Quick like lightning, in and out as swiftly as possible was the goal. I'd been trained for this. Life and death hung in the balance as I moved stealthily through the shadows towards my target, gun raised, tensed to hear the slightest sound that might signal an alarm had been tripped. Katniss was going to kill me for leaving her behind. Afraid I might forget about the mission entirely and shoot Peeta in the head to secure my faulty hope of a relationship with Katniss, Boggs had left me the sole task of breaking Annie out of her house in District 4's Victors Village. Once inside, all it took was one look at the rooms to see Snow had been here, perhaps to see if just maybe Finnick had trusted a mad girl with information after all. When I found her in an upstairs room chained naked to her bed looking a little worse for the ware, I knew this had to be true.
Annie didn't turn to face me as I walked towards her, didn't so much as flitch as I reached the side of her bed and knelt down, trying to look into her eyes. They were deadened, but not frightened, her lips moving silently to words only she could hear as she stared through me. I didn't exist in her world, was just another demon sent by Snow to plague her perhaps. On the bedside table sat a small wooden trident, probably to torture her with memories of her far away love. I made a move to remove the first shackle from her wrist.
"Are you here to poke and prod at me too? Needles and sharp bits of metal buried deep within my skin, a lab rat, a science experiment." I jumped and pulled back, her voice cutting so sudden and sharp in the silence. Her eyes were wild and dangerous now as she stared through me. I could almost feel her trying to shred me to pieces with a look. "Please, kill me before you inject me this time."
"No, I'm here with the rebellion in District 13. I'm here to save you." The intensity of her eyes didn't lessen, her chest heaving as she stared. Perhaps she was afraid I was here as the President's spy, trying to wheedle any information out of her others might have missed. "Finnick Odair sent me to rescue you, Annie."
"Finnick sent you?" She asked, brown knitting in confusion. Nodding I went back to trying to unlock her shackles, succeeding in the first and blushing slightly as I leaned over her to work at the other wrist. As I moved to her ankles I self her rise under me but attributed it to her trying to get into a more comfortable position after God only knew how long she'd been chained sprawled out for all to see. Out of nowhere I felt her weight upon me, felt the sharp pain as she stabbed me, felt something break off in the wound. Rearing back I started up at her looming above me hair flying every which way, the broken shaft of what had once been a toy trident in her had. "Liar, they made me watch the reports on television as they experimented on me! Finnick's dead!"
One of her ankles was still chained. When she made to stab me again I rolled off the bed and into the far corner of the room, cursing as pain blossomed under my shoulder blade. She howled at me, launching herself off the bed at me. All this gained her was a collision with the floor, her weapon falling out of her loosened grip and rolling away. I kicked it out into the hall before she could get her wits about her and pick it back up.
"Do you want unchained or not?" I snapped at her, watching her where she lay sprawled out on the floor not moving. And then her head turned, eyes latching onto mine for the first time since I'd first tried to release her. "Those reports were lies, the Capital showed them to you so you wouldn't have any hope of a rescue. Finnick's alive and waiting for you back in District 13. He needs you, Annie he's going crazy with worry without you."
"That sounds like my Finnick…" She said softly, gingerly lifting herself up into a sitting position. Scanning me one more time she smiled slightly, running a heavily shaking hand through her hair. "Okay, I'll trust you."
"Thank you," I said, moving slowly to undo her last cuff in case she changed her mind and tried to strangle me but she sat by completely still until I was finished. "Do you think you can walk on your own?"
"I honestly have no idea. Sometimes, in that bed, I felt like I didn't have legs at all anymore." She said, worrying me. This escape already wasn't going as planned, and further complications might sink us if I didn't think fast. I offered her my hand to pull her up. She stared at it like it might bite, finally tentatively taking it with the very tips of her fingers. Her hands were like ice.
"Now, do people come to check on you every day?" I asked, looking around the room for a clock only to find there wasn't one.
"They'll be here soon." She glanced out the window absently as though she didn't remember then pointed suddenly at the clock in the town square. The clock said it was a quarter to noon. "We only have fifteen minutes. Maybe you should just chain me back up and leave before they catch you here with me."
"That is more definitely not an option. I'm one of the best District 13 has to offer, and I refuse to fail this or any other mission." I said, darting around the room to assess my options. The hoverplane was supposed to be here at noon to collect us where we supposed to be waiting outside the house. Struck with a sudden idea I wrenched open the window. Annie shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. "We have just enough time for you to put some clothes on, it's chilly out there."
"I don't have any anymore. They told me pets and science experiments didn't need them." She said simply from the end of the bed, her hands fiddling with the sheet. Sighing I crossed the room towards her, pretending I hadn't noticed the way she flinched away from me as I reached her. Taking the sheet I wrapped it around her tightly, knotting the corners hoping that would be enough to keep her covered for the trip back to the base. For some reason the idea of exposing her to everyone, especially Peeta, infuriated me.
