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The Hunger Games fic: Trap, Crackle, Pop (5/?)
Finnick Odair - Mockingjay
metamorphagi
Story Title: Trap, Crackle, Pop
Chapter Title: Five
Fandom(s): The Hunger Games
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 4,707
Summary: They say not all of Finnick Odair came back from his Games five years ago. How fortunate that the Capitol loves him so much they ask him to mentor and entertain anyway.



Trap, Crackle, Pop

Chapter V

Half the day is gone when finally a robotic recording pitches through the speakers: Tributes, mentors, interviews will begin in ten minutes. On cue, all relevant parties meet up at the elevator, only the Capitol-bred of whom express any amount of comfort or excitement. For anyone else, it’s either one step closer to a slaughterhouse or, in the Avoxes’ cases, one more day of having much to say and very little in the way of saying it.

Marin, it happens, is fully clothed this time, clad in black slacks and a sky blue button-down shirt capped with sapphire cufflinks. Tastefully careless. Annie’s dress is of pure white, strapless and painstakingly embroidered with thousands of gemstones. An elaborate golden netting criss-crosses her torso, knotting in the back and left to drape behind her.

The surf this time, he supposes was their intention, although the elaborate necklace they gave her has shells on it that are native to the rocky shores of District 7, not Four’s sloping coasts. He debates whether to point this out or not, ultimately coming to the conclusion that anyone who cares is in this room. Anyone outside who will be paying attention to her looks probably also believes absolutely anything they’re told about places beyond their city. Her makeup is more pronounced than during the parade, dark greens and browns to offset the brightness of her dress; soft contours on her cheekbones draw attention to the delicacy of her features.

He remembers once telling a patron the legend of the selkie, and the patron had asked him at the end if he was one of them. Finnick had answered in the negative, but has since wondered whether his clients would pay more if they think him some mythical creature.

The elevator rushes them all down to the main floor where it is a similar crowd as the parade, tributes, mentors, and stylists all in various stages of disarray. There is a dull roar from outside, where Capitol citizens, Gamemakers, and television crews wait to hear what great feats the tributes have to impress upon them.

Once everyone is in order by district, they listen as Caesar announces them all in turn and find their assigned seats. Spurred by his own two-faced façade he has to control when he’s in the Capitol, since the 68th Games he’s made it a puzzle as to what strategies the tributes have before they give their spiel.

That first year had been his best, actually. From the moment Johanna had gone upstage with Caesar and whispered like a frightened doe, he knew. The Capitol couldn’t see it, Caesar couldn’t, but in those brown eyes Finnick saw a fire that belied any words coming out of her painted mouth. She may have not wanted to be in the Games, she may have been scared, but her interview had told him she wasn’t to be trifled with.

(His tribute long dead, he recalls giving a whoop when Johanna leapt down from a tree into what had been left of the Career pack, hacking and slashing with the weapons she’d amassed. Only the boy from Two had had enough wits about him to slice her, but even that wasn’t a shallow cut, and anyhow, he’d died a half-second later.)

Mags yanks him out of his recollection as she traces Calliope’s steps, she who leads the non-tribute troupe down to the front row of the elevated seating unit. He’d rather watch from backstage, where no one would look at him like he’s…well, for sale, but no, Snow wants to see his victors front and center.

The pair from District 1 pontificate impeccably, equally charming and disarming. Between that and the pristine raiments on them both, Finnick’s sure they won’t lack for sponsors. Or buyers, should it come to that.

District 2 follows suit, with Brutus’s boy eschewing the typical macho act for a slightly more soulful side. He can see in some of the other tributes that they find this ludicrous, but he disagrees. Based on the adoring sighs he can hear from the audience behind him, they are positively eating up his tortured act. They don’t fall for that, much, for outer district kids who they assume are more timid because of their underprivileged backgrounds. For Careers, who are expected to live in the lap of luxury, sadness is a valuable marketing tool.

