Against The Tides

Chapter 13: Conversations Between the Districts

"Let the 73rd Hunger Games begin!"

Claudius Templesmith's voice echoed through the Capitol, from a multitude of places in and around the Games Headquarters. The Games starts, but for the first minute, everyone waits. Finnick tightens his jaw at the scene. The countdown begins. Thirty seconds. People are whispering, giddy with excitement. Twenty seconds. They jostle around to get a clearer view of the screen; nobody wants to miss the beginning of the games, especially the kills around the Cornucopia. Crazy, all of them. Ten seconds. Everyone is silent, even holding their breath. Zero. Finnick can just make out the two District 4 tributes. They battle their way to the Cornucopia.

It doesn't take long for the color of crimson to stain the area in and around the cornucopia. Finnick takes note of the sponsors around him. The ones near the District 3 mentor are groaning, as are the ones in 5, 6, 8, and 9. Finnick can hear the Games' commentators on the television as well, remarking about if Haymitch will start reevaluating his strategy. Finnick shakes his head, because he knows Haymitch doesn't have a strategy. Never has. At least not since Finnick has known him.

He looks over at each district station briefly and gives nods to some of the victors that he's familiar with, some friendlier than others. He casually glances at a couple of the victors from District 2, but only terse nods are exchanged there.

At the District 7 station, he catches sight of last year's victor, Johanna Mason. She's one of the mentors for her district. She watches her screen intensely but does nothing, just takes in the events while her eyes glower with an angry, and somewhat pained expression. Usually, there's nothing to be done for the mentor at this point. The Games have just started. It's later on when she'll be working her strategy. Suddenly, he imagines Annie at the front of her screen, pushing all the buttons as Haymitch had told him she did. Before he lets the images take over, he shifts his eyes around again, taking note of all the victors and mentors around.

He makes his way to the District 4 station to see how the tributes are doing and they seem to be handling themselves fairly well at the moment. He's not a mentor, but that doesn't mean he isn't concerned about their survival. Unfortunately, he has to remind himself that only one of them can stand as victor in the end, and there's a big chance it won't be from 4. Being a career only usually satisfies their longevity in the games.

The tributes are unquestionably brutal this year, although there's no point in them being anything else anyway. Sponsors will donate more easily to the more brutal tributes than the ones who have little or no backbone in them. Beauty goes a long way as well, but the District 4 tributes this year are only slightly above average in the Capitol's idea of beauty. So, the tributes' attitude will have to be their strong point.

He moves over to another familiar station. The two empty glasses that occupy the station desk and the lack of sponsors as compared to the other stations screams District 12. Haymitch is looking at the screen, but he's hardly paying attention. With drink in hand, Finnick wonders if he can even see through the alcohol fog in Haymitch's thoughts.

"Don't worry, kid. If they make it past this point, I'll sober up enough," says Haymitch. Finnick nods.

"Did you even tell them what they could do?" asks Finnick.

"Sure I did," says Haymitch lazily. "Told them to run." Finnick has half a mind to lecture him on his advice tactics, but he can't be bothered with having one of the few friends he has outside of his district be mad at him. After all, he doesn't know how long these Games will take and he'll need someone to talk to in between assignments.

Finnick decides to just make one comment about it. "You could've at least told them which direction to run."

Haymitch looks at the screen with Finnick and sees that both District 12 tributes ran straight into the cornucopia, and are now being quickly assaulted by the other tributes. And they are losing.

Haymitch shifts his eyes down at his drink. "Guess I forgot that part," he says quietly.

Finnick knows those tributes are not going to survive long enough for Haymitch to give up his drink.

"At least they got to live in the lap of luxury the last few days of their life," says Haymitch. Finnick can't hold his disapproval.

"What is that supposed to mean? Are you actually trying to justify your lack of mentorship as a mercy killing?" asks Finnick angrily.

"Why don't you say it loud enough for everyone to hear," says Haymitch, trying not to draw the attention of others in the room, although some have turned their heads in Finnick's direction, albeit briefly, before turning back to the action on the screens.

Finnick shakes his head, but he knows he has to control his volume. Even though he's upset, he certainly doesn't want to draw the attention of any of the officials or Capitol people. Finnick moves closer to Haymitch, but doesn't look at him.

"How can you just stand by and watch them get beaten? Get tortured? Get sliced up or stabbed? And not do anything about it?" he whispers irritably.

"You make it sound like it's my fault that those kids are in there," says Haymitch. "And it's not like they haven't been watching the Games on TV beforehand. It's not like they didn't know how to play. My mentor wasn't all that great, either, and I made it. Why is this a shock to you?"

Finnick is dumbfounded at Haymitch's nonchalance about the whole thing. But he couldn't have expected anything better from him this year. He isn't sure why he is getting so angry at him all of a sudden.

