DISCLAIMER: I do not own Annie Cresta, Finnick Odair or any other characters from the Hunger Games universe. All belong to Suzanne Collins. (Except of course, my OCs, which are mine)
Hey everyone! To those who have come here from 'Annie's Story', I hope you're still enjoying it and that you'll like this one just as much XD
As you might already know, this is a companion piece to 'Annie's Story' which tells of the events leading up to and during the 70th Hunger Games - the year that Annie Cresta won. This story is the same Games (and in effect, the same story) but through Finnick's eyes. There is some slight repetition of conversations between the two stories but most of it is extra scenes that Annie never saw and obviously, what Finnick thinks about everything that's going on.
I recommend reading 'Annie's Story' as well, it's not completely necessary, but you get to see what's going through Annie's head during these Games. Plus that story is now finished, so if you can't wait for this fic to be updated, you can pop over there to find out what happens!
So, I will let you get on with the story... I hope you enjoy it and please review. I love to hear your feedback.
(Rated M for future violence and ambiguous references to prostitution)
CHAPTER ONE - MENTORS AND TRIBUTES
I am not impressed.
When I hear the name 'Annie Cresta' and see the girl – smallish, slim, long hair the colour of dark chocolate – my first thought is no winner this year, then.
But when she is pushed onto the stage by the peacekeepers and her pretty green eyes meet mine, I try to look sympathetic. After all, she'll probably be dead within a week...
Something hard and unexpected flickers across her face – resentment? irritation? – as if she can tell what I'm thinking. But then that stupid escort sinks those talons into her arm, whirling her round to face the silent crowd and I see my newest tribute's face rearrange itself into blank passivity. I frown. Maybe I imagined it.
As Violet Lovedaie announces Annie Cresta's name again, my attention is caught by an elderly woman standing amongst the other adults. I vaguely recognise her as a relative of Annie Cresta, but I can't remember her name. All I can see is the pain in her eyes... a pain that replays itself twenty four times over every year all around Panem, a pain that I remember seeing in my family's eyes five years ago.
I refocus in time to see my next tribute, a tall boy – practically a man – stalk through the crowd and up onto stage.
Now this is more like it, I think with some satisfaction.
Ethan Marborough is tall, muscular, strong and deadly. I know him from his reputation as expert whaler and harpooner. As Ethan makes his way on-stage, he meets my eyes with a challenging glare, his fists clenched and his jaw tight, and I give him an acknowledging nod.
As Violet Lovedaie grabs the hands of the two chosen tributes and raises them aloft, me and Mags share a small secret smile.
We may actually have a winner this year.
I turn to find the elderly woman I saw earlier standing just behind me.
"Yes?" I give her a reassuring smile. Relatives of tributes often come to find me before we leave, sobbing and snivelling, pleading that I keep their children, their brothers, their friends alive and bring them home safely.
Strangely though, this woman regards me steadily, her eyes bright – not with tears – but with determination.
"I'm her Grandmother." She tells me and I nod.
There is a pause, in which she never breaks my gaze. I shift uncomfortably. Her eyes are far too penetrating, far too knowing.
"Keep her alive." She says.
Cresta has no chance, really, and everyone knows it, but I nod again, smiling like I'll genuinely focus on her and not the potential victor I've got for a male tribute.
But Cresta's Grandmother is not impressed.
"I know you think she has no chance of winning this."
"Not at all..." I begin, but she cuts me off.
"Don't lie to me, Odair." Her eyes are hard and I realise however good I consider myself at faking emotions, she sees straight through me, just like Mags.
I sigh. I should probably just tell the truth.
"Fine." I say. "No, I don't really."
"She's tougher than you think."
"I'm sure she is..."
"Don't patronise me, Odair." The elderly woman snaps. "She's my Granddaughter and she's all I have. She's pretty – and I'm not stupid, I know that matters - but she's smart and tough too, so don't you dare write her off just because you've got Ethan Marborough to fight for as well." I stare at her in surprise, feeling a lot like I'm being scolded by Mags, and she glares fiercely back. "I've seen you, Odair. You pick your favourite and you focus on them and leave the other to fend for themselves." My mouth opens and shuts and I have a feeling I probably look a lot like a fish. "Well, Odair?" She taps her foot impatiently. "What have you got to say for yourself?"
I am silent for a moment.
"I won't write her off." I say eventually.
"You promise?" She asks.
