Chapter 22: The Acts of Letting Go
Finnick couldn't help but be more intrigued by the 3-hour video recap of the 74th Annual Hunger Games than any other recap he's seen. He is shocked, as are many others. There are two victors this year. Haymitch, in all his drunkenness throughout the years, pulled off what could be considered an impossible feat. He somehow managed to have both his tributes from District 12 not only survive till the end, but also live to see this day.
He wonders how on earth he was able to manage a star-crossed-lovers idea for those two so that all of Panem was sympathizing for them. But he did it. Somehow those two tributes were allowed to live – and find love together – although he has a feeling, a very strong feeling, that Katniss Everdeen is not truly in love with Peeta Mellark. Finnick should know. He knows what love looks like on the face of a person. And Katniss doesn't have that look.
Finnick is certainly not going to call foul to it. She did what she had to to survive, and it worked for Katniss as much as it did for Peeta. Of course, it does help to have the hunting skills that Katniss has for her to be able to have gotten as far as she did in the first place. And even though Peeta lost his leg, that's far less than losing his life.
Whatever the reason the people behind this year's Games have for keeping them both alive, he certainly has a feeling this change could affect all of Panem, but probably more within the districts. He's not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
During the Victory Banquet at the president's mansion, Finnick's final 'date' makes her way towards where he is standing. Haymitch is standing next to him in relief. "I need a drink."
"Well, I have to admit, you deserve it this time," says Finnick. He looks at Haymitch and sees a concern on his face, and he realizes that Haymitch is probably thinking the same thing about the fact that there are two victors this year. He wants to try to talk to him about it, but considering where they are, this is not the best time for such conversation.
Haymitch looks at him blankly. "I don't know what this means," says Haymitch with a low voice that Finnick barely hears over the clatter of so much chatter and music and noise.
"Neither do I. Have there ever been two victors?"
Haymitch shakes his head, and looks up at Sapphire Welsh now that she's placed herself within their circle.
"Haymitch Abernathy, just the person I wanted to see."
Finnick raises his eyebrows in surprise and turns to look at her, but her eyes are on Haymitch. She has an odd look on her face, and she slowly moves in front of Haymitch to give him a hug. Finnick doesn't know what to do or what to say, so he just stands there looking around to see if anyone else notices this particularly odd gesture lavished on the mentor of District 12.
When Sapphire releases Haymitch from the hug, she grabs hold of Finnick's hand. Finnick glances at Haymitch, but Haymitch stares blankly at him.
"Come dear, we must dance," says Sapphire.
"Of course, my lady," Finnick pulls her hand up to his lips seductively, looking her up and down. "I love dancing." Finnick glances back at Haymitch, but Haymitch is looking elsewhere, and he turns to see his gaze is directed towards Katniss and Peeta. Whatever conversation he wants to have with Haymitch will have to wait for another time, some other way.
One more assignment, and then we can go home. One more assignment, and then I can see Annie again.
He's been playing his part quite well since his meeting with Snow. He had to, or else the consequences would be too horrific for him to live through.
And finally, with Sapphire Welsh again, he would have to make sure she receives the best attention she can get from him. He's already done well in the past two days he's been with her, but this would be his final night and he had to make sure she had no doubts about him whatsoever. He knows one word from her could destroy everything. It could kill both him and Annie, and Sapphire wouldn't care.
After the banquet, they enter the room of Sapphire's apartment; she turns on the music while Finnick makes a drink for her while he pours himself a glass of water, not wanting to deal with the after effects of alcohol. She plops herself on the sofa, curling her legs up to the side of her and looks away, unease appearing on her face.
"Something wrong?" asks Finnick, walking to her and holding out the drink. His heart races a little trying to think if she's upset at him for some reason. She only shakes her head as she grabs the drink from his hand.
"These parties are so… frustrating at times," says Sapphire, taking a sip. "Come here and massage my feet, will you." It's not a request as much as it is an order, but he's not about to disobey either way.
