Disclaimer: Characters established from The Hunger Games trilogy are property of Suzanne Collins, the author and creator. Big thanks to Danalos the Lady Chaos for beta-reading.
This story takes place after the completion of the 70th Hunger Games (5 years prior to Katniss & Peeta's first Hunger Games)
Chapter One: The Winner
He looks at the television, his eyes fix on her face. They finally pull her up out of the water, her body wrecked. So skinny. So fragile. But despite all the disparaging concern on her physical appearance, that isn't what concerns Finnick most. It is her mental condition. He can see it on her face, through the tangled mass of hair that almost completely covers the dark pockets in which her eyes lay. Wild. Confused. Terrified. That's what her eyes reflect back to him. He had prepared her physically and helped her thought process for the games, but he didn't do enough to prepare her mentally for what she was going to go through. He didn't even know it himself.
Annie Cresta had just won.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victor of the Seventieth Hunger Games, Annie Cresta! I give you the tribute of District Four!" Claudius Templesmith's voice booms throughout the training center and all over the Capitol and the cheers roar throughout The Capitol. He can hear it on the television screen as well as through the windows of the room they're in.
Finnick Odair should be elated. He should be cheering with everyone else. He is Annie's mentor, after all. But he just feels numb. It isn't until Haymitch Abernathy pats him on the back does he even remember where he is.
"Congratulations, Odair. Don't forget to smile," Haymitch says in a low, impassive voice, reminding Finnick that he still has a persona to keep. That he needs to act his part and give his winning and sensuous smile to the Panem crowd once the cameras focus on him. And they are often focusing on him, especially in the Capitol.
He can't let anyone know how he truly feels about this whole thing. His dislike for the Capitol and the citizens here was solidly established ever since he became a victor, but has heightened yet again this time around. He loathes coming here, but he knows if he doesn't, if he chooses to defy the orders that are given to him, someone else will get hurt for his disobedience. He can't risk it anymore. President Snow could easily have him killed, but he won't. Snow still knows that Finnick is very valuable to him, and he still has some leverage to hold against him. Turlach, Finnick's brother, is the only family Finnick has left.
They could still destroy his home if they really want to. They definitely have the power to, as they routinely remind the districts of it every year.
"So, Finnick, how does it feel to have a new victor from your district?" asks some preposterously dressed Capitol reporter who happened to be standing right behind Finnick when Claudius' announcement was made over the television screens all around them.
Finnick closes his eyes for a moment, readying himself to face the people. When he turns around, a camera lens and microphone are already pointing directly at him. "Well, it's no surprise, really," Finnick says with appealing confidence. "Annie is one of the finest tributes we've had since, well, me!"
They laugh, although Finnick's is forced, but nobody notices. Everything for Finnick in the Capitol is forced. Luckily, because it was his tribute that won, he is able to use that to excuse himself from a long line of questioning. He is to now begin the process of getting everything set for Annie and the sponsors and going over the interview procedures and questions with Caesar Flickerman.
It will be about an hour before Annie arrives from where they picked her up in the arena. He makes his way to the elevators of the Training Center, and sees Haymitch there, probably waiting for him.
"Looks like you have your work cut out for you this time, Odair," Haymitch says without so much as a glance toward Finnick's direction.
"I know," Finnick said, keeping his eyes straight ahead as well.
"So, you saw it?" Haymitch asked.
Finnick lowered his eyelids, his face stern. "Yeah, I saw it."
To the public's eyes, it wasn't noticeable, but for those that have been there in the arena, to those that have trained other tributes, it's easy to spot. The wildness in Annie's eyes that Finnick concerned himself with just a few minutes earlier was unmistakable to Haymitch as well. She was damaged, possibly beyond repair, and it is going to be Finnick's job to somehow get her to find her way back to sanity. Yes, Finnick knows he has his work cut out for him.
"Well, at least she's alive," Haymitch says. "Good thing you know how to be a mentor."
