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This is my version of how Johanna and Finnick met as mentors, and what happened in their lives from that point on. But this isn't your ordinary story. This is a story about friendship... with a twist.
FINNICK'S POV - just after winning his Games.
"Give it up for the winner of the 65th Annual Hunger Games, District Four's Finnick Odair!"
I'm on auto-pilot after I'm taken out of the Arena. Half of it's from the maddening exhiliration after winning the Games. But the other part is much deeper than that.
When I get back to the Capitol (the real one), I press my fingers against my temples to stop myself from thinking about her. Annie. As I thought. It's pointless to even try to refrain from imagining the feel of her in my arms, regardless of the situation.
I'm led down a corridor towards the customary victor's feast, but that deep sadness struggles to show itself on my face. Keep cool, Finnick, I think. Just put on the face for a little longer. Delicious smells of seafood - they've prepared it especially for me - that would have caused me to smile do nothing to battle my masked anxiety.
I won't be staying with my Annie. I have to serve the Capitol.
I'm assaulted with congratulations and applause as a set of huge double doors open. Just put on the face for a little longer. I put on my signature sexy smile, and walk in.
JOHANNA'S POV - just after winning her Games.
"Congratulations, Johanna Mason of District Seven! You are the winner of the 69th Annual Hunger Games!" My hands don't shake at all as I'm transported out of the Arena. I don't give a thought to the people whose lives I've taken, because in reality, do I really care? If those filthy people over at the Capitol want to make us suffer with this bad-as-hell invention called the Hunger Games, then at least I'll do my freaking best to stay alive. After all, what else can we do (apart from starve most of the time).
No. My mind's just focused on my upcoming job as a mentor, and how different my life's gonna be. Sure, I might have to be the lifeline of a couple of brats, but at least it's something. Better than going back my district and living in solitude for the rest of my life. Hell, I know that's what would happen, and not because I'd be so guilty over those innocents I killed.
I laugh, letting an edge of hysteria creep into the sound. This is gonna be good.
1~ Chance Meeting
**The 70th Annual Hunger Games**
BEFORE THE REAPINGS
FINNICK'S POV - on the way to the mentors meeting.
I casually walk down the hallway, heading for the meeting between this year's mentors. I've already been a mentor for four years, but I still have to go and get introduced to the new mentor. This should be interesting, I think, smiling to myself. Maybe there'll be someone there who actually likes me.
Sadness and longing for Annie crosses my features for a second, before I lapse into my usual cool demeanour. Every day is a struggle, but somehow, it's getting sort of easier to cope. It's like seeing her there in my head doesn't cause as much pain as the last year, only, it's still pain enough.
As I turn the corner, I notice a pretty girl who's just leaning against the wall as if she doesn't have a place to be - although I'm sure she does. No, I guess pretty's kind of an understatement. She's certainly got a nice body. Her wide-set, flat brown eyes flick towards me as I approach her, and then I notice she's taking greedy gulps from some carbonated drink. My smile widens.
"Hey," she says, already extending her hand. I keep my surprise in check. "I'm Johanna Mason, one of the mentors." I gaze at her incredulously, and she laughs. "Yeah, I know I'm supposed to be at that meeting, but it can wait while I finish this bloody awesome creaming soda." I immediately recognise the name - she's the victor of the 69th Hunger Games.
"I'm Finnick," I reply automatically, catching her hand and shaking it. I can see that she knows the name too, but for a different reason. I can't stop the question that escapes my lips, but I'm way too surprised to hold it in. "How old are you?" I suppose any other girl would blush and stammer, but not this chick. She looks at me levelly and then says, "I'm seventeen. You?"
"Nineteen." Whoa, I'm actually having a decent conversation with someone, I think to myself, and then I eye the drink in her hand. "Okay, well, I'm gonna go to the meeting. We're not all as uncaring as you, Johanna," I say, winking. She knows it's just a tease, and as I start to move away, she falls into step beside me.
"You mean we're gonna go to the meeting..."
JOHANNA'S POV - at the mentors meeting.
"So you've been a mentor for what, four years?" I say, brash at the stares around us as me and Finnick sit down. "Rad."
