Chapter 19: The Volunteer
Annie wakes up gasping for air. She dreamed she was drowning and couldn't swim up to the surface. Something was holding her back, keeping her in place, but she couldn't see what it was, and the surface was so close, so close in fact that her hands were waving freely above the surface. It was terrifying. She doesn't know how long she had been having that nightmare, but it must have been a while because her pillow is fairly damp from perspiration. It also could be because the night is warm. Either way, she won't be able to go back to sleep just yet.
She hears him. She knows he's just outside her slightly open door. He always shows up after every nightmare, keeping watch over her, silently waiting to see if she'll call to him or scream out in terror and needing to be woken up. Always trying to keep her safe. But some things she knows he can't keep her safe from. Her nightmares are one of them, although she doesn't have as many nightmares as she used to, not like before, when she was living in her own home. With her father.
She was sure she was safe then. She hoped she was. Then she was attacked, and her father died protecting her, and she realized she could never be truly safe from him. From her attacker, her abuser. From Garcen.
Annie would not reveal her attacker for the simple reason that, as much as Finnick wanted to protect her, she wanted to protect him. She couldn't afford to have Finnick risk his life just to take revenge on Garcen for what he had done to Annie. To Annie, the damage had already been done years before she met Finnick. When she was still living in the community home, during Pool Day on Sundays. There is nothing that Finnick would be able to do to fix the damage that had been done, so revenge was pointless to her. And although Garcen did try again before her father came in to stop him, she thinks that he will not try it again. It would be careless of him to do so while she's living with Finnick and Turlach now. Completely insane, really, for him to try. He would have to be out of his senses, and she hopes that not even drunkenness can get him to that state.
It then dawns on her. She has a brief vivid image in her head about her nightmare. She was drowning in water not in the ocean, but in the pool. She was back in the community home in her dream. She was being kept under by Garcen. But it was definitely a dream. It had never really happened to her. She never almost drowned or was never being held under by that sadistic peacekeeper. Still, it loomed over her, the image of him and his slimy hands on her. She shivers just thinking about the loathsome man.
She hears herself call out to Finnick and it's odd to hear how she sounds. She didn't even call very loudly, but he's there all the same. His hands move gently over hers, which she now notices are covering her ears. Annie moves them away from her head and they find their way into Finnick's hands, sweat and all. Finnick doesn't say anything and doesn't pry them away. He only lets go after a few seconds to cup her cheek with one hand and wipe away the damp strands of hair that have stuck to her face with the other hand.
"What was it?" he asks her.
"Drowning," Annie croaks. She doesn't want to give details and he doesn't ask. Sometimes he knows when not to say anything at all. This is one of those moments.
"It's still too early. Try to go back to sleep," suggests Finnick.
"Will you stay for a while?" asks Annie. It's not an invitation for anything other than comfort and rest. They know each other well enough to understand the boundaries that they've placed upon themselves, each for their own reasons. He's done it plenty times before. He never says no, and he doesn't now. He has her move over so he can lie down on the bed with her. He's near the edge of the bed so he can keep one foot on the floor, and even though it's warm, she sidles up to him and lays her head on his shoulder.
She does try to sleep, but after an hour, she can't seem to keep her mind from racing. She knows Finnick is still awake, too, because his fingers have not stopped moving up and down her arm, the one that she has lazily draped over his chest. He won't sleep unless she does first. She wonders how he can tell if she's asleep or not. She thinks there must be something that she does that alerts him to her consciousness. Or her unconsciousness.
In a few hours, they'll have to get ready. It seems to have come faster this year, and of course, her dreams have become more frequent and unnerving because of it. Her fear, though, is no longer about having her name picked. No, at least she knows she will never have to participate in another Games again. But still, the memories of hers and previous Hunger Games continue to threaten her sanity. Last year was the worst case of it. She was separated from Finnick, and her father was killed, and she almost lost her own life. If it wasn't Garcen that was going to kill her, it might certainly have been under her own doing, if she had to deal with her father's death on her own. Last year was too much to bear. Finnick didn't even know and couldn't help. Mags and Turlach, for whom she is thankful for every day, were there, but that was just barely enough. They kept her going, only by reminding her that Finnick would return. But the words became more and more meaningless as the days turned into weeks.
She doesn't want to go through that again. She has no father now. But who else would get hurt? She knows she might. If she stays behind, she could definitely die if Garcen were to return as drunk as he was before. The things he said to her that night still echo in her head. "He's not coming back. I had you first. You're mine. Tell anyone about this, he dies. I'll make you watch, too." She still remembers the putrid smell of his alcohol-laced breath as he spit out those words to her. She remembers the pain of his grip on her neck and arms, and the beating she took when she tried to help her father. It was a miracle she didn't suffer any broken bones, really. She shakes her head, realizing she doesn't want to go through that again. She can't go through that again.
