Against The Tides

Chapter 15: No More What Ifs

Finnick opens his eyes, trying to regain his senses as to where he's at and what time it is. It takes all of two seconds.

He looks down to see Annie cradled in his arms. He hadn't let go of her, even in his sleep, and he was thankful for that. His shirt is now dry from where her tears fell and he feels a pang of sorrow, of guilt for only having just come now, but he pushes that feeling aside as he knows he will have to deal with more of that later. By the darkness outside and how he feels, he guesses that it's been about two hours they've been in this position.

Of course now he's incredibly uncomfortable. Parts of his body still feel numb from the sitting position he slept in, against the wall. It didn't help that he held Annie in place, on his lap. She wasn't heavy by any means, but being in that position for who knows how long, even her weight can start to feel twice as heavy. Still, he wouldn't have done it any differently. He would've lain on a bed of spears if it meant keeping her protected. Besides, this was nothing compared to what she's been through this past week, he reminded himself.

Annie's hand lay flat on his chest, but he can see the wrinkles of his shirt underneath her palm. She's been struggling in her sleep, grabbing and releasing his shirt in tension. He tries to look on her face, but her head is nestled closely into the crook of his neck, her breathe going in and out unevenly. He places his hand on top of her, taking in the sensation of her warm touch.

It has been weeks since he last felt something this amazing. Weeks since he last breathed her in. Weeks since he last saw such beauty. Now, in this quiet moment, in the midst of tragedy, he truly knows this is where he needs to be. There is where he wants to be. With her in his arms. With Annie. If only that thought actually made him feel happy. Now he feels worse than ever.

When he was forced into working for the President, he made the decision to not get involved with anyone. He didn't figure anyone who knew his situation would really want to get involved with him either, especially those in his own district. They had all seen him on television several times, he's sure, and each time with another woman. Many people disapproved of his behavior, but didn't care to admit it especially since he had won them their monthly parcels for a full year. No complaints, no problems. Still, he could tell by the way they treated him and looked at him that they thought he was downright disgusting. Other people even tried to justify his actions as that of someone who was so distraught with the loss of his parents that he tried to find comfort in the women he was seen with. Only a very few knew the truth, and they were other victors.

After going through the emotions of grief, shame, guilt, anger, and pride, he finally came to the conclusion that maybe it was a good idea that people thought of him in that way. That he was not a good companion and that he could never be with anyone. The people of District 4 finally stopped giving him disapproving looks and more or less resumed cordiality with him. Aside from Turlach and Mags, he kept everyone else at arm's length. And now he remembers why.

He wonders how different things would've been if Annie had not been reaped four years ago. She would still probably be in the community home, which was never something she really talked about so he gathers that it's not a time in her life that she's fond of. But maybe at least her dad would still be alive. Sure, he would not have known her, but at least she would be fine. At least she wouldn't be such an emotional mess as she is now. She would be able to sleep soundly, not having recurring nightmares of kids dying at the hands of other kids or muttation attacks or drowning. She would probably be a much happier person.

Or maybe, if when she was reaped, things turned out differently. Maybe if she the damn hadn't broken the way it did and she still had to fight. She most certainly would've died. What was it that Haymitch had said again? Something about their last days being in the lap of luxury? Would that have been better for her? To die in the arena?

He shakes his head of the thoughts. He can't start thinking that way now. Those thoughts don't matter. Those are "what ifs", and there's no point to them except to regret the past and forget the here-and-now. No, he reprimands himself. This isn't helping Annie. You're supposed to be helping her now. Forget about what could've been.

He knows he likes her immensely, more than he wants to admit to himself. He doesn't know when these feelings for her changed, but he honestly only meant to help her as a friend. He never meant for it to get to a point where she felt lost without him. He knows it would just make things harder for both of them. But his emotions got the better of him today. Her anguish drew him closer to her than he planned.

Maybe it is the fact that he shifts a little, or maybe his inhales and exhales are deeper and longer. Either way, it stirs Annie awake and she jars head out of the crook of his neck, gripping his shirt tightly. She gasps in two short inhales before she realizes where she is.

Annie looks straight at him, her eyes sparkling in the dim light, trying to focus onto his eyes. Suddenly, her arms wrap around his neck, hugging him tightly. She whispers Finnick's name so affectionately, he can't help but choke back a sob.

"You're really here," says Annie. Her voice is terribly hoarse, but she sounds as clear-minded as ever.

"I really am," he says through her hair. They stay in that position for a while before she finally lets up and pulls back to look in his eyes again. He gently brushes off her hair from her face, and he sees her red swollen eyes looking right back at him. No fogginess in them, but they are undeniably worn out from nights of restless sleep or crying, or both.

She reaches to touch his face, her fingers lightly tracing the outside of his eyebrows, the curve of his nose, and the dip of his chin.

