Note: Hi, and Happy Hunger Games! The following is a fan-fiction (pre-The Hunger Games in time period) that follows Finnick Odair through his mentorship of Annie Cresta in the 70th Games. It is canon to the books, but is not canon to the recent Mainstay Pro Finnick/Annie fan-vid. Anyway, the story is named after a music album by Matt Hires (do check him out if you haven't heard of him), and each of the eleven chapters will be named after one of the songs on that album.
Of course, setting and characters belong to Suzanne Collins. I hope you all enjoy reading!
1 – A Perfect Day
'Let's not run and hide from the truth that we know inside. Life can trip you up on a perfect day.' –"A Perfect Day" (Matt Hires)
Reaping day is my favorite day of the year. People don't seem to understand that when I tell them, which is why I've learned not to. I could try to explain it to them. I could try to explain the oddly calming sound of the waves crashing against the pier. I could try to explain the callousness behind the comfort I feel in knowing that my name won't be called, and how apathetic I feel about the names that will be. I could try to explain that being a mentor gives me an excuse to leave without actually having to say goodbye. But because I have an appearance to keep up, I think it's best if I deny it… if I lie… if I pretend.
I wake up on reaping day before my alarm goes off. I'm lying on my back on the floor because I haven't been able to sleep in a bed since I came home from the Games, and I wait for the beep while watching the sun rise over the Victor's Beach. When I hear the sound, I sit up and turn off the clock, and my hand brushes over a letter that's been sitting on my bedside table, and soon the letter is sliding across the driftwood floor. As I stand up, not bothering to put on a shirt (the Capitol insists every year that I remain bare-chested), I unfold the letter and read:
To Mr. Finnick Odair,
Please accept my most sincere congratulations on your impressive victory in the 65th annual Hunger Games. Though I am sure a house has been secured for you in the Victor's Village of District 4, I would like to invite you to take a permanent residence here in the Capitol. You are most welcome to reside in any home you please, of course, and furnishings will be provided upon your request. I am looking forward to hearing your response.
Mr. President Snow
The letter is dated from nearly five years ago. I never replied, and I doubt that I ever will. Being in the Capitol isn't the problem, though; I spend a good chunk of the year there anyway. It's what Snow wants me there for that I'm not about to give in to. Plus, I can't leave my mother here, and something tells me that Snow wouldn't be so enthusiastic about my arrival if I showed up with Mommy in tow.
So, for what must be the hundredth time, I refold the letter and set it back down on my bedside table. Then I walk across the brightly lit room to my closet, put on my best pair of swim trunks, and head down the hall.
My mother, Nola Odair, is lying on her side, her eyes staring through the wall of windows to her right. From what I can tell, she looks the same as yesterday, but that's not exactly a good thing. Not bad, but definitely not good.
"How are you doing today?" I ask as I take the day's clothes out of her dresser.
She's sitting up now, and she's picked up the calendar that I mark off every night after she goes to sleep. "It's reaping day," she says.
"Yeah." I wish I could lie to her, but I've never been able to. Even when Snow makes me lie to all of Panem, I still can't lie to my mom.
"I didn't realize it had been that long," she says. She's referring to the amount of time that's passed since I came home from the last Games, the one where my tribute stabbed himself in the chest on his first day in the arena. I came back over six months ago, but I know that she thinks it's only been a few weeks. Her dementia has reached a whole new level this year.
I walk around her bed and help her get dressed. "I hate reaping day," she says.
After I've tied up her shoes, she looks at me with her big brown eyes and sighs. Then her hand is on my cheek and I reach my own hand up to take hers and then kiss it. We do this every year before I leave, instead of saying goodbye. We don't believe in saying goodbye, even though we both know that she might not be here when I return.
"I have to go," I tell her. I don't say that I'll see her soon, because I might not, and because I can't lie to her.
I write a short note for her doctor to remind him that I'll be gone for the duration of the Games and tape it to the front door. Then I walk across the beach, picking up a lone sand dollar off the shore, and don't bother knocking as I step inside an old house that used to be blue, but has now faded to a dingy off-white color.