Three’s kids are lukewarm at best. They don’t usually suffer from a lack of sponsors, either, though, because of the district’s reputation for brilliance. Ever since Beetee had won his Games by electrocuting a half-dozen tributes in one fell swoop, no one has underestimated them.

When Caesar announces Annie’s name, she gets her share of ooh’s and ahh’s, and Finnick can’t help but side with them on this one. Lit by a slew of bright lights above her, the gems on her dress appear as tiny, individual suns, faithfully emulating how the sun glints off a gently pitching surf at midday. Caesar instantly beseeches her to twirl, and she obliges, layers upon layers of fabric swirling out around her. She might be a selkie herself, dancing on a beach with her sealskin safely hidden away.

“Beautiful, beautiful,” Caesar marvels, once the crowd dies down a little. Annie sits in the chair beside him, primly crossing her legs at the ankle, back straight and hands clasped in her lap. “So, Annie—may I call you Annie?”

“You may call me whatever you like, Caesar,” Annie replies with a smile.

Caesar preens, placing his hand on her knee and leaving it there. Finnick jams his fists into his pockets so his anxiety doesn’t draw attention. She’s manipulating him and the audience, as they’d practiced. He’s just discovering that it’s one thing for her to flirt when they’re role-playing in the Training Center; it’s another to watch her doing it up there, knowing what’s going through the heads of everyone in attendance.

“Cheeky little thing,” Caesar titters. “Now, I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about your mentor a smidge.” He turns to the audience— “We all know Finnick Odair, don’t we, folks?”

The crowd explodes, multiple cameras homing in on Finnick’s face. He catches sight of it on the giant monitors and hardly recognizes the self-assured smirk that he’s plastered on himself. He sees himself wave good-naturedly to everyone, not-so-patiently waiting until they all quiet down. Do they not realize they’re wasting Annie’s interview?

“He’s very professional,” Annie says. Then, leaning closer as though to divulge a secret, “Very attentive. When he can be, that is.”

She glances at Finnick, and he furtively, frantically, shakes his head. She can’t possibly… “What do you mean, my dear?”

“Oh, I only mean I think he spends more time in front of the mirror than I do!” she laughs.

Finnick can’t relax, not when he can’t assure himself that she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, that she doesn’t regard him as vapid or addicted to flattery. Mags would tell him he’s being an idiot, but he can’t shake the feeling. And the prospect of Annie sharing the opinion of him that everyone in the districts does is nauseating. He doesn’t notice himself rising out of his chair until Mags firmly latches onto his arm.

“Annie’s doing fine,” she murmurs. “Breathe.”

“Well, that’s not so bad,” Caesar says. “Do you have any other delightful details about one of our favorite victors?”

Annie hesitates for a split second, and Finnick wagers she, too, is remembering their conversation yesterday. He’s not mad, like everyone says. Just tired. “Sorry, I’m fresh out,” she says, apology startlingly convincing. “If I win, though, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

Caesar seems to take the hint. “Yes,” he trills, “how about that training score of yours? A ten, quite impressive! What can we expect to see from you during these Games?”

“You can expect a girl who’s willing to do whatever it takes. I love this city and can’t wait to have more occasion to see it.”

Only Mags’s continued grip prevents Finnick from putting his hands over his ears to block out the rest of the interviews and the scenarios that pop into his head at Annie’s words; Mags’s lilting susurrations are the only things that stop him from screaming for all of Panem to hear.
The recording of the anthem is Mags’s indication to haul him up, and Finnick looks around, realizing that, again, he’s lost an hour of his life without any idea how it happened. She makes excuses for him to the various members of the crowd who want to talk to him, which is good, considering Finnick’s brain is still trying to recognize that his legs are moving, that people are asking him questions. He doesn’t know if his face is dazed or not, so he ducks it to cover his bases.

Mags taps his chin when they reach the bank of elevators, and they pick a car that’s empty. After the raucous nature of the crowd, the elevator’s silence is at once deafening and welcomed. They’ve only got four floors for him to recalibrate—fortunately, he’s had a lot of practice. The elevator opens in seconds, enough time for Finnick to feign normalcy.

