Prodded to Drown

Chapter 8

"… Ffffffinnick Odair is bright and fair,Combing down his ginger hair!He'll be mine to love and care!Finnick Odair IN HIS UNDERW—"

"So that's where that came from."

My eyes flew open to see (who would have guessed it), Finnick Odair! In his underwear! Standing in the doorway, casual as you please! For a moment, I actually thought I had fallen asleep and was now dreaming. (I'm not really sure why I would be dreaming about a half-naked Finnick but it seemed to make sense at the time.) When I realised that it wasn't a dream at all I almost fell off the couch as I scrambled to sit up. And I most certainly did not plan this: I thought it would be pretty unlikely to run into him here two nights in a row. Turns out it wasn't.

"What are you doing here?" I asked groggily, rubbing my eyes. He raised his eyebrows at me and lifted the steaming mug in his hands in response. I realised what a dumb question that was. Naturally, feeling dumb also made me feel defensive so I snapped, "Don't you ever wear clothes?"

I flopped back down into my lying position on the couch as he retorted, "Don't you ever sleep?"

"I was sleeping," I grumbled, rolling onto my back and sticking my knees up in the air.

"No, you were singing. So unless you were sleep-singing I can only conclude that you were, in fact, awake." I glared at the ceiling and rolled my eyes as he chuckled to himself. "And I must say, I can't decide whether to be quite flattered or slightly disturbed that my name has been incorporated into a little girl's skipping rhyme." He really was enjoying my humiliation. "But you've seriously misrepresented me here, you know."

"How?" I asked. "This is the second time I've seen you in your underwear, so it seems pretty justified to me."

"I wasn't talking about that part." He ran a hand through his hair and rumpled it up so it stood on end, then pointed at it. "See, I'm not actually ginger."

"Actually?" I mimicked. I held my breath, waiting for the goofy grin. But he just smirked and I looked away, embarrassed. Quickly, I said, "You kinda are, though."

"No … No, I'm really not."

"You are."

"I'm not!"

"Then, what would you call it?"

"I — uh — browny sort of … reddish-brown … Ach." I rolled over and looked at him as he brought his hand to his hair again and tugged at it nervously. He shot me a glare. "Oh, shut up."

He may have been my mentor but I really was no good at following instructions. "… Uh, whatcha got there?"

He dropped his hand and cupped them both around his mug. "Hot chocolate."

"Oh," I said.

He turned slightly, then eyed me scrupulously. "Want some?"

I didn't say anything, and he disappeared and I found myself wishing he hadn't. I was still trying to figure out why I should care so much, when he reappeared and sat himself down beside me on the couch.

He grinned sideways at me, setting the two mugs down on the coffee table. "Marshmallows?"

"I've never tasted them before," I said cautiously, eyeing the fluffy white squares in his hand.

"Oh, yeah, I should have guessed." He chose one and scooted up beside me, smiling as he held it up to my mouth.

The bubble was back. I stared at him, and slowly leaned way back until he had been removed from it and I could start breathing again.

"Oh, sorry, too close?" he asked, and just dropped it into my hand instead. He shuffled away to give me some room, and I turned into the corner to take a nibble off the spongey cloud. It melted in my mouth and I spun around to grin at him, nodding fervently.

He grinned back and tipped a handful of them into my mug until it was almost brimming over, then filled his own. There were still a few in his hand when our mugs were full but he just sat back and popped them into his mouth one by one.

I was just watching him watching me, and actually had to shake myself and say, "Thank you," before picking up the drink and taking a sip. I got mostly marshmallow because they had started to melt and formed a thick gooey layer on top of the hot chocolate.

I looked at Finnick and he paused a bit and then laughed. "You got a bit of …" He tapped his top lip. He didn't try to touch me again, which was a huge relief.

"Eh?" I wiped my mouth and saw the marshmallow gloop on the back of my hand. I smiled and then turned my head so that I could take a quiet moment to cringe. As if he didn't already think I was an innocent little girl, I was now an innocent little girl with a marshmallow moustache.

He just laughed again and said, "Yeah, there are a lot of sweet things here in the Capitol. But they're not really as natural as the things back home."

