Her decision made, Annie shoves everything that'll fit into the large canvas bag she stole from the laundry. Clothing – some of it Finnick's, she's sure, because she couldn't bear to turn it in to the quartermaster – extra shoes, a couple of knotted pieces of rope. She chokes back a sob when her hand hits the framed photograph of her and Finnick dancing at their wedding, and then she has to sit down for a little while until she gets her emotions under control again. Wiping away the tears, she carefully wraps the photo in one of District 13's regulation gray shirts and buries it in the middle of the sack, surrounded by cushioning clothes.
"What are you doing?" At the sound of Johanna's voice, the hairbrush in Annie's hand twists, and she fumbles it, sending it careening in a spectacular arc toward the floor lamp in the corner beyond the bed. She whirls to face the open door.
"You startled me," she exclaims and Johanna laughs.
"No shit." She glances at the sack on the end of the bed and steps further into the room. "Are you going somewhere?"
Annie feels her cheeks flush, but she determinedly resumes packing, stuffing a thick sweater into the sack. Peeta had brought it to her just before he left for his home district, saying he had a closet full of them back in 12, even if they were a little smoky, and that she'd need it more than he would. She reaches for something else to pack, but other than the wayward brush, there's nothing else. Almost ten months in District 13 and all she has to show for it is an unborn child, a dead husband, and barely half a laundry sack full of clothes and mementos.
"Annie?" Johanna sounds concerned.
"Sorry. Yes." She meets Johanna's gaze. "I'm going home." Johanna's eyebrows rise, the left one a little farther than the other, but she doesn't say anything. She does, however, walk the rest of the way into the room and drops down onto the bed, pulling the thin pillow in behind the small of her back. Annie frowns. "Why are you here, Johanna?"
"Dr. Aurelius asked me to check on you when you didn't show up for your appointment this morning." She leans toward Annie and drops her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "They frown on schedule deviations around here, you know." And then she laughs as she leans back, resting her shoulders against the wall. "How exactly are you getting 'home?'" she asks. "I assume you're talking about Four?"
Nodding, Annie ties off the end of the sack. "There's a group leaving for there at noon."
"Mrs. Everdeen's group? Do they know you're going with them?"
Annie slowly turns around, surveying the small room to make sure she didn't miss anything. Her gaze falls on the brush and she steps around the bed to retrieve it. Finnick liked brushing her hair after she washed it, taking his time with it, sometimes playing with it or braiding it. She bites her lip to keep from crying again. She's sick of crying. Almost as though it's deliberate, the baby kicks hard enough to make her gasp, distracting her from her grief, and instead of crying, Annie laughs. When she looks up from the brush in her hands, Johanna is staring at her with more than simple concern and she remembers that hasn't answered her question.
"No, they don't know yet. I didn't want to give them a chance to say no."
"Are you sure it's a good idea? I mean, you're pretty close to popping out that kid, Annie." And you think I'm crazy, Annie thinks, but she doesn't call Johanna on it.
"I don't want this baby to be born here." She surprises herself with the amount of loathing that comes through in just that one word, but Johanna seems to understand. "He should be born near the sea." Annie shivers and crosses her arms between her breasts and her belly. "It's too cold here." The cold she feels has nothing to do with the air temperature, which is exactly 72 degrees, year-round.
Johanna watches her for a moment more and then jumps up from the bed to stalk toward the door. She doesn't say anything and Annie watches her leave, then snatches up the sack that contains all she has left in the world and heads out the door as well, closing it behind her.
No one stops Annie as she weaves her way through the people and vehicles in the cavernous motor pool. Of course, she's dressed just like everyone else here, just one more thing neither she nor Finnick liked about 13, so she mostly blends in with the others. The only thing about her that stands out is her hair; most of those with long hair keep it tied back and out of the way, but Annie's is loose around her shoulders.
When Annie spots Katniss' mother, directing a couple of large men in gray as they load a truck with what Annie assumes are medical supplies, she heads that way. She holds back a little until the men are gone and Mrs. Everdeen is alone before she speaks to her.
"Mrs. Everdeen?" The blonde woman looks up from the clipboard in her hands.
"Mrs. Odair. What can I do for you?" Her gaze drops to Annie's stomach and she frowns. "You're getting close, aren't you?"
Nodding, Annie pushes forward before she loses her nerve. "I need for him to be born in Four, Mrs. Everdeen. I need for him to be born near the sea." She feels the tears burning hot behind her eyes and is helpless to stop them. "I need to go home." She hates the quiver in her voice, but she's helpless to stop that, too.
