Podfic recorded by froggyfun365:
There were a few necessities for careers-to-be, apart from the obvious training and physical fitness. One of them was to stay far, far away from the other trainees. Once your name was in the pool, there was a decent chance you'd find yourself in the arena, and if that happened, you might have to face off and kill the kid you had sat across from in the lunch hall a few weeks before. To have friends, here, was a risk. It might end up costing you that precious second between life and death; it might cost you your life. It's something they all learned their first day, long before they were handed weapons or taught how to hide.
Finnick and Annie joined the training camp for District Four within months of each other. They're almost the same age, but they both follow the advice given by their teachers: don't get attached. No one's here to socialize, they're here to learn how to survive. How to kill – each other, if it comes to it. Finnick had followed that advice to the letter; hadn't even bothered to remember most of his fellow trainee's names before he gets reaped.
After he wins, everyone knows his.
Mentoring is a requirement for a Victor, and the Capitol wasn't about to let a Victor people fawned about as much as they did about Finnick out of the public eye. That's how he repeatedly finds himself in charge of kids years older than him. His first pair of tributes are 18 and 17, and to say they're ruffled about having to listen to the advice of a 15-year-old would be an understatement. Neither of them are well-liked, and they both bite it during the first 24 hours. His first fellow mentor is of little help; she's either stoned or crying half the time. She dies during his second year, overdose on some fancy Capitol drug. Everyone knows why she did it, Finnick included. No one talks about it.
He's relieved when they send Mags in her stead. They make an odd pair, the oldest living victor and the youngest, somehow trying to keep their tributes alive. For the first three years, they fail, Mags holding his hand when they watch helplessly as the kids are slaughtered.
It doesn't get easier, but if he's honest, there are nights, up in the Capitol, when Finnick wonders if these dead kids hadn't met the kinder fate.
When Annie's reaped for his fifth year as mentor, Finnick doesn't have high hopes she'll survive. He hardly remembers her from when they were trainees, and the male tribute is older and stronger and more skilled in almost every area. She looks frail, haunted. He's not surprised when he sees her lose her marbles in the arena, writes her off and hopes she'll meet a painless death.
But she doesn't die. For the first time he gets to take one of his tributes back home – even if it's as damaged goods.
Annie doesn't talk much, and people assume that's due to her Games. She lets them. No one needs to know that she already was quiet and withdrawn, preferred to witness and observe rather than interact with people. Now she sees even less merit in it. What would she talk about? Blood, screams, dead kids? They're not topics for light chatter.
She's got ghosts riding her back alright, but in all honesty, Annie's just fine with the fact that people think her much crazier than she is. It's not like she's got anyone left who can tell the difference.
Every day at sunrise, Annie goes out to the beach. They're not supposed to, but after she throws a screaming fit the first few times someone tries to stop her, she's left alone and free to watch the sun peak through the clouds over the horizon as much and as often as she wants. She thinks that's been one of the weirdest things in the arena, for her: the days had no rhythm. Annie likes things that follow a pattern, are predictable. Lack of order upsets her. She depends on rituals, now more than ever.
One of those mornings, a year or two after her victory, Annie catches sight of a camera team rolling up to Victor's Village. She's pretty sure they're not here for her. The Capitol forgot all about her the moment she stepped out of the train back home, but it loves Finnick. It can't get enough of him.
Annie hides by the gates, watches as they set up camera and lighting in front of his house. Wonders if it's time again, if they're gearing up to steal away another set of kids from everything they hold dear. As much as she likes her days structured, she doesn't bother counting them. She doubts she'll ever have to set foot into the Capitol again, so it's nothing she's got to worry about.
He does. She's seen the look in his eyes when they come to get him. Annie knows that they don't only come to drag him away in bright daylight, but also quietly in the night.
That, too, isn't something she concerns herself with.
More reapings come and go, and Finnick both fears and hopes for the day when it will become normal. Routine. Just going through the motions every year. He's young enough, with so many years of mentoring ahead of him. It may happen eventually.
It's maybe his fourth year when he makes the mistake of asking Mags about it on the train ride home: if she's ever gotten used to this, the reaping, the mentoring, the kids. She doesn't bother replying, just looks at him, her eyes kind and knowing, and shakes her head.
The morning after they get back, Finnick sneaks away to the beach while it's still dark out. It's cold and raining, he's soaked halfway through, but he doesn't care. There was a time when the sea gave him comfort, made him dream of running away, and out here he can almost remember how it felt to have hope.
He doesn't expect anyone else to show up. When Annie appears behind him, gently tapping his shoulder, he almost jumps out of his skin. She does the same, squeals and covers her face with her hands. They stare at one another, him openly and her through her fingers, until he clears his throat without actually saying anything. He intends to, but the words don't come.
Annie gradually lowers her hands, peers at him, her head cocked. Eventually she points at a stripe of grass in between the sand dunes, doesn't wait for him to follow her train of thought before she sits down. He wasn't looking for company, but now that she's here... Well, why not.
They don't talk, just sit there and watch the sun rise over the ocean in comfortable silence. Around noon, she gets up, smiles at him, and walks away without so much as another glance his way.
The day after they met there, Annie doesn't go out to the beach for the first time since her Games.
She doesn't expect him to be around. She gets it; he'd been to the Capitol for another slaughter, came back without the tributes he left with. Again. Extraordinary circumstances. It's not like she expects daily company, from now on. Annie's not even sure that she'd mind, if it was just that.