"You know, your tributes could use a mentor, too," Finnick shoots back, but not in anger. He knows Haymitch well enough to know that he wouldn't be offended. For five years now, he had seen how Haymitch was with the tributes in District 12. They almost never stood a chance in the arena. Haymitch was too often drunk to rally any support for his tributes, but every once in a while, he would try a little if he thought his tributes stood a chance. But Finnick figured out that Haymitch didn't help with anything else.
Still, Finnick understands him. Haymitch isn't completely deplorable. Sure, he's not the best mentor; actually, he's the worst there is. But for some reason, Haymitch has been a constant source of… friendship? Finnick isn't quite sure if that's the word for his and Haymitch's relationship, but he knows that if they were in a battle, he would want Haymitch on his side. He had seen a video of Haymitch of when he won the 50th Hunger Games. Haymitch was one of the best he ever saw, and he wasn't even a Career. Haymitch was, and still is, surprisingly smart. Not only that, but Haymitch seems to know how to make Finnick feel better, probably because behind all that surliness, Finnick knows he could trust him.
"When there's one that has the guts to stand up to me, I'll consider it," Haymitch says, then laughs out loud. Finnick knows Haymitch gave up on mentoring a long time ago, well before Finnick was even eligible for the games. After Finnick had become a victor, he told himself he would never give up on whoever he had to mentor. Mags certainly didn't give up on him. But Mags did confess to him it was going to be easy to get support because of his looks anyway, so of course she didn't give up on him. Not everyone who was a tribute had that luxury, and even when they did, they didn't have the skills he had with a trident. His years with his mom and dad on the fishing boat definitely helped.
Since District 4 had a good amount of victors, they had the ability to do random drawings for the mentors as well. That was how he got Mags as a mentor. Of course, the mentors' drawings were done prior to Reaping Day. This was only the second time Finnick had to mentor someone. The first person he mentored was for the 66th Hunger Games, the following year after his victory. The boy was 13 years old and he was all kinds of scared. To have that boy's family stare painfully at him when he returned to District 4 victorless made him cringe at the thought of having to mentor another. It's no wonder that Haymitch was the way he was. Haymitch had been a mentor to two tributes for 20 years in a row, without anyone to take his place. If he had to mentor tributes as often as Haymitch did, maybe he would have given up after a few years also.
Being that he was from District 4, he was a career tribute, along with Districts 1 and 2. At one point, District 4 even had all 12 houses in the Victor's Village occupied with victors. Finnick was the most recent victor, until this year, exactly five years later.
Annie Cresta. He actually couldn't believe she had won. It really was only by chance. Obviously the gamemakers hadn't anticipated it. They probably had only meant for the earthquake the bring some of them out of hiding, but something went wrong and the dam had broken. The remaining tributes who were still alive at that point didn't know how to swim, except Annie. Finnick has a feeling that at least one gamemaker isn't going to be gamemaker for long, and most likely isn't going to be alive either.
Finnick thinks back to the day he first officially met Annie. Reaping Day. It was never quite as anticipated as those outside of District 4 made it out to be. No one ever really wanted to be a tribute, not like those in 1 and 2, especially District 2. But if they were called, they were expected to be a proud representative of their district. District 4 was, after all, said to be the most beautiful of all the districts in Panem. And Finnick not only represented the district, but he was the personification of 4 in beauty and strength. Their tributes were career tributes, expected to form alliances with those from 1 and 2. Most of the victors hailed from one of these three districts.
But the past few years, the District 4 tributes were less resilient, less confident. Annie was no exception. Finnick already saw the fear in her eyes when she walked her way down the path to the stage. She looked around, her big sea-green eyes wide, as if begging with them for someone to take her place. No one would, of course. Her hair, long and dark and straight, was clipped nicely in a little barrette that someone had probably given to her. Her clothes were nothing special, not like some of the other girls whose families could afford at least one nice dress for their daughter. She only had a plain, frumpy and formless dress that looked like it had been worn by so many other girls. Finnick promptly concluded she was from the community home. Those in the community home were kids either with no parents or guardians, or if they did have parents, they were regarded as unfit to take care of them. Being that she was from the community home, he hoped she would have some kind of fight in her, but the way she looked, he didn't think the odds were in his favor that he would be so lucky.