It doesn't take long for her drink to be done, and she's already had quite a bit during the banquet, so it's surprising that after having her eyes closed for 15 minutes while he massages her feet, she starts talking as if she's completely sober.
"I'm going to die soon," she says nonchalantly. Finnick's not sure what she means.
"Are you sick?"
Sapphire guffaws. "No, no. I almost wish that were the case." She moves her free hand to her face, carefully pushing the tips of her finger and thumb to her closed eyes, as if to keep herself from crying.
Finnick's not sure if he should try to comfort her in some way, to keep massaging her feet, or to completely stop. But before he can ask or say anything, she takes a deep breath, removes her hand from her face, turns to look at him, and makes to speak.
"I'm only going to tell you this because this will be my last secret for you," she says and puts her hand up to keep Finnick from interrupting, which he was about to do. "And hopefully you will be able to forgive me for using you as have." Sapphire takes another deep breath before continuing. "I know you could probably care less about us here in the Capitol, and I completely understand. If I was in your position, I might think the same, too. But I'm not. I'm a selfish person, I'm weak, I'm conniving, and I have done unforgivable things in my life, which is probably obvious to you since I have you here with me now."
Finnick sees that she's making some sort of confession, but he still doesn't understand why, but he continues to look on her, watching her, waiting for her to get to the point.
"Finnick, dear, I am sorry," says Sapphire, her voice cracking at the word 'sorry'. "I don't know if this information will help you at all, or make things worse in knowing this, so I want to tell I'm sorry now."
Sapphire gets up from the sofa, leaving Finnick's hands free to wipe a bit with his napkin. Then she sits back down next to him, hips touching. She leans into the side of his face and pulls his head close so that her lips are just barely touching the edge of his ear.
"District 13 is not abandoned."
It takes a moment for Finnick to register what Sapphire just said, but when it does, he pulls back to look at her face. There is a sense of sorrow on her face, but also relief, as if she just took a load off her shoulders. And even though he heard it pretty clearly, he can't stop himself from replying "What?"
"Don't worry, you're not the only one that knows this now," she says quietly.
"Why are you telling me then?"
"Because I wanted you to know," says Sapphire, then she pulls him close again, her lips to his ear. "Because Seneca Crane is dead, and because I'll be dead soon, too."
Even though she is done saying what she wanted to say, she is still holding onto him, and he puts his arms around her, not only to comfort her, but to hold on to something as he suddenly feels the walls caving in around them.
He wants to ask more, but as it's obvious Sapphire's apartment is being tapped into by her having to whisper this in his ear, he has to try to make his question sound ambiguous.
"What do you want me to do?"
Sapphire pulls her head up from where she laid it on his shoulder, and she looks at him as he looks down at her. "Just hold me tonight. That's all I want. Like Katniss and Peeta. Please."
Finnick stands and pulls Sapphire up with him and leads her to her own bedroom. As he strips down to his boxers, Sapphire spends her time in the bathroom, first removing all her jewelry and placing it on her vanity along with her blue wig, then scrubbing off all her make up until all that is left is a bare face. She puts on her satin gown before opening the door that leads to her bedroom.
As she stands there, Finnick looks at her and realizes that he has never actually seen her without her makeup. She usually fell asleep with it on. He knows this is a unique moment in their relationship, if it can even be called that.
Sapphire sits on the side of the bed, almost embarrassed of herself.
"Hey," says Finnick. She turns to look at him. As he looks at her closely, he sees how pretty Sapphire actually is. She's definitely older, probably somewhere in her late 30s or early 40s as shown by the fine lines around her eyes and mouth. Her hair is a fine dark blond, which he already knew, but her natural eye color, usually replaced by blue lenses, are a soft shade of brown.
For the first time since he's met her, he gives her a genuine smile. "You're beautiful."
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," says Sapphire.