The remaining District 4 crew has already arrived, and Finnick hopes he’s imagining their apprehension. He hadn’t thought he was explicitly obvious at his reaction to Annie’s interview, but then, he has trouble differentiating sometimes.

“Well?” Marin asks.

“You two were great,” Finnick replies with as much sincerity as he can manage. It’s hard, though, between that and ensuring his voice doesn’t wobble.

“Not too campy? I felt I was a little much.”

Finnick has no idea what Marin said, or what any tributes after Annie said for that matter, so Mags breezily takes up the slack. “Just the right amount. Subtlety isn’t usually the best method with interviews.”

“Is Caesar always that…touchy?” Annie inquires, unclasping her gaudy necklace and handing it to Lucinda.

In comparison to his own interview, Caesar had been positively chaste. Even so, the image of Caesar’s hand on her knee, only inches away from elsewhere… “Yeah, he is,” Finnick says, attempting to keep the darkness from slipping out.

“He was trying to be comforting,” huffs Calliope, at her tolerance point of listening to badmouthing of her fellow Capitolites.

I thought it was creepy.”

“Well, you remembered our presentation session at least,” Calliope accepts.

Lucinda interjects with a cheery, “And you looked fabulous. I admit, I was a little afraid the gemstones would be too blinding, but they were glorious.”

“Marin had a few admirers,” Annie mentions. To her partner, she ribs, “Did you see that woman in the third row? I was sure she was going to faint right there.”

Finnick studies Marin under a different lens than he had previously. He hadn’t even considered Marin would be the subject of objectification, not with Annie as his companion. Unhappily, he can see where he might. Okay, he’s lanky, but so was Finnick when he won, so are most teenage boys. Marin’s got the perpetual tan that Four epitomizes; he’s tall, only an inch or so shorter than Finnick; he’s got an easy sort of earnestness to him; and, he’s from a Career district, which automatically renders him more desirable.

It’s obvious to Finnick now: if Annie doesn’t win and Marin does, he will be thrown to the wolves without so much as a second glance.

It’s too much to endure, knowing that no matter which one of them were to win, the Capitol would instantly dig their claws into them. Is it worse to want them to die, given what would happen, or worse to see the betrayal on their faces when he’ll have to tell them that the Games never end? That winning is simply the tip of the iceberg?

He remembers Gloss confiding in him that Cashmere had pleaded with the Capitol elite not to go after Finnick, that she’d done things with them she’d promised herself she wouldn’t, and they’d gone after him anyway. It’s hard to reconcile Gloss’s tale when Cashmere always seems to have a scathing retort handy, but he’s since determined that it’s just her mask. Indifferent, cold. If she can make people hate her, then she may not have to watch them self-destruct.

“Shut up,” Marin says, flushing. “Who’d look twice at me when they saw you? And you have Finnick.”

“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” Finnick jokes, aiming for a casual smile. Because of course, he’s the epicenter, always. “Let’s eat. I hear they have crêpes.”

“What?” Annie and Marin ask in unison.

Finnick chuckles, still too rattled to bother explaining to them what they are. “Come on.”

Despite their grumbling, both tributes take to the dessert like fish to water. Annie slathers hers in strawberry purée, cream, and various slices of fruit. They don’t have these readily available anywhere in the outer districts, including Four, unless you know where to look and have the awareness to not bring Peacekeepers down upon the black market. The dessert is not especially complicated to make, but necessitates certain ingredients that aren’t cheap.

Calliope firmly suggests that they don’t gorge themselves only on confections, manhandling them into consumption of thick slabs of beef, a plate of vegetables, and a pitcher of water each. Finnick will give her this: she’s committed. In her own way, she cares about them. Maybe not for the right reasons, but nevertheless she wants them to live.

