Chapter 21: Accepting the Consequences
Finnick knows where he needs to go, even though it takes every part of him to not go to the Victor's Hotel to see if Annie is there, or hope that is where she is. Even if she is there, the note means to summon him to see Snow, and if he goes to the hotel, it will only prove to Snow that Annie is a weakness for Finnick.
In all his planning to bring Annie to the Capitol with him to keep her safe from the would-be abuser in District 4, not once did he think to plan for this to happen. Not once did he think that Annie would be kept from him here. Why he didn't think something like this would happen is completely careless of him, he realizes. They are, after all, in President Snow's home territory. Finnick had been worried so much about Annie being unprotected in District 4 without him there that he didn't expect her to still be unprotected in the Capitol. Stupid!
Guilt washes over him. Finnick knows if Annie were to see him now, she would probably be upset at him for feeling that way about it. She would probably push again his chest in annoyance for it, too.
Be he doesn't care now if she were to get mad. He'd welcome her to push him. At least he would be able to feel her touch, to be with her and hold her while he apologized for his stupidity or for his guilt or for his desire to always want to protect her himself. Oh, how he wanted to just see her face at this very moment.
Unfortunately, he doesn't even know where she is. Snow has her, and probably Mags, too. In what location, he can only guess. In what condition they're in, he has no clue, and the thought of not knowing is squeezing his chest like a vice. As he stands in front of Snow in his office, it's taking all of his will to keep from running up to wretched man, pulling him by his collar and demanding that he release Annie.
"I'm disappointed in you, Finnick," says Snow. "I had presumed that from our last conversation, your agreement was honorable. That you would perform your duties without any distractions. But I was mistaken."
Finnick's expression is that of confusion, but President Snow only sighs in annoyance. "I'm sorry if it has seemed that I haven't been fulfilling my assignments, but I assure you-"
"You can assure me nothing, Mr. Odair," interrupts Snow. His cold eyes glare at Finnick for several seconds and neither move or flinch for that time. Finnick can't flinch, he can barely move. He knows that Annie could get hurt in all this if he doesn't play this out just right. For all he knows, Annie is already being tortured. Just the thought brings a slight stab in his chest. Any threat he makes at Snow at this moment could not only damage Annie more, but could render him even more helpless than he is feeling right now. The two security guards standing off on the sides of Snow's office will see to that. When Finnick feels he can no longer look at the man who holds the keys to Annie's life, Snow speaks.
"At first, I was a little surprised that you decided to bring her here with you." Snow pauses. "But I gave you a benefit of a doubt, allowing her to stay when I could have very well sent her back to District 4." Finnick tenses at the idea of that. "Your first assignment was very pleased with you."
"I'm not done." Finnick closes his mouth and avoids looking at Snow in the eyes by focusing on a spot on the wall behind the president. Finnick feels a heat rising up from his chest, through his neck, swirling into his cheeks and ears. "Your second assignment, however, was not as pleased." Another pause and Finnick looks at Snow. "You do know your assignments require you through the evening until you are released, do you not?"
Finnick shifts his eyes down to a spot on Snow's desk now.
"Do you not, Mr. Odair?"
"Yes, I know."
"So, tell me then. Exactly what time did you leave from your second assignment?" asks Snow contemptuously. Finnick can almost hear the vile spewing out with every word Snow utters, like poison.
"I'm not sure. It couldn't have been any earlier than 6." Finnick could see Snow's eyes darken at his answer, but he doesn't want to let up. Snow knows he is lying, but he isn't about to admit it. He could say he didn't realize the time or that the lady had passed out and wouldn't have been able to release him at a reasonable hour.
The problem with those excuses, however, is that he had never left an assignment early before. If anything, he stayed much later than he even wished to leave. Before this year, he would actually wait until the lady woke up to be released. But he did no such thing this time around. In fact, he had tried to excuse himself early from his third assignment as well. It didn't work, which was just as well, because he was afraid of something wrong happening, something like this.
Snow slowly shakes his head in disagreement at Finnick. "Do you think me so gullible, Mr. Odair? You were back at the Victor's Hotel before 5am. Daylight had not even appeared yet."
Finnick couldn't find any argument against that.
