The Poor Mad Girl
The lights are brighter, and the crowd is more anxious, but otherwise it’s exactly the same as before. Caesar is laughing and smiling and holding out an arm to her. In her last interview, she would’ve taken his hand and smiled and waved, and probably cracked a joke, but this is not that interview. She keeps her head down. She sits on the chair without even acknowledging Caesar or the crowd.
She wants to hide. She wants to run off stage. But, no, she will not run. These people will see her cry and scream before the interview is over, but they will not see her run away from this. If she runs, they can spin it any way they want. She got sick, or she’s shy now, or she wasn’t ready. Anything to make her look cute or sympathetic.
She needs to be in complete control of her image now. Running is not an option.
The crowd yells her name. Caesar introduces her, but she doesn’t smile.
“Well, then,” Caesar says, working his magic to cover the awkwardness. “Let’s go right to the highlights, shall we?”
Annie takes a deep breath and lets it out, slowly. She forgot about the highlights. A three (or more) hour video that plays back the Victor’s best moments from the Games. She’ll have to go through it again. She’ll have to see it all again.
She’ll have to watch her friends die again.
The crowd cheers again. That’s all they seem to do. They yell her name and they make noise, while she sits on stage and sweats so they can look at her, or they watch and eat and make noise while she fights and kills for their entertainment.
The anthem starts. The video starts. Every face in the room turns to watch, except for hers. She scans the front row until she finds Finnick. He’s watching her instead of the screen. He mimes a deep breath and slowly nods his head, just once. She nods back.
She turns to the screen, just in time to see herself dive away from Lark’s arrow, behind the Cornucopia. She needs to watch. She needs to remember every detail, and keep them all fresh in her head.
If she doesn’t, her parents could die.
She wants to walk down, into the crowd, and pull Finnick up with her, but she knows she can’t do that. She has to be alone. She has to suffer and she has to be alone. No running. No asking for help. Not while she’s on camera.
She watches Hera fix her arm, and she watches Sebastian take care of her. This was barely a week ago. She watches herself climb up the dam, right behind Holiday. They show a close up on both their faces. Annie looks calmer, more alive even, next to the water. Holiday’s face is the same as she remembers it: terrified and small.
“Now, this next bit has some recently recovered footage,” Caesar announces. “Never before seen by anyone outside of the Gamemakers.”
Annie doesn’t have to time to look at the screen, but she knows they’re walking to the canyon. The noise comes out over the speakers. It’s toned down. It’s not the same as it was in the Arena. The audience keeps watching the screen.
Her hands start to shake, though. The memory of the noise jumps around through her head. She looks back at Finnick, who’s still watching her. She hears two loud cracks, and a lot of screams. Titus and Sebastian were just hit, their legs broken, and Annie forces herself to look back at the screen.
There she is, crawling on all fours to Sebastian’s side, and that’s when it all snaps. The noise is long gone, but it still echoes through her. She covers her ears with her hands and bites down on her tongue so she won’t scream.
The noise is still there, and it starts to change. She presses her eyes closed to block it out, but that just makes it worse. Dark shapes, flying through the air, turn into snakes. Thousands of snakes, hundreds of thousands. They group together, they grow larger and larger, until they block out the sun, and then, all at once, they turn to water and crash down on her.
She tries to open her eyes, but she can’t. She hits something, hard. The entire left side of her body lights up with pain.
Who’s talking to her? She doesn’t know.
Don’t hold back.
She opens her mouth to scream. Something wraps around both her arms, but it’s familiar. Whatever it is, it’s warm and strong. She feels thumbs stroking the insides of her forearms, and she realizes it’s Finnick. Slowly, her eyes open.
“This interview is over,” Finnick says, turning to someone she can’t see.
The screen is behind him. Sebastian’s pained face is frozen on it.
“No,” she says.
“What?” Finnick almost snaps the word out.
“Annie,” he murmurs. “You don’t have to do this.”
He was so young, she thinks, looking back at the screen. They all were. So am I. We’re just kids. She looks at Finnick. All of us are.
She stands, slowly, on shaking feet. The audience gives her a shaky applause. Caesar booms something out and laughs, which makes the applause grow. She puts her hands up and smiles, which prompts them to grow quiet. Finnick’s hands are still on her arms, so she shrugs away from them. She walks up, almost to the edge of the stage.
