Chapter 14: Apologies
Finnick didn't count the days. He didn't want to this time. It would only make the days feel slower than they were and it would make him think about her. It's not that he didn't want to think about her, but doing so meant that he was pulling down the invisible barrier that kept his true persona away from that place. Away from the Capitol.
As he steps off the train, he can immediately feel and smell the ocean breeze. He missed it, the tranquility of being out on his boat, the peacefulness calming his mind and resting his body. There is something to be said about being separated from the unnatural sounds that are a constant in the house and the town. But Finnick's trips to the Capitol have given him an even greater appreciation for the stillness of the sea that surrounds his home. That is part of the reason it is the first place he longs to go immediately after his returns to District 4.
Only now, things seem oddly different than previous returns after the Games. He's not exactly sure what to make of it. He knows he's glad to be back, but he feels a separation that he hasn't felt before. And stepping off the train hasn't quelled that feeling. He hoped it would.
For the past few years now since meeting Annie, he has had this unsettling feeling in his gut. It has been made worse by his unscheduled visits to the Capitol, but at least those were only for one night. This trip to the Capitol was during the Games, and it kept him away for weeks.
How long will it take this time? He wonders. He does want to see Annie, but he's unsure of himself. It always takes time, several days, for him to return to his usual self after playing his part during the Games. This time is no different. In fact, it will probably be worse. He had 6 assignments. It was brutal for Snow to subject Finnick to having to be with those women, those strangers. He loathes Snow more each time for doing that to him. For manipulating him for his own purpose. To Snow, Finnick was just another object used to keep power over all of Panem, and Snow had many of them. He may as well have been an avox under Snow's direction, only moving when called for.
Now he is back home and he should feel relief about it. Finnick takes a deep breath and grabs his luggage to make the trek back to the Victor's Village.
He tries to think of what he'll do when he gets back there. When he sees them. His brother. Mags. Annie. Especially Annie.
The first thing he wants to do is take another shower. He took one before he left the Capitol, but somehow it didn't seem to help get rid of the unclean feeling he has had ever since he left there. He knows that a shower probably won't help that feeling go away anytime soon, but it's a start.
It's early evening, but the sun won't be going down for a few more hours. Once he gets to the village, he doesn't see anything out of the ordinary, but for some reason, he senses that something seems off. He shakes off the feeling and is about to pass by Annie's house as he goes to his own. He wants to see her, look into her eyes and find the warmth in them. He wants to see the smile that makes his heart beat just a bit faster. He wants to wrap his arms around her and feel her dark silken hair run through his fingers and be comforted in her embrace, like he was on the day he left. He wants, he wants, he wants.
A lump in his throat gives him reason to pause at the idea of doing that now. He decides that even though he would love nothing more than to drop his bags and go in her house to do what he wants to do, he needs to go home first. He needs to settle himself. Clear his mind. There's still so much of the memories of his time at the Capitol in there that he needs to refocus on who he is first. He needs to find himself.
As he glances at Annie's house, he notices the curtain draws open just slightly, and before he can react, before he can pass completely, the door of Annie's house opens.
"Turlach? What are you doing there?" Turlach's face looks solemn and weary. He steps out and closes the door behind him, and approaches Finnick with all seriousness.
"What's going on?" asks Finnick, not sure how to take in this scene of Turlach at Annie's house. Turlach has never been inside there before. It's not that he isn't a friend, but there was never a reason for him to go there. It shouldn't be a surprise to Finnick, though, considering he did ask his brother to watch over her and Mags while he was away.
Did Annie run off again? Is she sick? Or worse yet, is she… he can't even form the word in his mind. He wouldn't know how to react to that if Annie was gone from his life. He doesn't even have the wherewithal to process what exactly that means to him, or what she means to him. What he does know is that something is wrong and he can't seem to move a muscle.
"Let me just tell you first of all that Annie is okay," Turlach shifts his eyes, as if he's not sure that was the right thing to say, but he continues. Finnick takes a breath; there's something else that Turlach needs to tell him.
"Okay, so what's wrong?"
"Mags is in there with her. We were waiting for you to come back as soon as it happened. Hoping for it, to be honest. We're not sure… what… well, if you can reach her… I mean-"
Reach her? What does that mean, thinks Finnick.