"Finnick, my dad…" says Annie as she keeps her eyes on his chin, her bottom lip quivers before she can say anything else.

"Shh, it's okay. You don't have to talk about it now." He pulls her forehead to his as he continues to keep her from breaking down again. It takes a few more moments to break from each other and another few to gather the strength to get up off the floor. When they're both standing, Finnick notices the strain on Annie's face.

"Are you okay?" he asks. Annie hesitates at his question.

"I'll be okay," she says, trying to mask the tension in her voice. Finnick wants to say more, but he realizes that Mags is now standing in front of them.

"Come here," she demands in an almost motherly way.

Finnick instinctively takes Annie's hand and they slowly walk towards her. Clearly Annie is trying to suppress the pain, but she knows that Finnick can see it since the grimace on his face is starting to look like anger. Her heart starts racing as fear invades her mind yet again. Not for fear of Finnick, but of something much worse. She knows she can't tell him, but she can't hide this injury from him either and Mags knows that also. Mags looks up at Annie and tries to reassure her, as if letting explaining to Annie that Finnick needs to know in order for him to help take care of her. Annie indiscreetly nods in assent.

"What's going on Mags?" asks Finnick.

Mags motions for Annie to lie down on the sofa and she does so, lying on her side. Mags sits on the edge of the sofa and gives Finnick her cane to hold. He's not sure what's going on, but as Mags starts lifting Annie's top slowly, it becomes clear to him. Once the hem of Annie's shirt is lifted halfway up to reveal what she's been hiding, a heat surges through him and he clenches his jaw. His mouth goes dry and suddenly he's in a daze. He hears a muffled pounding sound but doesn't acknowledge it.

Just above Annie's waistline, on the left side of her midsection, is a very large, black and purple bruise, the size of it practically overtaking the whole side. He knows that doesn't just happen from one hit; she must have been hit a several times in the same spot. She then says something to Annie about being careful, but Finnick is having a hard time listening as his mind reels from what it was that hurt Annie so badly, and who caused it.

Annie touches the side of his face and he realizes that he's on his knees beside her. Finnick exhales, releasing the breath that he had been holding since he saw her injury. "What happened, Annie?" he asks. He has to know, but he has a feeling she won't tell him.

"Please, Finnick," whispers Annie.

"Who did this?"

Annie shakes her head, her eyes burning with more tears. Finnick doesn't have the heart to continue pushing her about it, seeing the tiredness and pain in her eyes. The pain never left her eyes; she had been trying to hide it instead.

Just then Turlach comes in holding a pot of Finnick presumes to be food. He sees what's going on and calls Finnick over to the kitchen. Finnick is about to protest until he catches Mags' eyes and gets the hint that he needs to go help his brother. He looks at Annie one more time to see if she's okay with it as well, and she gives him a faint smile.

"I'll be right back," says Finnick.

Turlach explains to him that Annie is badly bruised, but nothing is broken. One of the doctors from the medical building came by to make sure there wasn't anything broken. He advised them to have Annie go to the medical building, but she wouldn't even leave the house. So, the doctor gave them a few bottles of sleep syrup and left. After that, Mags has been checking on it periodically to make sure it didn't get any worse.

"Although she might've aggravated it earlier today," says Turlach. "Sorry, Finnick, I didn't mean that you-"

"It's okay," says Finnick.

"There's more bruises." Turlach waits for Finnick to respond, but Finnick doesn't know if he even wants to ask. He doesn't know if the pain in his chest can take it.

"Where?" asks Finnick.

Turlach pauses and takes a deep breath, as he seems to be apt to doing when he's about to deliver distressing news.

"Her neck. Back. Legs."

Finnick grabs hold of the back of the chair until his knuckles turn white. He knows what that could mean, and the anger is choking him, knocking the lungs out of his chest, stabbing his heart with each thump. He squeezes his eyes shut to try and stop all this hurt, but it's still there. He feels a hand squeeze his shoulder more and more until he feels the hand shove him, forcing Finnick to open his eyes. Turlach is standing there, speaking to him, even though he can't hear him for the first few seconds.

"-need to stop. This isn't helping!" Finnick refocuses again. "This isn't helping, brother," says Turlach again, with much less urgency. Finnick looks over into the living room. Apparently, however Finnick was reacting while holding on so tightly to the back of the chair is causing Annie to cover her ears again. He's about to go to her when Turlach pulls him back. "She needs you, remember? Now is not the time to try and find out who did this to her. If anything were to happen to you, too-," Turlach shifts his eyes. "Understand?"

Finnick looks at his older brother and notices how pale and thin Turlach looks. "I understand."

Turlach lets him to and he's kneeling by Annie's side again, gently stroking her arm, coaxing her hands away from her ears. "I'm sorry, Annie."

When she sees his face, she wraps her arms around his neck and he does the same around her waist, but gently, remembering the bruise there.