I met his eyes, and he smiled. And I didn't know why but I started to feel the blush creeping up my neck so I just looked down and said nothing at all.

Finnick began to drink his own hot chocolate. "So, what are you doing here again, anyway?"

"I don't sleep. And this sofa is amazingly comfy."

He didn't say anything and when I met his eyes they were shining with a hint of a smile. "Oh … I thought you might've been hoping to run into me again."

"Why would I hope that?" I asked, not sure what he meant but getting a bad feeling and worms wriggling in my belly.

He smirked at me and shrugged. "Dunno." The way he said it was like when Lance said dunno when, really, he did know very well. So I just did what I normally did in that situation, and ignored it completely.

After a while he said, "Nerves?"

And I said, "Hm?"

He wrinkled his brow and said, "Uh, are you nervous about the Games, I mean? Is that why you can't sleep?"

"Oh," I said "No. I've had a bit of insomnia for years. Self-diagnosed, of course."

"Ah." Finnick held his mug up to his mouth, keeping his lips touching the rim but not taking a sip. He stayed like that even when he glanced at me and spoke again. "I get that, too. A bit."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." He just stared into his drink. "They had to soundproof my bedroom because of the screaming."

I looked up at him, knitting my brow. I didn't know what he meant. What sort of screaming was he talking about? I didn't really want to hear about what noises would come out of Finnick Odair's bedroom.

(Ew, gross, I hadn't even thought of the other thing …)

He must have read my expression because he said, "From the nightmares, I mean."

"Oh," I said.

He paused. "I mean, you have to be a little nervous, though."

"What should I be nervous about?"

"Oh, I dunno. The Games. Killing. Dying. That sort of thing."

"Were you worried about that?" I asked. To be honest, it was hard to imagine it bothering him that much.

"Me? Are you kidding?" he exclaimed. "I was a mess! Scared out of my wits, crying myself to sleep, you name it. Whereas you've seemed relatively calm since we've got here, if you don't count a brief breakdown at the reaping. Even then, you were only upset when Lance was called."

"I … I guess," I said. I realised I hadn't really thought about it very much. I was going to die — that much was clear — but I hadn't thought about the technicalities of dying. No more than I ever had, I mean. I tried to think what Finnick must have felt in my situation five years ago. He was only fourteen. He had a whole family back home, whereas I only had my grandparents (who, let's face it, were already fairly old). He had friends, a girlfriend, maybe. I only had Lance. And Lance was here. I swallowed a little nervously and glanced sideways at him. "But you probably wanted to win, eh? You still had some hope to cling onto. It's easier for me to deal with, because I know it's inevitable that I'm gonna die."

He gave a short exhalation of breath. "What I don't understand is how you can you be so lackadaisical about it."

"Well, everybody dies," I said. "It only scares people because they don't know what happens next."

"You're saying you have the answer to that one?" he laughed.

"Well …" I began mysteriously. Finnick raised his eyebrows at me, and I whispered, "Can I tell you a secret?"

He set down his mug and turned to give me his full attention, shuffling closer and resting his chin in his fist. He grinned. "Annie, the first thing you should know about me is that I can never say no to a secret."

I glanced around to make sure we were alone in the dark sitting room, then leaned forwards. For a moment I forgot about how naked and intimidating Finnick was. I could just see his eyes: sea-green and excited, set in his perfectly sculpted, handsome face. "I can see into the fourth dimension," I whispered.

Finnick narrowed his eyes. "You … what?"

"Well, you know the way there can be two dimensions — it's flat, like on a television screen?" I asked, and he nodded. "And then three dimensions is real life. You can go up and down … side to side … in and out?" His eyes followed my hands as I demonstrated this, then glimpsed up to meet mine, nodding again. "Well, there's hundreds of these dimensions. We just can't see them. But I know what the fourth one is."

"And what is it?" he asked in a hushed tone.

"Well, I can't tell you that," I said. "It's a major scientific breakthrough. Obviously."

"Ach, but now I'm curious," he moaned, cocking his head and pouting at me.

