Chapter 29: Just Reality
He thought for sure he'd be dead. Both he and Bruma had been caught helping rebels escape the district. There was no compromise in that situation. They were supposed to be executed. They should have been executed the day they were caught, maybe even at that very moment, unless the Peacekeepers wanted to make an example out of them and make it a public display. In that case, they should have been executed in the town square, along with many of the other rebels who didn't find a way out.
Instead, their lives were spared, or so they were supposed to believe. Finnick and Bruma knew better, though. They knew it was just a matter of time before they were going to be punished or executed. That part didn't make Finnick nervous. The waiting did. The not knowing when it was going to happen, that was the torturous part. He didn't know how long they were going to be kept alive and it was driving him a little crazy, he had to admit. After all, he was isolated from everyone that he cared about.
"Thirty-five," he mutters to himself, marking the number of days he's been in the cell now. He repeats it to himself as a reminder, until the next day comes. "Thirty-five days. Five weeks. A month and five days."
As he does every time he counts out the days, he thinks of Annie. He wonders what she's doing, if she's worrying about him, if she's okay. Every time he does, he can't help but wring his hands over and over again, as if it's going to help ease his worry over her. As if it's going to keep away any danger that could come to her. It's only until a Peacekeeper comes by to distract him that he stops thinking about her. Or when Bruma tries to communicate with him.
"You know why they haven't killed us yet, don't you?" says Bruma. Even though they're in adjacent cells, the wall between them muffles the sound quite a bit, but Finnick hears him clearly enough.
The cells remind Finnick of the one that Annie was held in at the Capitol when Snow held her under his watch. That time seemed so long ago now. So much has happened since then, what with the uprisings and Turlach's death. And now this. Being held prisoner, for thirty-five days so far.
The walls of the cell are the same monotone color, bare and unappealing. His cell seems just as clean as the one she was in; of course, it's not like these cells were hardly ever used. Most people avoided getting into trouble with the Peacekeepers for fear of pain or death more than of incarceration. Little did the Peacekeepers realize that incarceration for Finnick could be just as bad as either of those. Or maybe they did know.
"To find out the most slow and painful way to execute us?" he says in a disheartening laugh.
"C'mon. Haven't you figured it out? Don't you know what's coming up?" says Bruma.
"Thirty-five days gone…" says Finnick again, but all he can think about is Annie. The hardest part for him through all his time there is thinking about anything else, but with Bruma's urging, he tries. "What's coming up? Must be something scheduled. Must be something known. Must be… reaping."
He shakes his head, wondering how on earth he didn't realize it earlier. Of course they want to keep them alive for the reaping. Going to the arena would be the best form of torture. Sure, there's still the possibility of coming out of it the lone victor, but as proud as he was back then of winning his first time through, he would be just as miserable this time around.
"I'm going in," he says, more to himself than to Bruma.
"What?" asks Bruma.
"Me. I'm going to be called."
"You don't know that. There are still 11 other men, you know-,"
"This is why they're keeping us alive. Because of me. He wants me in," says Finnick. He says it with certainty now. President Snow is not happy with him, and this would be the best way to punish Finnick for his disobedience. Then Finnick gasps, realizing that there actually is another way to punish Finnick.
"Annie," he whispers. He wrings his hands even more now, to the point of pain, but he doesn't feel it. Maybe Bruma is saying something to him, assuring him that he doesn't know for sure. Maybe Bruma isn't saying anything at all.
Finnick unconsciously blocks all sound around him, thinking only of his Annie, and hoping that he'll be able to keep her safe in the arena that he knows she'll be called into once again. He knows without a doubt he'll be called, and Snow will try to make him choose his own life or Annie's. But even if he doesn't get called and Annie does, he'll volunteer himself if he has to.
"Forty-eight." He closes his eyes to get a clearer picture in his mind of Annie. He imagines her smiling at him like she's never smiled before. It's an image he hopes to one day see of her, smiling as if she never experienced the trauma of being in the arena, or being abused, or losing her mother and father. In his mind, she's holding his face in her hands, and he's brushing her dark, silky hair away from face. They look into each other's eyes, their different shades of green meeting each other, with only a few inches between them. In his mind, his lips touch hers and it feels so soft and wonderful. He can even imagine smelling her sweet scent. They wrap their arms around each other, never letting go, molding into one another perfectly like the edges of a clam shell. And everything feels so right and nothing can touch them. No one can harm them. They are unbreakable together.
"I miss you, Annie."
"You say something, Odair?" asks the Head Peacekeeper.
"None of your concern," says Finnick slyly, jogging himself out of his thoughts of Annie, and into the character he brings forth when he's trying to hide his true self. He stands up and leans against one of the walls, facing the Peacekeeper whose head appears through the small window of the door. Finnick smiles. "You keep looking at me like that, Pearce, I'm gonna think you want more from me than I'm willing to give another man. I only deal with women, you know."