"All right, Mags, I've got my dollar and I'm ready for the toss!" I call from the entryway.
"I want heads," a voice croaks from the other side of the house, where the kitchen is. A moment later, a short, white-haired woman emerges from the source of the noise. She's dressed in a light purple blouse, no doubt the best one she owns, and as she appears by my side after three confident strides, I'm reminded all over again just how sick my mother is.
Mags, my fellow mentor, turned seventy-five this year, over twenty years older than my mother. Mags was the victor of one of the first Games the Capitol hosted, but she seems healthier now than ever before.
"I'm shocked by your decision," I say sarcastically as she puts a pair of shoes on. She always chooses heads, she always wins the toss, and she always takes the girl. She says the girls are easier to deal with because they go into the Games with much less confidence, and subsequently much less hope, than the boys do. I don't question this, because she has decades more experience than I do, and because I was one of those boys not so long ago. I just happened to be a very lucky one.
She laughs at my comment and then I toss the sand dollar into the air and it lands in the palm of my hand. I flip it onto my other hand and then uncover it. For the first time in five years, it's sitting on the tails side.
Mags's face drops in surprise, as I'm sure mine does as well. I've never had to make the decision before, and so I don't know how to make it now. But when Mags gives me a look that I can sense hides a threat behind her clenched jaw, I say, "I want the girl."
She walks out the door without saying anything and I follow her with a spiteful smirk on my face. I don't really care if I get the boy or the girl, but I do enjoy toying with Mags every chance I get. Doing so makes being a mentor so much more interesting.
As we walk into town, I wonder to myself if any of the other mentors choose their tributes this way. Some of them don't have to, like District 12 and like Mags before I came around, because they only have one mentor to begin with. Others, like District 2, have more than are needed, so they tend to take turns at the job. Districts with a pair of mentors can either split their training and each take a tribute, like what Mags and I do, or they can work together on the boy and the girl. For those that do separate the tributes, I bet they don't do it over a coin toss.
We have to walk past the old memorial and through the wharf on our way to the pier. The memorial is a statue of an old shipping boat that crashed into the wharf thirteen years ago. There's a sign on it that lists the names of those who died in the accident. My father's name is the twenty-ninth on the list, which I've had memorized since the day it was put up, when I was a mere six years old.
The wharf is built atop the water, and houses most of the town's buildings. There are a couple of fishermen shops and boating stores, some restaurants that serve seafood all day, and a fairly new bar that I'm pretty sure was built for me.
After hearing about some of the victors from other districts when they came home from the Capitol, the district council seemed to be under the impression that I would need incredible doses of alcohol to cope with the trauma I endured while in the arena. They might be right about the trauma, but I don't want their shots. In fact, I've never stepped foot in that bar.
We're at the pier with only a few minutes to spare; it's completely filled with people already. The young girls, age twelve to eighteen, have been corralled onto one side of the pier, the boys onto the other. Their families, worried mothers with their faces buried in their husbands' chests, younger siblings sucking their thumbs and looking all around to try to decipher what's going on, and older siblings standing firmly with their arms crossed as they silently defy the Capitol's idea of entertainment, stand in a jumbled mess toward the back.
In front of all the people, at the other end of the pier where the water is too deep for the wooden stilts to give any further support, is where the Justice Building was built. It's old and decrepit now, and I know it's only standing because of the rock that spikes up from the sea and forms the base of the building's back half. None of that is visible at the moment, though, as the building is hidden by an enormous screen that will soon show my face alongside Mags, and later the faces of the two new tributes. Dax Dirigible, the Capitol's escort for District 4, stands in front of the screen, and he motions for Mags and me to come forward.
We follow his orders, and as we walk down the aisle that's been formed between the girls and the boys, I can feel people staring at me. It's not nearly as bad as it is in the Capitol, but it still lets me know that I need to turn my game face on. That's when I think of Dax: his perfectly fitted suit, his waxed chin, and his enormous smile that most people can't get enough of, but that I find rather disturbing. He's only about ten years older than I am, and he's always the one whose presence I try to replicate.
