Annie's Games

The Same Fate

The hallway is long and made of stone. Marble, probably, but stained darker. Her steps echo back to her. There’s an eerie finality to them. She wishes Finnick was with her now. Or Mags, or even Mena. She wishes she didn’t have to make this long walk alone.

She was released from the hospital that morning, after three long days. The doctors fixed the residual pain in her injured arm and buffed away every scar on her body. By day, they did exams, they ran catscans, they did all sorts of neurological tests. On the second day, someone interviewed her. They asked her why she wanted to blow up the dam, and she told them that she was hoping she would die, too. They took all the sharp objects out of her room, and left a peacekeeper outside her door. By night, she sat with Finnick, and talked to him, and slept curled up into his chest.

This morning she was pronounced “stable” and was discharged, even though she’s never felt more unstable in her life. There was a car waiting for her outside, at the end of a line of barricades keeping the press and the Capitol citizens back. There were more than she thought there would be. A Victor who’s lost her mind is still a Victor, though.

The driver of the car ushered her inside, through the hands reaching out to brush her skin and hair, but stopped Finnick and the others from joining her. She watched through the window as they had a short, heated discussion. Then the driver got back in the car and drove away, leaving everyone else on the curb.

“Where are we going?” she’d asked.

“President Snow would like to speak with you,” the driver told her, as if that was a real answer.

Here she is, though, not half an hour after her hospital discharge, standing in the President’s Mansion. No one prepared her for this. Everything before the Games was about surviving the Arena. No one told her what to do if she lived, and she didn’t think to ask. She didn’t think she would be leaving.

What could the President want to talk to her about? Undoubtedly something concerning the Games. Or maybe an outline for her new life as a Victor. It can’t be anything awful, she tells herself. I just won the Hunger Games.

But then she remembers hearing Finnick talk to Mags. What did he even say? I don’t want her to end up like me. Something like that. What does that mean, though? Her teeth and stomach are on edge. No, Snow wouldn’t abduct her off the street to speak with her alone if it was something good.

She clenches her hands into fists to stop them from shaking.

The hallway eventually takes her to a large door. She knocks, tentatively.

“Come in,” a voice tells her from within.

The room inside is surprisingly small and cozy. She was expecting something more like her hotel from training; some giant silver room meant to make you feel cold and alone. This room, though, is decorated with a lot of warm colors. The air smells vaguely of roses and metal. There’s an ornate fireplace set into the far wall. It’s empty now, but she can imagine how inviting and warm it would be in cold weather.

The President sits behind a large desk, carved from stone, that matches the fireplace. She’s never seen him in person before. His skin looks tight across his face. His lips are large. His eyes are red and watery. He doesn’t look very powerful. He just looks like a sick old man.

“Ah, Miss Cresta,” he says. “Please, have a seat.”

He gestures to the chair across from his, and she sits down on the very edge of it. The room feels warm and inviting, but that makes her more nervous somehow. It’s so out of place. It’s like he’s trying too hard to show how nice he can be.

“You wanted to speak with me?” she asks.

“Yes, I do. I had some business to discuss with you, but that can wait for a moment.” He smiles at her. “First of all, I’d like to congratulate you. You gave quite a performance in there.”

“Thank you,” she murmurs. It wasn’t a performance, she thinks. He probably knows that, though.

“I trust you were treated well in the hospital?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Good. Good. I don’t like to hear about our Victors being unhappy. Oh, speaking of which, how rude of me. Would you like anything to drink? Water? Tea?”

“No thank you,” she answers. “I’m fine.”

He smiles again. Annie forces herself to smile back, even though that’s the last thing she feels like doing. She feels like running back out that door to find the Training Center, and Finnick, but she has no idea where she is in relation to it. She stays seated. She does as is expected of her.

“Now,” Snow says after a short pause. “We don’t usually find ourselves in a predicament like this with the Victors. Usually, the public reacts strongly, one way or the other, and we can decide, immediately after the Games, what exactly we should do with them.”

Annie takes a deep breath and holds it. When he speaks, the smell of roses fills the air. She could almost gag on it.

“Do with them?” she asks in a small voice.

He gives her another small smile.