Head Peacekeeper Pearce doesn't say anything nor does show any response to what Finnick was implying. "You deal with whomever he tells you to deal with," retorts Pearce indifferently.
Finnick shrugs. "Well, sometimes I do get my way," he replies haughtily.
Pearce unlocks the door and another Peacekeeper enters with his tray of food while Pearce stands at the entrance, baton in hand. Finnick just rolls his eyes at him. For some reason, Finnick knows that Pearce is only doing it for show, as if to show him and maybe even the other Peacekeeper that he's in control.
"Eat up. We need to show that our victors are still as strong as ever," says Pearce.
For a moment, Finnick isn't sure why Pearce is saying anything at all. Normally, the tray is brought in and not a word is said. But now, all of a sudden, he's being told to eat. Not only that, this is the first time anyone aside from Bruma has given the hint about the reaping.
Finnick furrows his brow, but Pearce only points to the tray with his baton. "That better all be gone by the time we come back. It wouldn't do anyone any good if they knew you were throwing away perfectly good food while they starve."
Starve? Who're they? Finnick wants to ask what Pearce means, but he has a pretty good idea of who they are and why they are starving. It's been forty-eight days he's been in there. If the people of District 4 have been starving that whole time, he knows more have died. He can't help but wonder if one of them is Annie.
Once the door closes, the last thing Finnick wants to do is eat, but his body complies anyway and he sets about eating everything that is on the tray.
When he bites into the bread, he notices something inside the bread, and as he pulls it out, he realizes it's a small piece of tightly rolled paper. A note. He reads it and tries to see if any Peacekeepers are within hearing range, but no one seems to be within proximity of the hallway.
"Bruma?" he says, trying not to talk too loudly for the Peacekeepers down the hall to hear him.
"Yeah, I got it. This will be interesting."
"I'd say more than interesting."
It takes him a moment to decipher the message, but he's pretty sure it's evident what it means – District 13 is good to go, meaning they are now ready to take action. The second part takes a little longer, but once he remembers her name, he comes to two conclusions. One - Katniss Everdeen, the victor from District 12, needs to survive the arena. And two - he and Annie may have to die for her.
The door unlocks and in steps Pearce. He throws some clothes on the bed that Finnick is lying on.
"I usually trade in secrets," says Finnick teasingly, despite having just been woken up.
"Shut up," says Pearce. "They want you presentable for television."
"Sixty days. You kept us here for sixty days."
"That wasn't my call."
"You're the Head Peacekeeper! How was it not your call? Why didn't you just kill us? Why did you send us that note?" Finnick doesn't know why he asked, but he could charge it on his frustration at not knowing what has been happening with the district or with Annie.
"I said shut it!" says Pearce through gritted teeth. He grabs Finnick by the arm. "Get up!" Finnick does so, but pulls his arm away from his hastily. Pearce steps up to Finnick, close enough that Finnick can see the tiny red veins in the whites of Pearce's eyes. "Do you want to die? Do you want me to kill you?" whispers Pearce angrily.
Finnick looks at him, unsure of what to say. They stare each other down for several seconds before Finnick says something. "Why are you doing this?"
Pearce steps back a bit and exhales, releasing much of the tension he had when he entered Finnick's cell. "Just change already. The reaping is in two hours." With that, Pearce leaves Finnick, returning half an hour later with a tray of breakfast food. And then another hour later with several other Peacekeepers to escort him and Bruma to the town square for the reaping.
Once they arrive at the square, he searches around, looking for her, hoping upon hope that she's okay. That she hasn't gotten herself lost in the haze of her mind. She's one of the last ones to arrive. Mags is with her, walking slowly towards the center of the females area. Finnick's first thought is how Annie looks so much thinner than he remembered her being sixty days ago.
"Annie!" he yells, not caring whether he's allowed to call out to her or not. Before he can catch her eyes as she turns swiftly in his direction, there's the business end of a rifle in front of his face. Finnick looks at the Peacekeeper, thinking it's Pearce for a moment, but it's not. Bruma pulls at his arm.
"Not now," Bruma says quietly.
Finnick tightens his lips, but doesn't say anything more. He's at the edge of the roped off section closest to the female victors' roped off section. Annie stands at the edge of hers, too. There's twenty feet between them, but for Finnick, it's almost too much to bear, to have her so close but yet not close enough. Never close enough. He sees her lips move, saying something but nothing audible. He can't read her lips, either, because her disheveled, flowing hair covers part of her face and mouth. But he has a feeling he knows what she's saying, what she's thinking.
"I miss you, too, my sweet Annie. I love you," he whispers to her. He knows she won't be able to hear it, but something in the way she looks at him at that moment lets him know she understands.
Before anything else can be said between them, Peacekeepers direct them back to the center of their roped off area. He sees Mags help pull Annie back before any Peacekeeper touches her, and he's surprised at how thankful he is for Mags doing even that much.
