The ax flies out of the girl’s hand, and the room falls silent. Finnick can only stare at his screen. It grazes Hera’s side. She’s on the ground, fingers clutched against her side, trying and failing to keep her blood in.
Last night felt like a bad dream. This morning isn’t starting out any better.
Having to sit there and watch that thing, whatever it was, sweep out of the trees. Watching Titus take the full force of it, and the way it shattered his leg like it was nothing. A twig. A toothpick. Sebastian hit the ground, but his leg was still up. He could’ve been dead in a pool of his own blood, too.
Finnick glances up at the screen. Her face is collected, calm, even, as she talks down the girl from 2. He’s glad, for her sake, that Sebastian didn’t die last night. He couldn’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy, though, as she bandaged his leg and held him, and spoke to him with that voice she uses to calm people down. The one that’s light, and sweet, and soothing, with none of the pitch or the rasp that it normally has. In another life, she could hold him that way. She could talk to him that way when….
No. He can’t think about her like that.
“Hey, Latier!” Enobaria shouts. Their sections are right next to each other, but her voice rings around the whole room. “You’re pretty lucky mermaid girl was there, or you’d be out for the year. Don’t think she can pull that shit again, though.”
The Careers are silent now, Tributes and mentors alike. The sun rises just behind her, making a halo around her dark hair. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes hard. She almost looks like she belongs there. She’s playing the Games now. His stomach clenches.
“Leave him alone, Enobaria,” he calls back across the sections.
“Don’t get involved,” Mena hisses, but ignores her, like he has been since last night.
“It was an accident,” he yells. “You saw his leg. He would’ve died either way after that.”
“Oh yeah?” She stands and crosses the District 3 section. “I should just get over it, is that what you’re saying?”
He half-smiles in the lazy way all his clients like.
“We all lose Tributes, Enobaria. It’s all part of the Games.”
“We’ll see if you feel the same way when your girlfriend dies, Odair. I bet you’ll cry. I bet you’ll absolutely lose it.”
Rage boils in his stomach and shoots up his back.
“That’s enough,” he snaps. “Let’s just all focus on our living Tributes.”
“That’s the thing, though, isn’t it?” she yells. “I only have one now. Because of his girl.”
She jabs a finger towards Beetee. On the screen, the girl from 2 stands up, pulls away from Hera, and stomps away. Finnick grins and gestures.
“You see?” he says to Enobaria. “Even your girl is calming down. Helping Hera will help the group, which helps your—“
“She has a name, Odair,” she snaps. “It’s Romana. Use it.”
And with that she turns on her heel and sprints back to the hallway leading to the mentors’ quarters. Finnick walks over to the 3 section and settles next to Beetee, running his fingers through his already tousled hair.
“Sorry about her,” he murmurs. “She can get intense.”
“She’s upset that her Tribute died in a way that wasn’t satisfactory to her District,” Beetee says. He pulls off his glasses and cleans the lenses with his sleeve. “It’s a difficult thing to sit through, to watch, for all of us. Not only have we lived through these things once, but after that we watch, we relive, we actively participate for the rest of our lives. She won’t calm down, but that’s fine. I understand the sentiment.”
Up on the screen, the group has resettled at the Cornucopia, no longer separated by District. Romana sits away from the rest of them, though. He looks at the 2 section, which is now empty. Their escort hurried down the hall after Enobaria, maybe to go get Brutus. He must still be sleeping. He’s not going to have a fun wake up call. His eyes dart to the 1 section, where Cashmere is just switching in for Gloss. They exchange smirks. Their usual greeting.
3 and 4 sitting together. 1 and 4 separated but friendly. 2 in a whole other place. They’re exactly like their Tributes now. It just goes to show. Once you go in the Arena, you never come out. May the odds be ever in your favor.
“I raised her,” Beetee says, breaking a long moment of silence.
“Hera. Well, I didn’t really raise her, but I was there for her whole life.”
Finnick’s stomach sinks.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs.
Beetee looks at him for a moment and gives him a small smile.
“If I didn’t know any better, Odair, I’d say you were showing sadness for another person. That’s not the Finnick we all know and love.” His voice is light, almost joking by Beetee’s standards, but Finnick can feel the warning he’s giving him.
“Well, I’m a complex guy, Latier,” he jokes back. “That’s a lot of my appeal. No one in Panem can claim to know the ‘real me.’”
He stretches back and pulls the rope from his pocket. Beetee settles more into his chair and cleans his glasses again. After a moment, he pushes the frames back into place on his face.
“No, I guess no one else can,” Beetee admits. “It must get tiring. All the fans, all the women. Well, maybe that part isn’t as tiring.”
