Against The Tides

Chapter 17: Hits and Misses

"Well, that's a big surprise," says Turlach sarcastically.

It took all of two minutes for Finnick to explain that his and Annie's relationship had taken a turn. Turlach wasn't the least surprised.

"What do you mean?" asks Finnick.

"Just saying. I thought you two were already there," says Turlach casually. "I mean, it's not like you have any problems getting a girl, considering all the wom-,"

Finnick shoves his brother in resentment, but not too hard, just enough to let Turlach know he's not happy with that current line of thought.

"It's not like that! She's not like that, and you know it," says Finnick in a huff. He pauses for a moment to take a deep breath and calm himself. "Annie is important. She's special."

"I know," says Turlach coolly. "Sorry, I didn't mean any offense, little brother. I'm honestly happy that you two are together. You're both for each other. Anyone can see that… but… and not that it's any of my business, but does that mean you're going to stop 'seeing' other women?" Finnick knew he would have to answer that question sooner or later. Even though Annie knows about his predicament, it's not public knowledge to everyone, especially to his own brother, whom he's been trying to keep out of the loop.

"I can't," says Finnick, looking away from his brother's impending reaction. "I wish I could but I can't."

"Why?" asks Turlach, knowing full likely he's not going to get an actual answer, but hoping all the same as to why his little brother spends all his time with so many women in the Capitol. Finnick looks at him apologetically.

"Look, Turlach, it's just best you don't know. You have to trust me on that. Just know that… I'm not-, it's not-, there's a reason that I can't explain. It's the same reason I've been trying not to…" he sighs defeatedly before continuing, "…not to be with her. But Annie sees right through me and she still wants to be with me. She understands. She understands more than anyone, believe it or not." If she didn't understand Finnick, then this relationship between them could never have come about. Knowing that about her brings sudden warmth to Finnick's chest, a sense of contentment.

Turlach understands that part at least. "I believe it. Okay, nevermind. Like I said, it's none of my business. Just…you know, be careful," says Turlach, almost chastising, as if he were speaking for Mags as well as himself, because that's probably what Mags would've said to him, too. "You're not the only one that cares about her," he adds. Finnick looks at Turlach curiously, but concedes to that fact. Finnick smiles faintly and nods towards his brother before leaving his room.

As Finnick leaves his brother's room and makes his way downstairs to where Mags and Annie are, he thinks over the conversation he just had with Turlach. He wishes he could tell Turlach more, but doing so could put not only him in danger, but everyone else. This arrangement he has with Snow was not meant for everyone outside of certain circles to know about, especially anyone in the districts. If everyone were to find out, Finnick fears the danger that it can pose for those he cares about. That's always been his fear. But he was so close to telling his brother anyway. He wanted him to understand that Annie is something more, and that he doesn't care for the women in the Capitol. He wanted to tell him they paid for his company and that Snow was forcing him to do it because if he didn't, people could die, including Turlach.

But to tell him that would be to reveal the fact that he was at fault for their parents' death, also. He's not sure if Turlach would be able to forgive him for allowing something like that to happen, even though at the time, Finnick didn't know at what lengths Snow would take to get him to agree to this arrangement. It was still enough to keep his mouth shut to the idea of disclosing any information on it.

He admits to himself, too, that he isn't sure he could bare the shame of explaining all that to him. After all, it wasn't something that he had ever blatantly confessed to anyone. But some people just knew, like Annie did. Like Johanna. Like Haymitch. They knew because they had seen enough and had been through enough to know that the Capitol had no limits when it came to self-fulfillment and gratification. They know, each one of them, that the President is no saint.

As soon as Finnick gets down the stairs and sees her, all those thoughts of possible regret and shame and guilt are quickly forgotten as his eyes lock onto Annie's, a sea of green that mesh between them. Finnick sees nothing else and feels nothing until his hand finds hers and their fingers intertwine as easily and fluidly as interlocking pieces of a puzzle. They are meant to fit together, and it's strange to him to think after meeting her more than three years ago, that only now does he realize how right they are for each other.

His other hand reaches up to her face and lightly caresses her cheek with the back of his hand, and she leans into it briefly before he moves it through her silken hair and rests it on the base of her head, cradling and massaging lightly the back of her neck before he goes into to bring their lips together.