Suddenly feeling woefully inadequate, that he didn’t teach Annie enough, didn’t prepare her enough, didn’t didn’t didn’t, he feels panic start to rise. They’ve got little more than twelve hours before she’s thrust into the crucible with her wits and not a lot else. And all he’ll be free to do is watch her from a screen a thousand miles away.

“Finnick?” she inquires, a cube of steak speared on her fork.

“Just thinking.” It’s not technically a lie. “Most important thing now is for you guys to get some rest. You’re no use if you’re…worn out.”

He’d almost said, If you’re dead on your feet, which would be approximately the worst phrasing in the world. Annie sets down her fork and nods. “If I can,” she says, and he doesn’t know if she’d meant to say it aloud.

The mood only goes downhill from there as each dinner guest realizes in sequence that this is the last night they’ll all have together, that one or both tributes will never sit anywhere again. In the past, after dinner is when they would watch a replay of the interviews to spot weaknesses or strengths in the other tributes that perhaps they’d missed, but Finnick doesn’t have the heart to call them back.

He takes to the sitting room and flicks on the TV with the volume on low. Resolved to memorize anything and everything that could be of use to him in Control Center, he pops in the tape of the parade, assessing the tributes and, less enthusiastically, hanging on the commentators’ every word.

They don’t have a lot on which to remark that Finnick couldn’t already figure out, and he hastily fast-forwards through Four’s and half of Five’s entrance, not wanting to hear them prattle on about him. An extra run-through of the parade yields no new information, so he changes out the tape to that of the interviews.

He can see how Marin would have thought he’d laid on the smarminess a bit too thick, but based on the audience’s reactions, it was flawless. The tributes from Six don’t seem to know what to say, although the male is bulky, giving him an inherent advantage. Finnick wouldn’t be surprised if the Careers saved him for later, on the chance that they’d get injured in the Cornucopia. Not the best strategy for sponsors, letting yourself be dinged by an outlier district.

Johanna’s influence is plain in her girl, except that the girl fails spectacularly. She makes a valiant effort, but doesn’t have the demeanor to pull off arrogant and outspoken. He has a sinking feeling she won’t even last long enough to pick up a weapon. The girl from Ten is small, underfed and probably knocked around more than once, and her answers are all mumbles. She’s a goner, too. Finnick skips Twelve entirely, since they haven’t pulled a victor in twenty years and aren’t likely to start now.

Altogether, it ends up being more or less a waste of his time. There’s nothing there that will help him in this, the eleventh hour. Two teenagers that he’s gotten to know, that he’s come to care for (rookie mistake, that), who should be concerned about acne or what name they’ll christen their first boat. They shouldn’t have to be concerned about being tossed into a frying pan. Dance, jump, hop, skip, if you can, and if you can’t, too bad. Cannon.
Reis audibly gasps when he beelines toward the coffee station the next morning and spots Finnick sitting at the kitchen table, hands cupped around a mug of the black drink that’s long gone cold. Reis’s utterance focuses him a little, and he looks down into his mug with disgust. None of the Avoxes, it seems, had been kind enough to stop him from acting in a loop. His drink is less coffee than it is sugared cream, and he realizes he must have continuously poured in additives without paying any attention. At least Outsider-Finnick had the good sense to not drink it.

“You appall me,” Reis comments, pushing Finnick’s mug away, sloshing liquid over the table. He drags Finnick upright, tilting his head this way and that. “Will you never listen to me when I say you need to improve your sleep hygiene? Starting with, you need to sleep. Just look at those circles under your eyes, goodness.”

Finnick opens his mouth to correct him, but Reis is already there.

Yes, yes, I know, no mirrors.” Finnick would be amused at his short temper if the circumstances surrounding them weren’t so dismal. “It’s an expression.”

Finnick snatches Reis’s freshly-brewed coffee out of his hands, amends it to his liking—one dollop of cream, no sugar—and takes a long drag of it. He offers it back to his stylist, who turns his nose up in disgust. He orders an Avox to get him a new cup, then retreats briefly to his room, returning a moment later with a large makeup bag in hand.

