I don't think I'm cruel.
I am just trying to survive.
Actually, I'm doing pretty well.
There aren't many other tributes left, and I'm not afraid of meeting them. I've already figured out the best way to trap and kill my enemies.
I'm from District 4, so I'm really good at tying knots, setting snares. Thanks to Mags, I've even got a trident. It must've been really expensive, but it seems like there are enough sponsors who trust in me.
And if the Capitol people believe I can make it, I should better not disappoint them.
President Snow shakes my hand and crowns me victor of the 65th annual Hunger Games.
It doesn't happen too often that a fourteen-year-old is able to stand up to the career tributes from District 1 and 2. In fact, that's pretty impressive.
I know my family back in 4 will be very proud of me.
It feels great to be in front of that cheering crowd with the whole country watching. The Capitol admires me; especially the women. I like the way they look up at me.
They believe me to be handsome; that's at least what Mags said after her congratulations on my victory.
As far as I know, it must be a good thing.
I'm back home; living in the Victor's Village now.
It's night, and I'm staring into the darkness outside my window.
The Hunger Games have changed my life.
I enjoyed being a victor and I still do, but I just can't forget my time in the arena.
I've been through a lot of nightmares lately. They're mostly about me being trapped and killed by a trident –
Of course, I know what that means. In my dreams, I'm taking the place of my fellow tributes.
And I realize that I was wrong: I do have been cruel.
I'm fourteen, and I've already killed so many innocent children.
I've spent cold nights and long days in the arena, always running away from the other tributes, always hoping desperately to be safe.
It took some time for me to recognize that I had to kill if I wanted to stay alive.
The alternative would've been giving up, and that was about the last thing I wanted to do.
So, I didn't have much of a choice.
I was forced to be cruel!
I was forced by the Gamemakers.
They are the ones who sacrifice all those lives for nothing but good entertainment.
They are the ones who took my childhood away, and the Capitol people enjoyed it.
Well, I already know that there's no point in sleeping tonight.
The smell of blood and roses rests in the room long until President Snow has gone.
I can't believe what he expects me to do.
I've known about the Capitol women's affectation for me, and I've known this was probably the biggest advantage I could have had during the Games.
They are the reason I got my trident. They are the reason I managed to come back.
Back then, I've been only fourteen years old. I've probably been rather cute than handsome.
But now that I'm older, I've become really interesting for those wealthy Capitol citizens.
My legs feel so weak suddenly that it's hard to stay afoot.
Snow said my devotees were desperate to get some consideration from me.
And I have to give it to them; unless I want things to happen to everyone I care about.
I realize that the Hunger Games have not only taken away my childhood, but my whole life.
I'm their slave.
I am powerless, forced to sell my body, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.
Today's the reaping for the 70th Hunger Games.
I'm looking into an ocean of faces filled with sorrow and pain.
I try to stay cold, unconcerned.
My pity won't help anyone – only my effort as a mentor will.
For now, I think my presence on stage is enough to spread out a little hope.
I'm the best example for what a District 4 tribute can achieve.
Everybody admires me, although nobody knows who I really am and what it's like to be me.
But I don't want to think about that now. I don't want to look weak in front of my whole district.
Why do I even bother?
Two of all those children in the square are going to face death soon.
I've told myself not to think like that, but I can't help it.
Nobody has managed to win the Games since my victory. For the last couple of years, every tribute from 4 has been dead after only a few days in the arena.
But I don't think that's because of me. I really tried to keep them alive.
I have been a good mentor, and I'll be it again this year.
So, when our escort is reaching into the glass ball that contains the girls' names, I give my best to seem honestly interested.
I watch the escort walking back to the microphone in this totally ridiculous costume.
Then I hear the name of this year's girl tribute echoing across the square.
It's Annie Cresta.
I knew the moment I saw her that I'd be Annie's mentor.
She looked overwhelmingly beautiful in her white reaping dress, with those soft curls streaming around her head.
I remember the intense look she gave me while climbing up on stage.
I was totally startled by the color of her eyes; green and filled with tears.
Annie was stunning.
I promised myself I wouldn't let her die out there. Not for anything.
"Talk to me, Annie.
We haven't talked a word on the train.
We haven't talked a word since we arrived here.
Actually, we haven't talked at all.