I said, "Oh, fine. I'll tell you this much. Did you know about the other dimensions there could be? Like, different universes and stuff? Every decision you ever make could tear a sliver off our world and create a new dimension that's ever so slightly different from this one."

"So … there could be a world where I never won the Games?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, wondering why he would jump to that so quickly. If he hadn't won, he'd be dead. That was kinda how it worked. I guessed he thanked his stars every day that he was this Finnick Odair in this universe. "Or where you were never reaped at all. Or where you were never born at all. Or where the human race never evolved. Or where the Earth never formed and life didn't exist. Or where people are made of marshmallows."

He laughed. "So, what's this got to do with dying? Is the fourth dimension another world, like heaven?"

I shook my head. "Not the fourth, no. But I think there is another world after this one. I don't know what it is but that shouldn't make me afraid of it. I just hope I'll be able to remember that when it comes down to my death in the Games. I'd like to be able to welcome it. Or, rather, be happy to go there and it'll welcome me."

Finnick searched my face with his eyes. "You know, you sound about a hundred years old when you say that."

I bit my lip, looking down at his bare chest. I backed away from him awkwardly.

He laughed. "And I do mean that in the best possible way. You're actually pretty smart, Annie."

"Lackadaisical," I said. "What a fun word to say." I grinned, and he grinned back, and my heart starting reminding me that it existed.

Why was I getting that feeling like I was waiting on the curb for the ice-cream van? Excited, nervous, and slightly too hot?

I shook my head distractedly. "You know, GaGa Moon is a hundred and fifty."

"Really?" he asked.

I grinned sheepishly. "Well, I used to think he was, anyway."

He grinned and I caught the slightest glimpse of the secret smile, feeling the blush creep over my cheeks at the sight of his dimples and straight, shiny white teeth. What I found most worrying was that in that moment I could hardly remember why I ever disliked Finnick Odair in the first place.

I suddenly realised how insane this was. I had never even told Lance about my other worlds theory. And it had been so hard for me to speak with the other tributes today, I had hardly said a word to Juliet or the Careers at lunch. And here I was with Finnick, rambling about random topics like it was nothing. What was going on with me? Why was it so easy?

"Finnick, what are we doing?" I asked quickly.

He drew back. "What do you mean?"

"Well," I started, and then stopped. I moved around uncomfortably, finally settling down to sit cross-legged, facing him. I met his eyes worriedly. "… Are we friends?"

"Friends?" he repeated, and I nodded. He looked at me curiously. "You want to be friends with me?"

I thought for a moment, and then nodded once more. "I mean, if you want to be friends with me," I said quietly. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, I felt shy. Like I was five years old and Lance was asking me to be his girlfriend. But this was different, because I knew I definitely wanted to be friends with Finnick. Before, I had thought of him as some sort of authority figure: my mentor, the scary guy who made the rules. But right here, like this, Finnick was just a goofy little kid. He was just like me.

He looked away thoughtfully. "Well, then I don't see why we can't be. Mentor — Tribute. Friends. That's not weird, is it?"

"I don't think so," I said, my heart skipping a little as he looked back at me and grinned.

"Well, it's settled then," he said.

And I said, "Good."

And he said, "Yeah."

Then for a moment we just looked at each other, and I said, "But don't go getting too attached. I'll be dead in a week, give or take."

He groaned loudly, and I began to laugh. And there it was — after a whole twenty-four hours being hidden away from me — Finnick's secret smile. And my heart did that little palpitating thing again for some reason and I wondered if I was ill, but at the same time I didn't really care because I was quite pleased about working out my friendship with Finnick. Not that we had much time to do friend stuff together, but it at least made sitting on the sofa with him a little less stressful. He wanted to be my friend too, so I could relax.

It was after about a minute of smiling at each other that Finnick's face dropped and he laughed a little, averting his eyes.

"Sorry," I said with a chuckle, "Now I dunno what else to talk about. Awkward silence, eh?"

Finnick laughed loudly and said, "Don't stop being awkward. It's really lovely." Then he stopped laughing and stared at the wall, widening his eyes. He hastily picked up his mug and brought it up to hide his face.

I quickly looked away, feeling myself blushing, too. And then I just felt a little nauseous. Why? I didn't know why I felt anything any more. Finnick … what kind of sorcery was he playing with my emotions?

