Author's Note: So, this idea popped into my head while I was rereading "Mockingjay," and I had to write it. Also, I am shamelessly (okay, maybe not shamelessly...there's a little bit of shame) asking you to check out my other Finnick/Annie story called The World is Not Enough. Anyway, please review!
An avox—a pretty, blonde girl—hands me a plain, brown folder. Every time I come to the Capitol, I get the same brown folder. It looks harmless enough; it still has the shiny finish on it, with the seal of the Capitol imprinted on the front. Inside are lists of names, places, and times. In this folder is a list of every single person that I'm supposed to "see" while I'm here, just like there always is. This time is no different, and why should it be? Just like I always do, I'll finish my "assignment" so that I can go home and know that the hole in my soul is keeping Annie out of a hole in the ground.
On the list, there's always a name, a time, and a location where I'm supposed to meet and woo my company for the evening. Usually, there's a little description so that I know I'm taking home the right person. Sometimes, there is more than one that is far too eager to leave with Finnick Odair, and I have to guess. But at the very bottom of the list, there's only minimal information. A name, Mina Zanson. No age, no description. Instead, Snow has left me a message in his neat, little handwriting.
She'll know you. I think you'll like her.
Of course she'll know who I am. They always know who I am. Hell, half the Capitol has paid for the privilege of knowing me in the Biblical sense. At the beginning of all this, I used to keep track of how many I had been with, so that one day I could make Snow pay for each and every one of them; now I just do it and get it over with and try to forget them, even though I know that they won't forget me. So it isn't really the "She'll know you" part that worries me.
I think you'll like her.
That's the part that worries me. Of course, I shouldn't be worried. As long as I do what I'm told, he'll just keep them coming and Annie will be safe. The last time he left me a note like that, it was a huge guy that outweighed me by fifty pounds. But even when I was clenching my fists and fighting the urge to run away, all I could think about was Annie. Annie, and all the ways that Snow would punish her for my actions. So yeah, I'm a little concerned about his message.
I have to meet her during the opening ceremonies for the Games. As the anthem is playing and the lights are fading, I slip out of the box with all the other victors, trying to ignore their knowing glances. I know that some of them go through the same thing, but it isn't nearly as public and somehow seems less humiliating that way. But it doesn't really matter, I guess. We're all just puppets on a string.
There are simple directions on a sheet of paper that I have memorized and since thrown away. As I make my way to the box, I try not to think of all the ways that this could go wrong. Instead, I think about Annie, who's waiting for me at home. Annie, who has the most beautiful smile. Annie, who will study me for hours with wide eyes, like she's never seen anything quite like me. Annie, who will never have to come back to the Capitol, who will never have to go through this as long as I keep up my act for the month that I'm here.
I find the box without any trouble; she must be someone fairly important if she's sitting in one of the boxes. Inside, there is a group of young people—boys and girls—and dear God, Annie is sitting right there. No, its not Annie. Annie is safe at home. I'm doing this to keep her alive. Snow wouldn't bring her here.
But she's the spitting image of Annie. She has the same shiny brown hair and sea green eyes. She's laughing, trying to hide her anxiousness, the same way that I've seen Annie laugh so many times. But she is different from Annie in one way.
She has that smile that I see in the mirror all the time. It's that smile that I practice before I go to complete my assignments. It's the smile that says "everything is fine" when you're really completely torn apart inside. It is a smile that I hope I will never see on Annie's face, and it almost hurts to see it on Mina's.
When she sees me, she freezes. It's just for a brief moment—no one else even notices it—and I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been looking for it. But her too practiced smile gave her away to me, and now I can see the signs of coercion all over her. The tension in her neck and shoulders, the white-knuckled grip she has on the chair, the slightly mad laughter; they all give her away.
But then she's recovered and she's looking at me with what can only be called a "come hither" expression. She can play the game, then. Well, maybe this will be entertaining. The ones that know how to play the game always have the best secrets. I return her smile and extend my hand. With a proud smile, she takes it and we leave the box. I don't have to turn around to know that her friends are staring at us in jealousy.
I lead her to a room that Snow has prearranged for us to have, and the minute we walk through the door, all facades are gone. Instead of a smile, she's clearly angry and maybe, yes, she's a bit sad. This is a first for me—as many people as I've had the privilege of "meeting," I've never once met someone who didn't want to "meet" me. The irony of me still having firsts isn't lost on me. It doesn't really make the situation any more bearable, though.