"Maybe," he admits. He pulls her to him on the bed and, just as they've both seen happen between Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark during Games, he puts his arms around her as she lays her head on his chest. "But it's true."
She falls asleep in his arms, and he can't help wondering about so many things about this woman that he barely knows. Why did she tell him such a big secret? What could he do with that information? Who else knows about this? Is it even true? If so, would it be a place that he, Annie, Turlach, and Mags be able to seek refuge in? The thought almost sounds too good to be true, so he tries to control his anxiety about it by closing his eyes and just breathing. With that, he falls asleep, too, thinking of Annie and the possibilities to come.
The next day, Sapphire releases him.
"Thank you," she says as she gives him one last hug, and then whispers in his ear, "I hope that someday you'll find true happiness, away from all of this."
Finnick hugs her back, "Sapphire-"
"No, no. This is where I was born; this is where I'll die. Go be with her." And he pulls back to look at her, only to be winked and smiled at. With that, he smiles back and exits out the door.
She watches him out her window. She knows this will be her final time seeing him and she's okay with that. She's okay in knowing that she'll probably be killed soon, although she doesn't know how, but she's ready for death to come. Seneca Crane, her young friend, sometimes lover, is already dead. She had not realized how much she truly cared about him until he was killed. She is done with this life and all of its misguided and deluded grandeur. Seeing Katniss and Peeta during these Games, and their love for each other, she knows she will never find that here. Maybe Finnick will find it. Maybe he already has it. She hopes he does, so that he can live that kind of love for her.
Mags, Annie, and Finnick quietly step onto the train and only when it departs the station does he take a big sigh of relief. Mags, feeling the relief as well, looks on at both of them and excuses herself to one of the rooms so she can rest. Obviously, the stress of not being able to see either of them during the past week kept her up at nights. Her eyes look dark and haunting.
In the dining car, Annie sits on the chair opposite him and he looks at her, but she's staring out the window blankly. He leans forward and gently places his hand on top of hers. She turns to look at him. For the first time since he left her in the hotel room almost two weeks ago, he is able to really look at her. The circles under her eyes are dark. The color in her complexion is pale and her cheeks have a hollowness to them. She most definitely had not been eating as much as she should have been in the care of President Snow.
It would be stupid for him to ask if she's okay, because obviously she's not. Guilt reflects on his face and she can't help but look down at his hand that covers her own.
"I'm sorry. I should've known he might do something like this. I was reckless-"
"It's okay. He didn't… hurt me," says Annie, but the tone of her words sound so strained, he's not sure if she means it.
"Annie, you can tell me anything. We're safe now." He cringes, knowing that word means nothing.
"No, we're not, Finnick. We both know it," she says defeatedly. She sniffs, but there are no tears. The silence feels daunting and his heart pounds a little harder. He tries to ignore the lump in his throat as he begins to speak again and squeezes her hand.
"Annie, things will work out. We're going home and I've been thinking-"
"I've been thinking, too," says Annie purposefully cutting Finnick off again, her eyes still staring down. He can see the struggle in her face and the trembling in her lips, and he's about to continue because he fears what she'll say. "I think… I think it's better if I move in with Mags."
Finnick loses his train of thought at the mention of this suggestion. He wants to say something, but he can't think anymore. Only one word comes to mind. "Wh-what?" He certainly didn't want to say that and give her a chance to repeat what she said, but he's still trying to figure out what exactly she means by that. Moving out? Breaking up? Stopping everything?
"I thought I could handle… what you did. I… hoped… I could… we could… get through this. But, this… us… we're not good for each other right now," she says, her voice cracking, as if she's forcing the words out. "It… hurts… to be with you."
It hurts… he feels that piercing ache in his chest again. His eyes can't stop looking at his hand on hers.
But I need you. It hurts to be without you. He wants to say them, but the words get lost in his throat, and for that split second that it does, he allows his mind to think about what it could mean to say that to her now. Will she want to hear them? Will that make her negate all that she has said? Will it crush her even more?