She hears Finnick's voice trying to calm her again. She didn't even realize she had said anything to alert him to her distress. She's not sure if she wants to open her eyes, but his voice is pleading for her to. When she does, she lets out a breath in relief. He's looking straight at her, always full of concern during these dark moments in her life. His hands feel cool on her heated face. Part of her wants to pull away from him, still reeling from the effects of remembering Garcen's cruel hands on her, but she pushes away that thought and wraps her arms around Finnick's neck, holding him tight.
"I can't stay here while you're there," says Annie. "I need to be where you are."
He doesn't say anything at first, but his hold on her becomes more firm, more sure. "I know," says Finnick. That's all he can say. She knows it will be as hard for him as it will be for her. The last time she went to the Capitol, it was a complete disaster. And this time might not be any better, especially if Finnick can't spend time with her, but at least they'll be in the same city. And she'll be away from Garcen.
"I love you, Annie." Annie chokes back tears. He says it so many times, but every time is still like the first. Sometimes better. This is one of those better times. The words are like a shield around them, impenetrable against the likes of Garcen. Or Pool Day on Sundays. Or The Hunger Games. They give her strength and hope for a better life.
"I love you, Finnick. I love you. I love you. I love you." It's like a chant that she whispers in his ear to keep the shield in place. She hopes that if she says it enough times, he will feel the power behind it and it will be true for him, too. All is silent between them after that, and the only thing that can be heard are the sounds of their breathing. She lays back down again, her head resting on Finnick's shoulder, and is able to go to sleep, at least for the couple of hours before daybreak.
That morning, they get ready to depart for the Capitol once again. Finnick glances into her room, as both their bedroom doors are open. She is pacing back and forth and he wonders if she has forgotten something, then he hears her mumbling something about next year and the year after, but doesn't pay it too much attention. He tells himself to get ready first before going over there to help her out, to give her time. He knows Annie doesn't like to be fussed over when she's capable and alert. She'll be fine, he thinks to himself. Just a few weeks in the Capitol, she won't need to talk to anyone, really. Then they can come back home and that'll be that. And we won't need to worry about it anymore…until…
That's when it hits Finnick like a slap in the face. Annie's mumbling about future years, it's all about the Games, and her decision not only to attend this year's Games, but all the years after. Just so she can be where he is. The nausea rises in his stomach again and they hadn't even eaten breakfast yet. There's no way he could tell her to stay here while he's away. Both of them understand that to separate for that extended amount of time would not be safe for her anymore.
He only wishes he could get Annie to actually tell him who killed her father, and almost killed her. But he knows she won't. Even after her worst nightmares of that event, most of which had occurred immediately after she first moved in with them almost a year ago, she had yet to even mention a name at all. And she would stop Finnick if he even tried to coerce her into telling him by covering her ears. It certainly changed the mood in the household when he tried and he hated to see her upset when she didn't have to be. So he stopped trying.
He's not even sure if it's Garcen anymore, because he's barely even seen the head peacekeeper this whole time since then, and when he does see him, Garcen barely acknowledges him. Finnick would like to think it's because Garcen is intimidated by him, but he knows better than to let that thought dominate. The idea of Garcen feeling guilty enough to avoid him or Annie or anyone in the Victor's Village is laughable. But so far nothing else has happened to Annie since and so he let it go. But he's not sure how much longer he'll be able to do that now that Annie will be going back to the Capitol with him.
He wasn't much help to her last time she was there, and he won't be again. He's just going to have to make sure that she'll be safe in the hotel room by herself. No one should harass her there. There's no rules stating that she needs to be out and about in the open with everyone, watching the Games on one of the many public screens. She'll have her own screen in her room, which will be on the whole time anyway. She will have to endure watching, or at least hearing, it by herself. And I'll be there when I can. Finnick jerks his head in agreement to his thoughts.
As soon as he finishes packing, he heads over to her room. She has already closed her bag and is still mumbling until he holds her hand and pulls her to him. She stops speaking, but her eyes are still looking elsewhere, distant. He can sense her mood, somewhere between sound and unsound. He's afraid to look at her for some reason and instead holds her head to his chest. Her arms stay unmoving on her sides. He understands why, even though she may not be able to understand or comprehend it herself. So, he says it instead, trying to bring her back to him with his voice, even though it will be unpleasant, albeit true.
"It won't be easy. I won't be around much. I wish things were so much more different, but if I don't…comply…" he pauses, unable to finish.
"-then people get hurt," Annie says, completing his sentence.
"Annie, you understand more than you should," Finnick whispers, then says, "I can't let it happen again."
He feels the tension in her pass through to him, sharing with him her unease. He needs to tell her more, as much as it hurts, because he needs to know that she understands completely why he will act the way he will when they get to the Capitol. He needs her to know what she's in for. Most of all, he needs to know that she'll still be there for him after it's all done. If not, he's not sure if he'll be able to ever forgive himself for ever getting himself involved with Annie Cresta.
