Chapter 11: The Search
Mr. Cresta follows behind them, but even in the dark of night, Finnick can see that Annie's father is both physically and emotionally exhausted now.
"Mr. Cresta, why don't you go back to the house and Turlach and I will continue looking. We'll find her," says Finnick. A memory from earlier today pops into Finnick's mind, when he told Annie the same thing, to go home. He tells himself those will not be the last words he says to Annie.
"No, I can't rest. She's my daughter. I'm sorry if I brought trouble by letting them peacekeepers know, but-," says Mr. Cresta.
"I know, sir. But we need someone to be at the house if she comes back," explains Turlach. The realization that Turlach may be right hits Mr. Cresta and after several anxious moments to think about it, he finally nods in assent.
"Okay," says Mr. Cresta with a sigh. He walks toward the house, his head down in resignation, his feet shuffling slower than normal from all the walking he had down in and around town. Finnick looks at the bedraggled man, and knows that Mr. Cresta will always feel somewhat useless in situations such as this. He wonders how Annie's father dealt with her time in the Games, if he had been watching with hopeful eyes, or if he had been waiting sorrowfully for when and how his daughter would die. Finnick can't imagine what it would feel like to see someone he loves go into the arena. He never felt that close to anyone that was reaped. He feared for his brother in early years, but he's thankful that he never had to experience it on the other side himself. To watch helplessly as someone you love kills or gets killed. To see them change or lose a part of themselves, to never be able to return to what their life was like before all that. Finnick's heart beats uncomfortably in his chest as a feeling of loneliness sweeps through him. It takes Turlach's tap on his arm to bring him back to what needs to be done now.
"Where to now?" asks Turlach. He knows he has to keep Finnick focused.
"Oh, um," says Finnick, trying to think of other places that Annie could have gone. Certainly, she would not have gone into town without any of them, so he immediately takes that out as a possibility. Then he retraces his footsteps from earlier today, before Mags' stroke, when it was just him and Annie. The beach was the first place they went to.
Finnick is already moving in the direction of the beach area behind Annie's house before he even says the words. But as soon as they get there he has a feeling that she's not there.
The beach looks completely different than earlier, when the sun was out and welcoming. Now it feels ominous and uninviting, even with the brightness of the moon out. All he can hear is the soft sound of the low tide in the distance, but even that doesn't sound the same. The waves sound muted, as if the waves don't have the energy to crash into the shoreline anymore. He calls out Annie's name again, but neither he nor Turlach can hear any response. Finnick is almost sure she would at least say something back or move or do something to show him where she is. Right now, he's desperate enough to want to hear her scream just so he can know she's around.
He turns his head back to where her house is and looks up at the empty balcony. Where are you?
He's now at a loss. They checked their homes and now the beach. Finnick can't think anymore, his mind is frantic with various images flashing incoherently through his mind, but they're all of Annie. Images of her face, her smile, her eyes, her hair, and none of it is helping him find her right now. He knows closing his eyes won't make them go away, so he tries to focus on the uneven shapes of the sand being lit by the moon.
"Annie," he whispers to himself. "Where are you?"
Turlach slows his stride as he meanders across the beach, moving steadily closer to the shore. Finnick's mind is back to earlier that day, sitting on the towel with Annie, looking out at the water. His fingers slowly draw circles in the cool sand. The evening is getting late and it's unusually cold now. And Annie is out there somewhere, shivering maybe, her skin forming goose bumps at the slightest breeze. It was cool earlier today, too, he remembers.
"Where are you?" he whispers again.
"What are you doing, Finnick?" asks Turlach. Turlach crouches down in front of Finnick while Finnick tries to remember when exactly he fell on his knees in the sand. Finnick looks at his brother, and for a brief moment, realizes that Turlach is not only there to help him find Annie, but also there to help him not lose control. Turlach may not even know, but that's what he's doing. "Okay, we've checked almost everywhere aside from town. Do you think she'd go there by herself?"
Finnick shakes his head. "No, I don't think so," he replies. Finnick knows that Annie wouldn't go to town by herself. Annie has no reason to, no one to visit in town and if she were to go, it would only be with other people, such as her dad, maybe even Mags or himself if either of them asked her to. But because of Annie's inability to control the onset of a daymare, she usually stays in the village. The last thing Annie needs is more eyes on her during one of her breakdowns.
Finnick wonders how Annie can manage it. It doesn't happen often, but her reaction when it does, well, it can scare anyone into having their own nightmare. He knows because it's happened to him. Every time he's around when it happens he knows he'll be dreaming something terrible that night. Luckily, it's not as bad as when he comes back from one of his trips to the Capitol, in which he has accustomed himself to going on the boat each day until he… finds himself. And that's when it hits him.
"I think I know where she is," he says as he quickly gets back on his feet, not bothering to shake the sand off. Turlach follows without a word.
