Okay, so just a quick authors note before we begin. This is basically a story about Annie's Hunger Games, how she won, how she met Finnick. POV, of course, is Annie's.
Notice: Chapters are slightly revised, but nothing in the plot was altered.
**DISCLAIMER! Everything belongs to Suzanne Collins, though I wish my lazy brain had come up with such a brilliant idea.
District Four - The Reaping
Stepping off the boat gives me a sense of loss, as it always does. On a boat I can forget myself, my problems, even if I'm hauling nets of wriggling silver fish aboard with my brother and father. We aren't working today, of course. It's reaping day. No one works. But my father insisted that we take the boat out, so we do. We even bring my mother along. She doesn't fish with us normally, because she often gets sea sick. I don't know how she can handle it, walking by the shore every day and not feel the compulsion to run into the water, to let the waves and the sand and the breeze engulf her. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I always feel freer at the beach, rather than the claustrophobic town with it's squat buildings and fishy streets.
I'm not close with my mother for this reason. Not as close as I am to my father and brother. She even looks like an outsider in our family. The three of us share the same wavy brown hair, the same green eyes, the same pointed chin. She is fair haired, with brown eyes and a round, moon-like face. The only thing that my mother and I share is her slight build, though I am muscular after years of working on a fishing boat while she is skin and bone.
My father is lucky enough to own his own boat. Most people have to rent them from the district. As a result, their children can't work (only people over the age of fourteen can step onto a district boat), they don't catch as many fish, and they don't get paid as much. Families with younger children are often the families to go hungry. Being a Career district, you'd think that we wouldn't have to worry about hunger. Most of us don't. But there are a few, people who can't work, or can't swim, or have young children, that die of starvation.
My family is one of the lucky ones. My brother and I, we don't have to worry about starving. My parents don't have to worry about filling our bellies. We go out every day, catch fish, sell some to stores, and keep some for ourselves. Since my father owns his own boat, he is free to fish where he pleases, as long as it's not in the waters that belong to the Capitol. If you fish in Capitol waters, or rent a district boat, all of the fish must be sold. You can't keep it.
Our boat is our survival.
I walk home with my family, enjoying the sea breeze while I can. When we get home, I will have to scrub myself clean and let my mother mold me into a thing of beauty for the reaping. The 70th Hunger Games are about to begin. I am worried for my brother, Quincy, because today is his last reaping. The odds are neither in his favor nor against it, since we've never had to sign up for a tessera. But, being a Career district, not a lot of people do. There aren't too many names in that glass ball.
I'm not worried about myself. I'm only sixteen, and compared to the other girls my age, I am healthy and strong. At least half of them have had to sign up for tesserae.
We step into our little house. My mother fills a bath with cool water. This normally only happens once a week, because fresh water is often scarce in District Four. Normally we bathe in salt water or we don't bathe at all.
Still, this is reaping day, and we must be looking our best. I undress and step into the cool water, washing until I am raw. Then I step out, and dress in an outfit my mother has laid out for me. It's not one of her old reaping outfits, I know this. My mother was a twig when she was my age. I wonder if it is new. I've never seen it, but it doesn't look new. Maybe she borrowed it from a friend. Either way, I slip on the dress. It is a dark green cotton sundress, with shiny gold accents. She's also laid out gold sandals and gold, flower-shaped clip. I don't know what to do with the clip, so I just carry it with me to my mother. She towel dries my hair and gently brushes it out. Then she takes the top layer and uses the clip to hold it away from my face. Only the bottom layer of my hair cascades in waves to my waist. My bangs still flop onto my forehead though. There is little she can do about those.
Quincy is all set in a brown pair of pants and a blue button-down shirt with a collar. It is funny to watch him mess with the collar. He never dresses nicely. It's even funnier to watch him struggle with the dark blue necktie my father wants him to wear. I laugh and help him with it.
"Your wife is going to have a hell of a time with you," I say, straightening the tie.
"What wife?" Quincy replies. He doesn't plan on getting married at all, but I don't believe he'll stick to this vow. I've seen the way he looks at the merchant's daughter, Tally. I like Tally. She is smart and pretty and can out-bargain just about any sailor. If Quincy wasn't my brother, I would have tried to get them together long ago, but that would mean Quincy getting assigned a house of his own and moving out. Eventually this will happen whether he is married or not, but I want him with me as long as possible. I'm just selfish, I guess.
We walk to the square. In my opinion, it's one of the most hideous places in District Four. You can't see the ocean. Quincy walks over to his own area, where he is greeted by friends. I walk to my section. I have friends, but I don't care to talk to them right now. Most of them are chatty airheads, but I say that in the most affectionate way possible. I stand beside a quiet girl that I've spoken to on occasion. I think her name's Yara, but I'm not sure.
The mayor takes the stage, followed by seven other people. The first is Ophelia Trumblen, our Capitol mentor. The other six are past victors, coming on stage by the order in which they won the Games. There's Haro Mutch, Mags Atlais, Constance Truman, Ore Sumy, Nath Rutsea, and Finnick Odair. Only two of those victors will be forced to mentor us; three if one volunteers. Mayor Grubstein launches into a speech about Panem, the twelve districts, the Dark Days. Then Ophelia announces, "Ladies first!" and thrusts her hand into the glass ball. My stomach twists, and I swallow the lump in my throat. This is it.
"Annie Cresta!" Ophelia chirps.
The whole world stops. I can't be chosen. It's not possible. There must be a mistake. The group around me murmurs when I don't step up. Ophelia calls my name again, looking around the crowd vapidly as if she knows who Annie Cresta is. Yara gives me a good-natured push, and I walk forward. The others make a path for me. With each step, my chest tightens. When I get to the stage, I can't breathe.