Finnick told her not to hold back. Snow told her to choose her image wisely. Hera told her to blow the dam. The past couple weeks have been full of people telling her where to be and how to act. None of them ever considered her, though. Even Finnick’s advice treats her like a piece in a game. A mean to an end.
But that’s not who she is.
Stay safe, that’s what her dad told her.
“I have something to say,” she tells the crowd. They all lean forward. She points at the screen, which is still paused on Sebastian’s face. “He should’ve been here, not me.”
A shocked murmur goes through the Capitol citizens. Fingers smooth across her back, but she shoves herself away from them. Her instincts are telling her to stop and collect herself, but she ignores them.
“I worked through these Games to get him home. Sebsatian is your real Victor. Sebastian Dehlia. He was fifteen, and he was brave, and he should be here.” She glances back at Finnick, who gapes at her with shock. He shakes his head and mouths the word stop, but she knows that means to keep going. “I tried to save him, but I couldn’t.”
“Now, Miss Cresta,” Caesar says. His tone is light. “Don’t sell yourself short here. You did so well in the Arena! Didn’t she, folks?”
The crowd claps and cheers for her. She stops and glances at the cameras. Snow told her to pick her image. Her image, now, is one that the Capitol could view sympathetically. He wants me to be whole, she thinks. One way or the other, whether I’m full of rage or joy or anything inbetween.
She begins to cry; full-on wracking sobs drag her down to the floor of the stage.
“I wish I’d died,” she chokes out. “I wish I was dead.”
She cries harder.
“This has gone on long enough,” she hears Finnick say behind her.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Caesar says back. The lights on stage shut off, and then Finnick is helping her to her feet and dragging her backstage. She’s already stopped crying. Streaks of black rub off on her hands when she wipes the tears from her cheeks. General confusion and anger roar at her from the crowd.
I am broken, she thinks as she rips her mic off and hands it to the nearest crew person. He wants me to be whole, but I am broken.
Finnick helps her onto the elevator. When the doors close, the chaos is gone, replaced by silence.
“That was good,” he whispers right in her ear.
They ride up to the lobby and walk to the far side, away from the street, to the first set of doors. Annie can see the train outside, waiting to take her home. The barriers are back up, but there’s not much of a crowd for them to hold back. The Peacekeepers aren’t even out.
They wait. She doesn’t know how long, but they wait. 20 minutes, maybe half an hour. The crowd gets a little smaller, until there are only a few people, 10 at the most. Finnick reaches out, tentatively, and takes Annie’s hand.
Finally, after what feels like a year, the elevators ding behind them, and heels clack on the floor, coming closer to them. Annie turns, half-expecting an army of Peacekeepers or ten thousand snakes, but it’s only Mags and Mena.
“We thought you went back up to the room,” Mena exclaims as they walk up. Finnick drops her hand and rushes up to Mags.
“Are you alright?” he asks her. She pats his arm reassuringly.
“It took forever to get out of there,” Mena continues. She straightens her bright purple wig. “They turned off the lights, and it was everyone for themselves. Annie. Sweetheart. You know I adore you. But what was that?”
She exchanges a quick glance with Finnick.
“I don’t know,” she answers. She wraps one arm around herself, protectively. “It just came over me. I really don’t know.”
Mena places her hands on Annie’s shoulders and sighs.
“I’m just so relieved you’re alive, do you know that? And I’d like to… continue being relieved. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Annie stares at Mena like she hasn’t really seen her before. There’s no difference to her accent or her sing-song voice, or even her facial expressions. There’s no difference to any part of her that Annie can see. Something about her is different, though. She nods and Mena smiles.
“Then let’s get you home, shall we? You deserve it,” she trills.
Mags takes Annie’s hand and walks with her, out the door, down the path, and onto the train, without incident. Mena follows them. Finnick goes last. The few people left are only there to see him. He waves and smiles and poses for a few pictures, but he’s quickly on the train, too.
It looks the same as it did before, but smaller. It shouldn’t look smaller. If anything, it should look bigger. Annie squeezes Mags’ hand and then lets go to walk alone to her compartment.
