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By sabaceanbabe

Romance / Adventure


Annie sits on the floor of the family room in front of the television, her arms wrapped around her knees in the darkness. The television provides the only light, illuminating her face as Finnick asks Peeta for his knife. She doesn’t want to watch, but she can’t look away – if she looks away, something awful will happen to Finnick. She knows it’s irrational, but she can’t shake that feeling, and so she sits on the floor and she watches and she rocks and she tries to hold the specter of the arena she never left at bay.

“Annie, dear, is everything alright?” Finnick’s mother asks from the doorway. Jenna doesn’t turn the lights on and Annie is grateful for that. Darkness is best. It’s safer in the dark. Easier to hide.

“I can’t sleep,” Annie says into the crook of her elbow. Finnick presses the point of the borrowed knife to the inside of his right arm and Annie finds the same spot on her left arm with her thumb, a tiny lump beneath her skin. “Can’t sleep,” she repeats. Finnick slices deep, digging for something with the knife tip as the blood flows to drip onto his knee. Annie focuses on the red stream and then she closes her eyes against it, but it doesn’t go away.

“What in the world is he doing?” Jenna’s confusion is palpable as she watches her son damage his own arm.

“The tracker,” Annie whispers, rocking, her eyes still closed, her vision drowned in red. “He’s cutting out the tracker.” She presses her thumbnail against the tiny lump on her forearm, running her nail back and forth, back and forth, trying to cut through her own skin, but her thumbnail will never be sharp enough. The trackers biodegrade after a year, that’s what they told her. Long enough for the arena and the Victory Tour, but not forever. But what if they lied? What if they don’t stop working? What if the lump in her arm is transmitting her location to the Capitol even now? What if she truly never left the arena? What if that isn’t all in her head?

Jenna lowers herself to the floor beside Annie and pulls her into her arms. “Hush, Annie. He’ll be alright.” Annie lets her think that’s all she’s worried about.

“He has to be.” Annie hates the lost note in her own voice, but she can’t stop that anymore than she can sleep or she can cut the tracker from her arm or she can fly to the arena and carry Finnick away. She leans into Jenna, lets some of that almost unshakeable calm flow into her. The siren song of the arena begins to fade along with the pain in her arm. Annie looks down, sees the smear of blood, dark against her skin, crescent shaped and welling as she watches. While Jenna strokes Annie’s hair, Annie pushes at the lump, herding it toward the unexpected tear in her skin. Apparently, her nail was sharp enough after all.

The light of the television flickers again. There is no sound. She didn’t want to wake anyone. Everyone else is asleep, save for Annie and now Jenna. Things in the arena are moving faster than anyone anticipated and Finnick’s father wants them all to be up and away well before dawn. A million years ago, it seems, Thomas promised his son to keep them all safe while Finnick did what he had to do in the arena. A million years ago, it seems, Thomas promised his son to take Annie far out to sea, to hide her away from the Capitol before the Capitol could come for her. The stinging in Annie’s arm tells her that they’re far too late.

There is a knock at the front door and both Annie and Jenna jump. It’s not yet midnight in the arena, but here it’s approaching 1:00 a.m. The two women look at each other as the knock sounds again, louder, more insistent. Provisions for a long voyage weigh down the fishing boats tied up at the family dock, and as things stand in District 4, those provisions alone are evidence of treason. Reason enough for the Capitol to take them all, not just Annie.

Annie rolls to her feet and hauls Finnick’s mother up with her as his father runs down the stairs to the sound of a fist pounding on the door. “What the hell?”

“Peacekeeper business!” a man shouts, his voice muffled. “Open the door!” More pounding. Clinging tightly to Jenna’s hand, Annie sways where she stands, the blood roaring in her ears.

Thomas has his hand on the knob when the door bursts open and a Peacekeeper shoves him back, pins him against the wall with a rifle held as a bar across Thomas’ throat. More Peacekeepers follow, spreading out into the entryway, surrounding Annie and Jenna. The noise awakens the rest of the family; Annie can hear them stirring.

“This is a peaceful household,” Thomas protests. “What right do you have—?” The Peacekeeper presses his rifle into Thomas throat, choking off his words.

A man wearing the badge of the Head Peacekeeper steps into the entryway. Annie feels the dark waters of the arena tug at her, call to her, swirl around the Peacekeepers in their white uniforms until they bleed into her vision, turning it white at the edges. She tries to blink it away, but it doesn’t work, the whiteness only grows, shot through by dark lightning. The head gestures with one black-gloved hand and a woman steps over to Annie and pulls her hands behind her back and locks her wrists into cold metal cuffs. She leads Annie to the door. No one answers Thomas’ interrupted question. No one says a word until Annie breaks the silence.