We didn't speak or look at each other for a while. A long while, actually. Then Finnick asked, "But what if nothing happens? What if you die, and that's it?"

I paused. "Well, then I'll be dead so I shouldn't mind too much about being dead."

He gave a small laugh and that was it.

As the silence naturally fell over us I lay back down, curling up into the corner of the sofa.

"Finnick?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I put my feet in your lap?"

There was a pause. "Can you put your what in my what?"

I lifted my head to see him staring at me curiously. "My feet. Your lap. Do you want me to demonstrate?" I extended my legs and placed them over his thighs, crossing my ankles. I raised my eyebrows at him and he blinked at my feet and grinned.

"Well, now you're just doing it anyway! I can hardly say no, can I?"

I closed my eyes and pressed my face against the inside of the sofa, stretching comfortably and grinning. "You can if you like," I said, my voice muffled.

I heard him laugh but he didn't say anything, and didn't budge my feet either. So I took that as a triumph for me.

"Mm, Finnick?"

He was already chuckling. "Yeah?"

"Would you tickle my feet?"

There was a pause. "I'm not sure how I feel about that. Is that something you'd do with your friends?"

I frowned, glad that my face was hidden in the cushions. "It's not a sexual thing, if that's what you mean," I said. I swallowed, my throat feeling tight. "I used to sit like this with GaGa Moon."

I heard him give a small sigh. "Annie, I'm so sorry. You miss them a lot, eh?"

"Yeah … I only realised it now."

I closed my eyes and hugged myself. I don't know how much time passed, but the next time I heard him speak it sounded distant, like he was talking to me from the other side of a very thick curtain. "Shit, Annie, we might wanna get some sleep. When did it get so … Annie?" There was a pause, but I was halfway between wakefulness and sleep and knew it wasn't a place I could possibly reach him from. His voice sounded even further away as he whispered, "Annie?"

I hardly felt him as he gently lifted my feet from his lap and stood up. Then a warmth spread across me as he dragged the throw from the back of the couch and covered me with it. And at this point I'm sure I must have been dreaming, because then I felt a rough hand brush my face as he tucked a chunk of hair behind my ear. And that's the last thing I remember, after that I knew only a hazy jumble of dreams.

The next thing I knew was jumping up from the couch in the morning, ploughing through a short dizzy spell, and then beginning the search through all the drawers in the sitting room. The cabinet beneath the television screen slammed shut louder than I expected, and from behind me I heard a sudden startled cry.

I looked around and saw Finnick sitting up from the armchair where I had discovered him sleeping when I woke up. It didn't look like an especially comfortable place to sleep but I had let him be. Presently he turned his head about frantically until he saw me, and then let out a sigh of relief.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," I said. He waved his hand dismissively and sank back into a slouch, rubbing his eyes wearily. "What happened?"

"I should ask you the same thing. I was just sleeping and now I appear to be awake." I cast him a glance and he looked up to meet my eyes. He frowned slightly. "My door was locked when I went back to my room."

I felt myself frown as well. "Why would that happen?"

He shrugged, and threw himself back on the sofa, burying his face in a pile of cushions.

I went back to my search. After a while I felt him standing beside me and jumped.

"Uh, whatcha doing?" he asked.

I turned to look him seriously in the face. "Grammy Moon stowed away on the train and is currently hiding somewhere in the apartment."

He looked away from me. "Really? I mean, you're sure it wasn't a dream?"

"Super sure," I said coldly, making my way to the next cabinet.

"Do you want me to help you look?" he asked.

I turned around to see him staring innocently at me. I glared back. He thought I was completely mental, I knew it. "Not if you're just humouring me."

He shook his head. "Well, I don't know she's not here unless we look. Even then, she could just be really good at hiding."

I shut the nearest door with a snap and walked over to him. I found myself noticing his height again. I wasn't used to looking up into people's faces like that. I mean, I was average height and Lance was only about two inches taller than me. And I was the tallest out of my family, which doesn't really count for much when my only family is Grammy and GaGa. Other than that I didn't have many friends. But, well, Finnick was my friend now, wasn't he? I had to crane my neck a little as I tried to meet his eyes. I took a deep breath. "I was dreaming, wasn't I?"

