Annie stared at the ocean. It always seemed to hold the answers for her, but not today. She had to be in the town square in an hour. They all did. Tucking a strand of her dark hair behind her ear, she turned back to head up off the beach. She wondered if Dictrict Four would have a volunteer this year. It was always tough to pick. Some years they did, and some years they didn't. She couldn't decide for this year. The Seventieth Hunger Games. She bit her lip and she brushed sand off her bare feet before putting her shoes back on, trying to think of all those she knew who had turned eighteen and would consider volunteering. She couldn't think of many.
Striding up the path back toward the town, she supposed she'd find out soon enough. Before long she reached her house and hurried inside. Heading into her bedroom, she looked around for her hairbrush. Pulling it through her beach tangles she listened to her parents moving around in the next room. After a once-over in her mirror and deciding that the top and skirt she was already wearing was good enough, she quickly headed into the living room.
"Not that many options this year." Her father said simply. Annie blinked and her mother's face fell.
"She'll be fine..."
"Yeah, I'll be fine." Annie murmured.
"So we're ready then?" her father asked. Annie nodded and followed him to the door. "I've heard talk that the prize money is going up..." he said, looking around at her mother. "That should interest a few volunteers..."
"Second prize is still the same, though." Annie muttered. She glanced around when her mother smoothed her hair down gently. Giving her a smile, Annie then followed her father down the path and on to the street.
Not long later, Annie took her place in the town square with the other girls around her age. She knew she didn't have much reason to be uneasy, but as she shuffled her feet, she couldn't help the nervousness all the same. She chewed her lip as she watched Pansy Clementine, the District Four escort move toward the microphone at the edge of the stage.
Tuning out to the woman's usual tirade, Annie turned her attention to the other girls standing with her. Looking at each of them out of the corner of her eye, she tried to work out who would volunteer. Tari, standing beside her, wouldn't. She'd been Annie's closest friend since they'd first started school as kids. Tari had become responsible for caring for her mother who had gotten sick after her older sister had volunteered for the Games four years earlier and had died. No, Tari wouldn't volunteer.
Not too far away, a blonde girl caught Annie's eye. She was tall and looked well built, like the girls who had spent time training did. Annie would have put money on the fact that this girl hoped to be a career tribute. She didn't know how old she was, though. Perhaps sixteen. Would she think her training was finished? Did she feel ready? Did she think she was good enough? Annie didn't know.
She looked at Tari when her friend took her hand and she realised that Pansy Clementine had come to the end of her spiel. She watched the colourful woman walk slowly toward the glass bowl of names.
"Why does she always seem to move in slow motion when she gets to this bit?" Tari muttered to her.
Annie made a face. "She probably thinks that it's dramatic." She replied.
Tari nodded. "Probably..."
They both fell silent when Pansy stopped at the bowl and reached inside. They watched as she dug her hand around for what seemed like an eternity. They watched silently as she withdrew her hand and walked just as slowly back to the microphone. Tari squeezed her hand and Annie gave her a reassuring smile. Surely the fates couldn't be cruel enough to take Tari and her sister. Tari wasn't trained like her sister had been. Her friend would stand no chance against those from Districts One and Two. She couldn't be chosen. She just couldn't.
"Someone will volunteer... Don't worry." She whispered to her friend. Tari nodded.
Eventually, Pansy readied herself and opened her mouth to speak. "And the female tribute from District Four is... Annie Cresta!"
Annie blinked. Tari's hand tightened on hers. Annie Cresta. No.
"...Someone will volunteer..." Her friend whispered. Heads were slowly turning toward her and Annie couldn't breathe.
"Annie Cresta." Pansy called again. "Where are you, Annie?"
Annie shook her head, looking around. Someone was going to volunteer! Where was the volunteer? Who was it? She couldn't breathe!
"Annie..." Tari breathed as people stepped away from them and the Peacekeepers headed toward them. "You have to go..."
"There she is... Come up, Annie..." Pansy's voice called loudly.
Annie looked around her again, her gaze falling on the blonde girl nearby. She blinked when the girl avoided her eye. The Peacekeepers drew closer and Annie couldn't breathe.
"Go..." Tari let go of her hand. Annie looked at her and then her feet were moving. The Peacekeepers surrounded her and escorted her closely up to the stage. She walked unsteadily up the steps and then Pansy took her hand and led her to the centre of the stage.
"Finally! Annie Cresta! What a pretty young lady you are, Annie."
"...Thanks." She forced out, looking at the sea of faces before her.
"Okay, well... now for the male tribute. Let's find out, shall we?"
Annie blinked silently, and watched as Pansy did her painfully slow walk over to the bowl of names. She fisted a handful of her skirt as Pansy slowly pulled another slip of paper out and came back to the microphone.
"And the male tribute for District Four is Alcon Pontir!"
Annie looked at the crowd again. She had no idea who that was. As the crowd parted, she spotted a skinny boy of about fourteen walking slowly toward the stage. Even with the significant distance between them, Annie could see his freckles standing out in stark contrast to his pale skin. The boy hadn't gone more than twenty steps when a tall bronzed boy pushed his way forward and loudly volunteered to take his place. A cheer went up and the boy smiled widely and turned to wave in the direction the sound had come from. "And District Four has a volunteer! Marvellous!" Pansy exclaimed.
Annie watched as the boy bounded up the steps and over to Pansy and the microphone. "Hello..."Pansy smiled, "And what is your name?"
The boy winked at Pansy and leaned forward, flashing a dazzling white smile toward the cameras televising the reaping to all of Panem as he said loudly "Torsti Oiva."