"Please, Annie, we've been through so much together. Please think about this-"
She shakes her head. "I have thought about this," says Annie, her face struggling to stay composed. "I thought about this the whole time I was in that room, Finnick. He kept me there to scare both of us, and it worked."
It's Finnick's turn to shake his head, but she finally squeezes his hand back. "He can do things to us. To you. Worse than what he's already doing. If I can stop it-"
"No, don't do this. Please don't. We can find a way out of this," counters Finnick. He moves his chair closer to her so he can feel the soft skin of her face. Annie closes her eyes as she can't stop her lips from trembling under his touch. "Give me some time, please," he whispers to her. "I'll talk to Turlach and Mags we can find a way out- I mean through this." He wants to tell her about District 13, but he knows it's too risky to do so now in the train.
"No!" Annie says abruptly. She opens her eyes and for the first time since they stepped onto the train, she looks straight at him, and shows Finnick the fear and despair behind her green eyes, and it threatens to break him. Whatever President Snow said to her during her time in that room, it truly affected her. "Finnick… you said I was strong. I'm strong enough to stop this. But I don't think I'm strong enough to see you get… killed! Please don't make me try."
Even though it feels like it's literally tearing his heart apart, he understands, and he slowly moves his hand away from hers. For some reason there's a ringing in his ears and his vision blurs, so he closes his eyes.
"I know," whispers Finnick. It does hurt, and it's hurting them both. And as much as he wants to pull her to him and embrace her and kiss her and make things better, he's not sure if that's enough anymore. He has a plan, but it's a crazy plan. It could get them killed. It will get them killed. Maybe her plan is better, so he doesn't say anything else. I'm sorry.
When he opens his eyes again, he knows hours have passed. His eyes feel puffy and his throat feels dry. Did it really just happen? Yes.
Does Annie not want to be with me anymore? She does not. It could kill us.
Can I handle this? I have to.
There's only the sound of the train whirring on the tracks now, taking them home. Taking them to District 4.
As Finnick walks along the corridor, he stops in front of the only closed door, and is about to knock on it. He wants to check on her, to make sure she's okay, or maybe to see if she's awake. But he hesitates, wrestling with his thoughts. Give her at least some space during this ride back home.
They have maybe a couple of hours to go before they arrive back in District 4. He reasons with himself, knowing they'll have time when they get back to figure things out. Part of him does agree with her, that maybe it's best they take some time away, so that he can get back into the good graces of President Snow and he won't have to threaten him with Annie's life anymore, but another part of him, a more dominant part of him can't allow Snow to separate them. That part seems to win him over, and he resolves to fix this situation as soon as he can. Still…
Finnick finds his way to his room and lies down on the bed trying to think of something, anything, to change things back to what they were before they left for the Capitol. Whatever happened to her during her stay with President Snow has gotten her to see something that he didn't want to see himself.
That them being together has become more dangerous than comforting. That it's become more harmful than is joyful. Annie knew it before and she's come to accept it now.
He wants to accept it too, just to make the pain go away. But then again…
Maybe I deserve the pain.
"Annie," he whispers, and lets the pain swallow him.
Finnick wakes up, still trying to listen for something. A whisper of his name, possibly. The sound of movement on a bed in the room across from his. But there is nothing. Just silence. Just the sound of the waves every once in a while breaking across the shore, and only if his window is open. Only if the tides are strong enough. They are today, stronger than they have been since they returned from the Capitol two weeks ago.
Two weeks of silent mornings.
Two weeks of the dull throbbing pain in his chest.
Two weeks of waiting for something, for anything, to happen.
But nothing did.
It seems that maybe Annie was right all along. That maybe it was best that they were separated. That isn't to say she didn't have nightmares, though. He's certain she did. But she was somehow able to handle it, and she was able to do so without him being there. He knows, because she hasn't called for him at all. He knew it all along - she is strong.