"I do." I nod. "I'll help her, I promise." There is a pause and then I meet her eyes. "You do realise," I say seriously. "That Ethan has more chance of winning."
"Yes." She sighs, her eyes a little sad. "But I don't want her to die. Selfish as it may seem, I don't want to be on my own."
I know the feeling, I think. No, scrap that, I'm not really alone, I have Mags and my sister and her family. But still, the sadness and the loneliness in her voice strikes a chord and I suddenly feel obligated to do what I can to bring her home her Granddaughter.
"I will try." I promise her genuinely. "But I can't guarantee anything. You know that once she's in the arena, she'll have to fight for herself."
"I do." She says and for the first time, I see a tear in the corner of her eye. "But thank you, Finnick... Thank you."
I'm just about to board the train that will take us all to the Capitol when a loud, familiar voice echoes around 4's tiny station.
I turn to see my sister (older than me by five years) racing down the platform towards me, her long hair the exact colour of mine falling haphazardly from her plait and her cheeks flushed red. Behind her hurries her long suffering husband, Darryl, their three year old son, Max, on his shoulders and their seven year old daughter, Bianca, clinging onto his hand.
Smiling at the one woman whirlwind that is my sister, I step off the ramp, back onto the platform. She ploughs into me, flinging her arms around my neck and I have to take a staggering step backwards. I laugh.
"Jen." I say, giving her a squeeze. "I thought you'd decided not to say goodbye this time."
She pulls away, her freckled nose wrinkling in irritation.
"New batch of peacekeepers this year." She informs me. "None of them recognised me and then they wouldn't let me through. We had to wait for Gabe to get here and tell them it was alright." I roll my eyes, releasing her from my grasp. New peacekeepers are always such jobsworths. At least Gabe (Head peacekeeper and actually a pretty nice bloke) was around.
"How long till you leave?" Jen asks as Darryl appears behind her.
"About fifteen mi..." I begin but am interrupted by an excited shriek that can only belong to one very loud, very little person...
"Uncle Finn!" Bianca cries, launching herself at me.
"How's my little Bee?" I laugh, catching her and swinging her up into my arms. She giggles.
"Buzzz buzz." She tucks her hands into her armpits, flapping her elbows up and down like wings. "Make me fly, Uncle Finn!" I lift her up and spin around, holding her high above my head. "Aghhhh!" She shrieks, laughing wildly. "Put me down!"
I drop her back down and she clings her legs around my middle and her arms around my neck like a little spider monkey.
"Don't goooo!" She says.
"I've got to, honey bun." I tell her, hugging her tightly. "But I'll be back in a few weeks and I'll take you out on my boat, eh?"
She lets go of my neck and claps excitedly.
"Yeah!" She beams. "Can you take me all the way to the islands? Daddy said I don't want to go because sharks live there but I really really really want to see a shark and then I can bring a baby one home and keep it in my fish tank and I'll call it sharky 'cause it's a shark..." She rattles on for a little bit and I glance at Darryl. He raises his eyes heavenwards in a what can you do? look.
"Sounds brilliant, Bee." I interrupt her gently. "You can tell me all about it when I get back."
"Okey dokey!" She giggles. "But guess what?"
"I bought you a present!"
She reaches in her dress pocket and along with an assortment of elastic bands and a rather dangerous looking fish hook... (Jen snatches that away) she pulls out a length or plaited twine. It's a bracelet, commonly worn in 4 by men and women, often symbolising love, eternity and unity.
"Ta da!" She announces. "Momma made it for me but I want you to have it."
"Are you sure?" I ask, touched, taking it gently from her hand.
"Yup yup! It's a present."
"That's very sweet, Bee." I say, kissing her on the cheek and slipping the twine into my pocket. She beams at me for a second and then her little face screws up thoughtfully. "Uncle Fi-inn." She says, elongating the sound in a way that makes me worry about what she's going to say next...
"Yeah?" I reply.
"Momma said you won the Hunger Games..." My mouth falls slack in surprise, my eyes snapping to meet Jen's. She shoots me a pained look.
"I did." I answer carefully as over her shoulder I see Darryl shift Max from off his shoulders and into his arms, handing him some very distracting looking sweets. I'm glad. Max is far too young to even hear the words Hunger Games.
Bianca purses her lips.
"We're doing about it at school." Already? I'm suddenly furious at the Capitol for taking away her innocence, for making me have to explain this. My jaw must tighten and my eyes must flash because Bianca shrinks away. "I saw you." She continues in a small voice. "When you were younger, in the arena."