That's what makes me smile and wink at some of the pre-teen girls as I put a hand on my hip and hop up onto the platform in front of the screen. I pick up the trident that's waiting for me there and strike a pose next to Mags, who scoffs at the act. Dax, on the other hand, gives me a nod to show that he's happy with my performance, as he takes his place beside me. Finally, the mayor climbs onto the stage from behind and goes up to the podium to address the whole of District 4, telling them to turn their attention to the front.
He recounts the entire history of Panem at a snail's pace, making my cheeks go numb from the smile I'm trying to keep plastered across my blemish-free skin. He talks about the disasters that divided North America into thirteen districts and a Capitol, then the Dark Days when the districts rebelled against the Capitol, losing the fight as well as the entirety of District 13. He then tells us that's how the Hunger Games were created, to remind us all of what could happen if we ever try to rebel against the Capitol again.
Then the mayor gets into the rules of the Games, making them sound much more complicated than they actually are. Twenty-four tributes, a girl and a boy from each district, are taken to the Capitol, where they are placed into a man-made arena and must fight to their deaths until only one remains. That's really all anybody needs to know.
This prompts him to read through the list of District 4's winning tributes, every victor we've ever had. There was one before Mags that died when I was young, and barely anybody claps for him. Then the mayor talks about Mags, and she steps forward to receive her applause. I'm next, and I get the most clapping by far. I lift my trident and smile again, opening my arms to my adorning fans and giving the cameras a model-worthy gaze that will be sure to have the Capitol girls reeling with excitement. I try to be proud of my beauty, of my success, of my God-like status. I pretend.
Dax is up next. When the people pipe down and when the mayor finally finishes his speech, he calls on the man from the Capitol, and Dax approaches the podium.
"Hello everyone!" he says cheerfully. He doesn't receive a response. With a tiny chuckle, he continues, "It was only five years ago that I stood on this pier and called the name of a fourteen year-old Finnick Odair. Little did I know, he would prove to be one of the most impressive victors of any Hunger Games to date!"
This time, people cheer. I am a symbol of hope here. It's a responsibility I never asked for, but one that I've learned to accept.
"Yes, yes," Dax tries to shut them all up. When it's quiet enough for them to hear, he says, "Let's hope District 4 is just as lucky this year!" He isn't faking his enthusiasm. Dax earns a lot of credibility when a tribute from his assigned district wins the Games, so he wants it just as badly as anybody in our district does. Still, it took over fifty years for me, a winning tribute, to come along after Mags's victory, so there's no reason to believe that we can do it again so soon.
But his faith finds a way to reach the people anyway. I can see some pinkness returning to their pale faces. They relax a little, just by hearing that even if their names are called, they might still be okay. I believed that once too, and that belief helped me to accomplish the impossible. I was the last standing in a group of twenty-four children, but that didn't mean that I was okay.
"Now," Dax gains back my attention. "Before I perform the draw, I would just like to say, Happy Hunger Games, and may the tide stay forever high!" It's his signature line, but everybody here hates it. In District 4, the fishing district, high tide means working time. It's the low tide that takes in the sunlight.
As the crowd of people take the hands of their neighbors and get ready to hold their breaths, Dax walks over to the transparent, spinning sphere that encases tiny papers with the name of every teenage child in the District, the older ones with multiple entries depending on their age and wealth status. The girls are first, and Dax slowly opens the door of the bowl and takes out a single piece of paper.
"This year's female tribute from District four is Annie Cresta," he announces.
Annie Cresta. I recognize the name. Or at least, I recognize half of it. Because the name 'Cresta' has been carved into the same memorial as my father's, the one that lists the deaths from District 4's largest ever boating accident. A female 'Cresta' appears twenty names above 'Odair', and I'm sure it belongs to the mother of this girl. Annie.
She doesn't scream when her name is called, which I appreciate. The screaming, more like shrieking, that normally accompanies the female drawing always blocks out those calming waves that I like to hear. This year, though, the waves are loud and clear as a girl I can't quite make out shyly pushes her way through the crowd.
Behind her, I can see a man standing a few feet in front of the other families, his beard scruffy and his bare arms scraped with what I know are netting burns. The father. Beside him is a woman around my age – she must be older than eighteen, because she's not standing with the herd of prospective tributes – who has a hand over her mouth and glossy tears sliding down her cheek. The sister.