Mrs. Everdeen's expression softens. "Call me Meredith, Annie." There's an air of expectancy about her as she waits for Annie to tell her why she's there, but Annie doesn't say anything, suddenly unable to push the words out. Meredith Everdeen asks, "Does Dr. Gentian know you're here?"
Feeling like she has to either throw up or pee, she doesn't know which, Annie shakes her head. "Please let me come with you," she begs, the mention of the gynecologist's name apparently restoring her ability to form words.
"I can't stay here." The baby kicks her again. He's probably upset that I'm upset, Annie thinks as she quiets him with a hand spread across her swollen stomach.
Without another word, Meredith Everdeen takes the sack from Annie's hand and tosses it into the backseat of the newly loaded truck. "Since it's only me and Gale in this one, there's plenty of room for one more."
"Can we make that two more?" Annie's eyes widen as she spins to face Johanna Mason carrying a sack that's even less full than Annie's. Addressing only Annie, Johanna says, "I'm not letting anything happen to either you or that baby. It's the least I can do for Finnick, since he isn't here to do it himself."
Four days later, jostled and jolted by the ruts in the road, Annie and Johanna sit together in the backseat of the truck, something one of the military personnel called a "deuce and a half," listening to Gale as he tells Meredith about the first time he and Katniss hunted together. He's been telling her stories about her daughter for days, and Annie wonders if Meredith ever really knew what her daughter did during the times she wasn't in school. Johanna snorts at something Gale says, amused, and Annie looks over at her.
The closer the small convoy they're a part of gets to District 4, the hotter both the days and the nights get, and the more uncomfortable Johanna seems. District 7 is as far north as 13, parts of it are even farther north, and Annie is sure she's never experienced a southern summer. Even her days in the Capitol wouldn't have been nearly as hot. While Annie watches, Johanna wipes at the sweat trickling down her neck.
"You didn't have to come with me, you know," Annie tells her. "I can take care of myself." She gasps at a sudden tightening of the muscles across her stomach and abdomen and Johanna's eyes fly from her face to her stomach. It passes as quickly as it came and Annie smiles. "It's nothing," she assures Jo, willing it to be true. The tightness and discomfort have been coming and going since before they started out that morning and Annie is worried that the baby is planning on making his appearance before they make it into 4. They've been driving across District 11 for the past day and a half, heading west along the coastal road; every once in a while, Annie catches a glimpse of shimmering water or smells a whiff of salt beneath the diesel fumes.
"I'll grant that you can probably take care of yourself under normal circumstances," Johanna says, "but with an impending kid? No. I'm not buying it."
"Hey, Annie!" Gale calls from the driver's seat of the truck. "We just crossed over into District Four. You're almost home." Annie laughs.
"Not quite yet, Gale." His eyes meet hers in the rearview mirror. "We still have to go most of the way around the gulf before I'm anywhere near home."
"At least we're in Four, though," Johanna observes, eyeing Annie's stomach suspiciously.
There's another ripple of muscles across her abdomen and an almost burning sensation flares at the small of her back, intensifying for a handful of seconds before it recedes. Annie breaks into a sweat that the breeze of their passage, flowing into the cab of the truck and swirling around them all, can't begin to cool. She grips tightly to the armrest on the door to her left, her knuckles turning white, and bites back another gasp, holding her breath to keep it from escaping. She's not in pain, not yet, but she thinks it may make that transition soon.
"You're in fucking labor, aren't you?" Johanna hisses at her. Not waiting for Annie to answer, she smacks Gale on the shoulder. "Stop the truck. Miss I-can-take-care-of-myself is in labor."
"Jo…" Annie starts, her voice only a little strained, but Johanna talks over her.
"Don't you 'Jo' me, Odair…"
But Meredith cuts Johanna off in turn, twisting in her seat to look back at Annie.
"When did the contractions start, Annie?" she asks as Gale brings the truck to a stop and reaches for the radio.
"A little before dawn," Annie tells her.
"And are they getting closer together?" Annie nods in answer as Gale speaks to someone farther up in the convoy. Meredith gets out of the truck and heads toward the back.
The latest contraction fades and Annie loosens her grip on the armrest. She flattens her other hand over the mound of her stomach, fascinated by the movement she feels there, both from her own body and from the baby she and Finnick created. Everything around her disappears in a blur of shadow and light as tears rob her of sight. "Oh, Finnick," she whispers, "why did you have to leave me? I need you."