“No,” she says, louder than she means, and stops cold. The Peacekeeper’s fingers tighten around her arm as she continues to pull her along, but Annie fights. She doesn’t know what they’ll do to her in the Capitol – nothing good – only that Finnick adamantly did not want her there. And she’s suddenly sure that’s where they’re taking her. “No!” Annie shouts and tries to break free, but with her hands locked behind her back, she’s off balance and can’t pull away. A second Peacekeeper grasps Annie’s arm above the elbow and, between the two of them, the Peacekeepers all but lift Annie from her feet. No matter how wildly she thrashes, they don’t let her go.

Finnick’s father shouts her name and Annie struggles harder. She succeeds in jerking an arm free and takes a step away, back toward the illusory safety of the house, only to fall to her knees as the other Peacekeeper refuses to let go her hold. She yanks Annie roughly to her feet, the other regains his grip, and they half-drag, half-carry Annie up the ramp into a hovercraft waiting in front of the Odairs’ home. The ramp rises almost as soon as she’s on board, cutting off sight and sound, but before it does, Annie hears shouting, shattering glass, the sharp report of gunfire.

The hovercraft lifts off from the ground, circles out over the water and Annie looks down, her cheek pressed against cold glass. Below the hovercraft, out in the gulf, Victors’ Island is burning, and as the circle widens and the hovercraft flies back over the mainland toward the Capitol, Annie sees that it isn’t just Victors’ Island.

Half of District 4 is burning.

Finnick sits in the middle of a crowded hallway in the middle of the bunker that is District 13 and frantically works knots. Even that is a victory of sorts, because for days and days, he doesn’t know how many days, they wouldn’t trust him with even a small length of rope, afraid that he might harm himself. To be honest, they were right to fear that, although he doesn’t know why anyone here would even care.

His home is gone. His family is scattered across what’s left of District 4, half of them in hiding, the other half leading the fight there against the Capitol, all of them hunted by Peacekeepers. And Annie… He bites back a sob and pulls the rope taut between his hands, destroying the half-finished knot, starts to work another. At least they’re better off than Twelve, he thinks.

Every day, he sits in a room, sits tucked away in a corner, in a forgotten hallway, in a storage closet, in a utility shaft and works knots. Tries to lose himself in the patterns, in the texture of the rope against the pads of his fingers, the feel of the trailing end wrapped around his wrist or loose and dangling, rhythmically striking his arm or his knee, the tickle of it against his skin. The thin fibers held between sometimes shaking fingers are all he has to distract himself from what’s happening to Annie.

They ask him why he’s so agitated, why he can’t let it go, how he can be so sure they’re hurting her and not simply asking her questions for which she has no answers. But he knows what Snow’s interrogations are like. He knows. He knows. Rough Peacekeeper hands. Lies and manipulation and half-truths twisted until you don’t know what’s real and what’s false. Needles and pills that they force you to swallow. They won’t stop until they break her, until she tells them everything she knows, but she doesn’t know anything and so they won’t stop. They won’t ever stop.

Finnick frantically works knots until his fingers bleed and he tries hard not to cry or, barring that, to stop crying. If he could only stop crying, then maybe they’d let him do something, something useful, anything at all. He’d do anything if it would help her. They’re destroying her, Snow is destroying her, breaking her into tiny, jagged little pieces and it took her so long to put those pieces back together the first time. And the second time. The third time. He doesn’t want there to be a fourth time. He thinks maybe she could handle it, if there is; he knows that he can’t. And so he’ll do anything if it will help her. Help Annie.

“Finnick, you don’t have to do this.” Finnick stares at Haymitch and, beyond him, at Plutarch and the lights and the microphones and the sound crews and camera crews, wonders how it came to this. But he knows. He knows. He focuses on those lights and those cameras and for the first time in weeks, the buzzing inside his head stills. He closes his fist around the fraying piece of rope, white once, but now nearly as gray as the clothing he wears or the walls that surround him or the people who live here.

“If it’ll help her,” he whispers and he thinks maybe he said that already, but it doesn’t matter; it bears repeating.

