Come down now. Remove your mask.
What does this feeling mean to you-
Both to be seen and to be seen through?
It is late when Finnick Odair goes to check on his tributes. He is not quite sure how late exactly, but he knows that he spent enough time with tonight's client to have her scent hang off of him like a thick, sickening cologne, and the cameras and their reporters who usually follow him have retired for some rest before the games begin tomorrow.
This is how he and Mags work: she takes the day shift, and he the night. She can't stay up past ten o'clock, and he cannot stand to look at himself in the daylight. A perfect, balanced system if there ever was one.
His first tribute, an older boy named Carp, is passed out, barricaded on his bed by pillows. He is glad that he will not have to give a Career pep talk tonight. He is decidedly not up for it.
But, when he lets himself into Cresta's room, it is empty. The lights are off. The bedspread is tucked and neatly made up. There is no sign, really, that anyone has been here at all. For a moment, he thinks he is in the wrong room, but then he sees a shadow across the terrace. Without a thought, he crosses the room and steps out to follow his tribute.
The balcony is vacant except for a small body curled up next to a ledge. Finnick could make a joke about not jumping, about having so much to live for, but his exhaustion whips the humor even from his own jokes.
"It's late," is all he can manage to say.
What does one say to a person with so little time left to live? After all of this time mentoring, Finnick still isn't any better at it. Annie mumbles something under her breath in reply to his sharp statement, but Finnick doesn't quite catch it. He steps closer.
His body and mind are exhausted. She should be in bed so he can take a Capitol grade sleeping pill and pass out alone. Her current state of consciousness is wrecking his plan.
"You should be in bed," he says once he crosses the sleek metal floor of the balcony.
He towers over Annie's seated figure. She does not even spare him a glance. No, Annie Cresta looks straight ahead, out through the electrified force field keeping the tributes from ending their lives in their own way, letting her eyes stare blankly out into the cityscape.
"I'm not tired," she says defiantly.
Finnick falls to her side, sitting next to her with his back to the building wall. He stares out at the city, trying to see what everyone else sees, trying to see what Annie sees. He sees blinding lights, deafening music, people diluting pain with pleasure, streams of the faithless flitting from one meaningless thing to the next.
"You'll need your rest for tomorrow."
Annie laughs, bitterness touching the sound so deeply that it cuts Finnick to his core.
"Why? I'm dead anyway. I'm just enjoying my last night."
Finnick shifts from the city to look at her and sees something achingly familiar brewing there. Hopeless. Emptiness. Resignation.
If Finnick were ever to look in the mirror, really look at himself, then he would see the same things washing through his eyes constantly. And as he watches her give up, he changes everything.
"When you get into the arena, Annie, I want you to run."
Finally, her eyes swivel toward him. This is not the plan. She is supposed to tail that Carp boy from her district so he can protect her for as long as he can.
"You run and you hide."
Finnick knows that no tribute has ever won by hiding, but it seems a much better plan than waiting for Carp to turn on her.
"Hide in a tree, hide between rocks, anything to keep you out of sight. I'll send you gifts from sponsors-"
Annie laughs again and moves away from him. He stares at her, half offended, though she cannot know what it will cost him to give her those sponsors.
"What?" He snaps.
"You know I won't live, Finnick."
Then her voice gets quiet and strong all at the same time.
"I'm not like you."
She doesn't mean it in a cruel way. She means that she isn't strong enough. But Finnick hears something else. She's not a killer. Not an object to be manipulated. Finnick knows these distinctions between he and Annie, but he never thought of them so bluntly. He lets those new wounds throb for a long moment before gritting his jaw and looking off into the distance.
"You wouldn't want to win anyway," Finnick scoffs before he can think better of it. A statement like that is dangerous, treasonous even, and he knows that there will be questions attached to it that he doesn't want to answer.
And, if he is honest with himself, he is too busy blinking back the waves of emotion to care.
"I wouldn't want to live?" Annie begins, caustically, "Everyone wants to live."
"When you win," he begins, his voice low and cautious, "There are...strings."
Finnick is not sure why he is telling Annie Cresta, the little tribute from his district without a hope of surviving, about his service to the almighty Capitol. Perhaps because he doesn't think she will ever see him again. She won't live long enough to pity him or to judge him for it. Or perhaps it is because he hopes she will live long enough. She will endure and succeed where he failed.
"You'll owe people for things. They'll take the only currency you've got. For me, it was my body."
Annie's eyes do not leave Finnick for a moment. His gaze goes dark as a million images, memories, flood his mind.
"Turns out," he begins with a laugh that is bitter and self-condemning all at once, "I have a lot of debt."
Present tense. Continual. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Not, I had a lot of debt. I have a lot of debt.
Silence passes between them. Finnick does not glance at Annie. She does not move her gaze. Even in the midst of the sensory overload that is the Capitol at night, Finnick feels her eyes trying to unravel him from the inside out. She reads him as though he is a complex knot she is trying to unravel or a cloud pattern in the distance that she is trying to fathom into a storm.
But then, after a long moment, he feels a shift beside him. All at once, she is on her knees at his side, and her hands ghost up toward his chest. He tenses and he begins to move away, unable to believe that Annie Cresta is trying to make a pass at him. But then, something strange happens. Something that has never happened before.
Annie Cresta begins to put him back together. She takes the open buttons of his expensive white shirt and loops them so it is closed to his neck, no longer open and disheveled from his evening activities. She presses down on his collar, running her hands across his collarbone and forcing the material to lay flat across his shoulders. Her hands travel further up, resting in his hair and brushing the locks tousled by hours in the sheets until they lay in a semblance of order. Then, one hand returns to her mouth. She licks her thumb and gently brushes it over Finnick's cheek, erasing the lipstick that stains his face like a blood splatter. He hadn't even known that it was there. Finally, Annie relaxes her hands, letting one rest on either of his cheeks, and guides him to look her. When, at last, green meets blue, she speaks.
"You're not a bad man, Finnick," she says, distantly.
She smiles at him, a small smile, but still. It is her first real smile since the Reaping.
"Don't ever let them make you believe that you are."
Her words are simple, but they knock him over with the force of a freight train. For a long moment, Finnick Odair- the Golden boy, the one everyone wants a piece of, the one seen on television and a fixture at parties, the one who never goes a minute without being watched- allows invisible Annie Cresta to hold his face and stare into his eyes.
And, for the first time in his life, Finnick actually feels seen.
So here is a one shot I wrote for a Tumblr dare ages ago and I finally got around to posting it up here! I hope you enjoyed it. Please review and let me know your thoughts! Thanks for reading!