"We can't be close. Not in front of anyone there. But you'll be safer there than you will be here. Understand?" Annie still doesn't move. Her arms are still limp on either side of her, but she does repeat one word back.
Finnick tightens his lips together. It's not safe for anyone. It's never safe, and it never has been, but victors know that already – that word is a lie. To be completely safe is inconceivable for them. Even if things were to change, if there were no more Hunger Games and people were free to go about their lives as they wished, he doesn't know if they would ever feel safe from anything or anyone ever. Their lives have been through too much horror to fully believe in that. At least, that's what he feels. But "safer," that's all her can offer her, and he just hopes it's enough.
He finally has the courage to pull back and nudge her to look at him. He wants to see her eyes, to bring her back to him, like he does so often right before in the days before the reaping and the Games. He wants to find the beauty in the color of hues of green, and the grace in the softness of her smile, just one more time before they have to leave for the Capitol. He wants her to see him, for her to look deep into his soul and find the thing he wants to give her.
"You have my heart, you know. No one can take that from you."
There. He sees it in her eyes and in her smile now. Beauty and grace together, within her. He presses his lips to hers and he feels her hands on him now, and it feels like she's melting him with her touch and jolting him awake at the same time. He won't be able to feel like this again for weeks, so he holds her tighter. His hands move up against her back and his fingers get tangled in the dark strands of her wonderfully silky hair as he breathes in her scent and tastes her lips. He wants to keep this moment with him for these next few weeks.
After the reaping, they make their way to the train. Finnick should not have been surprised that Mags was coming along for the ride. Finnick didn't ask her to come, but she had her bags packed and had Turlach carry it for her as they made their way from the Victor's Village to the town square for the reaping and then to the trains.
"Mags, what're you doing?" Finnick asks her. She scowls before telling him in her own way that he's not Annie's only friend. Luckily, he knows better than to take any offense to his 80-something year old former mentor and surrogate mother. She's still amazingly strong despite her age and physical disability. He especially feels her strength when she smacks him every once in a while with her cane, something that she's been using lately as a weapon instead of a crutch, if only just to get Finnick's or Turlach's attention.
Finnick remembers when Turlach was so wary of Mags after their parents died. It took him a while get used to her coming around, but now, he can tell that Turlach has accepted her as close to a member of the family as one can be without actually being related. Turlach has done the same with Annie, and Finnick has been thankful for that, especially since Annie has no one else but them to connect with. Even though Turlach never had to deal with being in the arena like the rest of them, Finnick thinks that maybe it's a good thing. Turlach may just be the glue to keep them connected to the rest of the town, to the rest of the people in the district. To help remind them why they need to continue to try to survive - to give hope to the rest of the people.
When they get to the train, Finnick turns around to speak to his brother one more time. Turlach looks at him, and Finnick sees something odd in the way his older brother is looking at him.
"What?" he asks Turlach. Turlach opens his mouth as if to speak, then closes it, hesitating. "What is it?"
Again, the hesitation is there, but after a second, Turlach says, "Nothing. Forget it. I'll hold down the fort. You… take care of them. And yourself."
Finnick stares at him, trying to see if Turlach will say more, but Turlach just smiles. It's the kind of smile that Finnick is familiar with. A kind of smile that breeds confidence – the false kind. He's familiar with it because he shows that smile often when he's at the Capitol.
Finnick wants to call him out on it and ask him what's really bothering him, but just as he's about to, Mags taps him on his back, just below his shoulder blade, as if she were trying to reach his shoulder but could only go up to that point. He turns around and Mags tilts her head towards the entryway of the train car they're to go into, indicating it's time to get on.
Mags pushes Finnick out of the way so she can move closer to Turlach and, in a rare display of affection, pulls him by his shirt so he's forced to bend down to her level and she gives him a hug. Not a full hug with both arms, but a one-arm hug. She pecks him on the cheek and it's over before he can even respond.
Turlach blinks once, then twice, and is suddenly greeted by another hug from someone else, this time with both arms. Annie holds onto him much longer than Mags.
"I'm sorry I'm not strong enough to stay here with you. You've done so much for me," she whispers in his ear. Finnick looks at Turlach and can see the genuine emotion in Turlach's eyes. Turlach blinks a few more times, and Finnick smiles. Finnick makes a silent wish for more moments like this, not the leaving, but the closeness.
"No, no," says Turlach, still wrapped in Annie's hug. "You are stronger than you realize, I'm just here to help. And I'll be here for you when you get back," he adds, looking back at Finnick knowingly. Finnick realizes that maybe that last part was meant for him, too.