"Why? What happened?" asks Finnick, his right hand clenching his luggage bag even tighter.
Turlach pauses, then he looks straight at Finnick. "Finnick, Annie's father is dead."
Finnick's legs moves first before his mind even fully comprehends what Turlach just said.
He runs into the house, and is met with Mags standing just inside the doorway, shushing him and pointing to the sofa in the living room. Annie is asleep. He swiftly and silently makes his way to the sofa and kneels down next to her. She's laying on her side with her face to him. Annie's hair is wild again, tangled and dirty and covering her eyes. He carefully moves it away from her face, placing it behind her head. A dark bruise covers her left cheek and a cut mars her bottom lip. His heart pounds in his chest as a heat rises in him and reaches the backs of his eyes, blurring his vision.
"We had to give her some sleep syrup," says Turlach quietly.
Finnick's eyes are concentrated on her face, which carries a frown, with a wrinkle in the area just between her eyes. Even with medication, she's struggling in her dreams. He puts his hand on the side of her face, softly caressing the area of her bruise with his thumb, wishing that somehow he could make it disappear with his touch. He tries to whisper her name, but nothing comes out.
"What happened?" croaks Finnick after a few attempts at speaking. "Why is she hurt?"
No one says anything, and after a few seconds, Finnick finally gets up to turn and face Turlach and Mags. His face looks hard and menacing, like that of a Career tribute about to make a kill in the arena. He hardly ever has a reason to show this side of him in District 4.
"We don't know," says Turlach. Finnick's face changes to a look of despair.
Mags mumbles something and motions for them to sit down at the kitchen table. It's only a few meters away from where Annie lays in the living room, but Finnick is reluctant to step away. Only when Mags jabs him with her cane does he move, but the scowl on his face shows his disapproval towards Mags. If she is scared about his reaction, she doesn't show it.
Still, he goes to the kitchen and sits down, his face and chair turned halfway so he can see Annie from his left side and Mags from his right. Turlach sits across the table from him and starts explaining for Mags.
Apparently Mags was the one who found her first, a week before Finnick's return. She stepped into the house when she found the front door ajar that morning. Nothing seemed amiss, so Mags whistled for Annie to come down, but there was no immediate response. Only the faint sound of a muffled cry alerted Mags to a possible problem.
Mags had described as best as she could, without so many words, the mess she found in Annie's room. Annie was crouched tightly in the farthest corner of the room from the door. Her father's body laid on his side, with his blood seeped on the carpet and a long knife with one serrated side lying only a few inches from where Annie was crouched.
Annie had been covered in blood, mostly on her hands. She had gashes on her hands and arms, but most of the blood seemed to be from her father's fatal wound. Obviously a struggle had taken place, but Mags couldn't make out why it happened. She was hesitant to conclude anything beyond that.
Finnick could only shake his head. "It wasn't between them. It couldn't have been," says Finnick.
"There's no way of knowing, Finnick. She hasn't necessarily been making sense, and the peacekeepers that came don't see any other-"
"It wasn't between them," repeats Finnick through gritted teeth. "You didn't know her dad. He would have never hurt her."
No one speaks for a while, and Finnick knows they're waiting for him to calm down a bit before saying anything else. He just closes his eyes and leans his head against his right hand, trying to do exactly that. He takes a deep breath before he says anything else.
"Sorry," says Finnick. Mags places her hand on his arm and gives him a sympathetic look. Finnick motions to get up again.
"Patience," mumbles Mags quietly, squeezing his arm. Finnick looks at Mags, and then leans back against the chair again.
"What happened after?"
"They took his body, and made a report, but they haven't come back since. We've just been trying to keep Annie from…" Turlach pauses.
The pain in Finnick's chest grows stronger, as if he had just taken a blow right to his heart, and the scowl on his face turns into sorrow.
"So you give her the sleep syrup," says Finnick.
"It's the only way to get her to sleep. She hasn't been sleeping well at all. She only gets about thirty minutes worth now and then if we don't get the syrup in her. Plus, she barely eats anything."
"Don't give it to her anymore," says Finnick. He senses that Turlach is about to say something to change his mind, but he won't let him. "It'll make things worse. It'll make her not want to feel anything anymore."