"So…the faster we do this, the faster you leave, right?" she asks, her voice brisk and all business.
I sigh, wishing she was right. It would be easier if I could slink away under the cover of darkness after completing my assignment, leaving this poor kid alone to recover from whatever is going to make this so unbearable for her. But Snow explicitly wrote that I had to stay, so I do. I'm hurting this girl to keep another one safe.
"I can't. I have to stay the night," I answer reluctantly.
She nods and clenches her jaw, looking almost angry, but I know that's not the case. She's trying not to cry, and it's easier to be pissed off than it is to be sad. The first time that I did this—at the ripe old age of 16—I did the same thing. It was dark the first time, thankfully, so they couldn't see the tears. Yes, I'll give her that. She can have the cover of darkness.
"Well, the faster we do this, the sooner it's over with," she says. She starts working at the buttons on her dress, but her motions are so frantic, so desperate, that I'm sure she's going to rip the fabric at any minute. Instead of freeing her from the dress, I take her hands in mine.
"Slow down," I whisper. This is going to have to be slow or she's going to fall apart. Then I look at her again, and a realization hits me. She has never done this before. I have probably been given the only virgin over the age of sixteen in the entire Capitol. I was "hired" to take her virginity.
"Let's do this the right way. I'm Finnick," I say, extending my hand. She stares at me for a minute before taking my hand.
"Okay, Mina. I take it you've never done this before."
She nods her head. "Right. I haven't." She sounds almost ashamed, bless her. At home, most kids her age still are, and they aren't ashamed of it.
"That's fine. We'll take it slow."
"No," she says shortly. "Let's not. I can't."
"Can't what? Take it slow?"
"I can't have you pretending that this means something to you or that it matters. I can't. It'll break me. So let's just do this as quickly and uncomfortably as possible."
So I was right. There is a hint of steel in her. I should have known from her smile that she was more like me than Annie. It's that anger that is holding her together; it is making her hard, but keeping her from falling apart.
"Most people want their first time to be special—"
"Well mine clearly won't be—whether I want it to or not—so let's just get this done with so that I can go to sleep."
She does want it to be special. That would explain the bitterness. Somewhere, there is someone that she would rather be doing this with. So why isn't she?
"Who is he?" I ask abruptly.
"Who's the guy that you really want?" I don't bother using my seductive voice that has made so many spill their secrets to me. She would see right through it, and it would only make her angrier. I imagine that she has probably developed that same voice at some point in time. So instead I decide to be honest.
"Killian. His name is Killian," she finally answers, staring at her hands.
"And why are you with me instead of him?" I turn the lights off so that she doesn't have to look at me when she's answering the question. It is amazing how darkness gives us free reign to say the things that we never would in the light.
"My mother wanted me to do this with you. She…doesn't approve of Killian."
There is a long silence, and then I feel her hand brush against my chest. Immediately, she recoils like she didn't mean to touch me. But then she's running her hand over my chest, up towards my face. Then her breath is warm on my face as she whispers, "He's…he's an avox."
That would explain it. No Capitol citizen in their right mind would dare to be friends with an avox, never mind fall in love with one. But clearly, she has. She has and she understands the consequences for it. Mina would never be able to be with him, not just for social reasons, but for his safety as well. No wonder she's bitter.
"He's from District 8. There was talk of rebellion and he was the leader of it, so he's…well, he's here now. You know, he couldn't even tell me his story. He had to write it down because he can't talk. I got sloppy and my mother caught us."
I don't need her to finish telling me the story because I already know it. Killian probably disappeared, and now Mommy dearest is trying to break her daughter of her "unseemly" avox attraction by hiring the most attractive, prestigious man that her daughter could sleep with. Lucky me.
But I am lucky, because Mina has given me a gift. She's given me a secret. There's talk of rebellion in District 8—something that hasn't been considered since the last rebellion failed. The people are talking about fighting back, and if they are, I'm going to be involved. The people have had enough—and damnit, so have I—and now they're fighting back.
"You know, I couldn't even kiss him," she says, not bothering to whisper anymore. "I mean…I couldn't kiss him li-like normal couples do because he doesn't—they cut out his tongue."