"I'm sorry, sir. I wasn't feeling well at the time," Finnick says weakly.
"And you felt the best medicine was to be found in… Ms. Cresta's room?" Finnick's expression breaks just briefly into panic at the mention of Annie, and his mouth gapes open to try to answer, but he can't think of what he could possibly say to try to alleviate Snow's apparent ability to set his fear into motion. His hands close tightly into fists, forcing his fingernails to dig into his palms.
"Sir… nothing… happened. I just wanted to check on her."
"Of course you did. She is your friend, after all. She's been through some traumatic experiences," says Snow rather calmly. Too calmly for Finnick to find sincere. Finnick notices the faint smirk across Snow's face, and it rattles him to the bone, because he knows that sneer is hiding something that Snow is only too anxious to disclose.
"Since you're so concerned for Ms. Cresta's welfare," says Snow dispassionately, "I think it best that she… stay under my supervision. For the time being."
Suddenly, Finnick feels like his head is about to explode from the heat rising in him and his chest is being crushed under the weight of something very heavy and very pointed. He doesn't inhale, but he can't seem to exhale either, and his knees almost buckle under him. He tries to focus and he clenches his fists tighter, making his nails dig deeper into his palms.
He wants to say something. He wants to beg and plead for Snow to let her go, and he wonders, amidst the piercing pain that is hitting his chest, and between actual breaths, if anything he says now will make Snow change his mind. He tries his best to control his breathing so he can speak without sounding like a frightened 12-year-old boy.
"President Snow, that won't be necessary, really," he says. "I assure you I don't plan to see her again until all my assignments are completed," he concludes, trying to sound indifferent about Annie being kept from him, but even he cannot convince himself of his own words.
"Oh, I think we can agree that your assurances mean little to me now, Mr. Odair," hisses Snow.
"She won't be a bother to anyone," says Finnick, trying again not to sound too distressed about the whole thing, hoping that he can act this one out as he does when he's on assignments. But the way that Snow is looking at him doesn't give him much hope.
"I'm afraid it's too late for that. She has already proven herself to be a distraction to you, and that is quite a bother," says Snow coolly. Finnick can't help but swallow hard at those words. "But let me assure you that she will be quite safe here under my care."
Snow taps the remote control on his desk towards a screen that is on the wall behind Finnick, and gestures at Finnick to turn around. On the screen is a rather plain looking room. There is nothing adorning the walls, and the hard cement floor is without a carpet or a rug to warm it. There is a small bed that contains a pillow, but no blanket. In one of the corners of the room stand a toilet and a sink which is obviously not well hidden from the eye of the camera. Even though the monitor displays the image in black and white, it can be assumed that the room actually is just a plain white, or maybe even gray, room. It's a dull, cold cell, meant to give the occupant of it a kind of bleakness to their situation. But the cell itself isn't what catches Finnick's eye.
In the farthest corner from the door is the figure of a person. He is familiar with the position of the person. He has seen it so many times before. The way the arms wrap around the knees as the knees are pulled up to the chest. And the hair, long and dark and unkempt, much of it covering the face. Finnick doesn't have to see the face to know it's her.
Despite Snow's guarantee of Annie's safety, seeing her alone in such an isolated room, Finnick already knows she's far from feeling safe. She's not screaming or yelling for help, but it's only a matter of time before her fragile mind begins to fall apart. Standing there in the office of President Snow, unaware of where he has her kept, he knows he can't do anything about it. Still, the anger that he's been trying to hold back rises in him, ready to break out and do some damage to anything or anyone.
Finnick spins around so fast that even Snow flinches just slightly, but the two security guards already anticipate his reaction and he's knocked to the floor with a literal hit in his gut. Finnick crouches with his head down, holding his stomach and trying to catch his breath, which has been effectively knocked out of him. After seeing Annie on the screen, he would much rather have twenty hits to the gut than feel the piercing and squeezing pain in his chest. Annie, what have I done?
"Please…," croaks Finnick after several seconds of being able to breathe again.
"Pardon me?" asks Snow, acting as if he didn't hear the word.
"Please… don't hurt her."
Snow sighs. "Get up."