Finnick knows this is true. It's easy to get addicted to sleep syrup, just as easy as getting addicted to morphling. Some people take it for the same reason, to stop hurting, either physically or emotionally. But as much pain as Annie is in, he knows she has to get through it without the syrup. She has to or she will never be the same – she will never be the Annie that he's familiar with. The cautious Annie. The perceptive Annie. The strong Annie. The beautiful Annie. Yes, he thinks to himself. She is beautiful. Even the damaged Annie. This is the Annie that Finnick knows. And she knows him. She may be the only one who truly knows all about him.
He can't let her get sucked into the life of an addict.
"I don't know if she can handle it," says Turlach.
"We'll help her. I'll help her," says Finnick sternly.
"Yeah, but for how long, brother?"
"As long as I can," says Finnick, turning to look at both Mags and Turlach. "As long as I'm alive."
Turlach looks directly at Finnick, giving him just as stern a look. "Good."
Finnick just nods and turns back to Annie's sleeping form on the sofa. Images invade his mind as to how she might have been the night her father died. What happened? Who else may have been there? Was her father going mad? Even though he can't fathom that Annie's dad may have done something to cause his own death, he still has a lingering doubt about it if that was the case. Mr. Cresta never showed any signs that he was changing, that he was going mad. And why would it be him? Annie's psychological trauma stemmed from being in the Games, didn't it?
The problem with that presumption was that he had not known Annie before then. She did live in a community home for a while before the Games, of that he knew. He couldn't have known if her stay there didn't affect her somewhat already. He never asked about her time there.
"What happened after?" asks Finnick.
Turlach clears his throat a little, as if he's hesitant to tell him. "The peacekeepers came and took the body." Turlach pauses again.
"They reported it as self defense on Annie's part."
Finnick tenses up and his face hardens. Of course. Even the peacekeepers have decided not to investigate it any further. It's just as well, thinks Finnick.
"Yeah, he was here. He said that he was doing it for Annie's own good, reporting it that way. He said he could've taken her in… but she got… hysterical," Turlach pauses again as Finnick puts his head in his hands in. Finnick's whole body shakes for several seconds. "Garcen just laughed it off and said he didn't want the trouble of confining her that way."
"He laughed?" asks Finnick grimly, turning again to look at Turlach.
"More like chuckled, I guess," says Turlach, sensing that maybe he shouldn't have said that last part.
Suddenly, Finnick slams his fist on the table so hard that even Mags, who hardly ever reacts in fear to anything, jumps. So does Turlach. And so does Annie.
Annie's eyes open and she gasps at the sound. Her reaction means to be fast, but with the sleep syrup still in her system, her body can't move fast enough and she falls on the floor and starts crawling away from the noise until she hits the wall, shrieking and sobbing in terror.
Finnick rushes over to her, falling on his knees next to her crouching form.
"Annie!" he calls to her. His hand reaches out to her, but when he barely touches arm, she shrieks and takes a defensive swipe at him.
Finnick barely feels the scratch from her nails on his cheek, but he grabs her wrists before she can make contact again.
"No! No!" cries Annie, her face turned away from him, eyes closed. She is confused. She is hysterical.
"Annie! It's me! It's me!" pleads Finnick. Her sobs drown out his words. "Annie, please!" Finnick pulls her arms towards him, but that only causes Annie to use her legs, kicking one of his arms. Finnick has no choice but to let go to prevent them both from being hurt more. She crawls only a few feet away before crouching again, in the corner of the room, her face hidden behind her arms that wrap tightly around her knees.
Annie's anguished cries turn into sobs. Turlach, who has been standing behind Finnick, sighs and starts to move towards Annie slowly, but Mags stops him with her cane, hitting him firmly across his gut, though not enough to hurt him. She looks at Turlach and shakes her head, then points to Finnick.
"Go. Slowly," says Mags as she motions Finnick to try again with Annie.
Finnick looks at Mags and realizes his approach was all wrong. He was too anxious, too eager, and too frantic to get to her and calm her down. He needs to be gentle, slow in speaking, and careful in his movements. He takes Mags' advice and slowly moves closer to Annie.
"Annie," he says softly.
Annie tries to cover her ears, but she also doesn't want to release her arms from her legs, and instead just tries to put her head down even further into her chest so that her arms on either side could try to quiet the voice that's talking to her. The voice sounds familiar, kind even. But she's having a hard time concentrating. The voice calls her name again and she remembers.