Finnick takes his place on the tall stool centered in a puddle of light and he looks into the camera, feels things inside his head rearrange, shift into old patterns hard learned. He straightens his back, his shoulders, lifts his chin and pulls on the mask he’s lived behind for years. He can’t do this himself. He can’t. And so he becomes someone else once more, someone he never liked but who he couldn’t survive without. He nods to Plutarch.

“I’m ready.” He doesn’t know if he says it aloud or only in his head, but it must have been aloud because everyone around him stops what they’re doing to focus on him. He, on the other hand, after a glance at Haymitch, who knows some of what he’s about to reveal, focuses on Katniss, the only other person in the room who might possibly understand what it means to him. Maybe not what he has to say – how could she? – but the reasons that he has to say it, has to acknowledge it once and for all and in such a public way, because if it will help Annie, it will help Peeta, too. He stares at the camera’s red eye and begins, his voice calm, steady.

“President Snow used to sell me. My body, that is…”

She doesn’t know how long it lasts, how much time passes. There is light. There is dark. One after the other, time and again. There are voices, some friendly and some… not. None of it matters. She doesn’t exist.

They ask her questions. She answers them. They ask more questions, pretend that they’re different questions, but they’re not. Always the same, just the words or the order rearranged. But they keep asking, over and over, never satisfied with the answers she gives. She tells them the truth, which usually means that she tells them she doesn’t know. And when they keep asking and asking and asking and ignoring her answers, she thinks that maybe she does exist, after all, but that she doesn’t matter. Eventually, she tunes them out. And eventually, they stop asking.

The darkness fades again to light and they lead her from her cell. That’s new. Always before they asked their questions here, where the others – people she doesn’t know but who seem to know her – where the others can hear and see. She hears their voices, the others, when the Peacekeepers take her away, shouting after her, sounding agitated, upset, but their words don’t penetrate; they bounce off of her and fall meaningless to the concrete floor.

There are no more questions. They take her to a room with more people she doesn’t know and they wash her and they dry her and they paint her and they inject her with something to make sure she won’t turn violent. She doesn’t think she would, doesn’t think she’d hurt anyone, but she doesn’t know, so she can’t really blame them for doing something to be sure of it. Whatever they inject her with makes everything rainbow bright at the edges.

They leave her in another room. A room with no people, just a bed. There’s no other furniture, no artwork on the walls, no carpet or rug on the hardwood floor. Nothing else. Just a bed. Nothing she could use to hurt herself or to hurt someone else. Just a bed. But when they leave her alone and naked with nothing but that bed, she remembers green eyes and bronze hair, white teeth and tan skin and a voice that makes her shiver and yearn and she knows that a bed can cut just as deeply as any knife.

She waits for something to happen. And she waits. She doesn’t want to touch that bed and so finally she puts her back to the wall farthest from the bed, the painted surface smooth and almost slick against her skin. She lowers herself to the floor. And she waits.

Shouts and sharp cracks of sound pierce the silence of the room. They grow louder. Closer? Maybe, but definitely louder. A heavy something strikes the only door and she looks in that direction.

The door bursts open and she blinks. She doesn’t move except to cover her ears with her hands. She tries to make herself seem smaller. She wants to be invisible. But that’s not possible. Is it? She blinks again. People swarm into the room. They’re dressed all in gray and they carry guns. They stare. She stares. No one moves.

No one moves until a young man – just one more person she doesn’t know, but then she thinks maybe she doesn’t know any of them, isn’t sure if he or they or she is really even here – takes her gently by the hand and makes her rise up from the floor. There is a word stitched into his shirt: Hawthorne. He wraps her in a sheet, cold against her skin, making her tremble, and when she doesn’t move to follow him and the others as they leave the room and its bed, he lifts her in his arms and carries her. People talk around her, she hears words, but none of them sink in. She doesn’t stir when they get to wherever they’re going and they tell her she’s safe. More meaningless words. Safe doesn’t exist.

But then someone else leads her out into a hallway with gray walls and a gray concrete floor and even the grayness is rainbow bright around the edges and everything stops. The noise stops and the grayness stops and the colors stop and her heart and lungs stop because he’s there.

Finnick is there and he’s real and Annie is in his arms and he’s in her arms and they are the only thing that matters.

Finnick watches Annie dance. She dances with Haymitch. She dances with Plutarch. With Peeta and with Gale and with Dalton. He never thought this day would come. He never thought this day was a possibility, not even in his most optimistic dreams. Lifting a glass of grape juice to his lips, wishing it was champagne – Annie deserves champagne – or a half decent wine, he nearly spills it down his borrowed suit when Johanna hip-checks him. Half the juice sloshes over his hand.