Finnick moves to get up, but holds his stomach trying will away the pain. He takes a breath, then another. "She doesn't deserve to be locked up."
"She won't be, at least not forever, as long as you do your job," Snow hisses at him. "Once the Games are done, and all your remaining assignments have been completed - exceedingly well I might add - then you will have your dear Ms. Cresta back in your care again."
Finnick glares at him. Snow can't think him to be such a fool to know there isn't more to what he's saying.
"President Snow," Finnick pauses, wondering briefly if it's such a good idea to continue with his thought, but the words come out before he can fully think it over. "How do I know you're not lying? How can you expect me to believe you?"
Snow turns his head slightly and his eyes darken. Finnick is bigger than Snow and can truly show his aggressive nature if he really wants to. He is a victor, after all. But of course, that would only get him killed at this point, and get her killed as well, to say the least. An image of Snow being pierced in the gut by his trident flashes in his mind, but he prevents a smirk from coming across his face, because now is not the time for that. Annie. He needs to make sure she will not be harmed at the hands of this vile man.
"Well, that's just the point, isn't it?" says Snow. "You don't. You'll just have to… trust me."
Trust Snow? Finnick wants to laugh for the entire world to hear, but he only grimaces, still feeling the pain of the cheap shot taken at him, combined with the agony of again seeing Annie in that cold cell she's trapped in.
"Mr. Odair, I have no qualms with her. Do your assignments. Entertain them with your smiles and charm and everything else you have to offer. Then you will get to see her again after the Games are done. If you cannot find it within yourself to please them anymore, well… I don't think you'd want me to elaborate on that idea."
Finnick squeezes his eyes, pushing the hot tears back behind his lids. He feels like his head is about to explode from all the anger and despair he's holding in. He looks at the screen again and sees her face. For some reason, she turns her head in the direction of the camera, and it's like she's looking at him. There's no way for her to know that he sees her; still, there's something he sees in her face that lets him think otherwise. It's not like he can see her face that well from where she's sitting, but there is something there. A smile. It's not a smile of joy or happiness and anyone else who would see this wouldn't think anything different of her. They would maybe play it off as part of a delirious state. But Finnick knows better. That smile is for him. It's as if she's letting him know she's okay and she's giving him the strength that he needs to get through this. Yes, that's it.
With that thought in mind, Finnick straightens up, pulls his shoulder's back, and takes a deep breath. He turns around to look at President Snow with much more assurance than he came in there with.
"I understand. I will do as you wish me to do. I won't let you down again," says Finnick with confidence in his voice.
Snow doesn't hesitate. "Good." He hands Finnick his next assignment and Finnick takes it without any wavering.
"May I ask where my other fellow victor is?" asks Finnick regarding Mags. Snow doesn't clasps his hands in front of him.
"I felt… Annie was sufficient enough to prove my point, correct?" Finnick nods, trying to ignore the squeeze in his chest at Annie's name. "You are free to go." Finnick gives Snow a terse nod before exiting the room.
As Finnick walks back into the streets of the Capitol, he knows he cannot fail. The despair lingers deep within him, but he can't let it take over. He will do what he needs to do and he will get her back and they will find a way to leave the Capitol. And to leave District 4. Somehow, they have to find a way out.
"I didn't do anything. You took me."
"You don't need to do anything more. Your presence in this room is enough."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because he needs to understand."
"That things could be much worse."
She looks up at him from her curled up position in the corner of the room. Her eyes drift back to the camera on the corner opposite her. Hands pull her up off the floor. Back on her feet, she tries to pull her arm free. "Let go of me!" The security guard accompanying Snow releases her, and she stands in front of Snow, avoiding his eyes, hiding behind the strands of hair that cover her face.
Snow grabs her by the chin to force her face close to his. She gasps at his forcefulness and his breath stings her nose. The faint smell of blood makes her nose wrinkle.
"Ms. Cresta, I assured Mr. Odair that you would not be harmed under my supervision. Do not make me out to be a liar."
"But you are a liar," says Annie. Annie's eyes widen and look at him to see his reaction. She did not mean to say it aloud.
"Is that so? Would you think me a liar if I told you that Finnick's life may not be worthy of keeping?"