It also looks the same. She settles into the chair by the window just as the train starts to move. The force almost throws her to the floor, but she manages to brace herself. She watches the dark sky swallow the Capitol skyline, light by light, until it’s gone. Only then does she close her eyes and take a deep breath.
It’s done. It’s over. She survived, and now she’s going home. Snow’s threat hangs over her, though. He told her to choose, so she chose to be broken. She doesn’t know how that will affect his choices. She’s safe, though, and her parents will be safe. She has to believe that, even after everything.
There was no crowd to see her. The few people who had showed up were there for Finnick. No arms reached out for her, no hands grasped at random parts of her body. That wasn’t her choice. She didn’t reject them. They rejected her. Snow can’t fault her for that. He can’t.
Can he? she asks herself.
A knock pulls her out of her train of thought.
“Come in,” she calls. The door slides open, and Finnick steps into the room, with something behind his back.
“I, um, I got something for you,” he says. “Well, I got Stella to get it for you, if you want to get technical about it.”
He pulls his arms forward, and, with a flourish, holds out her grandma’s dress that she wore the day of the Reaping. She practically jumps to her feet and runs forward to take it.
The fabric still flows through her fingers. The purple looks a little lighter, but otherwise it’s exactly the same.
“Thank you,” she says, pulling the dress to her face. It smells like soap. They must have washed it. There’s something under the freshness that she can’t figure out. It’s old, though, and familiar.
“You’re welcome,” he says. “Well, that’s all I—“
“Wait,” she says. “Can you sit with me?”
“I need some sleep,” he tells her. “We both do.”
He steps forward and brushes his finger along her braid crown. She’s suddenly aware that she’s still in her interview outfit. She kicks off her shoes and lays her dress across the chair.
“Sleep here,” she says, softly. “Please?”
He stares at her for long moment. He wants to say no, she can feel it. She shouldn’t have even asked. She knows that. He swallows a lump in his throat and nods. She nods back. He sits down on her bed and swings his legs up on it. She undoes her hair, pulling it loose again, and removes all her jewelry before lying next to him.
“Lights off,” he says, and the two lamps go out, leaving them in darkness. Moonlight comes in through the window, and a strip of light shows under the door to the hallway.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“For asking you to stay. I know that you… that we… shouldn’t do things like this.”
“I think I would’ve ended up staying anyway,” he admits. “Well, unless you didn’t want me to, obviously, but… I wanted to stay.”
She feels the mattress move under her when he shifts his body to look at her. She stays where she is but turns her head.
“Good,” she replies. “I mean, I’m… I’m glad that you….”
“That I what?”
“I don’t know.”
He smiles. It’s small and doesn’t reach his eyes. He reaches out and takes one of her hands.
“I don’t know… what this is, or what will happen,” he begins. She watches his face, but he stares at their interlaced fingers. “But I just want you to know that… that I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad I know you.”
“Me, too,” she murmurs.
He looks back into her eyes.
“And I, uh… I really want to kiss you again.”
This time she smiles.
“Me, too,” she murmurs.
He moves a little closer to her and leans in, but something makes her change her mind. The last time, they were alone, completely alone, but somehow Snow knew. She turns her body over so she’s facing away from him, but she grips his hand a little tighter.
“Hey,” he murmurs. “What’s wrong?”
“Snow knows,” she answers. “About the balcony.”
She looks back at him, this time turning her whole body so they’re actually facing each other. Finnick nods a few times.
“You should’ve told me earlier.”
“I’m sorry, I—“
“It’s okay. I understand. Just, next time.”
She nods and moves into him, to bury her face in his chest. The last thing she’s aware of before falling asleep is his hand tracing circles on her back and combing through her hair.
A few hours later, she wakes up to Finnick saying her name from his seat on the edge of the bed.
“It’s almost breakfast time,” he tells her. “You should probably change clothes.”
She realizes she’s still in her interview outfit. She didn’t mean to sleep in it. She’s suddenly very aware that there’s nothing on under her jacket.
“Right. I’ll see you out there.”
He leaves. She pulls her clothes off and throws on a simple outfit. Leggings and a flowy shirt. She runs into the bathroom and scrubs off her makeup before walking out to the main room.
