Against The Tides

Chapter 5: Victory Tour

"We're almost there," said Tessa. "Oh, this place! It's just so dreadful here. Nothing like your district at all! It's a good thing it's the first place to hit. The sooner we get this part of the tour over with the better! The people here are so dirty and unpretty, I don't know how they can stand it. I'm amazed they even have one victor from that district," Tessa continues, then whispers loud enough for everyone to hear, "but hopefully you don't have to meet him."

Tessa goes on mumbling insults about Finnick's fellow victor friend, and how he's a filthy brigand with no manners or taste and no hopes of mentoring a winner of the games at all. "It's a good thing you didn't have him as a mentor, Annie. He would've done you in, for sure!" Finnick looks at Tessa, his annoyance obvious in her assumption of Haymitch's mentoring skills. He doesn't know what bothers him more, that Tessa made that assumption about Haymitch or that she is basically right.

He also can't stand the way that Tessa describes District 12. Sure, it definitely isn't as picturesque as District 4. Nothing is as picturesque as District 4, except maybe the Capitol itself, but only because of the mountainous backdrop that the Capitol lay in. But her blatant disregard for the people in District 12 is worse. During his tour, he saw sadness, pain, and even anger and he felt so ashamed of what he had done. Some winners looked on the other tributes' families and scoffed at them, but he did no such thing. Now, here he is with another scoffer as the escort. He excuses himself from the dining table where Tessa, Annie, and the rest of the prep team sit and goes back to his room to relax a little.

As soon as he puts his head down on the pillow, a knock comes on the door. "Come in," he says. If it's Tessa, he pretty much plans to lay into her what he thinks she is in comparison to the people of District 12. He almost thinks any ramifications of his verbal assault will be worth it.

But when Annie opens the door, barely stepping in past the door frame, Finnick immediately sits up on his bed. "Hey," he says. They had barely spoken since they got on the train and that was the day before. He wasn't sure if she wanted to talk to him again just yet, but Mags told him to be patient and she will come around, so he waited. Annie's eyes roam his room, but avoids contact with Finnick's for a while until there's nothing else to see.

"Do you remember this place?" asks Annie.

"District 12?" Finnick asks and nods before verbally replying. "Yes."

"What's it like?" asks Annie slowly after a few seconds of silence, "Seeing the families?" Finnick is taken aback. He remembered his tour, but had never thought about Annie's tour and what it could do to her, having to stand there and face the families of those tributes who lost their lives in the games. Of course, he had only gotten to talking to Annie again just recently.

Finnick takes in her gaze. Annie's hair has been done up into some odd Capitol-type hairstyle which makes Annie's features look all the more unnerving. With all the flawless makeup done by the stylist and her crew, they don't hide the sorrow that shows through her sea-foam green eyes. They probably didn't even notice it anyway. He repeats the question in his head to see if there is a way for him to answer it truthfully without damaging this poor woman's psyche even more. The short and straightforward approach is the best solution, he concludes.

"Painful," Finnick answers. "But you'll be able to get through it."

"How do you know?" asks Annie.

Finnick thinks about his next words carefully. He has to. He doesn't want to say the wrong thing again. He reminds himself that he doesn't need to be the suave, ladies-man type that he is with so many other women. He doesn't have to flirt his way into the conversation. Plus, Annie needs him to be honest if she is to get through this tour. This mentorship isn't something that ends with the games. At least not in his district. "Because you made it this far and you're still alive," Finnick says. "But if you need support, I will help you as much as I can."

Annie can't stop her hand from twitching. Even though Finnick tells her that she'll make it through this tour unscathed, she isn't so sure about that. Fortunately for her, this first stop on the Victory Tour is to a district in which the tributes had died fairly quickly at the Cornucopia and not by her hands. Finnick stands behind Annie as she makes her speech to the crowd, with the families of the dead tributes in the front. They barely look at Annie, their heads down and eyes still forlorn from their loss.

After her speech, during the little victory dinner, Finnick introduces Annie to a very drunk Haymitch, the sole victor from District 12. Haymitch's eyes blink slowly at her as he shakes her hand, then holds on for a few seconds more, only to keep from falling forward, it seems. Finnick has to practically carry Haymitch to the closest available chair.

Annie doesn't know why at first, but she feels sorry for Haymitch. Maybe because he doesn't have anyone else here who understands what he experienced. There are so many victors in District 4, so she knows she at least is surrounded by people who all had experienced the dread of surviving in the games. And even with that, she still has a hard time dealing with all the mental anguish that it's caused her. She can't imagine having to deal with that completely alone, with nothing but empty houses to keep you company.

When she observes Haymitch sitting with his head down and Finnick talking to him, it's like a bolt of electricity bringing something to light for her; she realizes at that moment Finnick isn't like any victor she has seen or heard of. Finnick is someone who cares, not only about his family, but for many others. Even without his parents, he learned to take others into consideration. She'd seen him before they had officially met. She'd seen how he treated people in their district, always courteous, always humble. So very different from the Finnick she's seen on television. She realizes that the other Finnick, the one she'd seen on television during previous Hunger Games is not the same person as the one who was her mentor. The Finnick in the Capitol is overly confident, cocky, shallow, and completely full of himself.

