Against The Tides

Chapter 8: Mentor

Finnick wakes up under the silken sheets of a bed not familiar to him, and tries to remember where he is. When he does, he tries to prevent his groan of disgust to escape his lips so as not to wake the sleeping body next to him. He could tell from the light coming through the window that the sun is just about to break over horizon. The pale-blue-skinned woman named Sapphire Welsh doesn't move at all, so he makes his way out of the bed, dresses himself and washes his face as quietly as he can before heading out the door. He wants to take a shower, but not here, for fear of waking up the woman of great wealth, but of horrid temperament. And that's when he sees it. The television is on, as they are required to be on during the Games, so it is unavoidable, and what he sees on the screen stops him. He feels his heart race faster and he forgets to take a breath for several seconds.

There, on the screen, is Iona, the District 4 female tribute. Annie's tribute. At least he thinks it is Iona, but he can't really tell because of the blood and dirt covering her face. Unfortunately, it looks that Iona is fighting a losing battle against 2 small bear-like creatures. Finnick, as do the whole of Panem, knows these are muttations, because bears do not naturally have metal claws or teeth. Finnick searches the screen, but sees that no one else is around her, which is odd, because there should be the other Careers.

Careers from Districts 1, 2 and 4 usually form an alliance together to at least survive the early part of the Games. He wonders what happened to the others – if they already died. He knows in the beginning of the Games, Iona and Bram, the boy tribute, had agreed to ally with Districts 1 and 2, as is custom throughout many Hunger Games. But obviously, something happened, and Finnick doesn't know what. There are many ways to die in the arena and it doesn't have to be from the hands of another tribute. They could've gotten killed in some crazy gamemaker disaster, like what happened last year when the earthquake hit. Just then, he sees the message scrolling at the bottom of the screen. And it's letting him know that this scene is a re-broadcasting of what had happened a few hours ago.

He rushes out the door without a second thought. No drawn out hugs or soft kisses or lingering moments of intimacy for Sapphire to remember him by. Finnick's concern is far away from Sapphire or himself or any kind of agreement that was made between the woman and President Snow. He feels a heat rising in him as his pace quickens into a run through the streets to get to the Games Headquarters. Every screen on and around the streets show the same exact scene, which only urges him on to run faster, get there sooner. It's as if he can hear Annie's pained voice. He can only imagine how frantic she may be, and if she's crying or screaming or doing anything but keeping calm.

Once he gets there, he immediately rushes in the headquarters. The place is surrounded by a multitude of people. Some are victors, but many are sponsors looking to see how their tribute is doing, watching on one of the dozens of screens surrounding the room as well as giving what they can to the mentors for their tributes' gifts. The mentors are in their designated areas where they push buttons to release the parachutes, or at least the mentors whose tributes are still alive. Finnick heads toward where the District 4 area is, trying as politely as possible to get through in a quick pace, and searching. People want to talk to him, to shake his hand, to give him a hug or even a kiss or anything they can to gain his attention. All he wants to do is find Annie. But he doesn't see her. And he doesn't see Mags either. Who he does see is Haymitch, who is talking to another victor from their district. When he catches Haymitch's attention, Haymitch waves him over, his eyes dazed with drink, yet trying to focus.

"Haymitch! Where's Annie? Where's Mags? I saw it on TV, but only just now and I saw Iona and… what happened?" he asks, trying hard not to sound frantic.

"Ain't ever seen it happen before," says Haymitch, who never seems to be without a glass in at least one of his hands, and is barely able to look directly at Finnick because he's just so drunk. Finnick already knows that the District 12 tributes were killed at the Cornucopia, again.

"Ain't ever seen what happen before?" asks Finnick more impatiently now.

"Annie was trying to keep Iona alive, all right. She was sending her the gifts," says Haymitch.

"Yes, that's what she's supposed to do," Finnick says in a huff.

"Right. But there was no strategy, no method. She just kept sending the gifts once they were available," says Haymitch as he furrows his brow.

Haymitch tries to recall as much as he can about the past couple of days since the Games started. How Annie was taking it in, how she was reacting, what she was doing. But none of it is helping to ease Finnick's concern about how Annie is dealing with everything now. Haymitch really had no interest in watching the games, nor could he remember much about them anyway. The only thing he could remember was that Annie, for whatever reason, lost control of herself. Once Iona was screaming during the mutt-bear attack, Annie started pushing all the buttons and released whatever gifts there were left for her to push. How, when all the gifts had already been released, she kept screaming "No, there's more." Her pleas to the sponsors were useless at that point.

This room was designed for each mentor to have their own screen showing their tribute, wherever he or she was in the arena. The bottom of the screen would show a row of the gifts in squares for that tribute and all the mentor had to do was touch that square on the screen to release the gift onto a parachute for the tribute to receive. Some mentors allied with each other often, such as those between Districts 1, 2, and 4. Other mentors dealt with it on their own, which obviously made it more of a challenge. The hard part of being a mentor was staying awake the whole time of the Games. A mentor would usually at least pair up with their fellow district mentor, at least in the beginning.