The fear that President Snow has been waiting to see up close in Annie's eyes comes across clearly at that query. A whimper escapes her mouth, and Snow smirks at this reaction. She knows this is what he wants to see. Fear. Not just any kind of fear. But fear of him. Fear of his power, and his ability to end a life so ruthlessly, so openly. But even with this, she knows that he wants them to fear him because allowing them even a sliver of power over him could destroy all that he's worked for. This is what she knows. He's powerless without their fear. And it's working.
"No. You're not lying about that," she says. Snow is still holding her by her chin.
"No, I'm not." His breath is so revolting, but she can't even turn away. After a few more seconds, though, he releases Annie and she turns her head away. She is surprised that she is able to keep herself so focused during this whole exchange.
"What's going to happen now?" she asks meekly.
Snow steps back and nods at an avox standing by the door with a tray of food. The avox sets it down on the edge of the sink, and leaves, closing the door behind him.
"You will stay here for until the Games are completed and Mr. Odair has satisfactorily finished all his assignments. Then you will leave with him and go back home to District 4."
Several seconds pass before she can speak again.
"Why am I here? Why not just tell me at the hotel? Have guards over me there?"
"Because, my dear, you are too much of a distraction. And it's more effective this way."
"But I haven't seen him for days-"
"A week, actually. And that is true, but once was enough. I didn't have him come here to entertain you, Ms. Cresta. He has duties that I'm sure you're aware of, and he needs to focus on entertaining them, you understand?"
He steps closer to her again, his face mere inches away from hers. "Tell me, Ms. Cresta, do you like how he kisses you?" She tries not to breathe in the foul smell of blood that permeates Snow's breath as he speaks, unrelenting in his plan to unmake her. She swallows and pushes back against the wall to keep as far away from him as possible, afraid of what he might do, if he might touch her again. "Do you like how his hands caress your arms? Your neck? Your back?" He reaches for some of her hair and fiddles with it between his fingers. Another whimper crosses her lips, and his face is smug. "I'm sure you do. He certainly knows how to please a woman. He's very good at it, the act of seduction."
Annie's mind is whirling with the thoughts of Finnick's kisses and touches. To have Snow hint that it may be all an act, to try to make her doubt Finnick's love for her, is cruel and vile. Finally, she's pushed enough to speak. "He's not acting with me."
Snow straightens up, releases the bit of hair he had in his hand, and moves back a bit to observe her face. His eyes darken and she can't help but turn away again. "Maybe not, but know this - if you become too much of a distraction for him again, even when you're in your lovely make-believe family setting in District 4, I may… not have use for him any longer."
Even though she can be downright unstable at times, Annie hasn't lost her focus, and she is keenly aware of Snow's intention now.
"Are you're saying you want me to leave him?" She asks, but she knows the answer.
"I'm saying that sometimes sacrifices need to be made to keep the ones that you care about safe."
Safe. Finnick wanted to keep her safe by bringing her with him to the Capitol. She almost wants to laugh at the irony. In fact, she closes her eyes and does just that.
She must've lost focus sometime after, because when she finally looks back up, the room is empty, and it feels like it has been for a while. She looks at the tray of food on the edge of the sink but doesn't feel anywhere close to hungry. She will eventually have to eat. It would be no good to Finnick if she were to starve to death in here, although she assumes they would probably find a way to make her eat if it came down to it.
One of the walls turns into a screen and the Games are showing. Just another way to break her without even touching her.
You are stronger than you realize. You're stronger than me in many ways, I think. Maybe you can't see it, but I can. You said you can trust me, so trust me on this.
"I trust you," whispers Annie.
She is stronger now. She has a plan. She can do it, as long as she reminds herself why she needs to do it. She needs to keep Finnick safe, too. She knows what she needs to do. But will she be able to, she wonders. She has to, or things could get worse and it would be her fault.
She has to break off her relationship with Finnick to keep him safe. She will have to summon all the strength she has to do it.
But now, she's going to allow herself a respite from her strength. She crawls onto the bed, pulls her legs into her chest, and feels the stab in her heart with each beat as she cries herself to sleep with nothing to comfort her but her own arms.