Oh no. Please no.
"What did you see?" I ask gently, trying to keep the anger from my voice.
Please don't let it be me with that damned net and trident...
"The trident." She says sadly. I close my eyes, holding her tighter.
"I'm sorry they made you watch that."
There is a little pause and I wait for her to start crying and to run away, run away from the monster that I was. But then she speaks again.
"Momma said you had to do it." I open my eyes to see her staring up at me earnestly. "You had to do it," She continues. "Or else you wouldn't be here to take me out on your boat."
I smile at that.
"No, I wouldn't."
"I like your boat." She tells me and I have to laugh.
"So do I."
"I like you too." She continues, lifting her hand to pat my cheek. "I'm glad you're here." I kiss her nose.
"Me too, little Bee."
She giggles suddenly.
"That's my girl." I say with a chuckle.
She hugs me for a little longer and then she starts wriggling like she wants to be put down. I do so and Jen bends down to catch her arm.
"Hey Bee, look, there's Uncle Gabe," She points to where the stout stern looking peacekeeper with an unexpected heart of gold has just appeared on the platform. "Why don't you run over and see if he's got any sweeties?"
"Yeah!" Bianca is off in a flash, racing towards Gabe, red hair whipping out behind her.
Jen straightens with a sigh.
"I'm sorry." She says wearily. "I didn't know she was going to ask about that."
"She's seven." I say with a shake of my head. "Why on earth are they teaching her about the Games?"
"They're watching this year's too." Jen says sadly. "In lessons."
"They're not?" I am astounded.
"They are. And Ethan Marborough's little sister is in Bee's class too."
I close my eyes briefly.
There is a moment's silence and then Jen sighs again.
"I'd better go and make sure Bee isn't eating old Gabe out of house and home." She gives me a tight but quick hug and then another sad smile, before heading off along the platform. Darryl, who'd shifted away with Max as the conversation got more intense, reappears with his son back on his shoulders.
"See you, mate." He offers me his hand and I shake it, slapping him on the back.
"See you. Look after Jen and your cheeky little minx of a daughter."
He smiles briefly.
"I will. I always do."
"What about me?" Max suddenly pipes up indignantly. I grin up at him.
"I know you can look after yourself, little man." He regards me, unimpressed, his arms folded, his expression severe. I hold out my arms to him, smirking slightly. "Gonna give me a goodbye hug, eh?"
He continues to contemplate silently me for a second and then his little face breaks into a smile and he reaches for me. I lift him from his dad's shoulders and give him a tight squeeze.
"Will you take me on the boat with Bee too?" He asks in a small voice. I nod.
"Yup. We'll all go and we can have a picnic, and I'll teach you to fish, does that sound good?"
"No sharks, though." He says seriously, shooting a glance over his shoulder to where his boisterous sister is now pleading with Jen for more sweets from Gabe. "I don't like sharks."
"No sharks." I agree. He nods solemnly, resting his head on my shoulder and tightening his grasp.
"You going to the Capitol?" He asks suddenly.
"Yuh huh." I reply, pressing my nose into his curly hair.
"Can I come with you?"
I pause for a second, before eventually heaving a little sigh.
"Believe me kiddo..." I say softly. "You'd never want to come to the Capitol with me."
I sit on the train in the plush living room, slouched on one of the sofas, Mags seated in the other one. Neither of us have really spoken after Mags inquired after the health of my sister and her family, but we don't particularly need to. We both know each other so well, our silence is a comfortable one.
I'm not sure what she's thinking about, although it's most likely our two newest tributes. I should probably be thinking about them too, you know, working out tactics, thinking up preliminary angles etc etc but quite frankly I'm too busy thinking about Jen... and Bianca.
Seven. Seven years old and she's already been exposed to the horrific world of the Hunger Games. I imagine her sitting in her classroom, wide eyed and frightened as Annie Cresta and Ethan Marborough die right in front of her.
And in five years time, it'll be her standing in the town square... and if I don't keep Snow completely happy, then chances are, it'll be her name that's read out on reaping day. I've already lost so much because I resisted Snow, because I didn't truly believe he'd hurt my family. But he did and now Jen, Darryl and the kids are all I have left, and I never intend on giving Snow another reason to take anything else away from me.
It's impossible to understand how hard it is, how heavy your heart gets, when you have lives depending on you, not until you win the Games and suddenly, everyone you've ever loved is in danger.
