Here is the second part of the story! Enjoy. :)
Disclaimer: Suzanne Collins owns these characters and any book references belong to her.
A woman with jewels tethered to her lips runs her fingers along my bare chest. She orders me to kiss her, touch her. Here, no here, she says. She purrs, flashing her too-blue eyes as she sits up. Tell me a joke, she says. I charm her, spin her yarn after yarn, and she returns in kind with ramblings about this Capitol man and his slandering wife. She tells me she stole his diamonds and had them sewn into her body.
"Messy procedure," she laments. "I had to get three polishes just to get rid of the scars."
She dismisses me in the morning, winking her synthetic eyelashes. I taste the acidic quality of her perfume on my body and hurry to the room that has been set aside for me. I run the shower until it scalds my flesh, turning it pink and tender. I can still taste her, and no amount of water burns her off my tongue.
Here, at least, my tears get washed away. I lay under the water, allowing it to singe my skin, and then run lotions and oils that cover me in some sort of rustic scent. I comb back my hair, leaving it wet, trying to imagine that I am diving through the sea at home.
"Finnick, it's time for lunch," comes a call at my door. Perhaps if I ignore the voice, they will leave me here. But no, today is for interviews, for parties, for any number of festivities where I must pull on my usual mask.
I am swarmed by my stylist and prep team, whose familiar hands run over my body and trim my hair. I am swallowed up by them, guided to tables, and begin to chirp and prance as I have been taught.
"Would you care," I say as I tempt one of the Capitol women, tossing on a smile, "for something sweet?"
I do not recognize her. She floats through the room, eyes settled on a point I can't distinguish. I don't think she's been altered, but her smooth physique has settled into its own beneath her polished scars. Her dark hair's swept up, revealing her neck, and she slips in-between the slew of Capitol people and victors that litter the floor.
Of course, this is not the first time I have seen her since we arrived home after her victory. We are neighbors, mentors, and often thrown together for interviews. But Annie is slippery: she pops up unexpectedly, wielding odd gifts for me at my door, or asking me if I've seen a cat that she claims to have. She'll start a conversation and then walk away.
I don't try to talk to her when I don't have to. Whatever she sees during those far-off looks frightens me, and I have enough nightmares of my own to wrestle with.
She's no longer a child, though. She wasn't much of one when I met her, I suppose, but from where I now see her staring at me from across the room, she is far from the girl who tumbled onto the stage. Frightening, really, considering the fate of beautiful victors.
I try to break her gaze, to shake her away, but all at once she's in front of me, soaking me up in her eyes.
"Hello, Finnick," she murmurs.
"Hello, Annie," I say, trying to roll my voice into its usual flamboyant flair.
She touches my arm, caressing long fingers against the slender muscle. She runs her eyes along the places that she's touched, and then entwines her hand in mine.
"Finnick," she says, smiling at the end of my name. "Will you ask me to dance with you?"
I start, then catch the curious eye of an onlooker and beam.
"That's rather forward of you, Annie. Who is to say I'm not spoken for tonight?"
I wink, chuckle, and try to wrench my hand away from hers. She tugs me back, pulling me towards the dance floor.
"You're not," she says simply.
It's more Annie leading at first as she forces me to twirl and dip her, but I realize that dancing with Annie is a lot like swimming. Her body bends and falls, rolling against mine as we glide across the floor. Her lips curl, and there's that laugh slipping out. Only this time, the warmth that it ignites within me is unmistakable, and in so many ways different than that one years ago.
I break away from her, throwing her slightly off balance. I try to turn it into a saucy spin, but she's left on the floor, fading from view as I escape the heat of the room, the heat of my forehead, and the heat of her.
Sea salt. I taste it on my tongue when I wake. My bedroom catches the cool breeze of the sea and traps it; I keep the window open so that it will wake me on the nights that I can't pull myself out of the nightmares. The sharp breeze and the salt stir me, forcing me to my bathroom where I can scrub the blood and dirt that I imagine has settled on my face. Nothing but stubble, really, which I shave off easily. Keep the boyish look, I remember my stylist saying so, so many years ago. We've got to wrench that stuff off, he'd said.