Her soft lips on his consumes him and all he can't think of anything else or anyone else. Not the smell of the food cooking on the stove, not the sound of the Turlach's footsteps coming down the stairs, or even the shuffling and intentional clearing of the throat of Mags close by. All he can hear is the pounding of his heart, which seems to threaten to break out of its cage within him and jump wave over wave. All he can smell is the scent of Annie's lightly scented skin, a combination of sweet fruit and possible natural oils that are much more subtle in smell than the overly perfumed socialites in the Capitol. Annie smells of true and natural beauty, and as subtle as it is, it completely draws him to her. And all he can feel is her smooth skin under his fingertips that send tingles up his spine and goose bumps down his arms, and her silken hair that teasingly touch his skin as he moves his hands through them, along with the soft, honeyed sensation of her lips that mold so comfortably into his own. All these qualities put together are enough to make a man completely forget everything else around him.

He doesn't even realize he is holding his breath until he breaks the kiss to take one. He takes another, much shorter, kiss before loosely wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his forehead against hers. He closes his eyes and breathes in, taking in her fragrance once again.

As she tightens her grip around him, she says, "I missed you."

Finnick chuckles lightly. "I was only upstairs for ten minutes."

"Sad, isn't it," she says. He notices a tiny bit of gloom in her tone, but gives her another kiss to help push away any other negative thoughts that might invade her mind and ruin this new feeling of bliss with Annie.

"It's okay," he says while rubbing big circles around her back. He releases Annie from his arms when he finally notices the other two people already sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner without them.

How long were we kissing?

Neither Mags nor Turlach say anything, but give each other knowing smirks across the table as Finnick and Annie finally join in to eat.

Days pass and each day brings new hope and more cheerfulness in their budding relationship as a couple. Finnick sees it in her smile and in the clarity of her eyes whenever they're in each other's embrace or after they kiss. And embrace and kiss often, they do. Always with sincerity and kindness towards one another. He has never felt this type of genuine affection before. He knows he never will but with Annie.

It's midday, and the air is warm even though it's winter, so they decide to go to the beach. The beach has somehow been a place for both dreams and nightmares for Annie, but she wants to rekindle the happiness that she once had for it when she was 13 years old, and she knows she can with Finnick by her side.

They spend the first half hour just walking along the shore, hand in hand. They stop every once in a while to kiss, first him, then her, back and forth they go, as if to remind each other of what their lips feel like. It's the first time they've been so open with each other outside of the house. Anyone can see. Well, anyone who lives in the Victor's Village at least. Still, their declaration is made and that's fine with him.

When they finally decide to sit and relax on the sand, Finnick bids Annie to sit down first and get comfortable, so she does. She straightens out her legs and folds her hands onto her lap, waiting for Finnick to sit beside her. But when he sits down, he settles himself right behind her, placing his legs on either side of her. She turns her head to look at him warily.

"What are you doing?" she asks. He shifts a little closer to her so that his chest is only inches away from her back, moves her hair to one side expose her shoulder and kisses it lightly.

"I want to give you something," he says assuredly.

"What?" she asks cautiously. Finnick chuckles and gently rests his hands on her shoulders.

"Just relax," says Finnick. She hesitates for a moment, not out of distrust, but confusion. Only when Finnick starts circling the base of her neck with his thumbs does she truly start to relax, even putting her head down further to give him more access to her neck. He hears her sigh in relief and he can't help but smile. When he's given her neck a considerable amount of attention, he works his way down to where her shoulder blades are and firmly massages the tension away, to which Annie gives another sigh of relief.

When he's finally done, he crosses his arms in front of her, pulling her back to him and he softy kisses her temple before resting his chin on her shoulder.

"Did you like that?" he asks.

"Mmhmm…I've never had anyone do that to me before. It was… really nice."

"Really nice," he repeats. This time she laughs. The sound of her laughter, although short and light, delights his ears. "You have a beautiful laugh."

Annie's cheeks turn a soft shade of pink. She shifts to the side to look up at his face and Finnick returns her gaze with sheer sincerity reflecting off his eyes. "I like it when you make me laugh," says Annie.

He dips his head down and catches her lips with his own, allowing the tingling sensation of her touch on his face to warm his whole being.

Weeks pass and their affection towards each other does not waver. Even the mundane tasks of cleaning, cooking, and washing become a pleasant time of togetherness. For him it was nice to be able to do regular chores like this with Annie. It helps remind him that she is part of his world, his real world.