“Tell me, Miss Cresta, have you heard the rumors about your mentor?”

Of course she’s heard them. Girls in the hall at school would whisper and giggle over his pictures, over the stories about him that spread out from the Capitol. Finnick Odair spends his days flitting from bed to bed of other people with big names. Finnick Odair has taken another lover, this one with even more money than the last. Finnick Odair was seen stumbling from this night club or that night club, with some important Capitol socialite hanging all over him.

She knows the truth, though. He does that, sure, but he hates it. He likes her. He prefers her. Some part of her knows that.

She nods to Snow.

“Of course you have. Now, I trust you haven’t heard any of these other rumors, these more recent ones, that have started to come out since you went into the Arena? No one repeated them to you at the hospital?”

“What do you mean?”

He ignores her and turns to his roses.

“Like I told you a moment ago, you’re in a very odd position right now,” he tells her. “You were the favorite before entering the Arena, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. People started to sour on you, though, once you showed your truer colors.”

“What does this have to do with Finnick?” She doesn’t feel the words leave her mouth, but she knows she said them.

“Everything, Miss Cresta,” he says, looking back to her. “You can’t know what he did, or didn’t, do to keep you alive. But does that make you any less responsible? You’re the one reaping the rewards of his behavior, after all.”

“Whatever he did, I had no idea, I—“

He puts up a hand to cut her off and plucks a single white rose from the bouquet. He hands it to her. She takes it in her shaking hands and brings it to her nose. The smell is too strong. It’s sweet, like it should be, but underneath there’s iron, and salt, and rust. Blood, she realizes. Suddenly she can’t breathe.

“A lot of people, who I’ve been working quite hard to keep happy, have come to me with certain complaints.” He straightens the vase and looks back at her with calm, dead eyes. “They think he’s… pulling away from the life he’s been given. He fought very hard for you. Given his reputation, and the relationship you had with him prior to your volunteering, people have begun to think that there’s something happening between the two of you.”

There’s a long moment of silence. Annie can feel herself shaking, but Snow stares at her with ease and comfort.

“There’s nothing,” she finally says, keeping her voice steady. “Nothing at all.”

“Good,” he says softly. “And let’s keep it that way.”

“I don’t understand what any of this has to do with me.”

He smiles at her again.

“Oh, Miss Cresta. I’d like you to share his fate, so to speak.”

Her stomach jumps. Her heart pounds against her ribcage in quick, irregular beats.

“What exactly would that fate hold for me?” she asks.

“There are people in this city, very important people, and part of my job is to keep them happy. You’re at a crossroads with these people, and a lot of people across Panem. They will either love you, or they will forget you, and that all depends on how you present yourself tonight. Your image is in your hands now, Miss Cresta. Whatever choices you make will determine the choices that I will make.” He leans forward in his chair and smirks, just slightly. “Look at this the romantic way: This will just be one more thing you and Finnick have in common. I’m sure he was glad to see you again. You two left things on such… awkward terms.”

All the blood drains from her body. Her eyes go wide. He can’t know. He can’t possibly know. But then she remembers the feeling she had just after the Reaping. Like her every move was being watched. They probably have been, this whole time. No matter where she goes, from now on, she will always be on camera.

“We were both glad to see each other,” she says. She knows she can’t save face here, not with this man, but she has to try. Maybe he’ll appreciate the trying. “We’ve been friends for awhile now, so it was a happy reunion for us.”

Snow nods slowly.

“Good,” he says. “That will be all for today. You have an interview to prepare for.”

She smiles and mumbles out a thank you. The chair creaks a little when she slides back in it. She stands up and walks to the door, being careful not to run, not to show how afraid she is. Once she’s safely on the other side and she hears the door click into place behind her, she runs. Her shoes threaten to slide off her feet, but she ignores them.

The car is still waiting for her outside. She slides into it. Just before closing her door, she drops she rose that was still clutched in her hand.

The driver doesn’t say a word to her, which is fine. She can’t stop shaking. She feels like she could cry. She has to get back and talk to Finnick, possibly warn him, but she doesn’t know what about.