Jen's life and the lives of her family, depend on my submission to the Capitol. Annie Cresta and Ethan Marborough's lives depend on my being a good mentor.
And it's getting pretty hard to take.
Despite my intentions to help her as much as I can and my promises to her Grandmother, Annie Cresta seems determined to hate me. I kindly ask her if she's alright when she first steps on the train and she shoots me a scowl, her green eyes blazing.
"What do you think?" She spits.
Although the hint of fire is mildly impressive, the Capitol won't like her sarcasm and I make a mental note to snap her out of it.
My eyebrows raise.
"We're not your enemies, Cresta."
She doesn't look convinced but shrugs.
"I guess not." The fire fades from her eyes and she crosses her arms self protectively across her chest, folding in on herself like she's made of paper. Weak weak weak, I think, fighting the urge to sigh.
And her Grandmother thinks she can win this...
The other tributes are generally as I expected.
District 1 is a smidge disappointing – both tributes are on the younger end of the spectrum and pretty small – but I've already learnt that in the Games, appearances are often deceptive. District 2 is both worrying and pleasing from the view of my possible Careers. The boy is tall and muscular, although his almost baby face is strangely unsettling, and the girl, although slim, look absolutely lethal.
Annie – silly girl that she is – says the boy from two looks nice. I fight a snort, but manage not to say something sarcastic back.
Apart from the hulking great boy from 7, no other tributes are of particular interest. Ethan's assessment of his competition is smart and succinct, whilst Annie points out the boy from District 11. I go to shoot her down but Mags – for some reason – agrees!
Annie smirks at me and somehow manages to look pretty doing it, something that just irritates me even more.
"Fine," I say, rolling my eyes in an attempt to hide how much this girl is getting to me. "We'll keep an eye on 11."
I change the subject after that, moving on to skills and possible advantages in the arena and Annie falls silent again. I'm guessing she's not got many then.
Ethan lists his many skills and talents, not in an arrogant way though, because from from what I've seen of him around 4, he'll have no problem handling weapons in the arena. I shift my gaze towards Annie and she does that thing where she curls inwards again.
"I don't really have many skills." She mutters. "I tie a good knot, but that's 'bout it really." She keeps her eyes fixed firmly on the carpet, refusing to meet my gaze. "I'm average height, average weight, average speed, average strength... my skills in combat are probably less than average and I guess I have about as much chance as anyone... So," She looks at me then, shrugging embarrassedly. "I'm pretty much average really."
I know I shouldn't , but it's such an easy line that I can't help myself. A smirk creeps across my lips.
"Good job you've got those above average looks of yours to pull in a few sponsors then, eh?"
As soon as I say it, Mags shoots me a look and I prepare myself for a lecture later, but it's well worth it for the look on Annie's face. The utter mortification and the blush that spreads across her cheeks and down her throat. My smirk grows when she lowers her dark eyebrows and sends me a vicious scowl.
"Good job, then." She snaps and I almost laugh.
"The Capitol likes pretty girls like you." Mags muses, turning to look at me. "That could be our angle."
I nod, stroking my chin thoughtfully.
"Pretty but tough, with some secret skills and gritty resolve. I like it." I spot another opportunity and grin mischievously at the girl in question. "Just keep up those scowls of yours and we might get away with it."
As I hoped, she glowers at me so fiercely it looks like she might burst a blood vessel.
Her reaction is so unbelievably refreshing. The Capitol women I am forced to entertain night after night are hardened and mature. They like my teasing, but they prefer it darker. None of them blush when I smirk at them, none of them are furious when I flirt.
The Capitol adore innocence and its ruination and they'll have a field day with Annie Cresta. Pretty much like they did with me.
"I don't have a secret skill." She glares at me, her tone still sharp. "I've already told you."
"She's a good swimmer." Ethan tells me. "Really good. She can dive really deep and hold her breath for an eternity."
Really? I suddenly vaguely remember seeing Annie on board the whaling boats last year. My eyebrows raise. You've got to be good to be allowed on the bi-annual trips out to the islands.
"Can she?" I ask.
"What good is that?" Annie frowns before Ethan can continue. "So yeah, I might not drown if someone chucks me in a river, but aren't they more likely just to cut my head off? Holding my breath won't help me there."
"No." I shrug. "But you never know what could happen in the arena."
And it's true. The Gamemakers will do anything for a good show, and a drowning makes for an exciting death every once in a while.