"Annie…Cresta, is it?" asked Finnick, in a playful manner, giving her a flirtatious smile, when he entered the dining car of the train, where she already was.
She didn't look his way, even though Finnick's face was inches from her. Didn't even flinch. She just stared out the window of the train in her plain dress, her eyes no longer wide with fear, her face expressionless. Normally, he could at least make a girl blush when he spoke like that, especially when he was so close to his target, so he was a bit surprised that she didn't so much as acknowledge him.
"Your dinner's getting cold," Finnick then said. "You wouldn't want it to go to waste, would you?"
For a second, he thought Annie was just going to stand in that position for the duration of the trip. But eventually she moved her way to the dinner table and ate as much as possible without regard to him or anyone else.
Well, he thought, that's a start at least.
He waited for her to finish her food before he started talking again. Annie didn't utter a word to him ever since they got on the train, so there was no point in trying to get her to talk with her mouth full. She finally looked at him after she finished her last spoonful of chocolate cake, wiping the bit of chocolate that was around her lips with the back of her hand. Finnick just smiled with as much charm as he could muster.
"What now?" Annie finally said.
Her voice sounded a little deeper than he thought it would be. He had imagined her voice to sound somewhat meek and high-pitched. Not as high as the women in the Capitol with their weird accent, but something like that. No. Annie's voice had a nice quality about it.
"What do you mean?" asked Finnick calmly.
"What happens now? Are you going to be the one training me? Are you-"
"Wait, hold on. Let's talk first, okay?" said Finnick. He leaned back against his chair and smiled. He tried to see if he could get her to open up, so he tilted his head forward a bit and smiled, the same way he did to all the women at the Capitol. The same way that made them blush and give in and tell him all the things they're supposed to keep to themselves.
But Annie stared down at her empty plate and frowned. "I don't want to talk."
Finnick knew this was a crucial moment. He was her mentor and he had to ensure trust in her. He had to make her believe he would do his best to help keep her alive. He had to get her to open up to him and see that he was on her side. If not, then she was as good as a District 12 tribute under Haymitch's care. He sighed and realized that maybe there was only one way to get through to her.
He began his own story about when he was a tribute. He never told anyone about it. People would always ask, mostly the Capitol women. He would spin elaborate tales about himself and how he knew he was going to win and what exactly his thought process was and how he could smell the fear in his fellow tributes. They were all parts of the truth, but never the whole truth. But here he was, telling Annie everything exactly how it happened. How he felt when he was chosen as a tribute 5 years ago. How scared he was about it and how Mags, his mentor, was there with him 100% of the way, coaching him on how to act and what to say and who to be. He told Annie that he was going to be there for her just as Mags was there for him. 100% of the way.
After Finnick poured all this out to her, Annie looked at him again. He thought he saw just a flicker of sentiment in them, but she turned her head before he looked further. He sighed. He had hoped that she would have seen his honesty in his story, but maybe all she saw was the person that he always played to the cameras and the people in the Capitol. He thought that maybe he should've played that person. It probably wouldn't have made a difference, and it probably would've spared him the realization that he just poured out his soul to a total stranger.
Without looking at him, she said, "Okay."
"Okay? Okay what?" Finnick asked.
"Just okay. And don't look at me like that," she told him.
"What do you mean?" he asked, somewhat innocently. She turned her head, her eyes focused on him. He remembered her sea-green eyes staring hard into his own, holding his gaze. For the first time, he saw in her determination.
"Don't do that thing you do, where you smile and talk to me as if I'm a piece of meat for you to devour! If you want to help me, then help me stay alive!" she said, with each word louder than the one before. Finnick's expression was at first surprise, then offense, then acceptance. He had already told her his story. There was no need to try and play her like he had done so often with other women.
Annie Cresta wasn't some woman he needed to woo or sway in his direction. She wasn't just some girl wanting his attention because of his looks or his popularity. No, Annie needed him to keep her alive. He was her lifeline. He was all she had. For Annie's sake. Because it wasn't just about him now. It was about her. It was about keeping Annie focused and perfected and even angry enough to stay alive.