Grinning, Johanna salutes him with her own juice as he sets his now sticky glass down on a nearby table and picks up someone’s abandoned napkin, soaking it in water from one of the pitchers waiting to refill emptied glasses. He wipes juice from his hand.

“That could’ve been a lot more fun,” Johanna observes.

He mock scowls at her, far too happy to give her the real thing, even though part of him still waits for the other shoe to drop. “I don’t even know who this suit belongs to, Jo,” he admonishes. “I can’t give it back stained.” She shrugs and it breaks Finnick’s heart to see how thin her shoulders are. Three weeks since they rescued Annie and Johanna and Peeta from the Capitol and Jo still looks like she hasn’t eaten in months.

“Who cares?” she asks, still grinning, and at least that hasn’t changed, her I-don’t-give-a-shit grin, even if there is a new edge beneath her words. “It’s not like anyone around here needs to look pretty anyway.” She gives him a once over, glances across the cavernous dining room that Plutarch turned into a wedding hall to where Annie dances with a dark-haired boy Finnick doesn’t immediately recognize. “Present company excepted, of course,” Johanna says, looking back up at Finnick. She doesn’t look away and her expression softens.

“What?” he asks, half smiling.

“I was just trying to figure out what’s wrong with your face,” she tells him. He doesn’t rise to the bait.


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you happy before.”

He starts to give her a smart remark, but stops as he realizes she’s right. He has known Jo for as long as he has known Annie and he is pretty damned sure that he could never have survived to reach this point without her, not and remain even remotely sane. And while there were good days in the years they’ve been friends, been something more complicated than simply friends, he can’t think of a single day that he could say he was happy. Not until today.

“I don’t think I’ve been happy since I was a kid.” He frowns and Johanna reaches up to smooth the lines away with a fingertip.

“It looks good on you, Odair.” Her smile is wistful when she offers “I’m glad they brought her back to you.”

The people in charge of District 13, whoever they are, allow them three days. Three days to be newly married and alone with each other, no outside interference, no one to tell them what to do or when to do it. Three days to just be Annie and Finnick, Finnick and Annie. The Odairs.

For the first of those three days, Annie and Finnick don’t leave the tiny bed in his room for anything other than food and water and the needs that arise because of those breaks for food and water.

On the second day, they venture out of his room and Finnick shows her all the best places to hide from anyone who might be looking for them. They come across Katniss in one – Annie thinks it must be a storage closet – hiding from an appointment with Dr. Aurelius, something that will resume for both Annie and Finnick in just a couple of days. The three of them exchange pleasantries as if it’s an everyday occurrence, finding each other in a closet like that, and then Finnick leads Annie to another hiding place that he knows, leaving Katniss to her solitude.

The final day they’re so graciously given – Annie snickers at the thought and Finnick grins at her even though he doesn’t know what she’s laughing at, all white teeth and green eyes and so beautiful and so hers that it makes her heart ache to look at him – they spend moving their meager belongings to the larger quarters set aside for married couples. And by “larger,” the people in charge mean two rooms instead of only one.

Just thinking about it all makes laughter bubble up inside Annie. So much laughter, all of it demanding to be released, but today, a week after Finnick became her husband and she his wife – she will never tire of that particular thought and she will never forget it, either, the way she has forgotten so many other things – they tell her, the people in charge, that she is to be Soldier Recruit Odair and she bites her lip to keep that bubbling laughter contained. She isn’t “mad” or “crazy” here in 13, just “mentally disoriented.” The bracelet she spins around her wrist says so.

“What’s so funny?” Peeta whispers, standing beside her in the tiny room, both of them waiting while Dr. Aurelius confers with Officer Nolan about just how to handle President Coin’s decision that she and Peeta become soldiers. It’s amazing, really, how difficult it is to not laugh out loud, thinking about her and Peeta as soldiers. It’s so hard for either of them to concentrate on just one thing at a time, these days. Annie bites her lip harder against the incipient laughter, only stops at the sudden coppery tang of blood on her tongue.

“Everything is funny,” she tells Peeta in all seriousness. He looks dubious and she nearly loses it again. Annie looks away from him, focuses on a dark spot on the gray concrete wall. The spot looks like a sea turtle digging a nest in the sand and it makes her smile, which is just one step away from laughing and she’s trying hard not to.