I glance at the screen that's up on the stage, which has a camera on Annie. She has her head down to hide from it, so I can only see the top of her head, which is piled with wavy brown hair that flows down her back. But soon enough, she's on stage, and I have a good view of her as she shakes hands with Dax and then the mayor.
She's seventeen. I remember her from school now; she was two years behind me. She's much older than I recall, since of course I haven't been to school since before my Games. The first things I notice about her body are her bare feet. It's not unusual to go barefoot in District 4, especially in poorer families, though it would never be tolerated in the Capitol. Her stylist will have to find some shoes for her.
I move my eyes upward and see her naturally tan legs that have a dryness about them, something that only comes from long-time exposure to saltwater. She's a swimmer, which is good. That might seem like an obvious trait for us fishermen to have, but it's not always the case. So many of the kids in District 4 lost family members in the accident, and some of them haven't stepped foot in the water since. I was the opposite, practically a merman, which came in handy in the arena. Hopefully it will for her too.
She's wearing a light green sundress that's blowing a little in the wind. It has the same movement as the waves in her hair, and it's tied in the back with a wilting ribbon. She's about average height and relatively thin, but not excessively so like the Capitol girls. Her hair is worn and tired from the water, but it's also thick and strong from the sand. She wears a plain necklace that's made from the wire of a fishing pole and from which hangs a piece of purple sea glass in the shape of a small heart.
Then I look at her face… at her eyes. They're sea green, like mine, but they're wide and potent, and I'm drawn to them immediately. Every time she blinks, I find myself waiting for her eyes to open again. And every time she sheds another tear, I think I'm about to walk over and wipe it away, but I never do. I stay right where I am, unmoving, completely still.
I want to yell at her when she turns around, but I convince myself not to. When she faces the crowd, people clap pitifully and others merely sigh with relief that they're not up here instead. The boys are the only ones who don't react at all, because they're still worried about themselves.
Dax Dirigible walks over to a second glass sphere and draws the name of the male tribute. Kasen Strand. I don't recognize any part of this name, but someone does, because all of the sudden I can't hear the waves above the loudest scream I've ever witnessed. It comes from the mother, and her I've seen before.
She has short, blonde hair and eyes with large bags underneath them. She and her husband both work at a fishing supplies store on the wharf, and everybody knows them, even if they don't stop by the store every day. On the contrary, most people try to avoid them, not because they're strange or different or both, but because their kid is.
This is the first time I've ever heard Kasen's name, but as he's pulled onto the stage, I know him instantly. He's the strange one, the different one. He's both. And because of this, I'm suddenly immensely grateful that I won the coin toss against Mags and that I picked the girl.
He's not a bad kid. He must be about twelve or thirteen, and he's going through that awkward stage in life where he's getting taller by the second but not burlier, so he looks pretty scrawny. He has light hair, puppy-dog blue eyes, and enormous ears that make him look ridiculous. But ironically, it's not his appearance that sets him apart. It's the twitching, making him resemble the gulls that invade the beaches every summer, constantly twisting his head as if he's almost too aware of exterior movement and noise. It's the rope that he's playing with, tying a knot and then untying it, over and over again. It's both.
He's convulsing more than ever as Dax steers him to the front of the stage. There isn't much applause for him, just a lot of whispering. No one dares to volunteer themself in his place, even the boys that have been trained for the Games like those in Districts 1 and 2. Kasen is not worthy of their inbred bravery.
As Dax pulls Annie back to the front of the stage to stand with Kasen, the anthem of Panem plays over the pier. While most of the district is happy that the reaping is over, the anthem always feels bittersweet. It's because there are holes in the sound, from those few people who are still crying and therefore can't get the lyrics out, and from those even fewer people who will never stop crying from this day forward. I don't cry, but I don't sing either. Five years ago, I promised myself on this very stage that that year would mark the last time I ever sang the Panem anthem, even if I did manage to survive.