The footfalls pull me up, and I raise my razor at what my mind stupidly expects is a Mutt creeping around in the hall. It takes several swallows of breath to shake this, but I don't drop the razor. I slink around, ready to wield it at whomever has invaded my bedroom. Some Capitol person sent by Snow, maybe, but that can't be. Unless—
Annie's dark hair swings into vision, and she turns to smile at me.
"Hello, Finnick," she says. "I thought you'd be here."
"Well, of course I'm here," I say breathlessly. "This is my room."
She laughs, turning her eyes up to the ceiling. "Do you always wander around your room naked, Finnick?"
Ah, yes. Modesty. I'd forgotten that. I snatch up a pillow to cover me, irritation brimming at my cheeks.
"What are you doing here?" I snap.
"Mm," she says, now eyeing the pillow. "I thought you'd want to apologize to me."
"What?" I sputter. "For what? You invading my home?"
She shakes her head. "No, for ending our dance early."
I pause, remembering how I deserted her at the Capitol party. I'd made up excuses—upset stomach, long night before, the usual—but avoided Annie for the remainder of the visit. It wasn't easy to do, though, as she managed to appear at random wherever I attempted to hide.
"You may remember that I never asked you to dance. You sort of, er, forced me to."
She considers this, pursing her lips. "You seemed to enjoy it."
"I—" Annie's eyes light up when I stumble over a string of expletives.
"That's not the point, Annie. Look, I'm not sure what you want, but this isn't usually how the whole victor-mentor relationship goes."
"Do you want some pants?"
"You seem to be struggling with that pillow."
"Annie, really. I—"
She steps right up to me, places her hands on my chest, and then presses her lips to my chin. She doesn't kiss me, but just rests them there, inhaling.
"Finnick," she says. "I never got to thank you."
I sputter, paralyzed, unable to step away from her. I only clutch the pillow tighter and became aware of the shortness of my breath.
"You don't need to. It was—it was my job."
She pulls back and meets my gaze.
"No," she says. "Not for… getting me out. For not, you know. Laughing. When it
was all over."
"What do you mean—"
"I see them drowning. I see them murdered, mauled, beaten. Every night."
Her eyes sparkle with her tears. I wipe one with my thumb.
"I know," I say.
"I can't sleep. I can't do anything. But then I see you. I don't know why, but I see you and I feel like maybe I can get… get through it. Like you told me to. I don't need much… I just want to see you, to be your friend. Can I… can I be your friend, Finnick?"
I sigh and rest my forehead against hers, feeling the shudders that run through her body as she tries to hold back the tears. She runs her finger along the curve of my jaw, and I can't help but shiver. How did she get here, so close, I wonder.
"I could get you your pants to start."
I laugh, really laugh, as she shields her eyes and fumbles on the ground for a pair of pants. She tosses them to me, does some sort of tightrope walk out of the room, and tells me that she'll be making breakfast when I'm ready.
A friend, I think. I don't think I've ever had one of those. Maybe Mags, my old mentor, would count. I hear Annie's laughter from downstairs and hear her words over and over.
I just want to see you, to be your friend.
I take her out to the ocean. She dives in beneath the small waves, kicking her feet as she disappears beneath the foam. I chase after her, plunging my hands forward. Her dark hair swirls around her cheeks underwater, floating above her eyes. The sea laps at her gaze, sending her back up to the surface for air. I join her, and we gulp at the breeze. She laughs, moving towards me, pressing my hair back behind my ears. Her leg graces mine—slippery, smooth. She then flips over, tumbling backwards into the water. I see her diving deeper, deeper still, and I sink down after her.
I take her hand when I find her, tugging her over to where I spy a bed of oysters. Bubbles slip out of her lips as she laughs, her hand clutched in mine.
I was right: she dances as she swims, or she swims like she dances. We drag our toes along the shallow seabed, fold our hands together, and she touches her nose to mine as her hair envelops both of us.
I point upwards, and we surface once again. I catch my breath, eyeing the sun that looms over us above.
"I didn't think I could do it," she says.
She looks up at the sky as a gull flies overhead.
"Swim. After the arena, I didn't think I could."
I'm struck by the urge to kiss her. Not the plain, acted kisses that I give so freely in the Capitol—I want to kiss Annie, to taste her lips on mine. But she's back into the water, crossed beneath where my legs kick gently so that she pops back up on my other side. She puts her arms around my neck, drawing the smooth curves of her body in against the hard angles of my back.