"I can't-," she tries to explain.

"I know." He doesn't know, but he hopes in time he will.

Finnick couldn't sleep. He was unbelievably tired and sore, but he couldn't sleep. His mind wandered too much, and every time he closed his eyes, the image of Annie's bruise kept popping into his head. It was heartbreaking to see, but it was also making him frustrated and angry that he couldn't do anything about it. He has a very good idea of who it was that killed her father and hurt Annie, and it was making him crazy not being able to do anything about it. But he knows he can't act on it now. Turlach was right; he needs to be there for Annie now. He will have to deal with Garcen later, if that is, in fact, who it was. The problem with factoring him as the killer is that Garcen is the Head Peacekeeper. It's not that he didn't think he could take on Garcen, but having it out with a peacekeeper, let alone the Head Peacekeeper was basically suicide.

You just don't do it, unless you had a death wish. Finnick did not. Also, he had to be sure it was him. Thoughts and questions flood his mind. Why would Garcen target Annie? Garcen has never spoken to Annie before. Annie would never speak to Garcen. But he was away for six weeks. Still, Finnick is sure that Turlach or Mags would have told him about Garcen if they saw him wandering about Victor's Village.

Finnick gets up out of bed. It is no use trying to sleep now. He walks across the hall to see if Annie is sleeping okay. After they had finished eating earlier that evening, it was decided that they move her out of the house for the time being. They all agreed that it would be in Finnick and Turlach's house, basically so both of them could keep an eye on her and also because she had the best rest with Finnick around. Mags helped pack some clothes and some other necessities and they all walked together back to their houses. Finnick realized the moment he brought her in the house that he also had not stepped foot in it yet since his return. It felt appropriate somehow that they went in together.

When gets to her room and peers through the open door, she's not there. His heart beats rapidly in his chest. He tries not to panic and goes downstairs only to find her sitting on the sofa. It's dark, but he can still see her frame from the illumination the upstairs light is giving off, and he turns on the living room light through the fader so it doesn't hurt their eyes.

"Annie?" She blinks.

"Sorry," says Annie. Finnick moves to sit next to her, positioning himself at an angle to face her. Annie's hair is out of sorts again, and he resists the temptation to move in and brush it away from her face. He can see her eyes are wet from tears and even though he's reached out to her a million times before, he's hesitant to do so now.

"Don't be," he says. He tries to think of something else to say.

"Did you love your parents?" asks Annie. The question throws Finnick a little.

"Yes, I did. Very much."

"When they died, how long did it take you to stop crying?"

The memory of his parents comes back to him, how he and his brother cried for days after. His brother recovered faster, though. Turlach started talking about the need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It was the first time he ever sounded tough. Finnick had so many nights where he woke up crying, though, almost ashamed to say it because he has never talked to anyone about it before. And maybe because he felt he was supposed to be tougher, considering he was now a Hunger Games Victor.

"I don't know. A couple of weeks, I think."

"I didn't cry when my mom died. I don't know why. I think I loved her, but-," she doesn't say more, but a tear rolls down her cheek.

"Sometimes we don't know how to deal with things, I guess. You were only ten."

She lets out a hollow laugh. "I don't know if I really loved my dad. I was so angry with him when he left me in the community home. I think I even hated him, but I can't stop crying now." Another tear rolls down, and she turns to look at him. "Does that make sense?"

Finnick shakes his head and says, "I don't know, Annie." He reaches out to her and cries even more now as he wraps his arms around her shoulders and lets her cry until she falls asleep for a second time in less than a day.

It is still very early in the morning when Finnick opens his eyes to see Annie lying next to him on the sofa. He recalls the events of the night in a flash. She had cried until she fell asleep and he laid her down on the sofa, but she woke when he tried to leave, so he lay on his side against the back of the sofa, with her back up against his chest and he let her use his arm to lay her head as he carefully lay his other arm across her collarbone, almost as if to keep her from falling over the edge of the sofa. He remembered how she wrapped her small fingers around his forearm, too, holding on to him.

Now she was facing him, awake and observant. Her eyes are puffy from her tears and her hair is away from her face. The light has just barely begun to shine through the window, but it's enough to put give warmth to his cheek. Annie's face shines with an angelic glow, and he can see the different tones of green in her eyes. Or maybe I'm just imagining things, he thinks.

Finnick realizes the warmth on his cheek is not from the light of the sun, but from the palm of her hand. He doesn't even notice how close her face is until her lips meet his.

There's a sudden rush of heat that runs from his face to his ears down to the tips of his toes, and then goose bumps. His heart is pounding so hard now that he's sure Annie can hear it. It only lasts for two or three seconds, but for him, it felt like two or three minutes. She then moves her hand from his face to where his heart his.

"Thank you," says Annie, and she rests her head comfortably back onto his arm and closes her eyes to sleep some more.

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