Annie smacks his arm with the towel she was just about to fold.

"Ow," yelps Finnick more in surprise than in pain. He looks at her and sees something he had not seen on her face before. A slight mischievous grin. This is the first time she has shown signs of playfulness, and he's not about to let it go. Just as he's about to grab her around the waist, she runs.

Around the table she goes, and he follows with a chuckle. She runs to the living room, keeping the sofa between herself and Finnick. Sounds of her beautiful laughter fill the air. As he runs to one side, she moves to the other. Somehow they make it around the kitchen table again and then back to the sofa. When he makes the ultimate move and jumps over the sofa, he's finally able to grasp her wrist, effectively pulling her down on the floor.

For good measure, he grabs her other arm and pulls her wrists together above her head with both his hands, straddling her waist to keep her pinned, but careful not to put his actual weight on her. Still, it's enough to hold her steady where she is.

"Ha! Gotcha!" he sneers with a mock wickedness. He feels Annie struggling beneath him, trying to get her arms loose from his grip, but he tightens his grasp even more, not yet paying attention to the Annie's change in mood.

When he does, his devious grin very quickly fades to worry when he sees the wide-eyed look of panic in Annie's face. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Stop… let me go! Please stop!" pleads Annie. He releases her wrists and before he can even get himself up from on top of her, she quickly crawls backward away from him, using her now free hands and feet until she's back against the wall.

For the few seconds after, the only thing that can be heard is Annie's breathing. The distress in her face transforms to regret as she realizes that she essentially pulled away from the most important person in her life.

Finnick also realizes something in that agonizing moment - he still doesn't know everything about her. Pain sears into back of his eyes. He knows this must have something to do with a past event in her life, and he triggered the memory. He wants to be mad at whoever built this fear in her, but he feels too guilty to be mad at anyone but himself.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you." He pauses, hoping for a response to relieve him of any wrongdoing on his part. But he doesn't get one immediately, so he keeps his head down. A stinging sensation hits the back of his eyes and his heart grows heavy in his chest. "Do you want some time alone?"

He doesn't want to leave her alone, but he would separate himself from this room to give her time to herself without him watching. He would go to the kitchen and sit there and wait patiently. He would even go up to his room if she asked him to. He hurt her and the sudden change from romp to ruin makes him reconsider the idea of being with her. He would break if off in an instant if she wanted. He would essentially never be the same, but he would do whatever she wanted if it helped her to find true happiness. His heart pounds painfully just thinking about it.

"No," she says hoarsely. She slowly raises one of her hands to him, palm facing up. "I don't want to be alone." He looks at her solemnly, and wonders if she really wants him to touch her again, even if it's just to help her up. He doesn't refuse her hand, but gets up off the floor and moves just close enough to Annie to pull her up to stand.

"I'm sorry," he says. Annie just shakes her head at him, staring at the foot of space between them. He's not sure what to do.

"Do you want to sit?" he asks her. Annie nods. He slowly, lightly, holds her hand and pulls her in front of him to get to the sofa, allowing her to sit down. "Do you want some water or anything?" Annie looks up at him, seeing the dejected look on his face. He doesn't realize he's still holding her hand until she wraps her fingers tighter around it, preventing him from leaving.

"Can you sit with me?" she asks softly. He does so, being careful not to let his leg touch hers.

When she brings her legs up on the sofa on her side and lays her head down on his lap, he finally feels mollified enough to gently stroke her hair. "I hope one of these days you'll be able to tell me what happened to you," he whispers. She nods her head just a little.

Months pass and despite what happened during the one cat-and-mouse chase, their feelings for each are stronger than ever. He knows his boundaries and she trusts him implicitly, as long as he doesn't restrain her movements.

As they walk along the shore, Annie stops and looks out into the water. Finnick notices her shiver and he pulls her to him, wrapping her in warmth.

"You cold?" She doesn't say anything. "Annie. Look at me." A crease comes across her brow, dissipates with a shake of her head, and she looks up at him.

He smiles at her. "What is it?"

"You used to go every day." Now the crease forms on his brow.

"What?" he asks.

"Out there. You don't go on your boat anymore," says Annie rather curiously.

"I have no reason to," says Finnick and presses his lips to her forehead, then her temple, and as he's about to reach her lips, she cuts him off.