I didn't even have a chance to tell you how wonderful you looked on that chariot."
Annie looks at me with those green eyes of hers. "Are you serious?"
"Trust me – I am."
"You'll start training tomorrow", I tell Annie after dinner.
It's still our first day in the Capitol.
We are alone; I joined Annie watching clips from my Hunger Games on television.
"You didn't hesitate to kill them", she says without looking at me. "Didn't you scruple out there?"
I shrug. "Hesitating doesn't make you win the Games", I tell her. "Neither does hiding. I tried it, and it didn't work."
Annie falls silent.
I watch her profile, and I'm about to ask her what's wrong when she whispers: "I don't want to kill, Finnick."
I have no answer to that.
So we're just quiet for a while.
Finally, I say: "You know what I want, Annie? I want you to stay alive."
The training session in front of the Gamemakers is over. Annie scored all right.
The interviews are over. Annie made the audience like her by just being honest.
The Hunger Games start tomorrow. Annie is going to survive.
We are sitting at the kitchen table in complete darkness.
It's about midnight.
I couldn't sleep, so I came here and found Annie cuddled at the ground.
Her whole body was shaking, but she did not cry.
Now, I'm face to face with her.
I am holding her hands across the table.
Annie's eyes are shut and she's barely breathing.
I don't see much of her, but I know exactly what she must look like.
"Do you remember what I told you on our first day?" I ask into the silence.
I can almost feel her gaze as she opens her eyes and looks at me.
"You said you wanted me to stay alive", Annie whispers.
"Right." I give her hands a soft squeeze. "You know, Finnick Odair doesn't tell lies", I go on. "I won't let you die, Annie. That's my promise to you."
Annie doesn't reply, but I don't expect her to.
I've never been so worried the night before the Games. Maybe not even when I was a tribute myself.
I know what I have to do.
I've already talked to a lot of sponsors and convinced them to help me; to help Annie.
At the moment, I can just give her all strength I have and make her believe in my promise.
I'm not sure how strong she is when it comes to the point.
So I have to make sure that Annie hangs on no matter what happens. Otherwise, I won't be able to do anything for her –
Suddenly, there's the urgent wish to touch her; stronger than everything I felt before.
I let go of her hands and reach for her face, and when my fingers softly strike her cheeks in the darkness, I lose every control I had over myself.
Abruptly, I stand up and hurry around the table.
To my surprise, Annie is stumbling toward me on her bare feet, so I have to catch her and pull her into my arms.
We are standing still while the world around us turns on.
I keep stroking Annie's hair. Every now and then, her body is shaken by sobs.
I'm holding her until I can't bear it any longer.
Then, I take her face in both hands and look straight into the green of her eyes.
"You won't die", I whisper. "I promised you, Annie. You can trust me. I will do everything to keep you alive."
I kiss her forehead; carefully, gently.
And I realize that I've probably just begun falling for Annie Cresta.
I've never cried in my life before.
I've always been strong.
But when I watch Annie giving up in the arena, I can't hold back the tears.
I've done everything for her.
She had sponsors, and her situation was actually not so bad. She could've made it.
Annie had a real chance to win.
Annie's district partner, the other tribute from 4, died in front of her eyes, and now she's as good as dead, too.
She doesn't move.
She's just sitting there, staring at some point in the distance, holding perfectly still.
I think she's going mad, inwardly.
Soon, the Gamemakers will round up all remaining tributes for the final battle.
And Annie won't stand a chance, because she's already given up.
I can't believe I'm crying.
I should've known from the beginning that she's a weakling.
How could I let myself fall for her?
I am Finnick Odair!
I shouldn't be crying over Annie Cresta. She's just an ordinary girl from District 4. She's not even good at tying knots. And at the end of these Games, she'll be just one of twenty-three dead tributes.
Except I promised to keep her alive.
And Finnick Odair doesn't give up so easily.
Finnik Odair never neglects a promise.
"It's okay, everything's okay", I whisper into Annie's ear.
She's just waking up from her anxious sleep.
I've been watching Annie for a while, but it's just too heartbreaking to hear her whining all the time.
She is back.
She was the only one able to keep her head above water when the arena was flooded.
Annie had to use her last power reserves, but somehow she managed not to drown like all of the other tributes.