She tries to settle her mind by running through the mantra Dr. Aurelius taught her: My name is Annie Odair. I am twenty-three years old. I was born in District Four, but now I live in District Thirteen. My husband (My husband!) is Finnick Odair. Really, she doesn’t want to disappoint Dr. Aurelius, but Finnick taught her the litany years before, and he learned it from Haymitch and he learned it from… Annie doesn’t know who Haymitch learned it from, but it doesn’t matter. Different words, but the same purpose: steering a steady course through murky waters, something Annie is intimately familiar with, although she doesn’t always succeed.

The door opens a crack and she and Peeta both straighten, but that crack doesn’t widen. Voices drift through it, though. “We both have our orders, Doctor. Although how I’m going to turn a couple of mental patients into effective soldiers, I have no idea.”

“You don’t have to send them into battle, Officer Nolan. President Coin wants them to be convincing as soldiers for propos, since the other victors won’t be available much longer.”

“I’m not sure that’s wise, either,” the other man, Officer Nolan, grumbles. “They’re all dangerous. A bunch of loose cannons, if you ask me.” Annie and Peeta look at each other and the laughter inside Annie turns flat.

“’Other victors won’t be available?’” she repeats, troubled. Finnick began accelerated military training on day four after their wedding. Peeta shakes his head; he doesn’t know what it means, either, but Annie believes, suddenly and irrevocably, that they’re going to take Finnick away from her again. She starts to shake, runs through the mantra in earnest.

“My name is Annie Odair. I am twenty-three years old. I was born in District Four. I live in District Thirteen. My husband is Finnick Odair.” She says it out loud without realizing it. Her hands shake and it’s getting hard to breathe, her lungs can’t pull in enough air past the constriction around her chest. Peeta reaches over and takes her left hand in his right.

“It’ll be okay, Annie. They’re not going to hurt us here.” He’s trying to give her strength, to make her understand with her heart and not just her head that she isn’t alone, just as he and Johanna both did, for Annie and for each other, buried in their cells beneath the Capitol.

“How do you know that?” She meets his eyes. “How do you know that, Peeta? President Coin. President Snow. No difference. Both using us for their own ends.”

The door opens the rest of the way and Dr. Aurelius steps out. “Ah, Annie. Peeta. Officer Nolan and I were just discussing your training.” Annie and Peeta glance at each other as he continues, “I believe the repetitive nature of military training in general will help both of you to become more… focused in your new lives here in Thirteen.”

“Less mentally disoriented?” Peeta asks, looking down at the bracelet on his own wrist.

“Yes, exactly.” The edge of irony in Peeta’s tone is completely lost on the doctor. He’s so humorless, she thinks and starts to laugh again, although it’s not an easy or a comfortable sound. Not anymore.

And so Annie’s life changes again. She and Peeta join a group of new recruits, all of whom are much younger even than Peeta, let alone Annie. At twenty-three, she feels old. They train as a group, learning how to break down, clean, and reassemble various firearms; how to use a knife in hand-to-hand combat; how to block blows; how to recover from a fall; how to attack and how to retreat. She’s exhausted by the end of each day, but yet not too tired to make love with her husband each night, and then afterward to tell him about her day and listen as he tells her of his.

Almost three weeks to the day after the wedding, President Coin sends Finnick’s squad to the Capitol. Coin says it’s to film propos that will resonate more deeply with the citizens of the Capitol, seeing such recognizable rebels in the heart of the Capitol itself, but Annie hears rumblings that the war isn’t going well for Coin and that she’s hoping the sight of Finnick and especially Katniss will bring more people to her side.

Annie cries that night. She can’t help it. Bad things happen when she and Finnick are apart. She knows he feels it, too. They cling to each other, but just like when Snow used to summon him, the morning comes and she has to watch him leave, wondering if this might be the time that he doesn’t come back. Before, she worried that Snow might want to keep him for good, but now she worries that Coin is sending Finnick to the Capitol to die.

Finnick goes and Annie stays and she and Peeta continue their training. A week passes, every day the same, every night lonely. Word comes that a member of Finnick’s squad – not Finnick! – was killed in some kind of accident and Peeta receives orders to the Capitol as the soldier’s replacement. Before he leaves, though, President Coin changes the orders, sends Annie along with Peeta, reasoning that the propos will be more effective on the Capitol citizens with more young and attractive victors starring in them. Annie is dubious as to that reasoning, but she doesn’t protest. If she goes, too, she’ll be with Finnick, and nothing else really matters.