"Yeah, but it's been kinda dull," he mutters back, "since there's no-one here who I actually like, and vice versa." I surprise him by laughing.
"Hey. Finnick, if you think no-one likes you, that's nothing compared to what I'm gonna get." I lower my voice slightly as one of the Gamemakers starts the meeting. He tilts his head in confusion, and I suppress another laugh. "As you'll find out soon enough, I'm stubborn and always speak out when I don't like something." Finnick looks amused at this, but there's a dangerous note in my voice which makes him a little wary. Comfortable, but alert. Whatever. He needs to know he's sitting next to a girl with some fire in her. A backbone.
The talking Gamemaker shoots me a dark look, and I can already tell he dislikes me. Again, whatever. Seems like a dull guy anyway - he always follows orders.
"For the old, welcome back to another year of mentoring your respective district tributes." His eyes sweep around the room, and he even acknowledges Finnick next to me. "But now, I want to introduce you to a new addition to the team." Another direct, disapproving gaze. Ugh, what the hell does someone need to do to get his stamp of approval? Be a goody-good two shoes?
"Everyone, I'd like to call up Johanna Mason onto the stage." Nice sarcasm there. As I move to the front he continues, "Johanna was the victor of last year's Games, that is, the 69th." He moves away - finally - and, sensing my cue to speak, I face the group.
"Hey. Hopefully you all aren't as uptight as this guy over here," I begin, looking pointedly at the Gamemaker I was referring to. His frown deepens. However, I get a few chuckles, and I'm kinda pleased one's from Finnick.
"If you are, we've got a problem, but if not, that's all cool. Either you like me, or you don't. You choose." I walk back to my seat, and I'm appeased to see that the Gamemaker is just livid. Finnick has a weird but still sexy look on his face. Man, is he hot.
"That. Was. Brilliant," he says, and as I look at him I know we're gonna be awesome friends.
FINNICK'S POV - after the meeting.
After the meeting finishes, we go our separate ways; we both need to watch the Reapings - being aired live - in private so we can discuss tactics and other things with our partners in mentoring. In my case, that partner is Mags.
"Catch you later," she says, and then alI see is her retreating figure before I have time to really smile or say anything.
"Later," I murmur under my breath.
I'm so upbeat after meeting Johanna that for once I'm not thinking about Annie as I head to the District Four section of the building to see who Mags and I will be coaching this year.
"Hey," I say, reaching the living room and dropping onto the couch in front of the TV. Mags, who was looking out from the balcony, turns around and smiles thinly before joining me. I click the TV to life, and I'm relieved that they've only just started over at District One.
A girl with silvery blonde, wavy hair and hazel eyes is called, and no-one volunteers - I suspect the people in the Square were hoping she'd get Reaped. Then a boy with unnatural brawn comes up to join her.
"They definitely seem like a brutish pair," I say to Mags, who's squinting at the screen with a strange intensity. She nods, and the Reapings continue.
Two and Three go ahead, and then it's the one we're really watching. The Reaping of District Four. The Capitol escort who's up on the platform does this rather silly, flourishing movement before selecting a sealed piece of paper from the reaping ball. My hands start to quiver violently as I hear the name.
I bolt from the couch, and without even sparing a glance at Mags, I rush away.
I'm running through the hallways without a care in the world when I see Johanna talking to another mentor. I don't recall his name, but I really don't care as I barrel towards them.
"Finnick!" Johanna seems pleased to see me, but her expression turns to one of bewilderment as my legs crumple from beneath me and she realises I'm a wreck.
"What, what is it?" She looks at me, ready to take on whatever or whoever's plaguing me, but I know she can't fight it.
"Annie," I manage to choke out, and then I break down.
4~ Control or Death
JOHANNA'S POV - in the hallway.
Annie. Of course, that girl from Four who got Reaped. I reckon she's Finnick's girlfriend or something like that.
I don't move towards him, to catch him or hold him up. Hell, I don't move much at all, really. Instead, I let scorn layer my voice as I look at him.
"Get up," I say, a little harshly then I should but I don't really care. Finnick stares at me, his face a mixture of pain and bemusement, but I don't waver. "Listen to me. I can tell that she's your girl or whatever. But the way I see it, you've got two choices here." Finnick raises his chin a fraction, and I can tell he's still with me, that he's not retreating to some lame-as state of mind whree he'll completely lose his grip on everything.