And now she's here, totally exhausted but alive.
She opens her eyes and I'm relieved they are as green and beautiful as they were before.
Except that they are not looking at me.
Annie is looking in my direction, but it seems as if she's staring right through me.
Confused and worried at once, I squeeze her hand.
"Annie", I say. "I'm right here, Annie. It's over. You're safe."
She doesn't react.
I am not even sure she registered my words.
She's exactly as she was in the arena; totally lost in thought.
"Annie", I try it one more time, still gently. "I know you're in there. And I know you'll probably need some time to come out. But I can be very patient if I want to."
So I'm just sitting there, holding Annie's hand.
I think of my own victory; what things were like after the Games.
They retrieved me and took care about my wounds, made sure I was healthy.
I've been proud and excited and happy, but my trauma didn't start until my arrival in District 4.
Back then, there was nobody to catch me because I didn't want to appear weak.
I didn't tell anybody about the nightmares; I just lived them through.
For Annie, it's different.
Annie has me.
But still, she doesn't say a word.
They took everything away from me.
My childhood, my independence, my love.
Annie is alive, but she will never be the same.
I am disgusted as I feel that woman running her hand down my back.
She's wealthy; lives in one of the best quarters of the Capitol.
I can't look at her, so I just stare down at the blanket.
White like innocence, I think to myself.
White like Annie's reaping dress.
But I'm not supposed to think of her now. I'm already so overwhelmed with shame without Annie in my mind.
I'm sick of those Capitol women.
I'm sick of sleeping with them.
Everything about them is ridiculous: the way they speak, the way they dress –
The one who's with me now wears a blue wig and long, deformed lashes.
I can tell she wants me, although I don't even know her name.
She's like every woman in the Capitol: All she's up to is feeling admirable, and I'm supposed to give her that feeling.
None of them has ever noticed that for me, it's just one night.
A night I will try to forget as soon as I can.
What I won't forget is the information I get from those women.
It's unbelievable how talkative they can be, thinking someone's interested in them.
Thereby, I'm not interested in them at all.
I'm interested in their secrets.
"What are you thinking about?" the Capitol woman asks me with her strange accent.
My answer's the same as every time: "I've been worrying about my old friend Snow lately – I wonder what he's doing all day in his mansion, you know? He must be very lonely."
The Capitol woman responds to me immediately, and for the first time tonight I'm truly listening to her.
It's cold outside, so I put my arm around Annie's shoulders.
We're on the beach near the Victor's Village, where we both live now. Together.
We often come here to sit in the sand and watch the sun going down.
Almost like it used to be before the Hunger Games.
But this is definitely over now.
Both Annie and I were in there, and we both managed to come out.
We're finally safe.
It took some time to bring Annie back to life, but with a lot of love and patience, I succeeded.
There are still moments when she's floating away from me, of course.
"What are you thinking about, Finnick?" Annie asks me suddenly.
"You", I answer, and I can see a smile appearing on her face.
"What's with me?" Annie wants to know.
"I love you", I tell her.
I reach for her hand, then kiss her cheek.
Annie shoves my hand away and throws me a serious look.
"What have you been doing in the Capitol all week?" Her voice is a hush, but I can hear she's hurt.
This is not the first time she's asking me this. I've just never given her an answer.
"I missed you, Finnick", Annie goes on. "I've been waiting for you to come back, but you didn't come –"
"I'm here now", I interrupt her softly. "Isn't that all that matters?"
"I want to know the truth", Annie replies, ignoring my words.
When I try to touch her, she turns away from me, staring into space.
I know how much I'm hurting her, but I can't tell her about the Capitol women.
So, my answer stays the same: "I won't ever love anyone but you, Annie. I'm doing everything just for you; for us. All you have to do is trust me."
I will go on mentoring the tributes from District 4.
Staying present in the Capitol is a good way to make Snow believe I'm obeying his orders.
And when Snow is satisfied with my attitude, this will mean at least calm for Annie.
The 72nd Hunger Games are in the offing.
The reaping is over; we're already in the Capitol. The tributes are just getting prepared for the Opening Ceremonies.
I'm also in the Remake Center, curiously watching the preparations like most of the other mentors.
"I have to admit it's true", I hear someone say from behind me.