The Capitol provides a tonic for the mentors that would help them stay awake if needed, but everyone knows that your brain needs sleep or you start doing, acting or seeing strange things. So, most mentors avoid the stuff and would risk a couple of hours here and there, basically aligning their sleep schedule with their tribute, if possible.

With Annie the way that she was before she even arrived at the Capitol as mentor, it was no wonder to Finnick that something like this would happen. And yet, for all the times he told himself he would be there for her, this might've been the most critical. And he wasn't there. He was in some strange woman's bedroom, entertaining her because President Snow ordered it. Finnick knows that he really can't be blamed for not being there. He knows he has to do it or suffer the consequences. Still, he can't help but feel the weight of guilt pushing him further down a path that he's been struggling with since his own name was called as tribute 7 years ago.

"Even after she released all the parachutes, she still kept looking for something else to come, for more gifts," says Haymitch.

Haymitch remembers one other thing, but even in his drunken stupor, he can't bring himself to tell Finnick what Annie's last words were before they took her out. After all, Finnick is a friend, a trustworthy friend to Haymitch. He knows what Finnick has been through, what he's going through and what he's being forced to do. Haymitch should know. Haymitch lost everything because he didn't play by the rules, and he knows Finnick lost his parents because Finnick didn't originally want to play by Snow's rules either. Haymitch isn't one for being sentimental, but the memory of Annie's defeated figure on the floor, calling out Finnick's name for help, just like she did in the arena last year, just didn't seem like something that would give Finnick any kind of encouragement. And now, he can already tell by the look on Finnick's face that he's heard enough.

Haymitch tells Finnick they sedated her and brought her back to the Training Center. Finnick nods at Haymitch in a show of gratitude before leaving Haymitch to his drink. Haymitch sighs before taking another big sip of his drink. One of these days, when everything falls into place, we're going to stop this thing. Don't worry, Finnick. There'll be no more Hunger Games. Those are Haymitch's final thoughts before the alcohol takes over all reason.

As Finnick rushes out, he can't help but recall all that's happened in the past 7 years. His name being called. His parents and brother giving what they knew to be their possible last hugs and kisses to him at the justice building. Meeting Mags for the first time. His first kill in the arena. The feel of the blood on his hands, as well as the fear and slight pride in being able to do it. His first meeting with President Snow, the man who started him on this path of "charitable causes." Finnick brings to memory even more events, causing the nails in his clenched fists to dig into his palm, making small impressions. Be barely feels it. His nails dig in deeper with each passing memory. His first time as mentor. His refusal to take on President Snow's "request." The funeral of his parents.

The doors open to level 4 of the Training Center and Finnick steps out and he's greeted by an avox, whose confusion about Finnick being there shows in his eyes. Normally, only those directly involved with the tributes are allowed on the floors, but since both District 4 tributes are dead, it no longer matters. Finnick heads to where he knows the mentors' rooms are.

"Annie? Mags?" he half shouts. When he enters one of the rooms, he sees Mags on the bed, sleeping. He steps in slightly, checking to see any sign of movement. The long days and nights of staying up have put its mark on her, because as Finnick comes closer, he hears her breathing, almost snoring. Signs of a person deep in sleep. He bends down beside her bed and cautiously picks up her hand in his and gives it a light kiss.

He could never thank Mags enough for being there. Mags volunteered herself to be the other mentor for the boy tribute. At first, Finnick was confused as to why she would do such a thing as to volunteer when she didn't even like going to the Capitol and actually hadn't been here since her time mentoring him. Although it's not actually mandatory for previous victors to be at the Capitol for the Hunger Games each year, it's almost certain that a tragic accident can befall any of a victor's loved ones if the victor's attendance is desired and they are not there. Given that Mags is neither young nor attractive, thus making her presence unpleasant to the Capitol citizens, she is basically safe from threat of harm.

Many of the victors go anyway, even if their presence isn't preferred or needed as a mentor. Some of them have formed actual friendships with other victors from other districts and the annual Games is, unfortunately, the one time each year in which they can meet with each other in person. This is how Finnick had first met Haymitch and Beetee, the older man from District 3. Through the years, their friendship strengthened, finding a commonality in each other's past tragedies. It may not be the most ideal way to form a bond, but it definitely made for a solid unity.

"Mags, what are you doing?" he asked her as they walked toward the train on the day of the reaping, she in the car with the tributes and Annie and Tessa, he in another car with the other victors.

"You know, I could do with some girl bonding," Mags said. It was true, though. There weren't a lot of female victors, and Mags seemed more comfortable with Annie than with the others. Finnick wondered if Mags felt sorry for Annie, but Mags wouldn't say so even if he did ask.

Mags patted Finnick's arm and pulled Annie to her side as they both went in. Annie looked over her shoulder, her eyes lost in confusion.

"I'll see you when we get there," Finnick said, trying to reassure her that he was still going to be close. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to do much for Annie once they arrived at the Capitol.