And he is proud of her for being so strong. Despite the turmoil his heart had been going through the past two weeks, he is proud of her, and as long as she is strong, he will be able to get over this, and move on, knowing they will survive longer this way.
At least, that's what he kept telling himself. But the truth of it is he was completely lying to himself. In fact, when they returned to District 4, he very quickly fell ill, unable to eat, unable to sleep due to his own nightmares. Sometimes he dreamt of himself out on his boat, relaxing as he had done so many times before he met Annie. Then during his time of relaxing while closing his eyes, a feeling of dread would come over him, as if he had forgotten something. When his dream self opened his eyes, the storm clouds soon developed over him and he would try to get back to the dock, only to realize there was nothing around him but the deep blue. No shore, no row of houses from the Victor's Village, not even the sun. His dread of being lost forever would wake him up, and always with the sound of a scream of which he wasn't quite familiar with until he woke up. It was always Annie's scream, though. Of that he knew.
But that wasn't his most disturbing dream, unfortunately. The one that he had nightmares of most nights was one that Annie appeared in.
It would usually start as him escorting one of his assignments through some Capitol function, attending to her every need, smiling and flirting the whole time, although he could never see the face of the woman in his arms. He was also trying to convince himself to enjoy this time he had, but each time he tried, he couldn't get rid of the feeling that there was something wrong with this scenario and eventually, the attentions of the woman he was with no longer mattered. He would then look around, searching for someone, and he would soon see her face among a sea of faceless people.
Annie's green eyes would pierce into his soul and hit him with sorrow strong enough for his body to react in his dream state and utter out a gasp or a sob. He would sigh in relief if he was lucky enough to wake himself at that point.
If he wasn't, his dream self would try to reach out to Annie, but as she stood there just barely out of his grasp, he could never get to her, no matter how hard or fast he moved forward. If he actually did feel close enough to finally touch her, someone would always block his view at the last second. It was always the same person. And he would always try to push that person away, but then that person would speak to him.
"I'm disappointed in you, Finnick," he would say. At his voice, Finnick would look up into the face of President Snow. Once he looked at Snow's face, everything that followed seemed to happen in slow motion. Snow would turn to allow Finnick to see his loved one last time - before the pointed ends of a trident pierced into her gut. Annie's beautiful green eyes would look straight at him before turning black, the color of life slowly draining from her, and her body collapsing to the floor. At that point, he would see Snow smiling, but it was not him holding the trident. It was never Snow.
Finnick would then look to see who it was holding the trident, only to find his hands at the end of it.
That's when he would usually wake up.
Sometimes he got sick enough to where he'd run to the bathroom and vomit up whatever was in his stomach. He lost his appetite soon after, which resulted in him vomiting bile instead. A few days later, he was sick in bed, with no appetite, although his brother forced him to eat soup and some bread.
Turlach stopped working again to watch over Finnick, although Finnick would tell him not to bother.
"Well, I won't bother if you start eating," Turlach said. Finnick couldn't even try to argue with him. "Besides, how can you see her the way you are right now? She needs you."
Finnick shook his head, not knowing what to say.
"What if something happened to her while you were here feeling sorry for yourself?" Turlach pointed out in conclusion. That statement caused Finnick's heart to beat faster in a panic again and now the throbbing in his heart extended to a mild throbbing in his head.
How could I have been so stupid? So selfish? Finnick wanted to slap himself truly for not even thinking of the fact that even though Annie didn't want to be with him anymore, she is still in danger here in District 4. It no longer mattered that Annie wanted him to keep away, that wasn't going to do any good to either of them if something were to happen to her just because he was feeling sorry for himself. He resolved to get better fast. That was the end of the first week.
