Author's Note: This is my take on a Finnick and Annie's reaction to the Quarter Quell announcement. Please, please, please review! They keep me going and are like water to a person stranded in the desert. Okay, so maybe that's an overdramatic comparison, but you get the point. Please review!
There are some things in life that no one likes to think about. No one likes to think about filing someone else's nasty toenails or parading around the Capitol in nothing but a strategically placed net that leaves nothing to the imagination. There's something ironic about that; the people of the Capitol—and Panem—know everything there is to know about my body, and yet they know nothing about everything that goes on inside, despite the fact that they think they do. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, considering the source, but there's still something funny about that in a twisted sort of way.
Of course, it all seems less funny when I'm lying on my back underneath one of the many who pay for the privilege. It's not fair that I'll never find myself in that position with the one person who could make it bearable. But then, I've learned by now that life isn't fair, and the day it becomes so is the day that Hell freezes over. When I hear the Quarter Quell announcement, I know that that day is still in the unforeseeable future.
We're at my house—Annie, Mags, and me—watching the Quarter Quell announcement. We always watch them at my house, so that the bad memories that come from painful announcements such as these don't haunt Annie in her own home. We're sitting on the sofa together, our hands intertwined, while Mags sits in the chair. It's one of the few places where we can be together without worrying about who sees us or how it's going to affect the image that the Capitol forces me to play. We can be ourselves because no one else is watching.
"On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors."
As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Annie squeezes my hand. I would say that it was painfully tight, but I'm so numb from the announcement that I barely feel a thing. I fleetingly think, "that's not fair," but then I remember that I'm a victor; my life will never be fair again. Across the room, Mags stands and quietly excuses herself. She was my mentor, and I helped her mentor Annie. She's been here through every step of my relationship with Annie, and she knows that right now, what we need more than anything is to be alone.
There are plenty of victors from District 4—we're a career district, after all—but I can already tell that the odds are not in my favor. The people of the Capitol love me—for about two-thirds of the female population, that's a literal statement—but the officials there, the ones that control the Games, would hate to miss the opportunity to send me back in. I'm a Capitol favorite, but Snow knows that I'm angry as hell. It doesn't matter that there are other male victors in District 4; I can already tell that come reaping day, my name will be pulled out of that bowl.
But what worries me more than the question of whether or not I'll be going back in is the question of who will be going in with me. I can see the terror on Annie's face at the thought of going back in the Arena, and I can't say that I blame her. If the Capitol wants to see me back in the arena, they would like nothing better than to see Annie and me in there together.
"We're going back in," Annie whispers quietly, leaning heavily against me. She's thinking the same way I am. She knows that President Snow would love nothing more than to see us as the last tributes standing, knowing that only one of us can come back. "They're going to send us back in."
"No they're not. I won't let them," I answer fiercely. She raises an eyebrow at me and I know that she's already thought two steps ahead. She knows that if they decide to send us back in, there's really not much that we can do about it.
"What are you going to do, Finnick? The only way that we'll be safe is if they decide that they don't want us, and they always want us. They want to put us back in there and watch us tear each other apart—"
I pull her against me and run my fingers through her hair, trying to soothe her before the madness can take hold. Most days, she's fine; but every now and again, something will remind her of her time in the arena and she's gone. When she gets really upset, the madness will creep in and take her away from me. She fights it, and she fights hard; usually she can come back to me on her own, but the episodes take so much out of her.
"Annie, I won't let you go back in. I'll find a way—"
"And what about you? You can't go back in. The arena is going to open its mouth and swallow you whole. In the Games, you're not playing against the other tributes; you're playing against the Capitol and they always win."
Tears are streaming down her cheeks, and I have to fight to keep them from overwhelming me. Seeing Annie cry tears me apart every time. I would rather die a thousand deaths in the arena than watch her cry like this, especially over me. In my life, I've done a lot of unspeakable things, some of which I would rather her not know about. But she knows everything, and somehow, she still loves me. I'm not sure that I will ever be worthy of her love, and to see her crying for me is heart-rending.
Then, I see her fighting the hysteria, the madness that is trying to pull her away. She grits her teeth and takes a deep breath and I see resolve come over her. She wipes her tears away and in a voice as clear as a bell, she asks, "What if I go in without you? They'd like that, you watching me die."
"You're not going to die," I say, but my voice falls flat as I answer. If they decide that she's going to die, there is only so much we can do about it. We'll fight tooth and nail, but there is only so much you can do when the odds are stacked against you like they're stacked against us. But it doesn't mean that we won't try.
"I will. If you die, part of me is going to die, too," she whispers. "I won't be whole anymore. There will be a deep, deep whole in me that I can fill back up again. I was empty and you made me whole again. I don't want to be empty again…"
I pull her against me, unable to speak for just a minute. Her words are sharp and cutting and somehow sweet at the same time; but that's not what I want for her. I want her to be okay when all is said and done, whether I'm here or not. I want my Annie to be whole again, like she was when I was mentoring her before her partner was killed. That will probably never happen, but it doesn't keep me from wanting it. I want to be able to tell her that everything is going to be okay, that we're going to grow old together and have children that will grow up in a world where the Hunger Games don't exist; but this is a dream—a happy one—and those have no place here.