When the singing finishes, everybody on the pier shuffles away. They look like a school of fish swimming away from a shark as they head back home or off to work. Two fish, however, are left behind and are dragged into the Justice Building by tall, frightening-looking Peacekeepers, Capitol policemen.
Mags and I head inside the building just after Kasen and Annie, where we wait in the hallway for the new tributes to say their goodbyes. The families come into the tributes' private rooms through the sides and exit through the front, so for a while, Mags and I are alone.
"I'm guessing you're fairly happy about the coin toss now," Mags says with a chuckle. Her laugh is not funny or cheerful. It is sad. It is pitiful. It is cracked.
"Yeah, I am," I reply. When Mags rolls her eyes, I add, "But it's not like either of them stands a chance."
She knows I'm right. These tributes are small, weak, and probably won't last longer than a few days in the arena. After all, the Hunger Games weren't built for underdogs.
Still, Mags thinks about this for a moment before she says, "Well, that doesn't mean they can't try. That doesn't mean we can't help them."
"I know it doesn't," I say, but it does. It does mean we can't help them. Because if we do, we'll only be setting ourselves up for disappointment, and Mags has lived through sixty years of disappointment. I'm not about to let myself do the same thing.
Just then, Dax comes in through the front doors. He was outside sending a hologram to the Capitol, but now he's approaching Mags and me, ready for the rundown. We do this every year, trying to put a plan into place before we even get the chance to speak with the tributes, because the three of us need to be on the same page, and because we don't want to be overly influenced by the kids. We need to make them famous before they die, and we can't be looking at their sad, swollen faces when we do it.
"The girl might be able to pull off being pretty," Dax says as he crosses his arms against his chest in an astonishingly natural way that leaves no wrinkles in his blazer. He's looking at Mags as he says it, because he assumes that she'll be handling the girl.
I surprise him by answering, "I think she's better suited for scared." There are certain archetypes that we can give the tributes, some of which work better than others. Districts 1 and 2 are always either intimidating or beautiful, which bodes well with the fans, and makes impressive or pretty that much harder to pull off, because they'll always be second best. I managed to pull of being pretty, maybe even beautiful, but I was an exception, and, even with those eyes of hers, Annie isn't.
Once Dax gets used to the idea that I'm taking the girl, he argues, "But we can't make them both scared." He's talking about Kasen now, whom Dax seems to think would be the perfect fearful.
But I don't think that's the best way to market somebody like Kasen. Mags is on the same page, as she fires back at Dax, "I say we go with different for the boy."
Dax laughs because he thinks Mags is joking. But Mags doesn't laugh, and neither do I.
"Different has never worked before!" Dax says with frustration. He makes a good point, but I can't help but think that if Mags does him right, Kasen might just be able to make it work.
Different, or unique, is by far the most difficult label to put on a tribute. It automatically adds a whole new level of pressure, because they have to perform in a way that nobody has ever seen, and the Games have seen just about everything before. But if the tribute can be strange and awkward enough through the training and the interviews, it can give them a real shot in the arena. Just like everyone in District 4 avoids Kasen and his parents' supplies shop, other tributes will want to do the same. And keeping all of the opponent tributes away from our own is the best advantage we can give our district.
"He can do it," Mags says with a nod. If I had said the same thing, Dax would have kept arguing for hours, maybe even days. But with Mags, he doesn't say a word in retaliation.
Having come to an agreement, we all stay silent for the next few minutes. Then a door opens, the one Annie went through, and the man I saw on the pier comes through it. He walks out with his head in his hands, and I want to leave, because he won't want to see us here, but once again I can't move.
At first, Annie's father doesn't notice the three of us standing here. When he does manage to look up, his grief-stricken eyes survey Mags, Dax, and then me. With a low, scratchy tone to his voice, he asks anyone who will listen, "Who's responsible for this? Who's responsible for my girl?"
Dax opens his mouth to answer, but I speak before he can, because Dax doesn't understand the question. He thinks this is about the reaping and the fact that the name of this man's daughter was called out of the bowl, but I know that Annie's father has already forgotten about that. What he really wants to know is who will look out for Annie now that she's been chosen.
"I am," I say, and I know all too soon that the father is disappointed. If I were him, I'd be disappointed too.