He lets Reis go to work—he’s in no mood for an argument of such little consequence—standing there obediently as brushes and powders and who knows what else gets painted onto his face. In the five years Reis has been assigned to him, they’ve got a certain rapport; not friends exactly, Finnick can’t imagine that could be possible with anyone from the Capitol, but colleagues.

Reis is one of the few people in the city who doesn’t blush at the mere sight of him, who in fact has been more acerbic than complimentary. He also manages most of Finnick’s appointments and, while he doesn’t commiserate, he also doesn’t laud it all either. Finnick doesn’t know if one of the other victors talked to him about it, if Reis happens to have an above-par moral compass, or if he has just learned over time to avoid the topic. Regardless, it’s nice to have a stylist who doesn’t chat his ear off or prattle on about this event or that socialite.

Reis squeezes a glob of blue gel into his hands and artfully musses up his hair. Finnick doesn’t have a way to double-check, but he’s certain the purple shadows of exhaustion have been erased, any errant lines ironed out, colorless balm smoothing his lips where he’d worried them with his teeth. Beauty Base Zero. Offhand, he pens an internal note to ask Reis if they’ve named a makeup line after him yet or not.

“Thanks,” he says, because Reis does have a job to do and Finnick’s never made it any easier.

More profoundly, he deals exclusively in secrets and he’s not heard one about his stylist, hasn’t heard any unusual ones about himself. Aside from Mags, Reis is probably the person who’s seen him at his very worst. And every time, he’d simply adopted consternation, patched Finnick up as necessary, and allowed the world to see him as they wanted him to be, not as he was.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Reis replies. He doesn’t touch him, doesn’t ask questions. Never has, more than necessary. Those stipulations, he can assume with confidence, were an outside victor’s amendments. Who, though, he hasn’t sussed out.

The two men reach a comfortable quiet, sipping sparingly from their respective coffees. An Avox brings them plates loaded with breakfast, and while Reis digs in zealously, all Finnick can stomach is a few bites of toast. He feels marginally bad about it, since any food, uneaten or otherwise, is summarily thrown in the garbage. Days of hard labor from multiple districts go into every meal, and Finnick estimates eighty or so percent of it is trashed.

He’d found out two years ago, his first Games mentoring, and had proceeded to eat as much as humanly possible, as if his lone effort could reverse the trend. After a few rounds of him throwing up the rich food and the Avoxes having to clean him up, one of them had squeezed his forearm, her words unspoken but clear: Stop. It’s not going to make a difference.

(On the subject of Avoxes themselves, Finnick had never realized how much power being made silent could hold. He’s trafficked and sold and wants to die most of the time, but in the right hands, at the right moment, the secrets he carries could help to bring down the mighty Capitol itself. Who knows how many whispers the Avoxes have accrued? If he could talk to them in that special, prohibited, gesture-language of theirs, if he could walk two steps without being on camera, he knows they could do some real damage together. He’d scoffed to himself then, and he scoffs now. Like that could ever happen.)

Slowly, the room begins to glow orange, and Finnick glances out the window, squinting as the sun rises. His insides knotting unpleasantly, he finishes his cup of coffee and gets up from the table, stretching.

“Guess I’d better get Annie,” he says, trying for nonchalant. “Get Marin, would you?”

Reis agrees, and they head in different directions. Steeling himself, Finnick knocks on Annie’s door. He hears a soft response from within, and takes it as invitation. She’s still in bed, but definitely awake. Her legs are drawn up to her chest and she gazes out her window, sullen and terrified. He gives himself permission to sit on the bed beside her, mirroring her posture. The way the sun glitters off the buildings unassumingly is sheer cruelty.

“The hovercraft will be leaving soon,” he says, hating that he has to wreck what little peace she has. “They’ll have breakfast on board, which you’ll need to eat. Lucinda will go with you, make sure everything’s in place.”