During the train ride, Finnick can't seem to stop thinking about that moment at the station with Mags and Annie and Turlach. That's the closest he's ever felt to all of them at one time. A smile creeps up on his face. He looks down at his beautiful girl laying beside him, who's head has shifted halfway off his arm and onto the pillow. He never thought of her as beautiful in a way that the Capitol sees beauty, but she is truly beautiful in his eyes and he doesn't care if no one else sees her that way.
She is sleeping now and she looks strangely at peace, considering where they're heading and that they won't be able to spend much time together, if any, while there. He moves himself carefully off the bed, trying not to disturb her, but she moves just a bit. Her eyes are still closed though, so he bends down to kiss her lightly on her temple. "I'll be right back," he whispers. He doesn't know if she can actually hear him, but it makes him feel better just saying it anyway.
As he makes his way down to the dining car for something to drink, he hears the familiar sound of a television in one of the other rooms. As he passes by the room, Mags is watching intently at what's going on, and pauses at the doorway to find out what's so interesting that she doesn't even notice his presence there. He sees the all too common face of Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith commenting on something that had just happened at a particular reaping.
"…volunteer from District 12. What do you make of that, Claudius?" asks Caesar.
"Has there ever been a volunteer from District 12?"
"I don't believe so. Let's have a look at that scene again. I mean, this is history in the making for these outlying districts, wouldn't you say?"
Claudius nods in agreement as they begin to replay what happened in District 12.
Finnick watches as he sees a little blonde girl being called up to the stage. He's seen many little girls called up to the stage before, all of them just as scared as this one is. Then, as she's almost to the front, there's movement in the crowd and another girl with dark hair who seems to be a few years older, calls out to the little girl, who Finnick thinks he hears call the little girl "Prim." The older girl shrieks out her insistence to replace Prim. They are sisters, Finnick realizes. Only siblings are allowed to volunteer for someone else. Prim tries in her own feeble way to stop her sister from volunteering, but she is now being carried off by one of the boys. Finnick wonders briefly if maybe that is their brother. But that thought takes a backseat as he continues watching the volunteer make her way up to the stage. He's struck by the way she's attempting to handle herself, keeping a stoic, emotionless, face in light of what she has just done. She has just volunteered her life for her sister's. Her name. Katniss Everdeen.
Then something odd happens in the crowd. One by one each person in District 12 put their three middle fingers of one hand against their lips and raise it up in Katniss' direction. It's not something he's ever seen before. Is it a salute? An insult? A code? Even Caesar and Claudius don't know what to make of it.
Then a familiar face comes up on the screen and Haymitch is congratulating Katniss, and then yelling angrily at the cameras. "Is he trying to get himself killed?" asks Finnick rhetorically. He knows that talk like that, what Haymitch said – "More than you!" – could get him in serious trouble. But it's also probably vague enough to where it can be misinterpreted as something he's yelling to District 12. Even the commentators shrug it off, knowing Haymitch's constant inebriated state. He doesn't bother to watch anymore and continues down the corridor.
As he resumes his way to the dining car, he replays the scene in his mind, but instead of visualizing Katniss and Prim, he visualizes Turlach and himself. For the first time in a while, his thoughts go years back to when he was reaped. He wonders now, if that would've been how it would have played out if Turlach had volunteered for him. Would he have yelled at Turlach and tried to prevent him from going? Yes, he's almost certain he would have tried to keep Turlach at bay. No one probably would've pulled him back, either. Sometimes he wonders if he really did resent Turlach for not volunteering in his stead for the Games. Now, after watching what had just happened in District 12, he knows. Regardless of what has happened since, their parents getting killed, him being pulled in as a slave to Snow's bidding, he knows for certain what he could only guess at before, that he would not have wanted Turlach to volunteer.
He goes back to the event at the station earlier. After Annie had hugged Turlach, he felt the obliged to do the same with his older brother. They had not hugged since before their parents died and it felt awkward at first, but a second later, they patted each other firmly on the back, and it felt nice to be able to do that. When they pulled away and stepped back, Turlach had that look on his face again, like he wanted to tell Finnick something more. But it was too late and they had to get on the train. I'll be here for you when you get back.
Whatever it is will now have to wait until they return. He's glad, though. Glad that he has a brother to return to. He thinks about the little blond girl, Prim. That could've been him. Wondering, worrying, waiting to see if he'd still have a brother after the Games, or if he'd be taken away forever. He feels sorry for Prim. She will now have to watch as her sister, who sacrificed herself for her, fights for her life in the Hunger Games. And of course he feels for Katniss, too, the volunteer from District 12. He's not one for cheering on any specific tribute, although he always hopes the best for the ones in his own district, naturally, but he does wonder about this one. He wonders how long she'll last, because there's not much hope for the District 12 tributes, even if she is a volunteer. He might end up hating Haymitch for good if he doesn't do more this time around.
Katniss deserves more, Finnick says to himself.