"Put your arms around my neck and hold on tight." I instructed her, waiting until I was sure her grip was as strong as it could be before ducking us out of the window and onto the ledge. Scrambling up the tiles to the flat top of the roof with Annie on my back was a lot harder than I'd been anticipating, my hands scrabbling against tiles without gaining any holds. Suddenly Annie's arms tightened around my neck and, looking down, I saw the reason for her fear. Snow's men were here early. Pulling two knives out of my belt I rammed them into the roof, using them to pull myself up enough that I could grab onto the edge of the top of the roof. "Annie, I need you to climb up me onto the roof. I don't think I can pull us both up with the way my shoulder's hurting."
"That's my fault, isn't it? I'm sorry I damaged you." She said softly as she climbed up me slowly, carefully, until she finally pulled herself up to sit on the edge of the roof above me. I pulled myself up beside her, watching as she leaned out over the edge to retrieve my knives for me. She handed them back to me as though they were butterflies, beautiful and fragile, and just as out of place in her hands. I put them back in my belt without looking at her. "You hate me already, don't you?"
"No," I said honestly, looking sideways at her. Dark tangled hair flying in the wind, sea green eyes lit up by the sunlight, a look of pure innocence rested on her face. How could I ever hate someone who looked so frail my first instinct was to gather her against my chest and protect her from unseen dangers?
We waited in silence for the hoverplane, Annie grasping my elbow in fear as it made its way towards us but I assured her it was going to be alright. She took the hand Boggs offered her and entered the plane in front of me, watching from the back of the plane as I gave Boggs my account of what had happened. She looked down when I lied and said there'd been a Peacekeeper in the building that'd stabbed me with the small trident which had been only available weapon, and that I'd managed to kill him and shove him under the bed. Someone helped me out of my jacket and shirt to bandage my shoulder as best they could, Boggs tossing me an ice pack telling me to lie down until we got back to base and the shrapnel could be removed.
"Why did you lie for me?" She asked me in a whisper as I laid down across the seats next to her, her hair falling in a curtain around my face as she looked down into my eyes. "Everyone already knows I'm crazy. Why not tell them what really happened?"
"Because I've seen what they do to people they think might be a threat to the rebellion, and someone who stabs their rescue wouldn't get a warm welcome at the base. You were scared, it was a natural reaction. Believe me, I understand." I said, shifted against the ice pack.
"Katniss will be pleased, what with you and Peeta both coming back alive." Someone said as they passed me by, no doubt going to check on the star-crossed lover boy farther black in the plane where I'd seen him on my way in, unconscious and bound to a stretcher. Taking a deep breath I closed my eyes, trying not to think about Katniss and how happy she would be when we brought Peeta to her. Secretly I'd wished we'd find him already dead, or too far gone to save.
I felt someone staring at me and opened my eyes to find Annie staring at me intently at me again. She looked into my eyes then as though the world has stopped, as though no one else but the two of us existed, as though staring through a wall would be easier than looking away as she studied me.
"You love her don't you?" Annie asked, blinking away my shocked expression as though my feelings were the most obvious thing in the world. I knew from the look Boggs was giving me that there was no use lying. Even though I'd never tried to hide how I felt for Katniss, the idea that everyone potentially knew jarred me. Annie of course couldn't know any of this. Maybe she was just really good at reading people, even in her half mad state. Maybe this was how she's gotten so far in the Hunger Games before the boy from her District's death had left her stunned and swimming her way to victory.
"How can you tell?" I asked, face going red at her sad smile.
"She must be very important to you for your eyes to be so telling." She said softly, resting the tip of a finger on the edge of my left eye socket right below the brow. He hands were cold, but I relished them as they cupped my face. For the last few months I'd felt as though the heat of District 12 burning to the ground had been etched into my skin and spirit forever. "Your eyes burn with a passion deep as the Earth, but go dark around the edges were sadness threatens to overtake you for your unrequited love."
"How can you tell so much from looking at someone eyes?" I asked, Annie shrugging as she pulled away from me shivering. Sitting up I shifted my ice pack again, opening my arms to her. "Come here, you must be freezing."
"Are you sure?" She asked, moving tentatively towards me. I nodded, smiling softly as she crawled into my lap pressing tight against me. My arms folded around her, and for a minute I could dream she was Katniss, that someone whom I loved was in my arms and wanted to be close to me. Then the image faded, and it was sea green eyes and not grey looking up at me questioningly. "I don't even know your name."
"I'm Gale Hawthorne," I told her, watching the way her eyes sparkled in waves like the sea.
"A gale is a very strong wind of approximately 32 – 63 miles per hour." She rattled off like it was nothing, burying her face in the crook between my neck and shoulder. I closed my eyes, smiling. Maybe Annie wasn't crazy after all, but instead just rather quirky. Who knew how the Capital really defined things? "Gale… such a strong name for such a gentle windstorm."