A lizard mutt takes a swipe at Cressida, but misses. Another snipes at Gale’s throat, misses that target, but catches his shoulder, sending him spinning backwards toward the mutt that caught him and all the other mutts behind that one. Finnick rushes them, grabbing Gale’s wrist and propelling him forward and away, mutts at their heels, all hissing Katniss’ name in roiling, boiling, inhuman rage. The stench of roses and rot is nearly overwhelming. Behind them Homes screams as yet more lizard mutts begin to tear him apart and Finnick clamps down on the need to turn and help him. From the sound of his screams, there is no helping him.

Even so, Gale starts to turn, clearly intending to either shoot the mutts on Homes or shoot Homes himself, but Finnick pushes him forward. “No time. Move! Move! Move!”

They hit the ladder, Finnick crowding Gale, pushing him upward. He can feel the hot breath of the mutts even through his uniform trousers, through his boots, but he doesn’t risk a look down. Another shove at Gale, and Pollux and Katniss pull the younger man up and through the opening.

Finnick slips, slides down one rung, two, burning, searing pain in his left calf as claws tear at his flesh, hook into the top of his boot and into his muscles and try to wrench him from the ladder. He screams, nearly drops his rifle. Worse even than the pain is the terror as the mutt that has him almost pulls his hand from the rung he clings to, but then Gale has his wrist and yanks him sharply up. Pollux grabs his other hand and the two men haul Finnick up and out as the mutt’s claws shred his calf and Katniss shouts, “Nightlock nightlock nightlock!”

She throws something past Finnick’s head. As soon as he’s clear, they slam the hatch closed with a heavy metallic clang and Cressida spins it shut. The world shakes with the force of the explosion down below and the survivors look at each other, sorrow and grim determination etched onto their faces. Pollux takes off his belt and wraps it tight around Finnick’s thigh, a tourniquet to slow the bleeding as they continue on.

Annie and Peeta stay with Tigris for as long as they can after the others leave, but Peacekeepers pound on her door only an hour or so later. From the basement, it’s hard to tell whether they’re looking for rebels or they’re demanding Tigris evacuate, but the two of them remove all evidence that anyone was ever there, gather up their gear so they can leave at a moment’s notice. Neither of them mentions the possibility they’ll have to fight their way out, but it’s understood in the way they stand facing the stairs, their weapons held loosely but ready.

Things above go quiet and a short time later Tigris opens the door. Without a word, she leads Annie and Peeta to another door in the basement, hidden behind what appears to be a normal wall. It leads to a utility shaft inside the walls, narrow and without much head room. It’s uncomfortable, claustrophobic, but they make it out into the streets of the Capitol. Colorful, terrified refugees quickly surround them.

Young and old alike, the talk on everyone’s lips is about the rebels invading the Capitol, about how the Mockingjay and her friends are in the city and they’re murdering people in their sleep. There is an explosion in the distance, accompanied by shouts and screams. As the throng of frightened people she and Peeta are a part of continue heading up the street, away from Tigris’ shop, Annie hears someone say that the president is opening his home to the refugees. Someone else says that he overheard a battalion of Peacekeepers ordered to the president’s mansion.

“Do you think Katniss and the others got through?” Peeta asks, worry and hope at war on his face.

Annie shakes her head, shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe?” Still moving forward, part of the crowd, she spins around. Everywhere, as far as she can see, there are people. Some look like they’re wearing everything they own, some look like they hit the streets directly from their beds. Still others look like this is just a normal day as they go about their morning routine. But all of them are heading in the same direction: toward the City Circle and the president’s mansion. As they pass through a large intersection, a platoon of Peacekeepers joins them. Annie turns back to Peeta, continues walking.

“We should do something about them.” She gestures toward the white uniforms marching in an orderly fashion beside the disorderly civilians. Peeta nods once, short and sharp.

“If they’re chasing us, they’re not going after Katniss and the others.” He frowns, glances over at the Peacekeepers and then back to Annie. “We need to get their attention.”

“I have some smoke grenades and flash bombs in my pack…”

After a brief and whispered on-the-fly discussion, she and Peeta split up, each taking half of the grenades and bombs from her pack, leaving it much lighter, more suitable for running. As surreptitiously as she can, Annie arms a flash bomb and rolls it in front of her, quickly followed by a smoke grenade. They explode almost simultaneously, sending the crowd into a panicked stampede in the opposite direction, away from the City Circle. Seconds after Annie’s bombs go off, Peeta’s add to the chaos. Annie tries to make her way through the crowd, to meet back up with Peeta, but the wave carries her along for a moment and she trips, falls. Someone’s hard-soled shoe connects with her head and she loses consciousness.