It doesn't take long to get to the dock, but once there, they have to be careful not to make it known they're there. There are no peacekeepers out now. They had already scoured the waters at sundown. But he doesn't want to take any chances that there might be a boat riding about with a peacekeeper searching for anyone trying to go out a night, or go fishing – an illegal activity punishable by death.
Finnick tells Turlach to stay low on the deck to keep watch as he silently and swiftly jumps on the deck of the boat. Finnick's boat is in any way luxurious by Capitol standards, but it is definitely nicer than the other fishing boats in town, which makes it easily detectable when he goes out on it. He quickly scans the deck of the boat before heading into the cabin below. Finnick doesn't dare try to create any sort of lighting, which makes it all the more difficult since the cabin is enclosed and blocked from half of the moon's light.
"Annie?" he whispers. Please be here. Please.
That's when he sees it – two eyes reflecting just a hint of moonlight. Her face must've just turned to look at him. She's sitting on the floor, in a position similar to the one she took on the beach, with her legs folded up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her knees.
For the first time since they left the beach that day, Finnick is finally able to give a sigh of complete relief. And he slowly brings himself to crouch down in front of her. He can see more of her face now that his eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness. He smiles at her, but she can't bring herself to smile back at the moment.
"Finnick," her voice cracks, even though his name is softly spoken. "I'm sorry."
He can see that she has the look of guilt and sorrow on her face, but doesn't understand why. He doesn't even care at this point what it is, because it doesn't matter to him. What matters is that she's okay. For Finnick, even thinking about the alternative wasn't something he wanted to explore, so he tries to shake off her apology.
"Annie, don't be sorry. I'm just glad you're okay," says Finnick, gently stroking her arms that are still wrapped tightly around her knees. Her skin is cool to the touch and she shivers just slightly under his fingers. "But you can't stay here. We have to go home. If someone catches us here, we could get into trouble. You understand?"
Annie's eyes shift downwards, and it takes a few seconds before she says anything.
"I was scared to go home," says Annie. Finnick moves a strand of her hair away from her face, and she flinches a little. "I was scared of what I might see if… what if it's not just her… what if…"
A moment of clarity hits and panic flashes in her green eyes as they shoot up at him. "Mags! Dad! Are they okay?" says Annie out loud, much louder than Finnick would like. Annie is frantic as she starts getting up from the floor, but Finnick stops her before she runs out, trying to calm her before she takes another step.
"They're okay. Mags is okay. Your dad is fine. He's just worried. He went looking all over town for you, but he's okay. We told him to wait at the house in case you were to get home before we could find you," says Finnick, holding her by the arms.
Annie's looking around, nodding and muttering in a whisper, so he squeezes her arms to rein her mind back in. He bends down a bit so his face is level with Annie's face, and slowly releases the grip of his right hand to pull gently pull at her chin and face him. Her chilled soft skin warms at his touch. "Annie, they're okay. Can you hear me?" says Finnick. Annie blinks a couple of times before the confusion in her eyes clears and she's looking straight at Finnick.
"They're okay?" asks Annie. Finnick nods slowly, smiling. She breathes a sigh of relief. "Mags is okay. I thought maybe they were out to get us…" she pauses, as if thinking of who exactly 'they' are, but she just sighs sullenly. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
Finnick's action is immediate as he pulls Annie in for a hug, enveloping her in his embrace. A moment later, he feels her arms around his waist. Her body is definitely too cold, and it sends a chill down his back and goose bumps on his arms, but he doesn't loosen his hold on her. Finnick wants to hold her tighter, but Annie's body also feels so frail and small next to his own, he's almost afraid he'll break her. Still, his hold is strong enough to keep her still, and hopefully give her some warmth. He slowly places one of his hands on the back of her head, and gently strokes her hair; his fingers again feel the wonderful softness of her tresses. He can't recall ever noticing any other girl's hair before, not like this.
Finnick tries to gather in the thoughts of what this girl means to him, but he can't seem to form the words for it. All he knows at this moment is that she's the only one that, when he touches her, gives him a sensation that can only be described as a peaceful glow running through him from the tips of his fingers and spreading out to the rest of his body. To him, it's as if the sensitivity in his fingers become so intensely heightened that he can't remember the feeling of anything else so wonderful. She's the only one that makes his heart jump and ache at the same time. Yet, it's so comforting to him that, in each instance, he wonders if he can ever let Annie go without feeling some kind of emptiness.
Annie's mind is clear now. She knows beyond any doubt that, no matter what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future, Finnick will always try to be there for her. He will always try to find her. He will always try to protect her. And even though she knows it's not possible for him to always achieve this, he will no doubt try until he can no longer. With this realization, Annie allows herself to trust him will all that she has, as long as she can bear it. The warmth of his body, and the strength and tenderness of his grasp around her only assures her of what she has come to know. She doesn't pull back, either. Instead, she holds onto him tighter, resting her head firmly against his chest, feeling his heart beat and his body emanating heat to her, not wanting to let go.