He’s property of the Capitol. She sees that now. He was concerned about her ending up like him: A slave to Snow. An object. A toy. Probably worse that she doesn’t want to think about. If she refuses, who knows what will happen?

The car pulls up to the Training Center, right alongside a path that’s been made for her. The metal barriers go up to the door. On either side, there are Capitol citizens, waving posters, shouting her name.

“Good luck,” the driver tells her. There are Peacekeepers along the path, at various spots, but otherwise she has to walk alone.

She climbs out of the car and begins to walk down the path. People scream all around her. Their hands reach out to grab her. They touch her shoulders, her arms. She feels fingertips brush, just barely, across her hands. Her hair is yanked from several directions. The Peacekeepers do nothing.

She wants to run. She wants to scream and pull herself into a tight ball that none of them can reach. She wants to disappear. Something stops her, though. Finnick did this with a smile on his face, she reminds herself. I survived the Hunger Games. I can handle a few people touching me.

She speeds up, but keeps her walking at a steady pace. She smiles a little and waves to a few people. When she reaches the door, she snaps it open and runs inside, just to collide with something soft but solid. She hits the ground and looks up to see Finnick.

He kneels down to help her to her feet.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. “Are you alright?”

“No,” she answers.

He looks at her face. He takes her shaking hands and looks at the crowd outside.

“He wants to sell you,” he murmurs. “Doesn’t he?”

She nods. Finnick lets out a deep breath and drags her over to the elevators.

“What did you say to him?”

“Nothing. I think.”

“You think you didn’t say anything or you didn’t say anything?”

“I didn’t say anything! He told me I have to decide. I’m in charge of my image now, or something like that. But he wants me to share your fate.” She looks at him. He’s shaking. He looks terrified. “Finnick, what exactly… is your fate?”

They step into the elevator.

“I have to talk fast,” he says. “Once we get upstairs, it’s all interview prep. You need to know a few things, and it’s going to raise a lot of questions, but we can’t really discuss it now. We will later, once I know you’re safe.”

“Safe? Finnick, what’s happening?”

“I’m….” He stops there to force a deep breath. Annie takes his hand.

“You don’t have to say it if you don’t want to. Forget I asked.”

He nods and looks away. The light above the door tells them they’re passing the second floor.

“If you refuse, he could kill your family,” he blurts. “I’ll figure something out though. You won’t have to refuse.”

He squeezes her hand back and looks into her eyes.

“They’ll kill my family?” she breathes. She thinks about her parents, the only family she has. “Then I’ll do it. Whatever they ask—“

“No,” he tells her. Third floor. “No, you won’t have to, I’m telling you. We’ll figure out a plan. It’ll be okay.”

Fourth floor. There’s a little ding, and the doors slide open.

“Annie!” Mena shouts her name and drags her into the sitting room. “Oh, I’m so glad to see you!”

The last time she stood in this room, Sebastian stood with her. Mena strokes her hair, and Stella shakes her hand with a small smile, but it’s all wrong. She almost cries when Mags finally steps up to greet her. Annie can almost forget about the Arena when she feels the old woman’s arms around her. For just a few seconds, she might not have gone to that horrible place, she might not have watched her friends die. She might not have killed people herself. She might not be in the danger that she’s in now. She hugs Mags back, a little tighter, trying to hold on to that alternate reality.

She’s close to tears when Stella takes her arm and starts to pull her out of the room. Annie catches Finnick’s eye on her way down the hall to her room. He nods at her, ever so slightly. He’s telling her it’s okay. He’ll have a plan.

He’ll know what to do to help her, just like in the Arena.

She looks away from him just in time to walk into her bedroom, where her prep team is waiting for her. Stella gives them a few final words and then leaves, giving Annie’s arm a quick squeeze on her way out.

“Good to see you,” she murmurs. Annie tries to smile in return.

The next two hours pass in a blur. Her prep team swarms her. She doesn’t even remember their names. At the moment, she doesn’t really care. The one who looked like a giant fireball before has pale blue skin now, so faint it’s barely there, and his hair is jet black. All of them prattle on about her kills and her best moments and how glad they are that she won. She doesn’t listen. She sits and stares at the wall and lets them comb her and wax her and cover her with makeup.