"Finnick, will you stay with me tonight?"
"Of course." Like I could deny her anything.
It isn't the first time that we've stayed the night together, but it's different. Annie has several of my shirts—she wears them to bed when I'm in the Capitol—she puts one on and slips into bed. I shimmy out of my pants and slide in beside her; immediately, her arms go around me and hold me tight. I can feel the wetness of her tears on my shirt, and my heart aches.
"Annie, we don't even know that—"
"Snow loves to hurt us, loves to reach inside and pull things out and play with them. Loves to make people empty. Likes to look in your eyes and see that no one's home anymore. Isn't that what would happen if he put us into the arena together? Is there anything worse than that?" I can't answer her question, because there isn't one. The idea of Annie back in the arena is terrifying to me, but something that I don't really know how to get around just yet.
"We'll think of something," I say, but even as I say the words, the only thing I can think of is us in the arena. The obvious thing to do would be to form alliances and use them as long as possible. I would be like that Peeta kid from District 12, doing whatever I had to do to keep Annie alive. But that could hurt Annie. Acknowledging that I love her would kill any sponsors that she would have because they all like to think that I'm in love with them. And what if I'm killed early on? Then who's going to keep her from dying a slow, horrible death at the hands of one of the Careers?
I have to fight back the urge to throw up as another thought enters my mind. Would it be more merciful to let her fall asleep in my arms and usher her into heaven? After a moment, I can't fight the urge anymore, and I barely make it to the bathroom before emptying the contents of my stomach into the toilet. God, am I even human? Who the hell thinks of things like that?
Suddenly, she's at my side. "Finnick? Are you alright? No, th-that was a silly question. Of course you're not alright. It's like we're playing that card game…the one with the chips…"
"Right, poker. We're playing, but it doesn't matter because the house always wins…"
I brush my teeth before letting Annie pull me back to bed. I hate myself for touching her after the thoughts that I've just had, but she's in charge. If she wants me to hold her, I can't deny her that. I can feel her tracing knot patterns on my chest and smile just the slightest bit. It's something we both do when we're thinking. Finally, after several long moments, she lets me in on what she's thinking.
"Finnick? Will you promise me something?" she asks hesitantly.
"Anything," I whisper.
"If we have to go back in together, I don't want to watch you die. I don't want Snow to put his hands inside me and take everything away. If you die, he takes everything away. It would be best if you just…it would be best if maybe you waited until I was asleep and then sent me on to Heaven…"
My reaction is immediate and harsh. I pull away from her, disgusted not with her, but with myself. Did I put that idea in her head? Just by thinking it, could I have put the idea in her head? Of course I can't do that.
"No. I can't."
"I know what you're thinking. You want to do like the boy from District 12; you want to keep me alive. But what happens if you can't? What happens if you die and I'm left all alone so that some career can show my guts to everyone Panem? I don't want to die like that—"
"You can't ask me to do that." Tears are streaming down my cheeks now. She's trying to do what she thinks is best for all of us, in her own mad sort of way. But it can't work. "I can't do it. Because I'm broken without you. You're everything; you're all there is. If you don't come out of this alive, then everything has been for nothing and I can't let it be that way. I've let that son of a bitch take too much from us already—I can't even…I can't be with you, in the Biblical sense, because of what he's made me do. You're all I've got. He can't have you."
She's crying and I'm crying and we're a mess of tears and snot. When I was a kid, I used to ask my dad how he knew that my mom was the one. He always used to say, "I saw her with a snotty nose and no makeup and still thought she was the best thing in the world." Now I understand. Annie's face is swollen and blotchy from crying, and I'm sure mine doesn't look that much better. We're wiping our noses on the sleeve of her shirt, and it doesn't matter. She's still the most beautiful person I've ever had the privilege of knowing.
"We'll figure something out. I promise that if it is the last thing I do, I'm not going to let you go back into the arena. I'll come up with something," I answer fiercely. I can feel her small smile against my neck.
"I believe you…Maybe someone will volunteer," she finally whispers, though her tone makes it clear that she doesn't think it's going to happen. Then I realize that she's right. That's the answer. A volunteer.
I'm a terrible person—I know this. I've killed more people than I care to admit, and I'm about to ask someone else to sacrifice their life so that Annie can be spared. I'm sure that when all is said and done, I'll pay for everything that I've done in this life—though sometimes I wonder if I'm not already doing so—but it would all be worth it if I can save Annie. If I can keep her from going into the arena, it will all be worth it. I remember the knowing look on Mags's face from earlier today, and vow that I'll talk to her tomorrow. Tomorrow, I'll ask her to trade her life for Annie's. If she says no, I don't know what I'm going to do.
But I'll jump off that bridge when I get there. For now, I've got Annie—the love of my life—in my arms, and I'm not going to waste this moment.
"I love you," I whisper. "You know that, right?"
She smiles broader. "Of course I know that, silly. I love you, too."