The reason why she doesn't go out that morning is that, when she wakes, she can't figure out if she wants Finnick to be there or not. To avoid finding out, she stays home. For two days she does, then she decides she's being stupid and marches off at her usual time.
He's not there.
He can't say why, doesn't want to examine it, but the next morning, Finnick walks back out to the beach with the first light of day. Annie isn't there when he gets there, and he can't remember when she appeared the other day, so he waits. An hour passes, then another, and he begins to feel like a fool. He can't see the sun rise; it's hidden behind thick, dark clouds, and he tries not to find that symbolic. When it starts to rain, he leaves.
For the next week, he considers going out every morning, but never does. The week after that, he only thinks about it every other day. After that, Annie only crosses his mind ever so often. He sees her in the Victor's Village, sometimes, or peering at him from behind her curtains. Children still, the two of them, and yet they've been through more than most other people will see in a lifetime. The last thing they need is each other.
During the winter, Finnick spends more time in the Capitol than ever before. The social calender is less busy then, he's learned; people are bored. They ship him in for weeks at a time. He tries to concentrate on the warm and comfortable quarters, the good food, and forget about what he has to do whenever he's not actually doing it. He can't change it either way, and if his mother taught him one thing, then it's to try and make the best of a bad situation. It's not as bad as it was the first year, anyway. He's learning. Sometimes he thinks about Annie, during. Imagines doing the same things with her, and doesn't know if what he feels at the thought is dread or excitement. Either way, she deserves someone who's only hers, doesn't get touched by the hands of strangers whether he chooses or not, doesn't have fear coil in the pit of his stomach at something so innocent.
On the day he gets sent home for the second time, it's raining heavily. Must have been for days – his feet sink into the mud just as soon as he leaves the train station. Finnick didn't pay attention to the time, never does when he's not in the Capitol and doesn't have anywhere to be, but when he walks up to the Village, he sees the sun rise over the horizon.
He doesn't notice that he's changed direction, lost in thought and tired to the bone, until he sees the dunes in the distance. By the time he gets there he's soaked through and freezing, but even so, he sits down on a green patch and waits.
It doesn't take long until Annie arrives. She stops dead when she sees him, looking around like she's got half a mind to leave him sitting there and walk right back the way she came. It would be the smart thing to do, probably. He has no idea why he's here. He doesn't need anyone else to bind him to this place, make him miss it when he's gone, and she doesn't need his baggage. She's got enough of her own.
But eventually Annie sends one last look in the direction of the Village, shrugs, and walks towards him. She sits down, so close their bodies touch, and, after sitting there awkwardly for a minute or two, fits herself against his side.
Annie never knew why they bring Finnick to the Capitol outside of the Games. She's heard rumors – people talk more freely around her, assuming she's too out of it to comprehend what they're saying – but she thinks them hyperbole. Gossip. People looking for a scandal in things that are much simpler in reality.
He tells her sometime in spring, on one of the mornings after he's back from another visit to the Capitol and seeks her out on the beach. While he's talking, he looks her straight in the eye, but once he's done his gaze falls away and his hands begin to play with the loose sand. The rest of his body tenses gradually the longer they sit there, the silence that stretches between them for once uncomfortable rather than natural, and Annie expects him to get up and walk away at any moment until she realizes that's not what he's poised for. He's expecting her to run.
Annie does no such thing. She covers his hand with her own, sweeps the sand off of it when he stills, and twines their fingers together. She doesn't let go for the rest of the morning. That day, they walk back into the Village together, hand in hand. Mags smiles from her porch when she sees them, and Finnick only clutches Annie's hand harder.
Finnick comes to meet her at the beach again the next morning, and the morning after that, and every other morning that he's home.
When he was younger, his mother often told him how she fell in love with his father. They were twenty, roundabout, and she used say that the sight of him struck her like lightning, how many butterflies she's had fluttering about in her belly every time they met. At the time Finnick took that literally, somewhat grossed out by the thought of bloody insects in his mother's guts. One day she asked him why he always pulled such a face, laughed out loud at his answer, and explained to him the meaning of metaphors.
Finnick and Annie kiss for the first time a few days before the next reaping. She's the one who initiates it, puts a finger on his lips mid-sentence and leans in as if they'd done it a thousand times before. It's wonderful and perfect and the best thing that's ever happened to him, but at the same time it serves as a reminder of everything he wants to keep her away from.
The way her face falls when he flinches away and gets to his feet haunts him all the way to the Capitol.
Finnick's stomach isn't filled with figurative butterflies. It's tied into knots. He's not struck by anything when he thinks about Annie - other than a sense of serenity that makes everything else fall away. If this is love, then it's very different to what his mother had described.
Mags and him lose another pair of tributes that year. One of them had made it far, made Finnick hope for a train ride back home that wasn't quite so filled with grief, but she gets speared during the last hours of the Games. When he gets home, it's early evening, and Finnick marches straight up to Annie's house. He knocks on her door for five minutes straight before the lights go on inside and Annie opens, eyes wide and mouth falling open when she recognizes him.
Finnick mumbles an apology for disturbing her unannounced – his mother taught him manners, after all – and takes her face into both his hands, thumbs brushing her jawline. He waits until she's calmed down and caught on, smiling at him like he's never seen her smile, relieved and happy.
She wraps her arms around his middle as they kiss, dragging him closer, and he stops wondering whether what he feels for her is right or wrong, or whether she deserves to be tangled up in the things he's made to do. He doesn't think about dead children. He doesn't think about his mother and her lightning and insects.
All he thinks about is that he's with Annie, here and now – and it's exactly where he belongs.