She’s non-responsive, except for her blunted nails that press into her legs. If nothing else, she’s prepared for horror, which is more than he’d had. He’d gone in a stupid, reckless kid who thought he was on top of the world. He’d discovered quickly that hubris would do him no good in there, a lesson learned the hard way. Hopefully, Annie won’t be so nearsighted.

“Do you have your district token?”

Once he says it, he is legitimately curious. He hasn’t seen her with any sort of memento thus far. It’s not a requirement, but Finnick had certainly treasured the simple hemp bracelet of his mother’s that he’d worn into the Games. It’d had no practical purpose but, starving and cold and threatening to burst apart at the seams with sobs, it might very well have saved his sanity. What left he has of that.

Gloss had suggested he wear it during his appointments, to remind him of home, which is the very reason Finnick had rebuffed it. He doesn’t want home anywhere near the Capitol. It never leaves his person, though, out of sight during the Games when his grip on what’s real and what’s not is at its weakest.

Annie looks at him, green eyes accented amber in the growing sunlight. “No, I don’t have one. Guess I didn’t really think this volunteer thing through, did I?”

“You gave Stefania her life,” he suggests. “Whatever happens, it means a lot, Annie.”

A defeated shrug is the only acknowledgement he receives. Unable to accept the concept of her going in with nothing, he promptly withdraws the bracelet from his pocket and loops it around her wrist. He secures the strands with an eternity knot, deciding it already looks much nicer on her than it did on him.

“There.”

She fingers the worn twine beaded with iridescent shells and multi-colored sea glass, edges pounded smooth by years of powerful surf. It has plenty of flaws, his mother having made it when she was just a girl, but care behind every thread.

“If you lose that, mind, my mother will have my head.” He means, Come back and be careful.

“We wouldn’t want that,” Annie says. The corners of her lips twitch. “Thank you, Finnick.”

Five sharp raps on the door ruin the moment. It’s Calliope, impressing upon them that they’re already running late. Finnick turns his back as Annie discards her pajamas, throwing on a shift and the flats from her interview. It’s so mismatched that, on any other day, the greenest of stylists would yelp in secondhand mortification. It matters not, considering she’ll be dressed in arena-appropriate gear before long.

Annie bites her lip, debating about something, and then wraps her arms around Finnick’s middle. He flinches, reflexively recoiling at the unexpected contact. When logic catches up with his nerves—this isn’t a client, this is Annie, god get a grip—he slackens, folding her small frame into him as tightly as he dares. Her hands bunch in his shirt for an instant and she sucks in a shuddering breath. The embrace is over as soon as it’d begun.

“You’ll be there?” she asks, sounding years younger than she is. Her pretense of confidence and aloofness is conspicuously absent.

“Every minute.”

She nods once, then walks to the door. Finnick trails reluctantly, and they emerge to the sight of Calliope’s impatient, tapping foot. Marin is next to her, demeanor roughly identical to Annie’s. Finnick suspects he didn’t get much rest either, tucked in around himself as he is and scrutinizing the opposite wall on the off-chance it’ll give him an out.

More than anything, Finnick wishes he could do exactly that, whisk the three of them far, far away from the Capitol and its Games. He has the asinine notion that maybe he could finagle it, that they could all commandeer a boat and supplies and sail out to sea. Free they’d be—and their families killed. No, they must suffer, if only to save their relatives from a gruesome end.

On his darkest days, he comes to envy Johanna and Haymitch, who have no loved ones to protect. Johanna has welcomed causticity, Haymitch white liquor, but they also don’t have to worry about getting anyone executed.

Finnick situates himself between Calliope and Reis, watching as District 4’s tributes go to the elevator, led by Lucinda and Quentus, Marin’s stylist. Leastwise, the pair has the good grace not to flaunt their excitement. Decorum, ostensibly, isn’t entirely dead.

His gaze is wrenched sideways when an Avox taps him on the shoulder and confers upon him a white envelope. He blanches, numbly relieving the servant of her burden and glowering at his name in swirling script on the front of it. When he looks back at the elevators, Annie and Marin are gone and all he’s left with is an invitation to a wholly different arena.

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