This is their punishment, being called in the Games again. Finnick never doubted it was all Snow's doing. He wonders if anyone else thinks the same. Surely, with the revolt from several districts, and apparently this thing with saving Katniss, things are getting a little too out of control for Snow that he had to do something to prevent it from continuing. What better way to do so than to have us victors all called back again into the arena.
He dreads going back into the arena as much as any sane person does, and to him, he's not counting those in District 1 or 2. But he knows at least there's a reason for his name to be called. He did help in the revolt, and that's definitely a good enough reason. But for Annie to go back in? Just the thought itself is enough to drive him right off the edge of sanity. And to think that he might have to sacrifice her life for the girl in District 12, for a reason he's not sure he quite understands yet, is unreasonable.
One thing's for certain, no matter what Katniss Everdeen has to give to the rebellion, even if it means freeing them all from Snow's grasp, there is no way he would willingly allow Annie's death. None at all. He'll have himself killed first before that happens.
That is what Finnick says to himself right before he hears Tessa, the escort for District 4, call out the name for the female tribute. "Annie Cresta!"
He holds his breath. He was right. She is going back into the arena. He hears her cry out hysterically, in a way that he hadn't quite heard before, and it's as painful to his heart as a knife would be, but he doesn't turn to look at her. It will only make him break down in sobs, and he doesn't want anyone, especially those in the Capitol who are watching this all, to see his weakness.
However, before he can even think of what he'll say to her once they get on the train back to the Capitol, he hears a commotion. It's not until he sees Mags' frail looking body, with her cane in hand, move toward the stage that he understands what has happened. He can't even begin to grasp fully the effect this change is doing to him before Tessa calls out the male tribute. "Finnick Odair!"
He sees movement next to him, but grabs onto Bruma's arm, stopping him from any notion of volunteering himself. Finnick doesn't say anything, but just quickly makes his way to the stage to stand next to Tessa. He avoids everyone's stares except for one. She looks at him with a sort of awe, and briefly tilts the corners of his mouth upwards, hoping that no one else but her will see.
Not a minute later, they're taken into the Justice Building. Finnick is already trying to figure out what to say when he sees Annie for their finale few minutes together before they take him and Mags to the train. But once inside, Pearce is standing in front of them with a strange look on his face.
"No visitors. We've been ordered to bring you to the train now," says Pearce, somewhat disdainfully.
Finnick's controlled demeanor starts to break as he begins to comprehend what this means.
He won't be seeing Annie.
They walk toward the back of the building to exit out the other side.
"Wait, I need to-"
"Sorry, Odair. Nothing I can do about it."
Once outside, he sees the car waiting for them. For no other reason than praying for a miracle, he looks around to see if anyone else is there. And his prayer is answered.
It's the panic in her eyes that catches him first, even before he hears her call out his name, as she turns the corner to find them.
"Finnick!" she yells, running towards him, her arms reaching out to him.
He tries to go to her, but is stopped by two Peacekeepers. Two other Peacekeepers hold Annie back as well.
"Don't touch her!" he yells, but they ignore him. "Leave her alone!"
Finnick tries to pull himself away, but the Peacekeepers have a good hold on him.
"Please!" yells Annie to the Peacekeepers. "Finnick!"
"Ah, let them go already! They're just going to make it harder on themselves anyway," orders Pearce, with a slight aggravation to his voice. Finnick doesn't bother to think about why Pearce is allowing this moment. He doesn't have time to.
They're in each other's arms before they take their next breath. He's never felt Annie squeeze so tightly than now, and he realizes that maybe Pearce is right. This is going to make it harder to let her go.
"Annie, you're going to be okay. Understand?" he whispers in her ear. "No matter what happens, promise me you'll fight to live. Promise me you won't give up."
"Finnick, please-" she says through her sobs, but he interrupts her.
"You're going to be okay, and you're going to live a long time, and you're going to fall in love again and have wonderful, beautiful babies-"
"Don't say that-" she says, shaking her head emphatically. Finnick feels her tears fall on the side of his face and on his shoulder. He holds her tighter, trying to control his own tears that burn behind his eyes, trying to be brave for her. "Promise me you'll love again. Please Annie, promise me."
Before she can answer, he hears Pearce tell them they've had enough time and orders the Peacekeepers to pull them apart. He knows he has to go, but he can't seem to willingly release himself from her grasp.
"No!" she screams as hands force their way between them. "No! NO!"
Even as the Peacekeepers successfully separate them, they still reach out for each other, their arms outstretched, unwilling to give up, even if only to have the tips of their fingers touch.
"Annie! Promise me!" he yells one final time, but her heartbroken screams and sobs in between her calling his name are the only sounds he hears before they force him into the car and drive away, leaving Annie behind to continue her life without him.
Promise me you won't forget how much I love you.