"I think you were," he replied, smiling. I nodded a little and he said, "Breakfast?"

What began a really, really nice day (don't know why bonding with Finnick makes it a good day, but for some reason it had me in a good mood) quickly turned to the worst day of my life at training. I spent half the morning shooting with the bow and arrows and ignoring my gut telling me it would never forgive me if I killed someone like this, and even then I found I wasn't improving at all. In fact, I think I was dis-improving. Then it got a squadrillion times worse when I went to the knives and attempted a few throws. The trainer had to tell me to leave because he feared I'd hurt myself or someone else with my unbelievably bad aim.

By the time the demonstrator at the camouflage station told me I had no artistic talent whatsoever, I was on the brink of tears. And I could feel everyone's eyes on me, and I knew they were thinking how pathetic and hopeless I was. They were probably already planning on how to destroy me, because it would be so easy by the looks of things right now. And I was so paranoid, I didn't even realise I was paranoid.

The lady at the shelter-making station was sweet, and even though I was apparently a disaster at art, I was able to use all the different materials to camouflage my shelter into a thicket of bushes and make it look almost completely natural. I could do crafts, not art. And the girl from District 7 had given me a hand with the painting at camouflage, which made me feel a little better, too. Her name was Acacia, I learned, and her district partner (the total beef-cake with the throwing axes) was Jack. So now I knew the names of both tributes from 1, 2 and 7. Oh, and 12. And over the course of the day I learned a few more. Like the guy called Columb, from 5, whom I met at the edible plants station and saved from eating a mouthful of toxic freshwater seaweed. The trainer was impressed when I then recited the names of all the seaweeds they had displayed at the station.

Fucus vesiculosus, Saccharina latissima, Fucus spiralis. Et cetera.

A couple of times, I caught myself thinking about Finnick. I mean, I should probably have been telling him what I was getting good at or my miserable failures during training. I was still under assessment, after all. But whenever I had a conversation with Finnick that wasn't at the dinner table, we talked of nothing even remotely related to training or strategies.

And, to be honest, I was already looking forward to our next random conversation.

Then we went to lunch and Lance and Laertes were still all over each other, which I was starting to get annoyed about. I wanted to talk to Lance about my day and to make plans for what we should focus on learning before getting into the Games. The way things were going, it looked like we were teaming up with Careers, and I didn't know how to feel about that. I didn't trust Juliet, and Eve had a very harsh laugh which hurt my ears, and Saul had a staring problem which had me on edge. And I was starting to think that Lance was being roped in by Laertes's charm. What if the Careers saw him as fair competition, and so to avoid the hassle of taking him out physically they simply planned to weaken him with false friendship and undeserved trust?

So when I was back on the climbing frame after lunch and I heard Juliet's stupid girlish giggle along with Lance's booming laughter, I felt absolutely furious. Sure, Laertes was one thing. They actually had things in common. But he had no right hanging out with Juliet. No right at all. I went back to snares, because I needed to take my mind off things and that required a lot of concentration. Lance was throwing spears with Laertes, swapping tips. Now he was completely ignoring Finnick's instructions of not showing too much of his skills. I couldn't even watch them I was so angry.

We found ourselves in the elevator at the end of the day.

"So … you and Laertes," I said.

"Yeah," said Lance. "He's cool, isn't he?" I nodded, and he went on, "I always thought the Careers would be total sadists. But he's not like that at all. He's just, like, living proof that a guy can be good-looking without being a complete arrogant asshole."

"Finnick's better looking," I snapped. Then my words reached my brain and my face went red hot.

Lance turned and raised his eyebrows at me. "I don't remember mentioning Finnick—"

"Ach, it was implied," I muttered.

"You know, it sounds to me like someone has a crush on Finnick."

"What?" I exclaimed.

And that's about the time that I realised I had a crush on Finnick.