When I turn around, I'm face to face with last year's victor, Johanna Mason.
"What's true?" I want to know.
"Well, you are handsome", Johanna says. "That was the first thing they told me when I asked about Finnick Odair."
"It's probably the only thing they know about me", I reply with an amused undertone.
Johanna just grins.
I look down at her, and I still can't believe she's not the weakling she pretended to be.
I didn't even notice her in the arena last year, until she revealed her true fighting skills.
Actually, those Games were the best ones I've seen for a long time.
"You're staring", Johanna reminds me then.
Johanna's looking directly at me. Obviously, she doesn't know any shame.
I feel forced to say anything, so I just tell her what I've been thinking about: "Well, Johanna – Your strategy last year has been really great. I may be handsome, but you're certainly the clever one here."
"Thank you", Johanna answers, but she doesn't seem too happy about my words.
After all, these are her first Hunger Games as a victor. I know how hard it is to watch new tributes taking their places on the chariots, because everything you see reminds you of your own time as a tribute.
It's a huge mental pressure but in fact, I think Johanna is doing pretty well.
"Looks like your stylists aren't very creative, either", she remarks suddenly which brings me back to reality.
I notice that she's standing on tiptoe, glancing over my shoulder at our chariot.
I quickly turn around to follow her gaze. "At least it reflects the industry of District 4", I say with a shrug.
"And it's still a lot better than ours", Johanna sighs.
I look across to District 7's chariot. "I guess the tributes are going to be trees", I suggest. "Like every year."
"Like every year", Johanna agrees. "We've even got the same weaklings as usual. Real weeklings. They'll be dead by the end of the first day, if they're not speared by some Careers during the initial bloodbath."
There's something about the way she talks to me that makes me feel comfortable.
Johanna doesn't care about my outward appearance; that's the point, I guess.
I already like her for her strength, staying power and straightforwardness.
We could possibly become real friends.
Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire and District 12's first volunteer.
I can't believe she's actually doing that.
But it's clearly nightlock in her hands.
Katniss is face to face with Peeta Mellark, the only other tribute left.
Here they are, the star-crossed lovers from District 12, as everybody calls them.
Pretty entertaining for the Capitol people, but I still think they are just pretending.
Katniss is a clever girl; she must've understood that loving Peeta would keep them both alive.
The Gamemakers even changed the rules to make them believe they could win together, being from the same district.
And now, as the two of them are the only ones left in the arena, the rule change is canceled.
The star-crossed lovers are trapped.
There can be only one victor.
But Katniss won't accept that. Desperately trying to stay with Peeta, she comes up with a plan.
A risky plan.
I can feel every person all over Panem clinging to the screens, unable to avert their gaze.
With her plan, Katniss is directly offending the Gamemakers.
She forces them to intervene, because both she and Peeta are planning to kill themselves by eating nightlock.
I'm shaking my head at this girl. She's crazy.
She's risking everything – but still, her plan might work.
The 74th Hunger Games won't have a victor if the Gamemakers just stand by and watch their last tributes commit suicide.
But they need a victor.
President Snow needs a victor.
What would the Hunger Games be with nothing but twenty-four dead tributes at the end?
What would happen to Panem?
I am totally stunned by this moment.
Katniss and Peeta are counting to three; then lifting their hands to eat the poisonous berries.
Claudius Templesmith's voice rings out just in time to stop them.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victors of the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark!"
"What do you think they're planning for the third Quarter Quell?" I ask Mags thoughtfully.
The old lady just laughs. "As if it had ever mattered what I think, boy!"
"For me, it always mattered", I tell her with a smile. "Come on, Mags; I just want to hear what you could imagine."
Mags is serious again; I can see it at the wrinkles on her forehead, the shadows under her eyes that make her look so tired.
"I don't know exactly", Mags replies. "It must be something special; something even more cruel than the usual Games. Actually, I think it's better not to know it. Maybe just miss the announcement –"
"I'd love to", I say, and then I grin.
Mags knows as well as I that we won't have a choice.
Annie's condition is getting worse since we know it.
I don't want her to be reaped once again.
But I don't want Mags, either.
Five years have passed since Annie went through this piece of hell called the Hunger Games.
When she'd come back, I finally believed it to be over.
Just to learn that we're still not safe.