"There she is!" Ophelia quips. She walks across the stage to the other glass ball. I have just enough time to pray for Quincy's safty before she is calling the boy tribute's name. "Quincy Cresta!"
I hope that someone volunteers for him. Who would be so cruel to make brother and sister fight against each other. Quincy...I can't kill Quincy.
No one volunteers for Quincy. Ophelia is beside herself, babbling on about how we have a matched set and that these are going to be the most dramatic games ever! As Quincy gets on stage, his is a dangerous shade of green underneath his sunbrowned skin. I feel his pain. It's bad enough to be chosen yourself, but for another family member to be chosen too...Mother and Father. I hope they don't loose both their children. I try to find them in the sympathetic crowd, but I don't see them. The mayor is saying words, but I don't hear what they are. The victors behind us are sizing Quincy and me up, comparing us, assessing us. I look back and meet Nath Rutsea's black eyes. They aren't calculating like the others. The travel up and down my body with something like hunger. I suppress a shudder.
Mayor Grubstein signals for Quincy and me to shake hands. We do. His hand is cold. Quincy, who is like sunlight. Has the sun inside him died?
Peacekeepers take us into custody. I insist that Quincy and I be placed in the same room, and he does the same, even struggling against the Peacekeeper. But in the end, I am enclosed in a lavish room by myself.
I sit on the silk blue sofa, curling up with a pillow in my lap. I can't sit still for long though. I begin to pace around the room, running my hands over strange things. The leatherbound books on the shelf. The string of pearls that decorates a basket. The smooth plaster wall. It is then that I notice there are no windows. I pace faster, feeling like a trapped animal. I am considering throwing a heavy marble bust against the wall so I can see the ocean when my father steps in. He doesn't have Mother with him, so I guess she's visiting Quincy. I run into his arms without hesitation. I can't help it. The sorrow, the panic, the anger, it all comes crashing down on me and I wail. He scoops me up and carries me to the sofa, cradling me, rocking me. His arms warm me, as if the ice in Quincy's skin has burrowed inside mine. When our time is almost up, he pulls back and cups my face in both his hands so I have to look him in the eye.
"Annie," he says. "You can win these. You're resouceful and clever and strong. Don't go down without a fight because of Quincy. But don't do something you'll regret. Don't do something you won't be able to live with."
I nod. A Peacekeeper steps inside to alert us that our time is up. My father wipes a tear from my eye and hugs me one last time. Then he is gone.
The next person to visit is my mother. Her face is red, so she must have visited Quincy already. She flutters over to me, her ghost-thin hands shaking badly. She hugs me and murmurs something like, "My baby girl, my baby girl". This must be hardest for her. A mother's worst fear, two fold. And my mother is so fragile, like sea glass. If one of us dies, I'm afraid she might shatter. But one of us will have to die for the other to survive.
My mother pulls herself together. She kisses my cheek and brushes hair off my forehead. "Baby, I want you to have something," she says. She unfastens a silver chain from her neck and holds it out to me. On it is a little pale pink pearl. It's the only thing my father had to propose to her with, so it was her engagement ring before my father scraped up enough money to buy her a real one. But she still wears it every day, this little pink pearl, looking so out of place on it's thick silver chain. "Take this as your district token. Will you do that for me?"
I nod, completely in awe. I have never seen my mother without this pearl around her neck, not once in my life. It is exclusively hers, and now she is giving it to me. I manage to stammer out, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, one-hundred percent," she says, fastening it around my neck. The pearl settles on the hollow of my throat, it's unfamiliar weight comforting in some way. With one last kiss on the cheek, she is gone too.
I don't really expect anyone else. A few of my airheaded friends visit me, but I don't really wish to see them right now. They tell me that it is an honor to be chosen, that the food is said to be splendid, that I get to spend a whole week with Finnick Odair. I don't mention that I don't care about Finnick. I don't say that the splendid food will probably be the last food I consume. I don't ask if it is such a big honor, then why didn't you volunteer? No, I don't through these things in their faces, because I know that they are trying to cheer me up. Trying, but not succeeding.
When at last they leave, I can't think of anyone else who would visit me. I do get a surprise though. Tally steps into the room. Her eyes are too bright, and her hair is dishevelled, and she looks a little breathless. She must have gone to see Quincy already. When one thinks that they have nothing to loose, they tell a lot of truths.
I can tell she's uncomfortable. We are okay friends, but I think she's here for Quincy more than me. She opens her mouth to wish me luck, but that would sound bad. If she's wishing me luck, then that means Quincy must die. I wonder what she told Quincy. Or if they even talked at all.
"He says you're coming back," she relays. "If it's the last thing he does."
"Well, then the joke's on him," I say. "He's the one coming home, not me."
We sit in silence until the Peacekeeper alerts us that our time is up. She stands and bites her lip, unsure of what to do. I give her a hug and I say, "I'll get him back to you. I promise."
She tries to reply, but the Peacekeeper takes her by the shoulder and guides her to the door.
I wait a while longer, fingering my mother's pink pearl. Finally, a Peacekeeper comes to bring me to the platform. I try to keep a straight face, but when I see Quincy, I can't help it. I sob.
And every single person in Panem sees this.
I quickly organize my face. This constant surveillance is going to take some time to get used to. Quincy somehow shrugs off his Peacekeeper and joins me at the entrance of the train. He throws an arm over my shoulders. It's comforting, but it fixes nothing. I'm still going to die.
Because Quincy Cresta is going to be the winner of the 70th Hunger Games whether he likes it or not.
Yes, it IS the 70th Hunger Games. I did my math. I swear. In the book, it says that Annie wins the Games five years before the third Quarter Quell (sorry for the spoiler). And yes, Finnick DID win five years before Annie's Games, as it also says in the book. So there. You guys are lucky I went through all this trouble to get my dates right. I hate math.