I've kissed Annie only once, and it was…well, putting it into words cheapens it. I don't' know how to put it into words properly, only to say that kisses with Annie are all the more precious for their rarity. I have to protect her, and sometimes, that means staying away. But I wouldn't trade that moment for the world. To think that someone would never have that moment—that first kiss—pains me.
But I have to give her something, because she has given me something. Mina has given me a rebellion, and hope. I can't leave her with nothing. So I give her a listening ear, the only thing that I really have to offer.
"I hate it, Finnick. I hate it here so much. A kiss…that's all I want. No, not really. I'm selfish. I want him, a life with him. I hate this place because they won't let us be. Why can't they just leave us the hell alone?" she asks. I can hear the trembling in her voice.
She wraps her arms around me, holding herself upright. Her words are dangerous, and I can't be seen as supporting her sentiment, even if I do. Does she know how dangerous those words are? Those six little words, "I hate it here so much" could end her life. Does she know that? Does she know that she will probably be punished for them? She kisses me fiercely and I have my answer. She knows, and she has resolved herself to that fate.
"Have you ever been in love Finnick?"
"What's her name?"
Snow already knows; there's no point in withholding it. "Annie. You actually look a lot like her."
"Then let's pretend. You'll be my Killian, and I'll be your Annie."
So we do. In the dark, in those hours, we don't speak anymore. I touch her gently, like she's made of porcelain—the way that I would touch Annie. She kisses me gently, softly, but never with an open mouth. I do the best I can to make it good for her, trying to ease the discomfort I know she's feeling. She takes it well and manages to hide her gasp of pain behind a gentle sigh. Afterwards, I hold her gently and she clings to me, as if she's afraid I'll be torn away from her. Finally, we fall asleep. When I leave, she kisses me lightly on the cheek, but says nothing. She doesn't need to. Her swollen, tear-stained face says everything.
None of my other assignments are like her. They're rough and experienced and completely insatiable, but none are as exhausting as Mina. The others, they don't require any sort of emotion—no comfort, no pain, no guilt. All I have to do is lay there and give them what they want. Let them play with their handcuffs or bullwhips or cream and strawberries. None of the others hurts like Mina.
But the worst of it is when I'm packing to leave four weeks later. The Games have been long and the afterparty feels even longer. For the first time ever, they have two victors, which means the people of the Capitol want even more festivities for them. It means that I have to stay even longer. I wonder if these two new tributes know what's in store for them. No, probably not.
As I pack to leave, an avox appears to take my luggage, and I recognize her. All that long brown hair and pretty blue-green eyes. My heart jumps into my throat just like it did the first time I saw her. No, it isn't Annie. It's Mina. She looks older and somehow younger at the same time. She's tired and wary, but she was that before. Now she seems…lighter.
She hands me a folder, the same plain brown one that I have always gotten, with a note inside from Snow thanking me for my service to the Capitol and cordially inviting me to return. It's all thinly veiled threats, but that isn't what catches my attention. It's the small note tucked into the pocket with neat, loopy cursive writing.
They took him and they took my voice, but at least I got to say "I love you" first. He smiled at me, and I know he understood.
The whole train ride back home, Mina is haunting me. She's an avox because of what she told me. Because of those dangerous words about the Capitol. But she is also freer than I am. She doesn't have anyone here that they can punish her with anymore. She has someone waiting for her on the other side, and she knows that they love her. I wonder if that is all the freedom she'll know in this world. But it's more than I have.
When I get off the train at the station, Annie is waiting for me. Her smile is brilliant, and she looks beautiful—healthy and whole. Normally, I'm not one for public displays, but I can't help it this time. I keep seeing Mina and then her and they're a bit confused in my head. This is Annie, safe and whole, not an avox, here with me. I throw my arms around her and hold her for a long time.
"It's good to have you back," she whispers.
I kiss her before she can say anything else. It's a long, deep, lingering kiss that makes my heart pound and leaves me breathless. She's got her arms around my neck and with her kiss she's telling me that she loves me, and I'm telling her the same. I know that I'm probably holding her too tight, but I can't let go. I can't let go or they might swoop down and take her away from me.
"I love you," I whisper when we pull away. I say it because I have to. Because I have the freedom to do so. It isn't much, but for now, it's enough.
Her smile is radiant, but her manner is telling me that I haven't told her anything new. She already knows. She's always known. "I love you, too."
We may not have much, but at least we can say "I love you."