By the end of the second week, Finnick was back to full strength. He might've recovered faster had he not kept all the windows of his house open and quietly took a "stroll" at least once during the middle of the night, passing by Mags' house to make sure there wasn't anyone suspicious coming by. He still had his nightmares, which was much the cause for him waking up to do such patrols, but there was no way he was going to let his self-pity take charge over him again. He was strong, too, he told himself. And Turlach did finally go back to working at the cannery.
One day, Turlach comes in the house with some fried fish.
"What's this?" asks Finnick.
"Our neighbor wanted to give us a reward," says Turlach.
Turlach chuckles a little at Finnick's confused face. "You didn't think she didn't know you were prowling around at nights, did you?"
"Oh," says Finnick, a little surprised that Mags is still able to detect changes around her, regardless of her age. "I guess Mags knows me well enough."
Finnick notices Turlach tighten his lips, and he wonders why until a thought comes to mind.
"Wait, Annie?" asks Finnick.
"Well, both of them, I guess," corrects Turlach. Turlach looks at his little brother for a moment before continuing on. "I don't think either of them has been getting much sleep lately, to tell you the truth."
Finnick looks at him, cocking his head to the side.
"When I went to visit them a few days ago… well, let's just say that I haven't seen Mags look that tired since… Annie's father died," explains Turlach.
Finnick grimaces at the thought. "And Annie?"
When a couple of seconds pass without an explanation, Finnick looks at his brother again to see if he will actually answer him.
Turlach sighs, and says, "I know you said she doesn't want to see you anymore, but looking at her each time I go there, I don't know who's lying to whom around here. I think you should go over there… soon."
Finnick shakes his head again, scratching the space between his brows, before speaking. "I… I want to… but… what if it just makes things worse?"
"Finnick, believe me. She was never this bad when you were there for each other. You never looked this bad! Look, I know something happened during the Games. I saw you on TV with those other women, but I'm your brother, and I know that isn't you, so I kind of have my own conclusion about that. But even so, I know something else happened to make you two think things are better this way…but I gotta say, it's not. She's not the same anymore, Finnick."
Finnick didn't argue with him about this either. Finnick never wanted Annie to leave him. He never wanted to believe what she was saying was a good idea. He forced himself to try to believe her reason only because he didn't want to hurt her. But now, after hearing what Turlach is saying, he definitely wants to try to make her hear his side. The thought scares him now, but if what Turlach is saying is true, he needs to try.
Mags opens the door, and upon seeing who's on the other side, has only one word to say. "Finally!"
She immediately pulls him in. He looks at her eyes and feels the guilt creep across his conscience as he looks at the now very dark circles that have obviously been there for a while now.
"I'm sorry, Mags." She waves her hand dismissively and pushes him to go upstairs already and take care of her. But before he moves an inch, he pulls his favorite mentor to him and bends over just low enough to give her the biggest hug he can allow himself to give without squeezing the life out of her, and he kisses her cheek lightly. She can't help but shake her head at him. She hands him a tray with a plate full of food and a drink, and motions him to go.
His nervousness going up the steps is replaced with even more guilt and he wonders if his heart can literally bleed from sheer emotional pain as he sees Annie's small frame sitting on the floor, near the open doors of her balcony.
Her familiar position firmly in place, she rocks back and forth, looking out the balcony. The view is different on this side of the Victor's Village compared to the view from her balcony in her own home. From this side, she can see across the waterway the land that makes up part of the Town Square. The edge of the Town Square is surrounded completely by big rocks or boulders, and the only way to get into the water is to get on one of the docks that lead to the fishing boats. It's not as picturesque as her old view from her home.
Just the sight of her looking out there reminds him of when they returned after her win from the Games, and how he sometimes saw her standing on her own balcony, looking out to where he was. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but seeing her again like this, it could've been just yesterday.
"You hungry?" asks Finnick, his voice cracking just a little.
She stops her rocking, but doesn't turn to look at him. Finnick takes a step just inside the doorway, not sure what to do at first until finally deciding to rest the tray on the little table across from the bed, keeping his hands free and preventing him from dropping the tray altogether since he can no longer feel his fingers.