He's shaking his head as he growls at me, "I've seen you before. I watched your year. I watched you flaunt yourself around the Capitol like a piece of meat. I watched the reporters drool over you."
I'm waiting for the threat to come, because I can feel it brewing underneath his skin. And then it's here, and he's pushing me against the wall, and his face is right in front of mine, his finger pointed into my chest, and he's screaming, "I will not see my daughter be paraded through the Capitol like a common whore! Do you hear me? I said, DO YOU HEAR ME?"
I breathe deeply and whisper, "I hear you." This is why I don't want Annie to be pretty. This is why she would make a better scared. Her eyes, the same ones I'm looking into now as I stare at her father, are impossible to deny when they're filled with fear.
"Dad!" a voice comes from the re-opened door, and it seems to be enough to get the man to step away from me. When I look around, I see that the hallway is now filled with Peacekeepers holding Annie's father back, and the girl I saw before, the sister, is following them out them out of the building.
Kasen's parents come out next, but they walk past the three of us like they're ghosts that are no longer able to see any living being. When they've left too, Dax says, "We should get to the boat. They'll bring the Tributes down in a minute."
The boat that's waiting for us at the end of the pier is the one that will take us to District 4's train station, where we will leave for the Capitol. I agree to head there now, saying, "Fine, but I'm putting on a shirt."
I remember my first boat ride ten times more clearly than I do the reaping. I remember the shrieking waters, the harsh wind, and every word that Mags said to me while standing on the deck. I suppose it's because I had to listen so intently just to make sure that I could hear her above the waves and the wind. Mostly, though, I think I remember it because stepping on that boat was the first moment that I truly felt like I was leaving.
I think about this as we walk onto the boat now, Dax throwing me a shirt from beneath the pile of life jackets. It's a simple ferry boat, relatively small with nothing but a few benches inside the compartment and a railing on each side of the deck, with the captain stationed atop the roof. I take the shirt and instinctively walk through the compartment and out onto the bow, where I lean against the railing and wait to be swept away.
At some point, I lose track of time, because suddenly the boat is moving and I can just barely hear the shortened breaths of a girl standing behind me. My eyes have been closed, but I open them wide now as I turn my head to the side and say, "You really shouldn't creep up on people like that."
"Sorry," Annie apologizes and takes a stance at the railing beside me. Unlike me, her back is pointed toward the sea and her eyes are locked on the disappearing District 4. Unlike me, she hasn't yet learned that she'll have to turn her back on her home eventually.
I don't look at her when I ask, "Are you scared?" And because it's something I would do, I add, "Don't lie." If I'm going to be her mentor, and really be her mentor, I need to know everything about Annie Cresta.
"I wasn't going to," she says in a way that makes me believe her. "Because yes, I am scared."
I nod. She'll play her part well.
Before I can ask another question, though, she continues, "But I'm not scared of the Games. I'm not scared to die. I'm scared of what will happen if I don't."
This time, I look back at her. She doesn't return the gesture, and is instead still staring at the pier as it grows further away, but I can make out a bit of her eyes, since they pop out against her porcelain skin and wind-blown hair.
Annie doesn't need to be told what these Games are really about, nor what they'll do to a person. She doesn't need to be told that much like the Games themselves, I have been molded by the Capitol into the exact person they want me to be... a person that I hardly recognize. Annie doesn't need to be told that they'll try to do the same to her, and that death is the only sane way out of the Capitol's grasp.
When Annie asks me, "Finnick, why does this feel like the best day of my life?" she adds, "Don't lie."
And I don't lie. I answer in the most honest way that I can, because I know exactly how she feels, by saying, "Because it's the last real day you'll ever have."
Reaping day is my favorite day of the year. Annie understands that, which is why I decide that when it comes to her, I won't deny it... I won't lie... I won't pretend.
Note: Thanks for reading! I know Finnick may not seem like his usual, charming self, but this is meant to be the 'real' Finnick (Mockingjay-esque), and the handsome, cocky side of him will be more prevalent when he gets to the Capitol. Anyway, let me know what you thought of the chapter by submitting a review! All feedback is appreciated.