"They could flood it." Mags says quietly.
"Yes." I reply. "Although that does seem unlikely..." A flood would kill far too many tributes and as I know very well, the Capitol audience prefer a nice wide variety of deaths. "But being able to hold your breath for a long time gives you an extra hiding place, doesn't it?" I continue.
"I guess so." Annie seems reluctant to acknowledge she could have an advantage in the arena. I list her a few more reasons why swimming and holding your breath can be helpful, but she isn't convinced.
"You're right, I know," She crosses her arms."But you're not listening to me. I can't fight, not at all. I have no idea how to use a bow, I can't throw knives and I've never even picked up a harpoon before."
"I'll help you." Ethan says. "We'll have three days to train, you can learn a lot of good skills in that time."
Annie eyes him suspiciously, apparently not quite convinced Ethan really wants to help her. I'm not convinced either. If Ethan is planning on earning her trust and then turning round and stabbing her (although in his case, it would be harpooning her) in the back, then he's got another thing coming.
Because if there is one things I do not tolerate, it's traitors, and in my eyes, anyone killing their district partner is the lowest form of traitor there can ever be...
When we arrive in the Capitol, the first thing I do is go and find the stylists. Annie and Ethan won't be finished with the prep teams for another couple of hours and I want to make sure they won't end up dressed as neon fish. Something I wouldn't put past Austin.
"Finnick!" He slaps me heartily on my shoulder and I punch him good naturedly back.
"Austin! How are you?"
"Good, good. Where's old Mags, then?"
"She'll smack you one if she hears you call her that."
"Naw, she loves me too much. Where is she?"
"Having a rest. She wasn't feeling too good when she got off the train."
"Ah, poor Mags. I've been dying to see her."
"She'll be back in a bit." I tell him, giving him the once over as I do so. I roll my eyes. "Still into the neon, then, Austin?"
"Neon never goes out of fashion." He tells me.
"I'll have to get myself some then." I say with a smirk. Austin – enthusiastic, good hearted but the slightest bit... well, dense – regards me seriously.
"Oh no, Finnick! You could never get away with neon, not with that hair of yours..."
"What about my hair?" I fake offence.
"Nothing, nothing." Austin shakes his head, still not realising I'm playing him. "It's just well... it's ginger."
"I'd say it's more bronze." A voice I don't recognise pipes up and a young woman – about the size of a flipping elf – pops out from behind Austin. She beams at me and holds out a sparkly hand. "I'm Starla." She says. "Your other stylist."
"Ah," I take her hand and give it a dramatic kiss. She giggles. (Capitol women are so predictable) "The lovely Starla. Austin has told me all about you."
"He has?" She smiles.
"I have?" Austin mouths from behind her. I shoot him a smirk before looking back down at Starla.
"I hear you and Austin have already planned my tribute's costumes?"
"Oh yes." She claps her hands. "We watched the reaping and your tributes are gorgeous! I almost fainted when I saw that Ethan. Those arms."
"And Annie?" I inquire politely.
"Beautiful." She declares. "Just stunning. She's a goddess."
Well, I wouldn't go quite that far.
"She does have pretty hair..." I concede.
"I have so many plans! You have no idea.." Starla babbles excitedly and I fight the urge to roll my eyes. First years.
"You want to see them?" Austin produces a folder and I nod. "Right, well, since you're from District 4, which is the fishing district..." Oh please, do not dress them up as fish. Last year, the female stylist tried to convince me and Austin to put our tributes in clams ("but they'll be the pearls inside the clams, Finnick, it's just too perfect!").
Yeah. There's a reason why we've got a new stylist this year...
"Mmm?" I prompt him.
"Well, what do you need to fish?"
My mind immediately supplies the answers. Rods. Nets. Bait. Oh no. They're gonna dress Annie and Ethan up as worms. I pull a face.
"Come on, Finnick." Austin sighs impatiently. "What do you need to fish?"
"Well..." I draw out the sound thoughtfully.
"Water!" Starla bursts out, apparently unable to contain her excitement any longer. She's practically jumping up and down.
"You're dressing them up as water?" I ask, unimpressed. We've had plenty of blue dresses before...
"Starla has created this material," Austin tells me. "And it looks exactly like rippling water. It's stunning, Finnick, you'll love it."
We spend the next half an hour poring over his folder and Starla's sketch pads, and I have to admit, I do love this new fabric and surprisingly enough, I do love their ideas and designs. Starla was a good choice.
