a/n:for Kim (kiminileanne) because she's gorgeous and helping me with my Twitter bet. I love you, Kim!
It's been an age since I read Catching Fire and I don't have the books with me, so please forgive me if this goes against something stated there.
courage could be nice
can a man still be brave when he is afraid? —Bran Stark, A Song of Ice and Fire(by George RR Martin)
All these women, he thinks as he paces relentlessly around the kitchen of his small flat. All of these women. They're everywhere, a never-ending stream of them. Some of them are pretty and fewer are funny and even less than that are interesting but none of them are Annie, so.
Annie, Annie, Annie.
Her name is his form of prayer, he supposes. When he is taken before President Snow, or has a new client on his arm – Annie, he whispers to himself, holding the image of her face in the corners of his heart, Annie. Courage. Give me courage, Annie.
If you asked him what his job was he'd reply quite seriously – or as seriously as Finnick Odair can ever get, anyway – "Oh, I'm an actor". And it's true. He lies for a living and sells his face to those who can use it and, for the night, is whoever they want him to be. The lines tend to blur, though, and sometimes he wakes up in the morning and he's still the guy he was last night. That's when he picks up the phone to call Annie.
She never answers but it makes him feel a bit better anyway.
ANNIE YOU'RE SAFE—
The morning he learns that he might be going back into the Arena, he's back in District Four. He takes trips like this as often as he dares, visiting Annie where she's being kept. He hates that they have to 'keep' her but they say she's a danger to herself. She's not. She's really not. But more than anything he doesn't want her to hurt herself and he can't quite help believing them a bit (forgive me, Annie forgive me) so he lets them watch over her while he cannot and goes away to the Capitol to earn a living.
But this morning he's curled up on the pristine white bed with her. Her back is pressed up the length of his chest, his steady breaths ruffling her hair, his arms tight around her waist. He watches the nurses walking past the window warily as they begin to set up for the day, eyes tracking each one who passes with the cautiousness of a wildcat, not trusting one of them an inch.
And then Annie stirs and moves sleepily in his arms until she is facing him, her eyes wide and guileless as they meet his. In the mornings, when she first wakes up, that's when she's best.
"You're still here," she murmurs, voice full of her dreams from minutes before, and Finnick smiles and presses a kiss to her forehead.
She smiles and presses her face into his chest and her breathing slows as she goes back to sleep. Annie, he thinks, tightening his arms around her. I love you, Annie.
And then there's a flurry of activity and the nurses are coming through the door and, more gently than Finnick would have expected, shaking his shoulder and making fluttering gestures to indicate that he needs to get up, that it's time to get ready for the Reaping.
ANNIE, Finnick finds himself roaring internally, pressing his fingers to the bare skin of her arm as if he can transmit the thought to her by a touch, ignoring the nurses trying to drag him away, be safe, Annie. ANNIE BE SAFE. Annie be lucky.
He doesn't know how it happens but two hours later he's freshly groomed and standing in the small group of District Four male victors. He can see Annie in the group of women, even smaller. He doesn't mean it to happen but he can feel his heart twisting at the sight of that pitiable collection. Three old women and one mad girl. ANNIE. ANNIE BE SAFE.
They call the women first, of course. Ever courteous, these Capitol monsters. Finnick's hands bunch into fists and he finds himself repeating her name over and over inside his head to keep himself calm as the blue-skinned man plunges a hand dramatically into the huge glass bowl, the tiny pile of names at the bottom. ANNIE. ANNIE BE SAFE. ANNIE BE LUCKY.
And then the name is being chosen—
The man's blue hands bright against the white paper—
And he's unfurling it—
BE SAFE, ANNIE. ANNIE BE LUCKY—
It's her. Finnick feels like his heart is stopping. He makes a noise, a vague strangled moan that probably wouldn't pass as human if put under any scrutiny. The other men step a bit closer, remind him not to move. ANNIE, ANNIE, PLEASE NO ANNIE and she's looking confused, not understanding why the peacekeepers are coming forward, clutching tight at the hand of the tiny wrinkled woman next to her, backing up, shaking her head with fear, and—
"I volunteer," a hoarse voice says firmly, and the tiny old lady disentangles her hand from Annie's and gives the girl a reassuring pat on the shoulder, "I'll go."
Finnick feels like crying as Mags brushes off the hands of the peacekeepers irritably and moves towards the platform. She takes an age to mount the steps and Finnick knows he should be pitying her for her suddenly inevitable death, but all he can do is stare at Annie – ANNIE YOU'RE SAFE. ANNIE BE LUCKY – and he's paying no attention at all to the words of the blue-skinned Capitol man.
There's a shift in the crowd around him, a subtle loosening of tension as the men realise they're not going to have to do it, they won't have to go back into that hellhole. Finnick cannot look away from Annie. The peacekeepers are coming towards him, somewhere in the back of his mind he's registered that it's him, he's going to die, he's going back to the Games. But Annie is reaching her hand towards him, Annie is shouting, Annie is starting to take heavy footsteps towards him, Annie's face is streaked with tears—
ANNIE BE SAFE—
"It's fine," he finds himself calling to her, his voice entirely steady, "It's fine. I'll be fine. Don't move. They'll hurt you."
She doesn't look for a second like she is going to listen, but Finnick does the hardest thing he has yet done in his life and turns away from her, from the terrible confusion on her face, and he squares his shoulders and heads towards the platform.
When he is standing upon it, the silence is broken only by Annie's sobs. Finnick gives her his best smile, a little tilt of the head – ANNIE YOU'RE SAFE – and then glances at his fellow tribute. Mags gives him a tiny smile, the ghost of a wink, and Finnick without thinking reaches out and takes her hand.
"I'll look after you," he whispers as the blue-skinned man steps forward to get the crowd roaring with feigned enthusiasm, "Don't worry. We'll be fine."
She just snorts in disbelief, but her grip on his hand is firmer than he expected and she pats his shoulder in a mildly superior way, "Maybe I'll look after you, my boy."
Finnick grins and turns back to the crowd, fingers linked with Mags', and he looks down at Annie in the crowd and he doesn't look away until it is time to leave the platform. He knows when it comes to goodbye she will cry and scream and rave and they will eventually have to take her away to calm down.
But he won't cry. Annie is safe. Annie will be lucky. Even if he doesn't come back, Annie will be safe. YOU'RE SAFE, ANNIE. ANNIE YOU'RE LUCKY. And, to be honest, that's the only thing there is.