When she comes to, Peeta is gone and she is in Peacekeeper custody, her hands cuffed behind her back. Nothing new about that, she thinks and begins to laugh. Her Peacekeeper guards look at her like she’s crazy. “You have no idea,” she tells them, responding to something that was never said. She laughs even harder.

Annie is close enough to see it when the hovercraft drops the bombs near the president’s mansion, but far enough away that the fire storm when those bombs detonate doesn’t touch her. There is a second round of explosions that cause pandemonium. As the smoke clears and the Peacekeepers she’s with draw closer to the president’s mansion, the area surrounding which is the source of the explosions, Annie grows sick at the sight of the bodies that litter the ground. The rebel forces stand in the City Circle staring at those small bodies, stunned. Most of the dead are children.

And then the Peacekeepers begin to fire on the rebel soldiers, cutting them down where they stand.

Annie begins to scream.

During the days that follow the districts’ surrender to Capitol forces, the government tries and executes most of the rebel leaders. Alma Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee are the first to die. They allow a few, mainly victors of the Hunger Games, to live as examples to the districts, yet another weapon in the arsenal to keep them all under the Capitol’s control. And, too, at least half of those victors who remain, Snow can use to rebuild the government treasury. Looking around him at the familiar faces of his friends, Finnick shudders at that thought. It was an expensive war.

It’s just over three months after the rebellion’s collapse, and Snow has gathered his rebel victors in his office for the terms of their punishment: None of them are to have any contact with each other at any time save for when they are all in the Hunger Games complex immediately before, during, and after the Games. Once a new victor is crowned and returns to his or her home district, they will all return to their non-Games duties.

Snow orders Lyme, taken during the failed battle for the “Nut,” to solitary confinement in a cell beneath the stronghold that she tried so hard to take. Her presence there is highly publicized within District 2 as an example for those who think to defy the Capitol.

Following two weeks of interrogation and several more in custody with no decision regarding her status, Snow accepts that Enobaria was not a party to the rebellion with her fellow victors. He allows her, as the only non-rebel of the remaining victors, to go free. She returns to District 2 to help rebuild.

Peacekeepers fit Beetee with a permanent tracker and place him in the Capitol’s weapons research and development department, doing essentially the same job he had in District 13.

Haymitch he sends back to District 12 to live under house arrest in Victors’ Village, an example to and hostage for the good behavior of the other rebel victors, his only remaining family.

Katniss and Peeta each will be sold to multiple clients, whoever pays Snow’s asking price.

Finnick will be sold at auction to the highest bidder on a long-term contract, renewable on the anniversary of the sale if the client so chooses. Snow doesn’t explain his decision to limit Finnick’s exposure to clients, where before he was so generous with Finnick’s time and body.

Annie, four months pregnant and still in shock at that knowledge, will also be sold, just like Katniss and Peeta. But, Snow bluntly tells her, no one wants a pregnant whore, and so, before that part of her sentence commences, he gives the order to terminate her pregnancy.

Annie sits on the floor of her cell and watches Finnick through the bars. Since they didn’t see fit to put them in cells directly across from each other, she sits in the only place where she can see him. He’s leaning against the side wall of his cell, long legs stretched out in front of him, watching her. They don’t speak. They just wait.

Peacekeepers already took Lyme to her new home: a maximum security cell, buried deep underground in District 2. Enobaria left with Lyme, since she was returning to District 2 anyway. Beetee is on his way to a facility somewhere outside the Capitol. Five victors remain representing two rebel districts and, judging by the order of disposition so far, Annie and Finnick will be up next, allowing Haymitch and Katniss and Peeta to stew just that much longer.

Snow is picking them off one at a time.

A sound at the other end of the cell block, nearer to the outside world, makes all five of them turn in that direction. Across from Annie, Katniss stands. Finnick does the same, moving toward the door to his cell, wrapping his fingers around the bars. Annie stays where she is, in no hurry to put herself in a position that will make her easier to remove from her cell. She curls her arms protectively around her unborn child, the motion drawing Finnick’s attention. He makes a wordless sound and she looks over at him. His lips move as he watches her and she doesn’t need to read them to know what he says because the same litany runs through her mind.