Which was totally and utterly and completely … just, insane! How could that possibly have happened? Finnick was my mentor! Well, he was also my friend … But no, he was too old for me! Oh wait, it was only two years, after all. That wasn't that much, was it? And … I mean, he just wasn't my type! He was all … And I was all … And … well, okay, maybe it wasn't so insane. Oh my gosh … Why would I like Finnick? He was supposed to be despicable! Or at least dislikeable! But there was something about him I really … liked? Oh dear. Suddenly I began to wonder if he liked me — but, oh my gosh, no! That's too crazy! For one thing, he didn't. For another … this was just insane, or I was insane, or the world was insane, and basically I was feeling a little insane. And defensive. There was no other way to react, I think.

"That's revolting," I spat. "And — and, you know, it sounds to me like someone's got a crush on Laertes." He looked at me funny and I prodded him chest with my index finger. "You."

"Oh, shut up," he scoffed. "Why can't you just be happy for me that I've made a new friend, eh?"

Yes, good, steer the topic away from me and Finnick. Oh my goodness, me and Finnick. Finnick and me. What was I thinking? "Because — and I didn't want to say this because I didn't want to hurt you, Lance — but have you even stopped to think that he could be using you?"

"Of course I've thought of that!" he exclaimed, throwing his arms out dramatically. "How thick do you think I am? I'm not the one blindly putting my faith in Finnick and presuming he has the slightest clue what he's talking about!"

I could feel all this anger bubbling up inside me, and to let it out I just turned to the panel on the wall of the elevator and smashed my hands into random buttons, pushing them all and turning on all the lights.

"What are you doing?" yelled Lance. Because now the elevator was taking us past our floor.

I waved my arms wildly for a moment, too angry to speak. The doors opened on some random floor where two people were having a conversation in a hallway. They both looked up in surprise and Lance quickly pushed the close doors button. As soon as we were moving again I shouted, "Finnick's from home!" But even saying his name was making my heart start beating like crazy, and I had to shout louder just so I couldn't hear it. "He wants us to win, Lance, he's doing his best to help us!"

Lance shook his head and sneered. "How are you so sure? He loves it here in the Capitol. He's just like one of them. He probably can't wait to watch us die!"

"Do you know how crazy you sound right now?" I screamed at him. "You know what this is, right? This thing you have against him? It's because you're jealous of him, Lance, you are! You're used to having all my attention all the time and now you're just jealous because you see me getting along well with Finnick, too!"

Lance's jaw appeared to be on the floor. "What — so now I'm supposedly in love with you or something. Is that it, Annie?"

"I didn't say anything like that," I defended. "I'm not in love with you but I can admit I'm jealous of you spending so much time with Laertes."

"Per Finnick's instructions that we stay apart during training!" he yelled. He shook himself. "Wait, you're jealous of Laertes?"

I rolled my eyes. "Of course I am. I've hardly seen you and you've been spending so much time with him. We're not even dead yet and I already miss you."

Lance glanced up as we passed the fourth floor without stopping. "Alright, I've had enough," he said, and jammed his thumb into the emergency stop button. The elevator shuddered to a halt, sunk halfway into the ground so that we could see into the bottom half of the apartment and half of the elevator shaft. Lance angrily pushed aside the grating and clambered up out of it. "Why don't you just go moaning to Finnick about it?" he shot out, just before he stomped off to his room.

I slumped to the ground and pressed the heels of my hands into my eyelids. Hearing footsteps approach, I looked up to see Finnick's shoes appear, then his head as he went down onto his hunkers to peer into the elevator at me.

"I heard yelling," he said. "Bad day?"

I shook my head and folded my arms, refusing to look at him. Mostly because I couldn't stand the realisation of having a crush on him. And also, seeing him only reinforced the fact that this nightmare was true: I was all nauseous, my cheeks were sullied with a pink blush, and my heart thumped frantically when he met my eyes.

And the smile. Ach, the smile. I hated it.

"Do you need help?" he asked, and I instantly hated him more for being so nice. What kind of trick of wizardry was this? I couldn't be attracted to someone so arrogant and enticing and beastly. I shook myself and clambered out of the elevator on my own.

"I don't want to be friends with you any more," I told him. And then I rushed off to my room, leaving him standing dumbstruck in the hallway.

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