"You can either stay in this hole and make it set in stone that Annie's as good as dead - and yourself to boot - or you can control yourself and go out fighting. Do everything in your power to bring her out on top and have her claimed victor."
Finnick stays immobile, and I start to walk away, knowing I've got to watch the District Seven Reaping.
"Later, Finnick." A sudden thought comes to me, and I turn around just enough to see Finnick's face. "Oh, and Finnick," I pause, leaning towards him, "give me a sign as to what you decide."
As I reach the District Seven area, I decide that if Finnick doesn't get through his feelings for Annie, I'll drop him as a friend. No point in sticking around with someone weak, even though he's so hot. I enter the huge living room and I grin at the teasing, almost disapproving expression on my partner's face. I notice that he's about the same age as Finnick, and pretty decent looking as well.
"You're just in time. They finished District Six just now," he says. "Oh and by the way, that was cool, what you said back there," he adds, and he extends his hand. "I'm Trevor." Nice hands, I think, as my hand meets his firm, calloused ones.
"You already know who I am," I say, giving him a devious smile which he returns. He makes space for me on the couch, and I noisily join him.
The Reaping for Seven starts, and I'm pleased to see that at least the male tribute's got a stocky frame. The girl's not skinny, per se, just not as built as I'd like, so I won't have to work weights with her for hours. This makes me feel good.
"They're not too bad a pair based on looks, huh?" I say to Trevor, and he nods in agreement. But he doesn't know that - assuming Finnick and I are still friends - I'll be working to make sure that Annie Cresta, and her alone, stays alive.
I smirk to myself as I reach for an apple in a fruit bowl on the low table I've been using as an footrest. No-one will even get close to finding out, I think to myself.
And if they do, I'll make sure there're dealt with, no matter what sort of hell I'll be sent to in the process.
FINNICK'S POV - at the Capitol train station with Mags.
Anger. Confusion. And a horrible voice of acceptance.
These are the thoughts colliding in my head as I wait anxiously for my Annie's train to pull up. I'm furious at Johanna, who's my friend and is supposed to be supporting me; sure, I know she's blunt about stuff and everything, but this time, she went too far.
But, as much as I want to hate her, I can't, and somehow I still want us to be as easygoing as we were before. That's the confused part of me. And in the midst of the anger and confusion is a voice that's echoing painfully in my head, telling me to listen to Johanna and not give in to my emotions.
My uneven pace quickens, and, as much as I attempt to keep Annie out of my head, she's there. This time, she's in the Arena, staring in agony at a twelve year old girl who has just slipped to the ground, her bones shattered. In front of her, a young man of about eighteen straightens up from his kill, a twisted grin on his face - he had practically crushed the girl's frame between his hands - and then his eyes were on my frozen Annie, who had already crumpled to the ground.
"You're a pretty one," he mutters, and as he stalks towards her a scream manages to rip its way out of her...
"Stop!" I don't realise until a moment later that I'd spoken - actually yelled - aloud. The reminder of Annie's mental fragility causes me to reel. Mags looks at me immediately, but the expression on her face isn't one of fear. She simply points behind me, and I turn.
It's the train.
You can either stay in this hole and make it set in stone that Annie's as good as dead - and yourself to boot - or you can control yourself and go out fighting. Fighting.
Johanna's words suddenly come into a strange but sharp focus, and as the high-speed train slows and then comes to a standstill in front of me, I make my choice.
"You'll get your sign, Johanna," I mutter almost inaudibly. "You'll get it."
Annie's beautiful face emerges from the train, and I run towards her, ready for the fight of our lives.
6~ The Stinger
JOHANNA'S POV - before dinner with her tributes.
"Hey, excuse me for a second, guys," I say breezily to the District Seven tributes and Trevor as I head towards the door. "Gotta go out and get some air." Trevor cracks a smile at me - he's clearly pleased to have some time alone in superiority - but I ignore it.