My name is Annie Odair. I am 23 years old. I am the victor of the 70th Hunger Games. I am married to Finnick Odair. I love him and he loves me. We are rebels. We lost.

Over and over the mantra repeats. She thinks it may be the only thing that keeps her from screaming.

Footsteps approach, echoing from the metal and concrete walls. They stop in front of her cell and only then does Annie look away from her husband. Instead of making a barrier of her arms to protect the growing life inside her, now she curls her entire body around their child, as if that could somehow stop them from taking it from her. Something drips onto her bare arm. Her eyelashes, her cheeks are wet. Tears. Locking her arms around her legs, Annie begins to rock. The words she recited inside her head she now recites aloud, a whispered shield.

The door to her cell opens with a squeal of hinges. Someone should oil those, she thinks.

“Please don’t do this.” Finnick’s pleading voice, strained, rough at the edges. No one else says anything.

“Miss Cresta, I need you to stand up.” Annie stops rocking, wipes her eyes against her arm, but doesn’t stand. “Miss Cresta. Stand up, please.” She wonders why he’s being so polite. What’s the point? But still she doesn’t stand. The man shifts with a creak of leather and steps into the cell.

A rattle of metal bars and “Leave her alone.” Finnick’s voice is stronger, but at the same time more ragged, not just rough at the edges but torn.

The Peacekeeper bends down and Annie surges to her feet, shoves him aside. She doesn’t wait for him to react. She dashes from her cell and past his white-uniformed partner, bare feet slapping at the concrete floor. Behind her six voices shout things at her, at each other. Only one of those voices matters. Finnick calls her name. Nothing else, just her name, over and over.

Annie almost makes it to the door before the Peacekeepers take her down. She falls. She goes under.

Nothing but white surrounds her when she opens her eyes again. White lights in a white ceiling surrounded by white walls. A white sheet covering her body where she lays in a bed that is no doubt also white, though she can’t see it. She lifts a hand, tries to bring it to her abdomen – have they already taken her baby? – but she can only move a couple of inches, if that. She glances at her hand, sees a green cloth band securing her wrist to the bed. Hysterical laughter bubbles up in her throat and rips free.

Someone shifts in the chair beside the bed. “Annie?” Finnick’s voice, worried, frightened. She laughs harder until she chokes on a sob.

“They’re green. They’re supposed to be white.”

Before Finnick can say anything to that, there is a buzz at the door. Two Peacekeepers move at the sound. One steps further into the room and turns so that she faces both the door and the bed on which Annie lies; the other steps farther to the side of where the door will open and presses a button. A moment later there is a click and a woman steps into the room, clipboard in hand.

Beside the bed, Finnick stands, but he moves slowly, awkwardly, his motions uncharacteristically graceless. Once he pushes the chair back with his knees, Annie sees why: they’ve cuffed his hands behind his back. He slides closer to Annie, shifts until he can take her left hand in both of his. It has to hurt him, the strain of it, but if it does, he makes no sign.

The woman looks up from her clipboard. “Miss Cresta? I’m Doctor Muhti.” She looks at Annie, but then her gaze shifts to Finnick and her eyes widen in recognition. There is a syringe in her hand. Annie whimpers. Waves, murky and cold, roar in her ears and she pulls at the restraints.

“Melissa,” Finnick says, his voice fragile, “please don’t do this.” Annie’s eyes fly to Finnick. You know her? she wants to ask but all that comes out is another whimper.

The woman, Dr. Muhti, looks back and forth between Annie and Finnick, then down at the chart in her hands. She glances at the guards and frowns. “Pardon me for a moment, please.” She leaves the room and the door closes behind her. The Peacekeeper guards resume their stations. The only thing that stops Finnick from crushing Annie’s hand is the awkward position of his own.

“Finnick?” Annie whispers and he looks down over his shoulder toward her, then releases her hand and turns to face her. He drops to his knees beside the bed, bringing his face more or less level with Annie’s.

“I’m here, love, I’m here.” He leans toward her and she moves as far as the restraints allow, which isn’t far, but it’s enough. They kiss. The door buzzes and a moment later Dr. Muhti reenters.

“I’m sorry, but it’s time.” Her face is ashen and her hand is shaking and Annie thinks that maybe she really means it, that she’s sorry for what she’s about to do.

“Please,” Finnick murmurs against Annie’s lips and the dark waves of the arena that Annie never left roll and break inside her.

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