I can't stand the Capitol's power, Snow's despotism any longer.
I wish I could drift away into my own world, like Annie does.
There'd be no Hunger Games, no Panem.
Only the two of us, living happily ever after.
I'll be a tribute in the 75th Hunger Games.
I am staring out of the window, right into the crowd that gathered in front of our Justice Building.
The reaping has been only minutes ago.
Actually, I should've known it would be me. My love to Annie has always been a thorn in Snow's side.
So, as luck would have it, the first one reaped today was Annie.
I could see the insanity rise and take control of her.
That's when Mags lifted up her cane, drawing every attention in the square to her, and volunteered for Annie.
My eyes become teary as I think of that action.
Mags knows she probably won't stand a chance in the arena. She can make fishhooks out of almost everything, but she's old; too old to stand up to twenty-three other tributes.
If Mags had just stood by and watched, she would've been able to live on peacefully in her house at the Victor's Village for a long time. Instead, she chose fight and death to save Annie.
There's absolutely nothing I could ever do to show her how much I appreciate that.
I'm going to be in her debt forever.
Suddenly, the door slams open and Annie enters the room, her eyes red from crying.
"I've been visiting Mags first", she tells me quietly. "I hope you don't mind."
I look closely at her. She's as beautiful as ever.
Her hair, flowing around her face in soft waves, sparkling in the daylight that falls in through the windows – I need to touch her, now.
With a few careful steps, I'm in front of her, one hand reaching out to wipe away the tears on her face.
"Finnick –" Annie takes a deep breath before she goes on. "Don't even dare to think you might not make it. Mags gave up everything for us –"
"Her sacrifice won't be for nothing", I try to assure Annie, but my voice sounds shaky. "If Mags wants me to come home to you, I'll do that, no matter what happens out there."
Annie looks directly into my eyes; then tells me she loves me.
I tell her, too.
She leans in closer to give me the sweetest kiss of all, smacking of bitterness.
Is this what good-bye tastes like?
Anyway, this good-bye won't be forever. We will see each other again.
"We will see each other again", I whisper into Annie's ear. "This is a promise."
"And Finnick Odair never neglects a promise, right?" Annie whispers back.
There's a knock on the door and a Peacekeeper telling us our time is over.
Annie and I share one last embrace before she turns to go.
At the door, she looks at me one more time with a sad smile on her lips.
"I'll be waiting for you, Finnick –"
Then her arm is grabbed by the Peacekeeper and she's torn away.
"Annie!" I cry, but there's nobody to answer me.
The door snaps shut and I am alone again.
There has always been a special kind of connection between the victors; probably because we've all been through the same.
Winning the Quarter Quell would mean to kill them all.
So, Mags has been right: It'll be a lot crueler than usually as every victor is able to fight.
Every victor has a strategy that already led him out of the arena once.
And every victor has the strong wish to come back.
I'm still sure my wish will be the strongest because of Annie. She is my reason to stay alive.
Everything I'll do in the arena – every step I'll take, every death I'll cause – will be for her.
I doubt that any of the other victors knows a love so deep and pure like my love for Annie.
Images appear in my mind:
Me, promising to see her again.
Annie, telling me she'll be waiting.
Mags, sacrificing herself for us.
I can do it.
I can do it.
I keep repeating that phrase, over and over, until I'm absolutely sure it's true.
I have a mission now.
As ridiculous as it sounds: My task in the arena will be keeping Katniss Everdeen alive.
"Outsmarting the Gamemakers, publicly defying the Capitol – This girl is the living and breathing incarnation of a rebellion", I can hear Plutarch Heavensbee's voice echo in my head.
"Katniss Everdeen needs to be our Mockingjay! We just have to make sure she survives the Quarter Quell."
That's the reason why Plutarch and his group initiate selective victors into the plan they've been creating for years.
The plan is precise and well thought-out, so I think there's a real chance of success. At least if we can keep the Mockingjay alive, which is the most important part of the plan.
I know that being involved in this mission is a serious matter; a great risk.
But I might lose my life in the arena anyway, so I can as well use it in good cause.
My only fear is for Annie.
I don't know what will happen to her when Snow finds out about everything.
And he will, that's for sure.
Besides, if the resistance group is able to rescue me out of the arena, I will be taken to District 13, even though I promised Annie to come home.