"Maybe they do know how to play, but they still deserve the best effort from their mentors," says Finnick, more calmly now. "What else do they have but us?"

Haymitch looks at his glass again and gulps down the rest of his drink. "Maybe you're right. Because who wouldn't want to live our lives, right?"

Finnick can sense the sarcasm in his tone, but shrugs it off. He doesn't want to stay there any longer. Everything about the start of the Games and conversation with Haymitch has rubbed him the wrong way and he decides that maybe it's best he leave to prepare for his next assignment.

"I have to go," says Finnick bluntly to Haymitch before he leaves.

Once he's out of the headquarters, he takes a deep breath and tries to stop thinking about what Haymitch said, but that's all he can think about. What did he mean by that? What was he getting at, acting as if it'd better that these tributes die? That kind of thinking doesn't help anyone. Finnick tells himself that their lives are not so bad. They still have a home, a great home. They have enough food and obviously enough money to support not only themselves but their family. But something about that kind of thinking doesn't sit well with him, either. Still, he doesn't want to accept that Haymitch's drunken idealism is any better.

Another week passes before he even has any spare time to spend with Haymitch, who's either still at the headquarters, or at the bar of the hotel he's staying at. As Finnick predicted, the District 12 tributes were one of the final ones killed at the Cornucopia, so it gave Haymitch all the freedom to continue with his drinking marathon. When he sees him at the bar, he's not alone. Haymitch's old friend from District 11, Chaff, is with him, as well as a young lady he knows but has yet to meet.

"Aren't you a little young to be drinking?" asks Finnick as he props himself on the stool next to Johanna Mason, facing her. Haymitch, sitting opposite of her, barely acknowledges Finnick, glancing only briefly at him with half-opened eyes.

Johanna eyes him up and down, similar to the way the Capitol women eye him. "Aren't you a little too hot to be wearing so many clothes?" asks Johanna. Finnick has to shake his head as he chuckles at her play on words.

"Hey, look who it is!" shouts Haymitch boisterously, as if he just realized Finnick had arrived, which was probably true given Haymitch's drunken drawl. "Wasn't sure if I'd see you again this trip, so I invited this fine lady to join us."

"And here I was, hoping that I would see you again," croaks Johanna as she smiles with that mischievous look she had after her Victory Tour speech in District 4. "You are awfully tempting, you do know that, right?" asks Johanna.

"My dear Johanna Mason," he says as he moves his face close to hers, then whispers, "as lovely as you are, I think I'd be too scared to be alone in a room with you." That certainly wasn't true, but he's not yet sure he can be honest with her. "Besides, if you had me, that would just ruin it for anyone else who would try to woo your heart."

Johanna laughs. "Oh, so now we're only on a full name basis, are we, Finnick Odair? Thought we were already friends," says Johanna.

"Friends. Sure. But is that the kind of thing you say to all your friends?" asks Finnick, referring to the wardrobe comment.

"Well, if they looked anything like you, oh most definitely," she says jokingly, with a hint of truth to it.

"So, why are you here? What happened to your tribute?" asks Finnick in an attempt to change the subject, even though he already knows that Johanna's tribute was killed a couple of days ago. It works, because Johanna's face turns into a controlled scowl at the thought of his question.

"The kid picked a fight with the girl from 1," answers Chaff.

"I told her to stay away from them. She didn't have the stealth or the strength to do it, but she had the stupidity," says Johanna through gritted teeth. She downs what's left in her glass.

Finnick doesn't say anything. He's too tired to discuss more about the Games and anything related to it. He always goes through some kind of weariness halfway through them, and yet, he still has to perform his duties to the best of his abilities. So, when it comes to dealing directly with other victors, he's grateful for the reprieve of having to act as if he likes them. As long as he really does like them, then he doesn't have to pretend. Luckily for Haymitch, Chaff, and even Johanna, he doesn't hate them. Even if Johanna is coming on to him, at least she's not Capitol. Plus, as Annie stated, Johanna doesn't like the Capitol.

Annie understands people, thinks Finnick. Probably more than I do. Finnick's thoughts bring him back to the last time he was with her at the beach. How clear-minded she was back then. So clear-minded. She even smiled and laughed, and they were playing on the water.

"What're you grinning at?" asks Johanna, interrupting his memories.

"I hadn't realized I was."

"From ear to ear. Must've been a nice thought. Can't have been about your last… date," suggests Johanna, letting on that she knows more than she's supposed to. Finnick glances over at Haymitch, but Haymitch is either too drunk or acting too drunk to overhear that statement.

"Wouldn't you like to know," he remarks.

"To be honest, from you, probably not," says Johanna. "Besides, I know how busy you are."

"Right. You're lucky to even be able to spend this much time with me," jokes Finnick.

"So, Odair. Where's your friend? Did she not come join you here?" asks Johanna.

"Who?"