It's him. To her, it's been a voice that has only just been in her head for a while now. A voice that she began to accept as long gone. With Finnick, she always had a sense that somehow, for some reason, he would change his mind about spending time with her and abandon her. But she pushed those thoughts, because he did come back. But days turned into weeks and time passed slowly. And those thoughts of abandonment returned, ushered by the assurance from someone else that Finnick really wasn't coming back. When her father died, the stability that had slowly been building up in her mind was rapidly crashing down.
It's not real. It can't be. He's gone. He went away and didn't come back. That's what was said to her.
He isn't coming back. That was also said to her.
"Annie, please hear me," he says with as much calmness as he can muster.
Finnick is so close to her now. His voice resonates in her ear and she notices a difference. It's much clearer than how it sounds in her head.
But he's not here. He's not here.
"Yes, I am," he whispers. "I'm right here."
Finnick's breath causes some strands of her hair to move and she feels the warmth of it on the side of her face. She flinches just slightly, but she doesn't move away.
Is it real? Annie slowly opens her eyes, peering through the thick strands of hair that cover her face. She can only see part of his face, but she recognizes the shape of his jaw, even if she's still not entirely focused.
"Fin- Finnick?" she whispers back. Her throat is dry and painful. She doesn't understand why.
A sound between a sigh and a sob comes out of Finnick's mouth.
Is he really here?
"Yes, Annie, I'm really here," he says. Fingers gently move the hair away from her face as she lifts up her head halfway up from behind her arms. Her eyes look on his chin first, then his nose, then the scratch on his cheek that has left a thin line of blood. What happened to his face? Her eyes shift to his sandy brown hair that looks a little too polished, and finally up to his eyes. His piercing sea-green eyes, glistening in the light. Has he been crying?
"Not enough," he replies. He moves some of her hair away from her face so he can see her eyes better. So she can see him better.
"Can you hear me?" asks Annie. Her voice is hoarse.
"Every word," he says. He slowly brings his hand up to cup one side of her face, and brushes away the tears with his thumb. Then it hits her. The assault on her. Her father's death. The grief that followed. And she falls into sorrow again.
"Finnick. He's dead. My father. My fa… he tried-" she cannot continue. She feels his hands cup her face. She hears his voice shushing her kindly. New tears burn her eyes and fall down her cheeks leaving cold trails. She feels his warmth, though. He's so close to her. She can't stop crying. She tries to talk, but only sobs come out.
"Shhh," he says. She accepts him as he pulls in her close, but the pain is still there, and it won't let her go.
Then she feels his lips press against her forehead.
"I'm sorry," he says. I'm sorry that your father died.
Against her temple.
"I'm sorry," he says. I'm sorry that you're in pain.
Against her cheek.
"I'm so sorry," he repeats. I'm sorry I wasn't here for you.
They are brief and light, but in the midst of her pain, those soft touches give her glimpses of comfort, as if a little bit of her is healing with each tender kiss.
Then his lips press gently against her own, only for a moment. Not enough to react. Not enough to make it into something more. This isn't the time for that, and it isn't his purpose. His hands are still on her face and he pulls her head slowly to his, taking in each other's breath. Her sobs quiet down again.
"Annie," whispers Finnick. Just having him say her name calms her, but her body shivers in spite of it.
Finnick moves his hands from her face and, with one arm underneath her legs and another around her back, just underneath her shoulders, and he slowly pulls her up onto his lap.
She holds onto the side of his neck as he wraps his arms around her. Annie moves her head up, staring at him. She observes the concentration on his face and the tension in his jaw as he adjusts himself to make her more comfortable, then when he finally looks into her eyes, she can't help but see the darkness in them, and the pain. She moves her hand from his neck to his cheek, not realizing that he has done the same thing until his thumb grazes across her bruise again. They don't speak.
Annie even wonders if they are the same person, feeling the same pain, feeling the same comfort, feeling the same heartbeat. Seconds pass and he gently pulls her head closer to him to place a soft kiss between her eyebrows. After that, she rests her head in the crook of his neck. Her sobs turn into deep and slow breaths that warm his chest.
Still, more tears fall slowly down her cheeks, eventually falling on him. He lets them.