"God, I need a drink," I mutter, looking for a vending machine I saw nearby a couple of hours ago. Sure, I could've just pressed a button in my room and have something come to me in seconds, but I've worked my butt off my entire life; overdone luxury is something I'll never get used to, or appreciate either.
I get to the machine, and after looking at all the choices, choose to go for a lemonade. I open it carelessly and take a grateful swig from it. I should go out and get some air more often, I think, but as I begin to really skull my drink I hear a voice behind me.
"You don't like us." It's the girl tribute I have to mentor - I swear her name is Gabby but I'm not sure - and letting out a frustrated sound I turn.
"No, you've got it wrong," I say, keeping my tone calm. "See, it's not that I don't like you, only the thing is, patience and friendship are kind of things I've gotta work on." As I assess her, I make the assumption that she's no older than fourteen, and with that, I automatically think, I could take her, even if she were my size. Somehow I've said the wrong thing, and she steps towards me in a somewhat aggressive way.
"No, you've got it wrong," she tells me, and the slightly mad glint in her eyes conveys that she reckons she can fight me. I laugh.
"Alright, I will," she replies, her voice rising. "From the moment Kieran and I stepped off the train, I could tell you didn't care much for what it is you do. You hang about, making jokes every five minutes, while Trevor actually asks us about our skills and mentors us." She gives me what she supposes is a dangerous look. "So come on, show me what you can do."
She swings at me with a sloppy fist, and I catch it as easily as I can walk. I don't hesitate as I push her up against the wall and put her in a stranglehold. She tries to fight me, but her weakening attempts only make me stronger with anticipation at what I'm gonna do.
"First lesson. You don't mess with me. Got it?" I increase my grip on her neck, and she flails. "Second lesson. Here's how to throw a killer punch." I'm drawing my hand back as I say this, and I see the girl's eyes grow even bigger with the shock that I'm actually going to do it. And I'm only getting started with what I'm about to teach her.
Just as my fist snaps her head back, I find myself thrown backwards so hard I almost crash into the wall. Instinctively I brace my hand against it and flip myself around to face whoever stopped me from delivering the blow. To my intense surprise, it's Finnick.
"What the hell?" I shout, and even in my fury I notice Gabby sprinting away from me, tears starting to leak from her eyes. Weak. "I was mentoring her!" He shakes his head, but keeps his hard-as grip on my arm.
"That didn't look like mentoring," he says, and with a grunt I try to jerk out of his hold. He lets me go.
"I was going to help you with Annie, and this is the thanks I get? Oh yeah, nice going." My voice is so rough, even to me. I start to stalk away, but then I just have to throw something else at him. "And by the way, you're a stinger." I'm going faster now. "A bloody, freaking stinger."
I hear nothing as I round the corner.
FINNICK'S POV - after the confrontation with Johanna.
Never knew she was this bad.
The pain of seeing Johanna about to punch the lights out off the defenceless District Seven girl is almost as great as Annie being Reaped. I take measured steps back to the living room, trying to sort out my fractured thoughts.
Never knew she was this bad. I reach the room, a pounding in my head I can't control.
"Finnick!" Annie says immediately once she sees me, and I fold her into my arms. She gently presses her lips to my neck, and I shiver pleasantly, losing myself in the feel of her.
"What's wrong?" she asks, fear making her voice shoot up a notch. "Are you hurt? I heard," she pauses for a second, "shouting."
"Oh, it's nothing," I reply, squeezing her hand, but Annie knows me so well she doesn't look convinced. "Just went to check on something and had to break up a brawl between some people, that's all." Annie reads my expression, her face doubtful.
"Was it that Johanna girl, the mentor from Seven? I've heard people talking about her while walking through the halls," she says in a near whisper, and I stare at her.
"No, it wasn't," I say a little too quickly, and thankfully the waiters come in with dinner so we're not forced to talk about Johanna any more. The large, round table in the room connected to this one is loaded with assorted dishes: roasted lamb with baby herb potatoes, a big tureen of tuna pasta bake, scallops in a burnt butter sauce. My hunger takes over for a few minutes as we all - Annie, other tribute Hayden, the train escort Tyla, Mags and I - set ourselves around the table and begin to eat. I fill my plate with some pasta bake and scallops and turn to Mags for a conversation with some sanity. Luckily, Hayden's taking me off Annie's mind for the minute with his bad-but-funny jokes and likeable personality. Tyla's just eyeing us all with that skeptical look she always wears, but none of us care at this point.