When they’re done, she’s surprised at how normal she looks. Half her hair is in a low bun. The other half is braided with a strand of pearls across the top of her head, like a crown. Her lips are pale orange and shiny. Her eyelids are the same green as her eyes, and her eyelashes are thick and black. Her nails match her lips. She can actually recognize herself. She looks so grown up like this.

Her helpers drape a robe across her shoulders and show her back out to her bedroom. Stella stands by the mirror, picking lint off a sea green jacket. She turns, though, when she hears people enter the room. She looks Annie up and down, then nods. The prep team leaves silently.

“I’m going for simple this time,” Stella tells her. “Simple and casual and very adult. You took some hits at the end there. We want to show them you can be sophisticated, don’t we?”

She smiles, warmly. Annie feels bad for not smiling back.

“I don’t know if I want to be sophisticated for them,” she whispers.

Stella sighs and pulls down the garment bag.

“Then don’t act sophisticated,” she tells her. “The hard part’s done. I just want you to look nice.”

And she does look nice, of course. Stella slides her into cropped pants the same color as the low-buttoned blazer that is now, thankfully, free of lint. There’s no shirt underneath the jacket, so the plunging neckline can reveal as much of her body as possible without being obvious about it. Stella clips pearls onto her ears, and wraps them around her arms. The final touch is a pair of heels covered in pearls.

“You’re ready,” Stella says.

They walk back out into the sitting room.

“Oh, Annie!” She hears Mena’s voice before she even sees her, perched near the elevator. “Oh, you look lovely. Are you ready for the Capitol to see you one last time?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she answers. Mena laughs and holds out a hand, beckoning her toward the elevator.

“If I may?” Finnick interjects, stepping out from the wall and placing a hand on the small of Annie’s back. “You all ride down now and get your seats. I need a word with Miss Cresta alone.”

Stella grumbles something about making sure the outfit folds in the right way, but ultimately gets on the first elevator with Mags and Mena. Once the doors shut, Finnick pulls her in for a hug. His hands press into her back. Her heart beats a little faster in her chest.

“I haven’t really gotten to do that yet,” he murmurs.

“You slept in my bed every night in the hospital.”

“I know, but….” He stops talking and pulls away from her.

“But what?”

“Nothing. We don’t have time.”

The elevator dings. They’ve reached the bottom, and that means the box is coming back up for them.

“Tell me you thought of a plan?” Annie whispers.

“Sort of.”

“That doesn’t help much, Finnick.”

“I know, I know. Okay. First you have to understand what agreeing to his deal means.”

She watches Finnick take a slow, shaking breath. His hands twist together, like he wishes he was holding something, and she grabs them.

“You don’t have to tell me everything now,” she tells him. “I know the jist of it.”

He nods.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, and the elevator dings again. They step in and let it carry them down.

“So what’s your plan?” she asks.

“President Snow wants you to be likable on camera, right?”

“Right. Can we discuss this so openly?”

“Probably not, but we don’t have time.” He moves closer to whisper right into her ear, though. “He wants you to make the people like you again. So what happens if they don’t like you?”

“I don’t know,” she murmurs in reply. “Then I guess they wouldn’t want to… buy me.”

“Right. You wouldn’t have to refuse, but you wouldn’t have to… end up like….”

Another ding. They’re at their floor. They’re backstage again, and people are running around all over the place.

“There you are!” someone snaps, walking up to them. “We need to get a mic on you. You’re on in five, Miss Cresta.”

They drag her over to the sound station, which is really just a small podium covered with wires. Finnick follows her.

“What do I do?” she hisses while someone lifts up her jacket to fix a mic pack around her waist.

“Don’t hold back,” he tells her, looking directly into her eyes. “Whatever you feel, whatever you think, don’t hold it back.”

She looks back at him for a long moment then nods. Another crew person walks up to pull Finnick to his seat. Her mic is clipped onto her collar.

She knows exactly what he means. Show them that she’s damaged. Show the Capitol what they’ve done to her. Show the whole country exactly what these Games do to people. No one will ever want to come near her again.

And then her family will be safe.

Someone drags her into position just as the lights shine toward the entrance, and Caesar Flickerman calls out her name.

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