"Hey." Annie blinks hard to clear her vision, but she doesn't look at Johanna, instead watching the side mirror as Gale exits the truck and walks back to where Meredith disappeared into the back. "You're not alone, Annie. We're going to make sure this baby is born and we're going to keep it safe." A moment later, the door opens beside Annie with a metallic groan and then strong arms – not Finnick's – lift her from the seat. Gale carries her about twenty feet off the road and sets her down in the shade of the only tree they've seen for miles.
"Mrs. Everdeen says you're to walk," he tells her. "In circles, back and forth, it doesn't matter, just walk."
Blinking at the sunlight, bright even in the shade, Annie looks around but doesn't see Meredith. "Where is she?"
"Making a nest for you in the back of the truck," Johanna says as she approaches, gesturing for Gale to head that way. "She says she needs you for some heavy lifting."
Gale leaves them alone and for the next few hours, Annie and Johanna walk in between contractions, which grow stronger and more painful as they increase in frequency. Annie is vaguely aware of Gale checking in again with the lead truck to tell them what's happening. Afterward, he pulls a pair of rifles from beneath the driver's seat and hands one to Johanna – "Just in case…" – keeping the other as he positions himself on the roof of the truck to keep watch.
Hours pass. The rest of the convoy returns, setting up camp nearby, but still leaving them enough space to allow Annie a little bit of privacy. The sun drops lower in the sky and as it drops, so does the temperature, although it remains hot and humid. A stronger contraction hits and Annie can't stop the cry of pain that tears from her. She stops in her tracks, clinging to Johanna's hand as Meredith checks her pulse. When Johanna makes a sound, Annie tries to let go, but Johanna won't let her.
"I'll hurt your hand" Annie protests.
"You go ahead and break my fucking hand, if it helps you." Annie stares wide-eyed at Johanna and then bursts into tears, still clinging to her hand.
More time passes. Annie walks until finally, she can't walk any longer. The contractions are too close together and too strong. Gale scoops her up once more and carries her to the back of the truck as though she weighs nothing, laying her in the "nest" Meredith created. Once Annie's settled, he returns to keeping watch. Johanna stays right there at Annie's side.
In the brief time between contractions, Annie tells Johanna, "He loved you, you know."
Johanna's face is backlit – Meredith has a battery-operated lantern hanging low so that she has enough light to work, but it's not meant to illuminate the whole area – so Annie can't see her expression, but she hears the pain in her voice when she replies, "Yeah, but not like he loved you."
"I'm sorry, Jo."
"No, you're not. And there's no reason you should be. Finnick and I were never meant to be." She starts to say something else, but the strongest contraction yet hits Annie broadside; her sudden, bitten-off scream brings Meredith running.
All the while, Johanna holds Annie's hand, joking about being crippled by the time the damn kid finally makes his appearance. Annie keeps apologizing and Johanna keeps telling her to shut up. An eternity later, sometime near dawn, as Annie screams for Finnick, knowing he's gone but needing him anyway, the little boy the two of them made comes into the world screaming in two-part harmony with his mother.
When Meredith lays the tiny, red-faced little boy in Annie's arms, both mother and son are quiet and exhausted. Johanna gently smoothes the hair from Annie's forehead and watches the baby with horrified fascination.
"What are you going to call the little monster?" she asks.
"Martin," Annie murmurs. "His name is Martin." She thinks Finnick would be okay with that. He'd liked Martin Perch, told her before he went into the arena to trust him and she had. She'd trusted Martin and he'd helped her when she needed it most. He'd died helping her.
Johanna continues to stroke Annie's hair; Annie isn't sure she even realizes she's doing it, but it feels good, it feels like someone cares, so she says nothing, not wanting to make her stop. She drifts on a cloud of exhaustion, too numb for the first time since Haymitch and Johanna told her of his death to even miss Finnick. She's almost asleep, little Martin a warm spot along her ribs, when Johanna's voice wakes her.
"Hey, Annie." Annie opens her eyes to see Johanna smiling as the morning sun seeps into the truck. "Do you realize what today is?"
"Welcome to Reaping Day. Except this time, we're free. No more reapings." She leans down and kisses Annie on the forehead, strokes the backs of her fingers along Martin's cheek. "Happy birthday, kid. May the odds be ever in you favor."