"So, what did you teach Annie and Hayden while I was gone?" I make sure my voice is light and cheerful but not overdone. To my own ears, I get the balance just right, but I'm not fully certain of what Annie hears. "Did you impart any of your age-old wisdom?" Mags takes the part about her age good-naturedly, and she chuckles.
"Ah, not much, but I did assess them on their skills and start to think about some good strategies they could use in the Games."
"What've you come up with?" I'm actually really interested in hearing this.
"Well," she says, "for starters, I don't think they should go joining the Career pack. Sure, it'll make those brutes a little put off, but District Four isn't who they'll want to pick off first." I nod in assent at the logic in this proposal. "Now, since they're both fast, very fit, they should go to the Cornucopia and get stocked. I'm thinking fishhooks, nets, tridents, the like." She points to a finger on her left hand for each of these. "And if they can manage to snag a backpack, that'll be even better."
"Yeah, and then they should clear out and find some cover, assuming the Arena's not a flat plain."
"We can't leave anything to chance, Finnick," Mags says grimly, "but if the Arena is a flat plain, they'll have no choice but to fight." I nod again.
"So basically, here's the plan in short: Annie and Hayden go in and get some ideal weapons, kill anyone that gets in their way, and then, they get out of there." Mags smiles in approval that I've totally covered what she said.
"Right," I say, glancing at Hayden and then resting my gaze on Annie. She meets my eyes, and smiles beautifully. I mentally capture her face in my mind, allowing it to nestle there, while I tense in anticipation for the training ahead.
"Tomorrow, it begins," I say in a loud voice, and the whole table stops to acknowledge my statement, determination radiating from the group. As I look around at them all, I feel better than I have in a while, and Johanna and her acts of violence disappear from my head altogether.
District Four is coming.
8~ Dismantle, Repair
JOHANNA'S POV - outside the training centre
I stand with Gabby and the other tribute, Kieran outside the place where they'll get to hone their skills and learn some new ones. With relief - and maybe a touch of disappointment - I can see that Gabby has stopped giving me her wild glares. Whether it's because she doesn't want another confrontation with me 'cause she's scared or she actually accepted my gruff 'almost' apology I don't know, but really, I don't care. Either way, she's not as bad once you get to, or in my case, have to get to know her.
"You guys ready to terrify the crap out of the others?" I say, giving my tributes a cocky grin. They nod in assent; they know the strategy that I set up for them - make a show of thinking like a Career now, and get them to think twice about targeting you.
Finnick walks by as I say this, and he actually has the nerve to simply not acknowledge me. Hell, I should have been graced with a shifty, guilty look or something. But no. Right now, he's acting like I don't exist. But I can't accept that.
"You guys go in, I have to talk to someone," I already start to stride away. Kieran opens his mouth to say that it's too early, but I cut him off. "Look, I gotta go, so just get in there and train, okay?" Without anymore trouble - thank god - I continue moving, keeping up a light jog in order to reach Finnick, who's now alone. To my intense surprise, I'm starting off the conversation not all that rudely.
"Hey, I get where I went wrong, but that doesn't mean you can just prance around - in all your godly hotness - without even looking at me." Finnick stares at me, and I find myself grinning. "Come on, we're still friends, aren't we? And don't tell me that helping you get Annie over the line's wrong too, 'cause I'm sort of still mentoring my own tributes." Huh. My lips somehow decided to form the words asking for forgiveness - an action not quite processed by my brain just yet - instead of profanities and bitterness. So unlike me, I think.
"Uh, I don't know." You'd have to be a complete nutter not to see how confused that guy (the definition of hot) is. After a few seconds of contemplation, he offers me his hand. "Why not?" My eyes drink in the whole scene for a sec, and I let myself remember how our friendship started.
I grip his hand and smile. All this stuff that had dismantled from a stable reality was now turning into the best things I had in life. Maybe problems in life are worth making, just so we can see the repair. I let go of his hand, but embrace the moment.