I imagine her digging into me the way that she so deftly hid inside the arena. As I feel her rest her chin on my shoulder, I realize that she's snuck up on me, navigating me as smoothly as she has the water. She's nested inside me and soon, I won't be able to wrench her free.
"We should go back," I say. I don't mean to push away from her, but when I catch her gaze, I see the sadness cross in a fog over her face.
She dives away from me, leaving me in the water. I close my eyes, and I imagine that the water becomes snaked with streams of red. I see her floating away, gasping for air, reaching for my arm. I don't catch her. I can't. Her fingers slip under before I've even extended my hand.
I avoid her: I begin locking my doors, leaving at odd hours, willing the hours to pass quicker still. For awhile, I seem to have erased her. Then, I taste the salt in the air or spy the sea on one of my walks and she rustles inside of me, refusing to release her hold of me.
I just want to see you, to be your friend.
It can't be like this, I tell my empty bedroom. I am a pawn to be tossed around the Capitol; I am to be fed to the mouths of that ever-glistening city. A sweet to be savored and then disposed of, I think. Annie, how could she ever fit into something like that? I won't put her at risk. I can't.
Because if there's something President Snow has taught me, it's that victors aren't fit for love or family or even this strange friendship Annie has asked me for. I am his prize. Annie could never afford me, not at the price President Snow has set.
She's not worth it.
I drag my fist across the floor. Oh, but she is, isn't she? I feel her touch, chaste and careful and fragile.
Will you ask me to dance with you?
I have to see her. It's the middle of the night when I tear out of my door and cross the short distance between her home and mine. I ease the door open, stumbling through the darkness, until I find her room. She's not asleep, but gasping for air at the foot of her bed. Her face is streaked with sweat, and there are long scratches up and down her bare arms from where she's torn through the skin with her fingernails.
"Finnick," she whispers, catching me off guard.
She doesn't see me, but remains wrapped up in whatever world refuses to let her breathe. I pad towards her, not wanting to spook her, and settle one of my hands on her knee. She screams, and I place the other hand on her cheek.
"Annie, Annie! It's me. It's… Finnick."
"Finnick?" she stirs, not completely returning from that world, but gaining some air.
"It's me, Annie. I'm here."
I lean forward, pressing my lips against hers. She collapses against me, kissing me hungrily. Something like a sob shakes her chest, reverberating through me as her hands begin a frantic search over my face.
"You're really here."
Her eyes open, and I smile. She immediately traces the corners of my lips, as though permanently setting each part of me in her mind. Her eyes dart over me as she continues to whisper my name.
I realize that I love how my name sounds in her voice: reflected in her, I am whole, not some fragmented slave sent room to room. Annie's kisses fall like raindrops over me: our mouths continue to miss one another, and instead we just set to taking in the different curves of each other's bodies. When our lips do meet, they're to compose clumsy kisses of two people just meeting—really meeting—for the first time. They're so different from the Capitol kisses that I have to pause to catch my breath.
"Why did you stop?" she says, coming up to kiss my nose. "Was it bad?"
I look up at her. "No. You just… it was so different. I didn't know what to do."
Her eyes fall, inadequacy flushing her face. I see in her eyes every lover I've been forced to take in the Capitol. She draws away, sighing as she says, "We don't have to."
"No!" I draw her chin up with my finger. "I want to, Annie. It was good different. It was…"
Annie watches me fumble for the word. It's just in my reach, waiting for me to compose it. Then I catch it, and somehow, the word I choose seems to explain everything.
"Real," I say.
I squeeze her hand as the remnants of a smile creep back over her lips.
"Real." She tastes the word, humming it softly. "Real."
"I'm not used to real, though," I admit. "It will take me some time to learn."
At this, she sits me down on the bed, places her hands on my shoulders, and leans forward. Her hair falls in messy waves over her cheeks, concealing the slight tan of her skin. Her hands run over my chest, my stomach, my legs, my lips. I drink her in, relishing the warmth that she sends through me. I draw her close to me, wrapping my arms around her.
"Here," she says against my ear. "I'll show you."