It turned out to be a blessing for Finnick that Mags had volunteered. He was so busy with President Snow's assignments that he didn't have much time to spend at headquarters to watch of the Games with them. They weren't even there for 3 days yet and Finnick had already gone to meet with 2 women. He was almost glad that he didn't see Annie; because he had a feeling he would have that same awkward and shameful emotion running through him, much like he did at the President's mansion during the Victory Tour.

When he gets to the other room, he's expecting to see more of the same - a sleeping woman knocked out from the stress the Games can have, as well as being heavily sedated. Instead, Annie is sitting up on her bed with her back against the wall. Her arms are wrapped around her legs that are folded up against her chest. Annie is wide awake, but her eyes are in a daze. The sight of her makes Finnick's stomach drop. She looks almost as if she had just come out of the arena herself. Not as dirty, but there are dark circles underneath her eyes from lack of sleep and her skin looks more pale than when they first arrived there. Annie's hair is no longer put up in some kind of ponytail or Capitol design, but hangs loosely around her shoulders, with strands of it spread across her face.

"Annie?" Finnick says calmly to her as he moves closer, careful not to alarm her. Annie's eyes stay unfocused at his first few attempts to call her. Only until he's close enough to touch her does she notice him.

"Finnick?" she says in a half-confused, half-surprised tone.

"Hey, I thought you'd be asleep," he says, using a safe phrase that hopefully won't bring her into a state of panic.

"Finnick, I think I messed up," Annie says somberly. Finnick sits on the edge of the bed, shifting sideways so that he's facing her.

"You did what you could, though, didn't you? You tried," Finnick responds. Given her state of mind, he would never cast the fault on her, even though he knows others will. Even though he knows that Annie will as well. He can see her eyes shift from side to side, trying to settle on something to keep her mind focused.

Annie shakes her head as the expression on her face changes from that of despair to something more like a fearful child. An image of Iona fades into her mind. Iona's eyes looking up at a camera that she can't see but knows is there, mouthing out something. Annie's name. As the image repeats in her mind, adding more and more of the scene each time, with the mutt-bears and Iona's last screams for help, she's trying desperately to rid the sound of the screaming in her ears. A sound that only she can hear now. Annie's hands are already closing around her ears.

Somehow, she manages to notice again that Finnick is there, so she tries to continue with the conversation, speaking louder to get through the screams. She vaguely remembers what he just said, something about doing all she could.

"No. It was too hard. I couldn't focus. I couldn't tell what was real. I was trying to help! I don't remember… I don't want to… please stop– ", Annie says before Finnick finally cuts her off. Not by words, but by action. She doesn't notice him move from the edge of the bed to the space next to her, but he's there, putting his arms around her shoulders, pulling her head against his chest. She doesn't notice the tears that fall down her face and onto Finnick's shirt, yet she wonders why there are spots there. She smells the faint scent of an overly sweet rose and fruits and smoke and for no reason laughs between her fit of sobs.

Finnick can't register all that's happening to Annie. All he can do is hold her now. That's all that he's been able to do, it seems, and he knows it's not enough. It will never be enough to ward away the demons that invade her mind. The images of people dying, mutts, blood, nightmares, & daymares. Everything. As hard as he's been trying since the time Annie became a victor, he can no longer stop it. Slowly, painfully, the emotion that he's tried so hard to keep inside is forcing its way out of him. He doesn't know what to call it, but sadness, anger, and helplessness are involved. Finally, he relents and allows the tears he has refused to shed before to find their way out and fall.

Silently, he cries with her. Because with all the pain that she is carrying within her, he can no longer see how she will ever be happy again. He knows that whatever joy she had was ripped from her life and left in the arena. That is the probable fate of all who go in there. That is still the fate for him as well. And he can't do anything about it. He clutches onto Annie, stroking her hair.

In this one moment of shared anguish, here in the Training Center, in the Capitol, he somehow allows himself to become the Finnick Odair of District 4, who once had parents who loved him dearly and showed him what it is to truly care. He strokes Annie's long dark hair, noticing the softness of it, and finds a sliver of comfort in the smooth strands that glide between his fingers. It could've been minutes or hours when Annie finally stops crying, but he doesn't notice the distance of time. What he does notice is that this simple movement, this tender caress, seems to soothe her as well as him.

Annie begins to succumb to her body's need for rest. In that moment where sleep begins to overcome her, she fights it off long enough to murmur three words. "You smell bad."

Finnick tries to figure out if what she said is exactly what he heard. Then he remembers that he hadn't taken a shower yet, so he must smell of an unpleasant mixture of the previous night's party he had to attend and Sapphire's horridly sweet perfume. Of all the things she could say, she says that, he thinks. He chuckles only lightly, which diffuses some of his sorrow. He doesn't know how far this respite will take him, so he's not optimistic, but he blocks out the thoughts of potential worse things ahead from his mind. He will only think of now.

"I know. I'm sorry," he replies, unsure of whether she hears it, because Annie has fallen asleep in his arms.

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