"How wonderful!" Pansy said enthusiastically, clearly pleased with her new tribute. "Are you looking to make a name for yourself, Torsti?"
"Well," Annie watched Torsti grin, "I already have a bit of a name for myself," he paused to flash another grin at the cameras, "But I thought it was about time District Four had another victor in the Hunger Games... it has been five years afterall..."
"Oh..." Pansy just about clapped her hands she was so excited, "Are you looking to become the next Finnick Odair?"
"We'll see..." Torsti straightened himself and waved to someone in the crowd.
"Oh, how exciting!" Pansy was now just about bouncing on the balls of her feet, although Annie didn't know how she was managing it in those shoes. "Well, everyone... I give you District Four's tributes for the Seventieth Annual Hunger Games!" She turned to look at Annie and Torsti and began clapping enthusiastically.
Annie barely registered that this was the moment that she and Torsti were supposed to shake hands, when he'd suddenly wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her firmly as he waved to the crowd and the cameras, that huge smile flashing brightly once more. A few minutes later, they were ushered back behind the heavy doors at the back of the stage and put into separate rooms. She supposed this was where she would say goodbye to her family before she was taken away for good.
Sitting on a plush couch, she stared silently at a wall as she waited. After barely a minute the door opened and her parents walked in.
"Oh, Annie..." he mother sobbed and Annie's eyes immediately filled with tears. "I can't believe this is happening... I can't believe nobody volunteered..."
"They all know what happens to the victors." Her father muttered.
"Not all of them." her mother replied, shooting her husband a look. "That boy volunteered."
"You heard him. He wants to be the next Odair... swanning in and out of the place. I'll bet he can't wait to get his hands on some capitol women."
"Stop it." Her mother said, before looking back to Annie. "You'll have your mentors. You're clever, Annie. Learn from them. Mags cold teach you so much... and Finnick... he was so young when he won. He could help you too. Listen to them."
"He won because the capitol women with too much money fancied him." Her father cut in.
"It was more than that!" her mother said sharply, looking again back to Annie. "Listen to him. Listen to them both. You're so clever, Annie. You could come home."
Annie nodded, the tears falling from her eyes. Her mother hugged her tightly and Annie couldn't hold in a small sob. Even without seeing the rest of the tributes yet, just the sight of Torsti had confirmed to her that she was no contender. The guy probably weighed four times what she did and she didn't even come to his shoulders. The tributes from districts one and two would probably be equally as large as well as some from other districts. Who was her mother trying to fool? She wasn't coming home no matter what Mags and Finnick taught her.
All too soon the door was opened and her parents were told that their time was up. Annie sobbed again and her mother gave her another tight squeeze before kissing her cheek. "I love you, Annie."
"I love you too, Mum." She choked, unable to make her voice work properly. Her mother let her go and Annie saw that she was crying, too. Before she could try and say anything else, her father had stepped forward and hugged her quickly.
"Do your best, Annie." He said simply and she nodded. Then they were gone and the door was shut tightly behind them. Annie sank back down onto the couch and cried.
About twenty minutes later the door opened and she was being ushered down the hall toward the train that would take her to the capitol. She wish that she'd been able to say goodbye to Tari, but a few years ago when volunteering had been so common they'd changed the rules to only allow family to visit the tributes as each tribute at the time practically had a parade visit them to wish them well.
Annie wiped her face as she stepped onto the platform and noticed the cameras. She wished she'd given more thought to trying to preserve her appearance. The last thing she wanted to do was to make herself look like an easy target to every other tribute who was sure to be watching the day's events over in just a few short hours. She'd just eyed the cameras again while trying to surreptitiously clean her face up when somebody stepped between them and her. Blinking she looked up to see the back of somebody with shiny bronze hair. Finnick Odair. He was recognisable without even having to see his face. He turned his head slightly to look at her over his shoulder and give her a small smile. It was then she realised that he'd blocked the cameras' view of her on purpose, and she continued to quickly clean her up her face.
She gave a small sniff when she was satisfied that she probably didn't look like a complete and utter train wreck and Finnick shifted a little to allow the cameras to get a glimpse of her as they stepped onto the train. The doors closed behind her and the train began to move almost immediately. She gave a small start before realising that Torsti must already be aboard. Blinking, she tucked a loose strand of her long hair behind her ear. It was then she noticed that Finnick Odair was watching her.
"What?" She asked. Not the most eloquent.
"Sorry." She murmured, rubbing her face with her hands. Shaking herself a little she looked back to him. "Thanks for..." She waved a hand at the doors. He nodded.
"My pleasure, Annie Cresta."
"Yeah, okay, Finnick Odair."
He smiled again. Stepping closer, he held his hand out to her and she shook it. Soft, smooth skin. That was a little uncommon in District Four, but then he did visit the capitol a lot. She let his hand go and just looked at him.
"Shall we find Torsti before Pansy tries to molest him?" He asked lightly. Annie almost smiled.
"Wouldn't it be the other way around?"
"Nah, he's just playing the game."
"Well, I'm glad that somebody knows the rules." She muttered.
"That's why you have me."
She nodded and followed him up the train, watching his back as he strode ahead. Broad shouldered and strong, it was definitely more than just Finnick's good looks that won him his games five years prior. She remembered watching those games on television. She'd been thirteen at the time, Finnick just a year older. He'd been so clever in the way he'd presented himself to the others that by the time they'd worked out that he was a real threat it was too late. Yes, she could learn from Finnick Odair.