His stomach clenches. He’s going to throw up. He hasn’t eaten anything yet, and it’s all going to come back up anyway. He loops the rope three times and pulls it tight before looking back at Beetee.
“That’s the best part,” he says with a level voice. He adds a smirk before he forgets it. He has to be convincing all the time, even with people who know. Or else he’ll forget. If he forgets, he’ll slip up. If he slips up, Mags dies. He can’t let that happen.
“I know it can’t compare to living on the beach, but you can always come see me, if you want to.” Beetee’s glasses drop down his nose, but he doesn’t do anything to fix them. “Take a vacation, if you ever feel like it. Get away from it all, as they say.”
He raises one eyebrow a fraction of an inch and pushes his glasses back up.
“I’ll think about it,” Finnick says.
“Food for thought,” Beetee replies with a smile. Then he sits back in his chair and looks up at the screen.
What is he talking about? Finnick looks at the older man, his darting eyes and twitching fingers starting to relax as the Arena becomes more relaxed. If I want to get away from it all? I can’t get away from it all. Ever. Unless…. He goes back to his rope. Beetee can’t be suggesting that. He wouldn’t. Not in a Capitol building. He’s smarter than that.
Three loops. Pull it tight. The whole thing unravels in his hands and he puts it back in his pocket.
“I’m going for a walk,” he announces. He doesn’t know what else to do. Just sitting doesn’t seem like a viable option at the moment.
“I’ll stay here, then. Would you like me to wake up Mags if anything happens?”
Finnick glances back at the hall leading to all their rooms and frowns.
“No. She needs to sleep. I think she’s getting sick. I won’t be gone long. And Mena’s still here. She’s not much, but she can be helpful.”
“Okay,” Beetee says, hesitantly.
Finnick nods and walks over to the District 1 section, where Cashmere sits cleaning her nails.
“I’m going for a walk,” he tells her. “You want to come?”
She looks at him for a moment, then nods.
“Yeah,” she says, standing up. “I need to stretch my legs. And you look like you need some human interaction.”
“Yeah,” he replies. “Thanks.”
They walk down to the aisle between that section and the now-empty District 2 seats. Hopefully their escort, whose name Finnick still hasn’t bothered to learn, is waking up Brutus. Someone should get him out here and tell him what happened. Although, once he’s up and hears that his Capitol-favorite front-runner died from an injury he didn’t get in battle, he won’t be happy. He probably won’t sleep much for the rest of the Games. Better to let him rest while he can.
“Your girl is stepping up,” Cashmere says as they walk down the short hallway that leads to the Trading Floor. A cheer greets them, a small crowd of sponsors gathers by the entrance, shoving hands in their faces.
“Yeah, she’s doing alright,” he responds while flashing a smile at a particularly rich-looking group.
“What will you do if she wins?” she asks him while shaking hands with a large man with blue tattoos and hair.
“I don’t know,” he answers. They exchange a quick, sad smile. “Should we get stuff for them? While we’re here? You take One and Two, I’ll take Three and Four?”
She nods and they go separate ways through the crowd.
That’s Finnick’s least favorite tradition with Cashmere. What will you do if your Tribute wins? Neither of them has had a victory since their Games, but they ask each other that same question every year. Careers have a better chance of being sold. They’re trained to do well, and trained to get people to like them. Sometimes they come up with big elaborate plans, things they wish they’d done after they won their Games that maybe would’ve kept the Capitol elite at bay.
They both know that none of that would’ve worked. Nothing will ever work. If the Capitol wants you, they’ll have you. Period. End of story.
“Oh, Finnick!” A familiar middle-aged woman grabs his arm and sidles up next to him. “Your little Annie is such a delight to watch! She’s really getting into it, isn’t she?”
“I told you all,” he says with another grin, “it takes time to get used to it sometimes. It can be overwhelming.”
“Well, I’m glad you did tell me that! Annie’s my absolute favorite now! Please take this for her. I want her to keep her energy up!” She presses a token into his hand, letting her fingers slip for just a moment too long over his. She’s going to run and tell all her friends about holding Finnick Odair’s hand right after this. He leans down and kisses her on the cheek, and her face erupts in scarlet.
“Thank you, very much, for your contribution,” he says to her. “I won’t forget it any time soon.”
He keeps walking while she sputters for a moment about the kiss. One of the things that makes Finnick a Capitol favorite is his willingness to go the extra step to make people happy. If he does the bare minimum, he’ll start slacking off. If he starts slacking off, Mags dies. It’s always better to make people ecstatic than just happy.
He looks down at the token in his hand and twirls it between his fingers. One loaf of bread. When he was in that Arena, he got a trident, and he can only get Cresta loaves of bread.
