They take her to the Capitol’s premiere clinic afterwards. It’s the place where all the Victor’s end up eventually. But there’s not much they can do for her.
You can’t polish the scars out of one’s psyche. You can’t massage her mental health until it molds itself into the Capitol’s absurd notions of beauty.
She comes out looking like a pale, hollow version of herself. It strikes something, maybe fear, maybe compassion, maybe some sort of love-sick fever, into Finnick’s heart.
It’s been six weeks. Six weeks and here she is. Undeniably her, but undeniably broken. Still, blessedly, undeniably District 4.
“Annie.” His voice cracks when he says it.
In some bizarre way, everyone falls in love with the Victors when they’re in the thick of it. It’s how Sponsors are gained. Gifts are given. Games won.
Maybe they’re just stunningly beautiful. But just as often they’re ugly. They’re heartless. They’re brutal and ruthless and shameless. But always, always, they’re intrinsically desirable. They’re sexy. The way they walk in the Arena. The way they talk. The way they smile and the Capitol bends, unresisting, to their wills. The way they kill. The way they bathe in blood and sweat and a lesser player’s tears. The Games are built on sexual tension and Finnick is hardly exempt.
But Finnick loved her before they knew her. Before he knew her. It swept over him like a wave as he watched her kick against the current of the broken dam and like a child, he let it carry him far far out to sea.
She shakes her mentor’s hand afterward and it hurts like a fishhook in his thumb.
“Thank you Mister Odair,” she says, very quiet, and he wants to kiss her, hard, and he is ashamed because this girl, this beautiful girl, is so good, so much better than Finnick’s ever tried to be.
“It was my pleasure,” which sounds like something he’d say to someone who’s paid him to take off his clothes.
She nods, curtly, because really, this is what the world has come to expect of him and who is she to ask for anything more?
On the train home, she goes in and out like the tides.
Sometimes she is there, and with radiance. She laughs once.
And other times, there is nothing but vacancy behind her eyes. Empty words exhaled on a throaty breath. But none of it makes sense.
Finnick tries to understand. He was a fresh, young Victor once too, startled by his own willingness to survive at all costs. But this is different; Annie Cresta is anything but typical.
Annie Cresta, Finnick realizes, is not a survivor. Annie Cresta, Finnick comes to believe, died in the Arena with the others. Annie Cresta is a ghost.
They set her up in the Victor’s Village across from Mags and two doors down from Finnick. They give her the house with the best view of the sun setting from her sitting room because Finnick thinks this will bring her a thread of happiness. Instead, it just gives her a headache every evening at dusk. Vaguely, she appreciates the thought.
He brings her things because, as a mentor, gifts are the only thing he knows how to give.
Sometimes it’s food, although she could get her own. Sardines and oysters and large tuna steaks that she won’t know how to cook because, really, she is still a child. Chocolates from the Capitol. A loaf of bread, once, because the baker arrived at his door and all he could think of was Annie, scared and cold in her Arena, mumbling about bread under her starving breath.
Shells he’s collected from the beach. One that glows, iridescent, in its gently curving belly. One that, when pressed to the ear, roars the the secrets of the ocean. She puts them on the window ledge in her kitchen.
The crisp body of a dead starfish, which makes her cry.
Once, he even brings her a pearl necklace. He can’t explain that one and doesn’t try. He just presses the little beads into her bewildered palm and leaves the way he came.
None of it makes sense, and little by little, Finnick begins to wonder if he’s lost his mind as much as she has.
On good mornings, she walks on the beach and sings.
The sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.
And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners' hollo!
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
She knocks on his door late one night and he lets her in and up the stairs and through the door and lets her, lets her, melting on his bedroom floor.
Finnick still goes to the Capitol every now and then. Still stands up at the reapings and shakes the hands of trembling kids, graces them with his good-as-gold smile. Moves their hair out of their eyes and sweeps the worry from their faces. Sometimes with his thumbs and sometimes with his tongue. Still goes down on his knees for Capitol heavy-pursed men and women. Still pushes a trident into their hands and coaches and coaxes the kids to their death in the Arena. Still plays every fucking Capitol game there is and goes to bed with cheeks wet with salt-water tears.
Those days, Finnick goes in and out like the tide, but Annie stays behind, where they live together, always, in the house in her heart.