"I want them to look dangerous." I say, pointing to Starla's sketch of Annie's jewellery. "This is too pretty. I want her to look tough."
"Tough?" Austin questions.
"Yeah, tough." I take the pencil from his hand. "How about something like this...?"
"Brilliant!" Starla gushes once I've finished, clasping her hands together and biting her lip almost emotionally. "Oh Finnick, it's perfect!"
I hand Austin back his pencil with a very self satisfied smirk.
"It is, isn't it?"
I'd seen the girl, I'd seen the designs, I'd even edited some of them myself, but even so, when I see Annie Cresta for the first time in that dress, I am shocked.
I hadn't expected her to look so good.
And I don't think she had ever expected herself to look as jaw dropping as she does now. Her eyes are wide and startled underneath her shimmering make up and she can't seem to stop looking at her dress. She looks beautiful but there's definitely something deadly about her as well... in no small way due to the edgy tribal accessories I'd sketched out earlier.
Ethan looks awe inspiring too. He's always looked deadly and this outfit manages to enhance that. Standing next to Annie, they look like the Gods of the sea Mags used to tell me about when I was fourteen and scared and having too many nightmares to ever think about sleeping. Oceanus, Poseidon, Amphitrite... Strange ancient names that swirl like water from the tongue, strange beautiful names that somehow provide comfort to a broken people.
I swallow hard around the lump in my throat and focus again on Annie's rippling cape. I have to hand it to Starla and Austin, they've done an amazing job.
And Annie seems to think so too.
"No." She breathes, disagreeing with something Starla's said, shifting her hips slightly and watching the light ripple across her body like sunlight on water. ""I look like I could be a threat."
"That was the plan." I say lightly and her eyes snap up to meet mine. She must see how impressed I am because she blushes and tries to tangle a nervous hand in her hair.
"Don't touch!" Starla slaps her hand and she jumps embarrassedly, breaking my gaze and staring at the floor. "Do. Not. Touch. Anything." I stroll across the room to stand in between her and Ethan, turning them with me to face the mirror.
"Right," I say. "You both look very good – Austin and Starla have done a brilliant job – but these chariot rides are more than just costume parades. You have to act the part too. I want determination and strength, with just a little bit of mystery."
Ethan frowns at me in the mirror.
"So no smiling and waving?"
I purse my lips.
"A little. But make the crowds work for it." I catch Annie's nervous gaze in the mirror and grin, enjoying the flush of colour across her cheeks. "Let's go get you in those chariots."
The elevator doors slide open and I step into the luxurious lounge, straightening my tie and tugging on the collar of my shirt. Every year, President Snow organises a party for all the mentors after the opening ceremony and attendance is pretty much mandatory.
"Finnick! My man!" Brutus envelopes me in a huge hug before I've even had the chance to look around. "How ya doing?" He asks once he's finally put me back on the floor. I grin.
"Good." I suddenly spot Enobaria over his shoulder. She catches my eyes and bares her pointed teeth playfully, flicking her dark hair over her shoulder. "No Lyme this year?" I ask Brutus. He shakes his head.
"Naw, she's back in 2. Stuck with Enobaria, aren't I?" The last part he aims back at her and she cackles wickedly, turning and swanning off in the opposite direction. Brutus turns back to me. "Did ya see my tributes?" He asks. "Good, aren't they?"
"Can we not talk about that yet?"
"Why?" He folds his arms, a smirk on his hardy face. "Afraid I'll beat you again?"
I raise my eyebrows, unimpressed.
"Did you not see my kids?"
He screws his face up, reluctant to compliment me.
"Yeah... they looked pretty good."
"Pretty good? How about awesome?"
I think back to Annie and Ethan in that chariot, proud, beautiful, deadly. And then that awe-inspiring moment when they raised their harpoons above their head. Austin must have told them to do that because it was just genius.
"Yeah well, looks ain't everything, kid." Brutus grabs a shot of something strong looking from a passing Avox.
Ha. And he's saying that to me? Finnick Odair? I'm not stupid, I know I got sent that bloody trident because I'm so attractive. My looks probably saved my life back in my Games... But then again, although they're helpful in getting sponsors, looks don't protect you from other tributes once the Games begin.
"No." I concede, taking his glass from him and downing it in one. "But I'll have a winner this year, you'll see."
The rest of the victors greet me with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Chaff and Haymitch – both as drunk as skunks – make me take three more shots, earning them both a slap round the head from Seeder.
