading. Anyway, I'll have dinner ready around seven. Is there anything in particular you want?"
Just to be flippant, I blurt out, "Steak." I doubt our district even has beef. Or cheesecake for that matter, but I ask for that too.
"You have good taste. I'll see you then. Goodnight, Annie."
I don't even try to tell him not to call me that. I know a lost cause when I see it.
He closes the door softly behind him, and I pick up the gym bag I'd abandoned in the front hall and head to my room. After getting out one of my summer reading books, I sit on the floor, leaning back against my bed.
After I'd read my daily goal, I lay back on my bed and finally let myself think about the night.
The minutes turn to hours, and I can only come to one conclusion: Coral's going to kill me.
To Be Continued...