"Don't you miss it?"

"Not so much," he says. He wants to kiss her again, but she looks at him questioningly, waiting for more of an explanation. He sighs and says, "I did like going out there, but only because I felt at peace there. It was the only place I felt at peace for a while." A smile creeps up on his face. His hands move in slow circles around her back and she responds with her own smile. "But I don't need to go out on the boat anymore for that. Being with you, that's my peace now."

"That's nice," says Annie. He's not sure if her response is in regards to his explanation or his ministrations on her back, but he'll take her approval either way. He looks in her eyes as he tries for another kiss, hoping she won't interrupt again. He's just about there when she says, "You should go."

For a moment, his heart feels an aching thump, but he recovers enough to ask his own question. "What?"

"On your boat. You should go. You miss it," she says.

Finnick shakes his head. "No. I'd miss you more." Annie looks at him quizzically. "I would," he states.

"I mean you should take me with you." The look of surprise on his face is overtaken with doubt.

"Are you sure about that? Do you really want to go on the boat? I mean…," he hesitates, unsure of how to state without insult the probability of her having a panic attack on the boat, being surrounded by deep water.

"I want to be on the boat with you, Finnick. I want to feel the peace that you feel out there. I'm not afraid of the water, not like before. I'm more afraid of you… sacrificing all things you like to do because of me," says Annie.

Finnick cups her face and looks at her with absolute seriousness under his now dark, green eyes. "Annie, I would sacrifice anything and everything for you."

She doesn't say anything for a while, looking right back into his determined face. He feels her fingers run through the small hairs on the back of his neck before she pulls his face close her, and her soft lips touch his, effectively making him feel as if he were melting against her yet again. When they stop to take a breath, he meets her gaze.

"I know you would," says Annie. "That's what I'm afraid of."

The next day, he, Annie, and Mags make for the water. Finnick didn't trust himself to be able to keep watch over Annie while the boat was in motion, so he asked Mags to come. It was odd for him to see Mags act like a teenager, especially while the boat was in motion. She sat near the bow, allowing the wind and some spray of water to hit her face. It seems Mags hasn't been on a boat in a while, and missed it.

When they finally make it a short distance away from the beach, he anchors the boat. He notices Annie sitting stiffly in the cockpit and holds out his hand to her. She slowly takes his and allows him to guide her to the bow, all the while squeezing his hand tightly.

"It's okay," he reassures her, squeezing her hand back gently.

Finnick sits down on the bench opposite Mags and pulls Annie down to sit in front of him. When she does, he protectively wraps his arms around her waist and softly kisses her neck a few times before resting his chin on her shoulder as he's now accustomed to doing.

Mags smiles as she moves her way to the back of the boat, elated to be surrounded by the water once again, practically dragging her cane with her.

Finnick and Annie both laugh at the sight of her. "It looks like she's having fun," Finnick notes. Annie nods in accord. "Are you?"

"I think so," says Annie, unsure of her answer.

"You didn't have any-, you seemed okay during the ride," he says.

She turns her head to look at the side of his face. "I see you," says Annie warmly, and she slowly presses her lips to his. Finnick has enough sense to grab onto the edge of the boat to prevent the feeling of falling overtake him as they continue their kiss for a while longer before pulling away. "Do you see me?"

His eyes explore the face of one who truly understands him. He examines the smooth and fair color of her skin and notes the small mole on the side of her face, the natural curve of her eyebrows, and the roundness of her cheeks. He can't help but lightly touch them. His eyes gaze at her lips and his hand moves to where his thumb can smooth over the bottom lip before resting it on the soft curve of her chin. He finally stares into the clarity of her eyes that glow with all shades of green, conveying all parts of her personality that make Annie who she is. She is a whirlwind of grace, beauty, understanding, intellect, courage, strength, and even fear, grief and shame. In those few seconds, he knows that she has allowed him to see past her own wall that she has built up and into what her heart is truly made of. This delights and frightens him at the same time.

Can I handle all of it? He questions himself, but quickly dispels the idea of doing otherwise. She needs me. The argument definitively settled in his mind, he smiles appreciatively at her.

"I do," he says.

"You're not scared?"

He strokes her cheek. "Absolutely petrified."

He gives her a sliver of a moment to let his answer sink in before he presses his lips onto her. They spend the rest of the morning at peace in the calm of the sea.

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