"Happy 70th Hunger Games!" Chaff bellows as Haymitch drags him away. Seeder shakes her head and I laugh.
"They're happy tonight."
"They're only ever happy when they're together and drunk." She says disapprovingly. I lean down to give her a kiss on the cheek.
"How are you, Seeder?"
"Alright, I think." She smiles up at me, but her golden brown eyes are tired and when she speaks again, there's an ache in her voice. "I've got a little one this year."
"No, she's fourteen. Doesn't look a day over twelve, though."
I struggle to remember the District 11 girl, but come up blank. Not surprising really, since I've stopped paying attention to the ones who won't be a threat to my tributes. It gets too hard to learn twenty four names and faces and then watch them die.
"What about the boy?" I ask, suddenly remembering the thin lean tribute with caramel coloured skin and sharp intelligent eyes. Mean, sneaky boy, Mags had said.
Seeder brightens visibly.
"He's a smart kid. He could go far."
I go to reply, but at that moment, Cashmere – who's a little drunk – bounds up to me and plants a huge sloppy kiss on my cheek.
"Hey Cashmere," I say, giving Seeder a goodbye nod as she goes to head back towards Chaff and Haymitch, before turning my full attention towards the blonde haired beauty clinging to my shoulders. "You're looking particularly lovely tonight." I say. "Very, um... sparkly." She laughs and gives her bejewelled hips a seductive wiggle. Even her hair is coated in some kind of glitter.
"Just representing my District." She says sweetly.
"You look like you should be in a chariot." I tell her and she laughs again.
"Ahh, wish I was. Did you see what my girl got to wear earlier? I almost got Krysta" - One of Cashmere's stylists for three years running and currently dating Austin - " to make me another one for myself!"
Her brother suddenly appears behind her, his blonde eyebrows drawn together, a little v shaped crease forming between his eyes.
"Alright, Gloss?" I ask, steadying his swaying sister with a hand to her waist. He shrugs.
"Yeah. Nice to have some time off."
Gloss is beautiful. Cashmere is beautiful. I am beautiful... And we all know what happens to the desirable victors.
The Hunger Games is the only time we get time off from out 'duties'. I'm not entirely sure which is worse – mentoring teenagers to fight to the death or... the other thing. There's a reason why I'm often in the Capitol, although everyone in District 4 thinks it's just because I'm a bit of a charmer. They think I actually enjoy having a long list of Capitolian ex-lovers.
I realise sadly that if either Annie or Ethan win, they'll be condemned to a life like mine and Cashmere's and Gloss's and Enobaria's and countless other victors' over the years.
A hand slips through mine and I look down to see Mags. Her dark green eyes are understanding.
I manage smile.
"Feeling better, Mags?"
"Yes." She gives my hand a squeeze. "Much better." She tugs me gently towards the huge windows that line three of the room's walls from floor to ceiling. "Have you seen the view Finnick? The Capitol looks beautiful at night."
"It does." I agree. "Very beautiful."
She tugs me down and presses her lips to my ear.
"Not as beautiful as District 4, though, is it?"
I laugh and shake my head.
"No, of course not. Nothing is as beautiful as District 4."
"You alright, Beetee?" I ask, handing him a glass of wine. He takes it gladly. I think it's his fourth and he's already looking a bit twitchy.
"Mm." He nods. He looks horribly sad.
I suddenly remember the little girl – barely twelve years old – with pale skin and dark hair, her eyes wide and terrified as she was shoved unceremoniously onto the reaping stage.
"I'm sorry." I reach out and pat him on the back. "About the little girl." He doesn't reply and I let out a little sigh. "What's her name?"
"Mia." His voice is croaky and the pain there is raw.
Something clicks in my head.
"A relative?" I whisper. He nods once.
A sudden image of my own niece in the arena - a spear in her stomach, her flaming red hair stained with dry crusting blood, the light in her green eyes fading - hits me so hard I suddenly can't breathe.
"Oh Beetee," My voice is hoarse. "I'm sorry."
He nods again, turning towards me.
"Thank you, Finnick."
His eyes flicker across my face, barely resting on anything for more than a fraction of a second. There's a weird look in his eyes and his mouth opens, like he might want to say something more. I raise my eyebrows questioningly, waiting... but he just shakes his head and turns away, moving across the lounge to join Wiress who happens to be curled up in a ball on the sofa, muttering to herself and counting on her fingers.