I'll have to renege on my promise, there's just no other way.
For me, it'll be either Thirteen or death.
But I'm going to come for Annie as soon as I can. I will take her with me before anybody else can get her. Provided I make it out of the arena.
The resistance group will rescue Katniss first, so they might have to leave me behind.
I'm totally aware of that, but I don't have another choice.
Panem is cruel.
I'm Snow's slave.
How can I ever be happy with Annie if I'm forced to regularly sleep with Capitol women?
How can we ever have children in a world where the Hunger Games exist?
We have reached a point where we can no longer sit by and watch.
The districts' rebellion failed once, but it won't fail for a second time.
We have learned a lot; we've had enough time to regather our forces, and now we are stronger than ever.
We can make it.
We can overthrow the whole system and build up something new, something better.
I believe in that.
And I want to be free.
These are my reasons for joining the mission.
I talked to Katniss after the Opening Ceremonies.
I offered her a sugar cube; acting like the handsome, arrogant guy I'm supposed to be.
Katniss has been pretty distracted by that much of my naked skin, so it was kind of amusing talking to her.
But I still admire her for the trick she used to win her Games.
She's clever and brave and serious.
And I realize that Plutarch was right: Whatever it takes to save her, this girl is totally worth it.
It's time for my interview.
I step in front of the cheering crowd and shake Caesar Flickerman's hand.
Every woman in the Capitol is hanging on my lips while we talk, but I don't feel uneasy at all.
I tell Caesar that I've prepared something; actually, I want to recite a poem for a very special person.
"She's my one true love", I explain, "and I've already told her, but I have to say it again and again to make sure she can hear me."
I don't have to look into the crowd to see the melting expression on the women's faces.
Of course, they think I've been talking about them. Especially those I've already spent a night with.
But it's Annie I'm talking about, and when I begin to recite my poem, it's as if I was speaking directly to her, as if she was right here beside me.
So I clear my throat and say:
"Blue like the ocean, green like your eyes –
The only two colors I'll ever need to be happy.
I'd live in a world only of green and blue without missing anything
As long as you are by my side.
And even though we're apart now, I give you these words
To rely on
To let you know I'm always with you.
My only request is to remember the promise I gave you
With all my heart.
'Cause whatever may happen, one thing is sure:
You are my everything.
May heaven send you all its patience so you can wait for me
To come back
And watch the sun set over the blue ocean
And look into the green of your eyes."
So I'm going to go now.
I'm inside the tube, thinking about the last time I was in here.
I probably feared for my life.
In this moment, it's rather Annie's life I fear for.
How's she going to handle my absence, knowing that I might die out in the arena?
I hope she's taking it like I do: Just stop thinking about that part of the plan.
As long as Katniss Everdeen is alive, there'll be a future for Annie, this much is certain. Because Katniss is the rebellion we need to stop Snow's arbitrariness.
Even if I don't make it, it's more important that she does. She has to stay alive.
I think I can handle that much: I can protect her, knowing that it's best for Annie, whether it means my own death or not.
When the tube starts to move upward, I straighten up. It's getting dark around me; I remember this moment, and I remember how I hated the darkness. It's the same darkness as in my first Games: It means insecurity, suspense.
You never know how the Gamemakers created the arena; which traps might be there. Plutarch wasn't able to tell me. He thought it might impact my reaction to the arena, and this would be extremely dangerous. Nobody is supposed to find out about our plan.
I can't stop thinking of Annie.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, but she doesn't seem to disappear from my mind.
I can see her standing right in front of me, her hair blowing in the soft sea breeze. But when I reach out my hand, there's just emptiness.
My eyes are still closed when the light starts to displace the darkness.
I wait until the tube stops before I open my eyes.
The first thing I see is the ocean. And again, there's Annie inside my head, walking along the seaside, leaving tiny footprints in the sand. She seems to sing something, and her song is filling every part of me while I look around.
It doesn't take me long to understand her words.
"Blue like the ocean, green like your eyes –"
The countdown starts.
I need her to stop, but at the same time I want her to stay.
I don't know what to do.
I have to concentrate.
My eyes make out Katniss, and suddenly Annie seems to be drifting away from me.
So this is it. Let the Games begin!
"I love you, Annie", I whisper.