It’s a simple breakfast. She has eggs and some little fish, and washes it down with orange juice. She doesn’t feel like eating much. After, she goes back to her compartment, just to sit and watch the scenery go by. She wishes she knew where exactly they were. District 2? 3? Are they in 4 yet? Or is she way off? Are they in District 6 or 7 or 8? She has no way of really knowing.
She absent-mindedly plays with her grandmother’s dress, letting the fabric run through her hands, and being careful not to unravel the loose strings along the hem. She’s almost home. Not much longer, and she’ll be there.
They pull into the District 4 station a little before lunchtime. Annie actually rushes out onto the platform, with the dress around her shoulders, ahead of the others. Flashes go off in her eyes, cameras zoom in on her, reporters yell things at her.
“Mad girl, over here!”
“Now that you’re home, are you glad you’re alive?”
She stares at each one in turn, but doesn’t say anything. She takes a step forward and sees a camera pointed in her face.
She chose to be broken, so she breaks. She starts to hyperventilate, her shaking hands brush the cameras away, and she runs.
“Miss Cresta won’t be taking questions at this time,” she hears Finnick say behind her. The reporters start screaming at him instead.
She keeps running, keeps shoving, searching for the two faces she wants to see the most. They’re not there, though. She turns around in circles, jumps in the air, anything to see the surrounding crowd better. They all part for her, like she’s a plague to be avoided. Their faces are all mixed expressions, somewhere between pity and anger and fear.
But her parents are not in this sea.
She twirls back around and catches Finnick’s eye. She must look wild. She must look terrified. Something is wrong. This plan didn’t work. Finnick nods to her, mid-sentence. He’s saying, go ahead. Find them. Go home.
She feels bad for leaving him, but only for a moment. She turns and runs, through the square, down the side streets, between buildings. It’s a familiar path that she’s walked many times. The buildings press in on her, but still let the air in. The air that smells like salt and sand and fried fish.
This is home, she thinks. So why am I so afraid?
She sprints up the stairs when she reaches her building. She reaches her apartment and throws the door open, and her heart sinks. She tries to scream, but no sound comes out.
President Snow is in her living room. There are two Peacekeepers standing behind him, and one on each side of him. The two by his side each have a person by the hair, forced to their knees, and a gun jammed against their temples.
Her father is crying, slowly and quietly. Her mother is completely pale, but there are no tears in her eyes. She looks angry. They’re both gagged.
“President Snow,” she says in greeting. Her voice is shaking. She doesn’t care.
“Miss Cresta,” he says, politely, like he doesn’t have guns pointed on her parents. “I must say I was disappointed by how you chose to behave in your interview.”
“That wasn’t a choice—“
“Don’t lie to me,” he snaps.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
She looks back and forth between her parents. She doesn’t know what to do. There has to be something she can do.
“I was going to ask you if you had given our conversation any thought, but any intentions I had about you have been shot right down.”
“You knew exactly what you were doing, Miss Cresta,” he tells her, taking a step forward. “And you still think there’s a way out of this. I’m here to remind you that you are no longer in control. None of the clients want to touch you now, but there are other ways that I can remind you.”
He snaps his fingers. She doesn’t hear the gunshot. They must have silenced their weapons. Her father hits the floor, blood pooling around his head. She can almost hear the cannon, she can almost see the hovercraft coming to take him.
She will never leave that Arena.
A shudder runs down her back. Her eyes go wide. But she does not cry.
“Please,” she says, cutting him off. “Please, tell me what to do. Don’t kill….” She locks eyes with her mom, who’s finally crying. “I’ll let you sell me. I’ll become like Finnick. Just don’t kill her.”
“You haven’t been paying attention, Miss Cresta. We are far beyond that by now.”
He snaps his fingers again.
When her mom falls to the ground, her outstretched hand is almost touching her father. This time she doesn’t hear a cannon. She hears the noise. It rings all around her, growing louder and louder. She drops to her knees and presses her hands over her ears.
President Snow only smirks and walks out of the apartment, careful not to step in the pools of her parents’ blood. The Peacekeepers follow him.
The noise doesn’t stop after they leave. It only gets louder. Annie pulls the dress from around her shoulders and clutches it in her shaking hands. She presses her face into the ground and screams until she’s out of air.