The fake smile faded and his face hardened, as if becoming a brutal twin of himself. Strong, harsh, ambitious. At that moment, he looked like a career still in the games. Ready to fight, ready to kill. Annie leaned back against her chair, her mouth opened a bit in surprise of the sudden change. Finnick smiled again, not to toy with her emotions, but to agree with her.
"Okay, no more games," Finnick said. "At least not from me."
From that point forward, from the time they arrived in the Capitol to the time that she entered the arena, he was there with her every step of the way, as much as he could physically be there. When he wasn't, he made sure to remind her everything he taught her, from what to say in her interview to what to learn in the training sessions to what to do in her private session with the gamemakers.
The District 4 escort also tried to help Annie as much as she could with the proper etiquettes of ladylike mannerisms. For the people of Panem, these things were too important to ignore. Annie had to get them to like her, but she also had to be beautiful to do it. She had to play down to their standards if she was going to get any kind of support from them. Her interview seemed boring at first, but when Caesar Flickerman, the interviewer, confirmed that Annie was from the district's community home, that knowledge played to the sympathy of Panem.
Finnick knew that information would get some "aww's", but he also knew he was still going to have to work his own magic to actually get the donations Annie would need to survive in the arena. And he did exactly that. Once Annie was in the arena, he turned on the charm and smiled and flirted his way through to everyone that gave him the attention, which of course were mostly women. It was all about him, really. They wanted him to see they were interested in what he was interested in. If that meant giving donations for his tribute, they would do it just to spend five minutes gazing on his face, his torso, his whole body. It didn't matter if the women were 17 or 71 years old, they were willing to give whatever they could just to see Finnick smile at them.
It worked. For 10 days the flirting, the smirks, and the gentle touches he gave to his adoring admirers worked wonders. Annie was getting a fair amount of the donations in the arena. So much so that she was able to share it with her fellow tribute from 4, Lev Shuster, as well as three careers from 1 and 2. That is, until the careers from 2 decided that Lev wasn't worth their time anymore and decapitated him right in front of Annie. That's when everything started falling apart. Had the careers known what was going to proceed, had they known what kind of effect this would have on Annie, they might have waited for a later time to kill Lev. Annie didn't just gawk. She didn't just scream. She didn't just panic. Something happened to her once Lev's body hit the ground.
Annie Cresta ceased to be sane.
The camera focused solely on her face and the expression in her eyes was not that of an angry person. They were of a madwoman. At that moment, in the middle of one of Finnick's flirtations to a donor, he stopped as he glanced at the screen, which brought everyone else around him to a stop as well. They all watched the scene unfold before them in the arena and they knew, just as well as he did, once she ran off, that the odds were no longer in his favor, as far as mentors go. Annie Cresta was not going to survive.
The few days after that event, the cameras didn't show Annie as much. She was in hiding, and only every so often they would take a glimpse at her. For Finnick, it was painful to watch his tribute waste away into a clutter of tangled hair and tears. For the people of the Capitol, it was just boring. They might've felt some kind of compassion for her during her interview, but Finnick was kidding himself if he thought he could convince anyone to continue supporting her after she freaked out. It wasn't about her. It was about him, and the attention he was giving them. They really didn't care whether she lived or died if she wasn't going to be entertaining. They really just wanted Finnick Odair, not Annie Cresta. But with Annie the way she was, they weren't about to give much support to someone as useless and unengaging as her, not even for Finnick. He had failed her and didn't realize it until now, with no one but the other mentors around him.
Maybe I will join Haymitch in a drink after she dies, he thought. But she didn't die. The gamemakers didn't wait too much longer for her to come out of hiding. She ended up being the last one standing, or swimming in this case.
Now Finnick has to prepare for the aftermath of her victory. Annie's arrival back to the Training Center. The victory banquet for the sponsors. The three hour recap of the Hunger Games… Finnick's heartbeat quickens.
Will she be able to handle this part now, he asks himself. He doesn't know, not without taking a better look at her in person. Not without looking into her eyes, the ones that were so full of determination only a couple of weeks ago. What he does know is that whatever the case may be, he's going to be there for her. He has to, because he's her mentor.