Turlach's barely audible call from just outside the boat grabs Finnick's attention, and they are finally able to release themselves from each others' arms. They leave the dock with Turlach undetected, and once they get back to the village green, Turlach leaves Finnick to walk Annie back to her home.
"Turlach," says Annie before he gets too far. Turlach stops short, somewhat surprised at Annie's call. He turns around to meet her gaze. "Thank you."
It takes a second for the surprise to set in and acknowledgement to be the proper return. "You're welcome, Annie. I'm just glad you're safe." He smiles at her before he turns back around, still surprised, but content with her appreciation.
Finnick and Annie continue on, hands clasped together, trying to keep the connection between them going for as long as possible. They finally release each other, but Finnick still places his hand lightly on her back as they enter Annie's home. Only when her father greets Annie with his own hug are they completely separated from each other's touch.
She does not hesitate to reciprocate her father's embrace.
"Oh, Annie-," is all her father can say.
"You're okay, dad," says Annie reassuringly. Annie's dad can't help but laugh at her comment.
"I'm okay? You're the one who needs to be okay," he says to Annie. He pulls back to look at her face, to see her eyes, and touch her cheek. "I wouldn't know what to do without you, my dear. Please Annie – please try not to run off again."
Annie nods her head, her mind still clear. "I'll try, daddy. I'm sorry."
All three of them sit around the kitchen table, drinking tea that Annie's father had brewed while waiting for Annie, which was about as much as he was able to do in his worried state. He offers them food, but neither seems up to eating. Only the sound of sipping can be heard as the minutes pass.
Finnick glances at Annie every so often, looking for signs of her muddled, confused self to come back, but it doesn't.
After several more minutes, Finnick finally feels the events of the day overwhelm him physically and he has a hard time pretending not to look so tired, but Annie sees it before his eyes flicker away from her stare.
"You need sleep," says Annie. Both her father and Finnick look at her.
"Annie, you need sleep, too," says Finnick calmly. Annie's face is suddenly fraught with dread as she realizes what it means to sleep. Knowing that she could face something terrible in the realm of unconsciousness, she looks with wide eyes to Finnick. Her eyes are not muddled or confused, but they are set with fear. She shakes her head soberly.
"No. No, I don't want to. What if…" says Annie, clearly starting to panic again. Finnick doesn't know what to say. He knows she fears the nightmares that will probably invade her mind, especially after all that's happened today. He's just not sure what he can do about it.
Before, in the days immediately following his victory from the Hunger Games, bad dreams came nightly. He still had his parents around, as well as his brother. One of them would end up having to stay with him in his room, even Turlach. It felt a little unusual at first, being that they were already both in their teens, but nothing about Finnick's situation was normal anyway. And they wanted to help him through it, because he needed it, and they wanted him to need them.
But this is different. Finnick can't possibly ask to stay with Annie and pretend that it's no big deal to Annie's father. And even he's unsure of Mr. Cresta's ability to help calm her tonight if the nightmares are unbearable. Finnick is about to try to reassure Annie, even though he doesn't know what to say, when her father speaks out.
"Annie, let me," says her dad. This takes both Finnick and Annie aback. She looks at her father. Her father's eyes pierce through her with determination. He continues while he carefully puts his hand over her hand on the table. "Let me be your dad, Annie. Let me look after you, even if it's just for tonight. Please? I'll sleep on the sofa in your room if you want. Or I'll keep my door open and I'll come wake you if necessary. I know I haven't handled it well before, and that you haven't been able to trust me because of it, and I'm so sorry about that. But I want to try to earn your trust back. Can I? Will you let me?"
Annie cannot refuse. She reaches over to hug him, giving him the reassurance that tells him she will accept. "Okay, dad." She takes a deep breath and smiles as she feels her dad's arm squeeze her closer. There is still a hint of fear on her face, but she tries not to let it overwhelm her now.
With that settled Finnick excuses himself for the night. He's at the door, but Annie stops him to give him one final embrace. His fingers glide through her hair once again and he feels that peaceful glow again. This is his way now, a way of comforting and being comforted, in knowing she's really there. She's really okay.
Before he can stop himself, he slowly rolls his head just so and gently presses his lips against the top of her head, breathing in the subtle sweet scent of her hair and skin. It's such a quiet gesture that he's not even sure if she knows what he did. Although he didn't mean anything sensual or passionate by it, Finnick knows that somehow, the relationship between them has changed. Into what, he has yet to fully understand.
As exhausted as he is, Finnick knows he won't be able to sleep well tonight, so he makes it a point to get on his boat as soon as possible in the morning. He wants her to be able to see him out there as soon as she's up, to know he'll be there for her, a constant reminder of comfort, to let her know he will wait patiently for her to find herself.
As Finnick closes his eyes to try to sleep, he pushes back the realization that he will not be able to be there for her all the time.