"Annie, is it? The other victor from your district. The one who was with you when I came by on my tour," she says sluggishly. She's obviously had more than a couple of drinks in her now.

"No, she didn't," he says, trying not to think about what happened last year.

"She had trouble adjusting to the mentorship role last year, let's just leave it at that," says Haymitch. Has he been listening this whole time?

Johanna is brought another drink and takes a sip, digesting the information that Haymitch just stated, with an understanding that she doesn't continue further with this line of questioning.

Finnick looks at Haymitch. He senses that this is Haymitch's way of apologizing for the outcome of their conversation last they spoke. Haymitch's eyes flicker to him just briefly, but enough to let him know that's exactly what he meant it to be.

Finnick spends another hour with them, first talking about nothing of consequence, but eventually going over the state of things in each district. None of it is really too good. Since Johanna was last year's victor, her district was doing okay this past year due to the monthly parcels they were receiving, but now things will go back to what they were before since both tributes were killed from 7.

Chaff's and Haymitch's districts have always had it the hardest, and nothing has really changed. Chaff doesn't outright talk about the beatings that happen so often in District 11, but each of them know about it now. The words "trouble" or "problem" translate into some kind of physical punishment.

Haymitch doesn't like to talk about his district, but he doesn't really have to. Since they've all visited District 12 during their tours, it's not too hard to guess what kind of suffering people in 12 deal with since so many of them are so skinny. It's amazing that they can stand at all.

When they're gathered in the Capitol, they learn to translate the meaning behind certain words or phrases when it calls for it. But when they're separated and in their own districts, they have others ways of communicating when necessary, but never by phone. They aren't really supposed to know any phone numbers beyond their district. Usually, it's by written messages, transferred through several hands and trains. They don't get the messages as quickly because of that, but they do get them eventually.

The conversation dies down into somberness as they are left with nothing else to talk about except what they really want to talk about, so they decide to call it a night. Chaff takes the unlucky job of bringing Haymitch back to the Training Center.

Finnick starts getting ready to leave when Johanna stops him.

"Why do you do it?" asks Johanna. Finnick looks at her, slightly confused. She doesn't look back at him, only stares at her almost empty glass. "You work for him, don't you? Do his bidding?"

Finnick looks around to see if anyone else is listening, and even though there's no one around aside from the bartender who is well enough away to overhear anything, he tenses up.

"Look, whatever you've heard, it's not something that I care to discuss. Especially here," he says calmly and quietly.

"Would you rather I think of you as a disgusting sex-starved pig?" she retorts.

"Doesn't matter. Think whatever you want to. I do what is best for me. For everyone," he says.

"Really? So you still have something of worth? Or someone?" asks Johanna. Finnick is silent now. "I guess it's good that I don't have anything worth sacrificing myself for."

There is a long silence before anything else is said.

"Nothing at all? No friends?" asks Finnick. He knows that she's an orphan, but is bothered by the idea of Johanna being completely alone, even if he barely knows her.

"Nope," says Johanna.

Finnick doesn't know what exactly to say about that. To have no one to care about or love. To have to live your life without a connection. For Finnick, that's the worst sort of torment. It's true that he's had to make sacrifices of himself for those that he cares about, but he would do it without a moment's hesitation for those that mean something to him. That's why he does what he does. He still has Turlach to think about. And Mags. And Annie. If he didn't have them, he honestly doesn't know what he would do, and he really doesn't want to think about it. An image of Annie pops into his mind, but he quickly dismisses it. He can't think about anyone from 4 right now, not while he's here, and especially not her.

"Don't look at me like that," says Johanna. "I wasn't asking for your sympathy. I was just letting you know that I get it. I don't think that you made the best decision, but I get it."

"Okay, so you think you would've done something different?" he asks as he readjusts the look on his face to something that doesn't look quite as pathetic.

"Maybe, maybe not, but we'll never know," says Johanna.

"I guess not. But just so you know, I don't think your situation is any better than mine," he says with finality.

"I'll keep that in mind," says Johanna. She puts down her empty glass. "Well, this was fun. Maybe we can do it again next year." She gets up off her chair.

"Sure," says Finnick.

"Oh, and Finnick," says Johanna as she's walking towards the exit, "Try not to add me to your list of people you care about. I would hate to be another reason for you to keep doing what you do."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about there, sweetheart," says Finnick.

Johanna laughs. "Oh, of course not." She leaves, with Finnick wondering if she meant to sound sarcastic.

He has a feeling that Johanna understands all too well who Finnick is, and wonders if he has Haymitch to blame for that. He speculates that notion for two seconds before coming to the conclusion that Haymitch doesn't blab about other people's history, even if he is completely drunk. Johanna may not have the sweetest disposition, but she definitely has brains, he thinks.

Finnick doesn't actually mean for it to happen, but Johanna Mason is already on his list.

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