And the best medicine the Capitol has to offer, says a voice in his mind. But that doesn’t quite feel like enough….
The trading floor is a large, packed room, not like the mentors’ viewing area. There’s a long box office on one wall where the sponsors can buy tokens. They can be adjusted, obviously, and there are custom ones, but some always stay the same. Bread, soup, and premium food. Basic medicine, basic first aid, premium medicine, premium first aid. Matches, and water, and clothing even. Then the custom ones, which can be any one item of the sponsors’ choosing. Sometimes it’s medicine to treat a specific wound, or some better food. For Finnick it was a trident. Just yesterday Beetee landed a sewing kit for Hera.
Screens are plastered high up on every inch of wall space, and a few hang from the ceiling. A smaller group runs through the woods. The girl who tried to kill Cresta is with them. The one with the red hair and the arrows. He frowns at her and keeps pushing his way through the crowd.
Without even having to think about it, Finnick lands another bread token just by smoothing back a woman’s hair and smiling at her. As he walks towards the Shipping Room with his tokens, he shudders a little bit. It’s too easy to play this game sometimes. But he also hates that it’s so easy. He wishes he didn’t have to know any of this. He wishes, more than anything, that he was back in 4 now. Maybe swimming with Cresta. Or just walking along the beach with her, or cliff-diving, or….
He can’t think about her in that way. For her own safety, Odair, he reminds himself.
When he walks in the Shipping Room, Cashmere is already there.
“Yeah, that’s two for District One and one for District Two,” she’s telling the stern-looking man at the counter. “That’s not too hard for you, is it?”
“No,” he says, and Finnick feels a little bad for the guy. He’s just trying to do his job and save a little face. But then he remembers that this guy is probably so upset because he wants, desperately, to be a Gamemaker, but he hasn’t worked up to that yet. Finnick can feel sympathy for most people, but Gamemakers aren’t most people.
Cashmere passes him her tokens, he punches in something on his computer, they smile at each other, and she steps aside. Finnick slides his own tokens to the man.
“One for Three, one for Four,” he says.
The man types something on his screen. “Just the one bread for your District? You know you still have two Tributes, right?”
His stomach sinks.
“People only want to give things to—“
“I know, I know,” the man says. “Come on, Odair, lighten up.”
He flashes him a smile that makes Finnick want to hit him.
“Next time you make a joke, try being funny,” he says.
“Have a nice day,” the man says, and Finnick’s out of there, just a step behind Cashmere.
“So, do you know yet?” she asks as they navigate back through the crowd to the viewing room.
“What you’ll do if she wins.”
A big cheer. Lots of gasps and excited noises. They both turn to the nearest screen, but it only shows a boy running through the trees. He’s terrified, but Finnick doesn’t have time to be concerned for everyone in there. A pang of guilt hits him for that. They shrug at each other and keep walking.
“Finnick?” He looks back at her. She looks concerned. “Do you know what you’ll do if she… doesn’t win?”
“No,” he answers. “I don’t really know that either.”
They walk in silence back to the viewing room, and as soon as they walk in, something is very wrong. Everyone was quiet before, and now they’re all buzzing.
“Something’s wrong,” Cashmere mutters to herself, then practically sprints to Gloss, who’s looking around for her like a lost puppy.
Something is wrong. Someone’s hurt. A couple people, maybe. Finnick looks over to his section, and sees Mena walking in fast circles while Mags stares sadly at the screen.
“No,” he murmurs. “Please, no.”
As he jogs down the aisle to the center of the room, he passes Gloss and Cashmere in their section.
“…only two bites, thankfully, three of them kills you, but we don’t…”
He turns his head to look at Gloss, but keeps walking.
“What happened?” he asks when he comes up to Mena.
“I don’t know,” she titters. “Mutts, snakes! They killed a boy. The Careers were getting up on the Cornucopia, but they just kept getting closer—“
She takes a deep breath and grabs his arm in an almost loving gesture.
“Annie and Holiday stayed on the ground to help the others. They both suffered bites.”
His heart stops.
“No, no, she’s alive. But we don’t know what will… happen exactly.”
“What does that mean?”
Mena doesn’t say anything for a moment. He looks to Mags, who looks terrified.
“The snakes were carrying Tracker Jacker venom,” Mena answers. “Three bites kills you, and she only got one, we think. But they’ve never put Tracker Jacker venom in other animals like this before. We have no idea of knowing what the affects will be.”
Finnick turns right back around towards the Trading Floor.
“Where going?” Mags calls behind him. His stomach lurches. He turns and looks into her eyes.
“I’m getting her an antidote. I’m doing my job.” He feels one tear roll down his cheek and brushes it away. “I’m saving her life.”