The Finnick in District 4 is the complete opposite. She berates herself quietly for not noticing this before. She had thought that when they returned to District 4 after the games, he wouldn't really want to have anything to do with her. Annie had then decided that it would be best if she were to just ignore him before he did. That was part of the reason. She was also ashamed of herself, for breaking down the way she did when Lev was killed during the games. Annie was supposed to be able to handle it, but it didn't turn out that way. It was with Finnick's help that she was able to get through the post-games events, but how had she thanked him? She didn't. Of course, there was more to it than just that, but she set that thought aside.

Annie continues watching the both of them, seeing how they carry on in conversation. Haymitch nods to what is being said. Finnick's hand on Haymitch's back in a gesture of encouragement. She doesn't stop watching them, and when Finnick turns his head towards her, he smiles reassuringly to her, just as he did to Haymitch. For the first time ever, Annie smiles back at him.

The role he played during the games revives as they go through each district. He guides her, talks her through it, stands by her during the tours of the districts and the speeches she is made to read.

The nights on the train reveal a new kind of problem. Finnick is well experienced in nightmares, having so many of his own, but he never actually heard another person scream in their dreams before. When he hears it, he's sure someone is being tortured or at least being attacked viciously. As he runs down the narrow walkway of the train and finds where the horrible sound is coming from, he realizes it is in Annie's room. Annie didn't lock her door, so luckily he doesn't have to break it down.

There he sees Annie, sitting upright, screaming at nothing. Her arms are thrashing from side to side with her pillow in hand, as if she's swinging a large stick back and forth. Finnick manages to grab hold of her arms and avoids the swipe of her hands toward his face. He jars her awake from whatever nightmare she was going through, and from what little light there is in the room, Finnick can see the fear that plagues Annie's eyes before she realizes where she is. She can't help it, but she just wraps her arms tightly around Finnick's waist, her head presses against his chest. The only thing Finnick can do at that point is hold her until she calms down. "It's okay," Finnick says. "It was just a dream."

Finnick feels Annie shake her head against him. "I know, but it felt so real. It still does. It's like I'm still in there… in the games. I can still hear their voices, their screams." Annie's voice is so soft and shaky but Finnick understands her. Finnick feels Annie tremble and her arms tighten around him even more, either to stop from shaking or to protect herself from the images of her nightmares. He caresses her hair with one hand while he gently rubs her back in circles with his other hand to try to get her to relax. No words are said, but they stay that way for several minutes. When Annie finally loosens her grip, Finnick pulls back to look at her face, to see any sign of composure in her eyes.

"Sorry," Annie says as she looks up at him embarrassingly.

"Don't be," Finnick says. "You okay now?"

"I guess," says Annie, but he isn't convinced.

"What is it?" asks Finnick.

"I don't know…" says Annie, then looks down, away from his worrisome eyes. "I thought… maybe if I tried not to be so scared anymore, it would stop – these nightmares. But it hasn't." She pauses. "It never will, will it?" She looks back at Finnick, waiting to hear what she already knows. She sees Finnick's hesitation. The lump in his throat moves up and down as he gulps. The flickering of his eyelids and the shifting of his eyes give evidence of his answer before he even speaks.

"I wish I could say it will," he admits. Annie releases her arms around his waist and straightens up. She is thankful for the darkness to cover the blush in her cheeks as she realizes how much she let her guard down in front of Finnick. She has pajamas on, but he is shirtless and for some reason unknown to her, it makes her feel a little uncomfortable. Finnick realizes it too, because as she lets go of him, he straightens up as well and put his feet flat on the side of the bed as he moves to sit right on the edge before he continues. "But maybe that's a good thing."

Annie frowns at him, and she wonders if he can see the expression on her face as he turns his head to look at her again. "What do you mean?" she asks.

"Well, I'm just saying that maybe… it's a way for our brain to remind us that we still care. That we still feel. That death still affects us. That we're not like those who watch the games every year, excited about death and killing," Finnick says before he stops when Annie touches his arm.

"Please don't," says Annie. Finnick understands. Some people don't like to hear such miserable things.

"I don't like them myself, these nightmares. But at least I know what's right and what's wrong. Does that make sense?" Finnick had never said these things to any other person before, partly because he didn't know if that was true, but after he says it, he believes it, even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else.

"Yes, I think so," Annie says. She puts herself underneath the covers again and leans back against the wall. Her face turns toward where he sits.

"How do you feel now?" Finnick asks.

"Okay," Annie says quietly and calmly.

"We have a few more hours to go until dawn, try to get some sleep," Finnick says softly. Only when he feels Annie's hand squeeze around his does he realize that he's been holding hers. As he gets up to go back to his own room, he turns around one last time to see if she really is going to try to go back to sleep. She's already laying back down and her eyes close as he steps through the doorway.

"Finnick," Annie whispers. Finnick stops again and turns. Her eyes glow from what faint light is reflecting. "Thank you."

"Sure. Go to sleep," Finnick says warmly. For that moment, he feels that he finally is able to reconnect with Annie again, not just as a mentor, but possibly even as a friend. The thought of it makes him feel a relief that he hasn't felt in a long time. A warmth spreads through him, a sense of moving forward, and in a good way. He smiles faintly.

As he walks back to his room, he realizes something else. No one besides him had come to find out who it was that was screaming. Not even Tessa. Of course not. They don't care. He wonders if any of them will ever care. He forces the thought out of his head. He isn't going to let them bother him.

He decides to leave his door slightly ajar in case Annie has another nightmare. He would be the only one to notice.

They both sleep through the rest of the night.

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