I stare after him for a moment, faintly confused, but then decide to just leave it.
The District 3s were always a little weird.
"Mags and Blight seem to be having fun." Cecelia remarks appearing next to me as I stand and stare at of the window at the huge fountain illuminated with colourful lights down below us. I turn and see them both in the middle of an arm wrestling match on the opposite side of the room.
"He's going to lose." I say and Cecelia laughs, her hand slipping down to rest on her swollen belly. My eyes follow her movement and I eye her stomach a little sadly. "Number three, is it?"
"It's a girl. We're going to call her Alice."
"Lovely name." I tell her sincerely and although she smiles back, there's a strange mix of emotions in her eyes – pride, excitement, fear, anxiety. "It'll be alright." I say quietly and she nods.
But the truth is, she doesn't know, and neither do I, because being a victor doesn't mean your children are exempt from the Games. Cecelia's oldest kid is nearly ten and I wouldn't put it past Snow to rig the reapings in a couple of years time. There aren't many kids of victors around and to have a mother mentoring her daughter in the Hunger Games..? Well, the Capitol would go crazy for it.
"Where's Woof?" I ask, looking around, and suddenly spotting him in the corner, chatting away to an Avox. "Ah, there he is."
"Yeah," Cecelia sighs. "He likes the Avoxes, because they don't talk back. He can tell them all sorts of stories and they can't interrupt him." I snigger, although I shouldn't. It's too awful, really. Cecelia smiles back at me, but there's a sadness in her eyes. "He's definitely worse."
"He is getting old..." I say.
"So is Mags and she hasn't gone crazy." Cecelia points out. "I guess the Games messes some people up more than others."
I nod silently, but she's wrong... The Games have messed us all up. What she should have said is that some people hide it better than others. She certainly does, what with her motherly smile and the blonde hair that curls out about her head like a halo. I suppose I do too. No one ever suspects there's more to me than the charming and lovable heart breaker.
"Finnick!" Enobaria flounces over, her dark eyes set hungrily on me. "Dance with me!" And then she drags me to the centre of the room – her hands all over me, her pointed teeth flashing in the coloured lights of the lounge – and we start dancing. "How's my Finnick?" She drawls.
Someone turns the music up and a few of the others join us.
"Good." I say. "You?"
"Never better." She suddenly smirks up at me. "Like my kids this year?"
"They looked pretty good." I shrug. "Not as good as mine."
"You should see Seela with a sabre..."
"I'm sure I will." I say lightly, spinning her out and then tugging her back in.
"What can yours do?"
I shoots her a mischievous grin.
"Come on, Finnick." She wheedles.
"Nah, you'll see in the arena."
"I bet they can't do anything." She glares at me and I chuckle.
"I wouldn't say that."
"They did look amazing." She admits, sliding her hands down my chest. "Your boy looked deadly and that girl. What's her name?"
"Annie Cresta." I supply.
Enobaria purses her lips.
I snap her backwards into a sharp dip.
"I suppose she is."
"Got any sponsors yet?" Enobaria asks a little breathlessly when I yank her back up.
A lot of interest actually, but none of the other mentors need to know that yet.
"Oh." Enobaria frowns. She falls silent then as we dance and I feel no need to continue the conversation. I don't particularly like Enobaria – she takes too much delight in keeping track of her tributes bloody accomplishments – but I know what she goes through and so we get on, in a strange, antagonistic way.
That's the funny thing about us mentors. We all manage to irritate each other in one way or another and we're all basically up against each other once the Game start... but bizarrely, we're like a family. A strange dysfunctional family, but still, it's comforting to know that everyone here understands, everyone here knows and no one judges me. They're all I have, and I'm pretty sure they feel the same way. After all, it's pretty dangerous to get too close to anyone who's not a victor.
We all remember Haymitch's girlfriend, Enobaria's family... my parents.
And so, for a few horrible and devastating weeks, we're all together, a family again.
I scan the room, revelling in the familiar faces and warm (if sometimes weary) smiles and I know that next year there'll be another one added. A new face. Fresh blood for President Snow.
Whether it'll be a District 4 face, I don't know... and quite honestly?
I'm not even sure I want it to be.
Ahh Finnick, he's such a babe ;)
For Annie's view of the 70th Hunger Games, go and have a look at 'Annie's Story'... Do go and check it out, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Anyways, thanks for reading, please review or alert or favourite, I love to hear your feedback and any constructive criticism would be great too. Thanks again XD