"I had bad dream last night," she says. Her voice sounds hoarse and deep, as if she's strained it somehow. He's pretty sure he knows how, and he realizes that his voice probably sounds a little scratchy, too.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks. He shivers at the thought of his recent nightmare, and wonders if it's something he can ever tell her about. Probably not.
"You died in it." Another shiver, this time going up his spine, causing goose bumps to rise all over his arms. It's too coincidental for them to have the same dream, but still, he can't help think about his dream and just switching the roles between them. "You always die in my dreams now."
Finnick pushes his palms into his eyes, rubbing away the tears threatening to come before running his hands completely through his face and sighing into them. All he wants to do right now is to run up and grab her from behind, pulling her back to his chest so he can bury his face into her neck and hair and tell her how much he misses and loves her, and beg her to come back, but he can't help think that may very well end up backfiring on him, so he makes his way to just a few feet from her and sits with her, looking out the balcony doors.
"They're just dreams," he says. He feels idiotic for saying something so naïve, but he's really at a loss for words at the moment, since he can't say what he really wants to.
From this angle, he can see her most of her face, and it's about as dreadful as he feared it to be. Her cheeks are still sunken in and the circles under her eyes have aged her about 10 years. Surprisingly enough, her hair isn't covering her face, but only because the breeze coming in from the balcony doors keep them away. By all accounts, she looks like she hasn't been feeling too well, either.
"When I wake up, I open these doors and look to see if you're out there," says Annie, nodding towards water. "Then I remember I'm not at my house anymore… sometimes I don't remember where I am. Sometimes I wonder if I'm still dreaming."
She turns her head to look at him, and he can see that she has even lost color in her face, as well as her eyes. They barely glint of the beautiful green hues he's so fond of staring into. Now they are dark and hollow, almost like in his nightmares of late. Tears form wet paths down her cheeks, and he chokes back his own tears.
"Am I still dreaming, Finnick? Or are you really here?"
"I'm here, Annie," he swallows, trying to rid himself of the lump in his throat, and trying his hardest not to reach out and touch her face.
She turns her head again to face the breeze. "You say that in my dreams, too. Then I see him kill you."
"Who?" asks Finnick. The question seems to confuse Annie.
"I don't know," answers Annie, unsure. "You don't go out there anymore. I used to watch you, didn't I?"
"How come you aren't out there now?"
"Because… I can't," says Finnick, wondering if he should say more, or if it will be too much for her to hear. "Not without you."
Annie looks at him again, and blinks her eyes twice, then cocks her head to the side, observing him, obviously trying to figure out something, but he's not sure what.
"This isn't a dream?"
Finnick shakes his head and smiles softly at her. "No, this is real."
"It's hard to tell sometimes," says Annie. "What did I do, Finnick? Why do I feel so lost?"
She asks it as if she's just curious about her own decisions, but not in a way that sounds like she feels guilty for all that's happened the past two weeks.
"I don't know," he says. He really doesn't. The whole time he was next door feeling sorry for himself and getting himself sick, she must've been here, feeling the same thing, but obviously hasn't been able to handle it as well as he has, not that he has handled it well at all, either.
"It was Snow, wasn't it?" asks Annie, trying to remember. "It was," she says, answering her own question. Finnick can only nod.
"I can't… I can't-," she chokes. She closes her eyes and rests her forehead against her knees that she holds tightly against her chest. Finnick can't take it anymore and moves closer to her, and gently places his hand on her head.
"Can't what? Please tell me," begs Finnick.
"I thought I could do it, but I can't," she says just loud enough.
"Do what?" he moves his head close to hers, not wanting to miss a single word.
"I thought… I could… stay away from you, but it hurts. It hurts too much. When I'm dreaming, you die and it hurts. When I'm awake, I'm scared I'm dreaming and- I don't know anymore-" she says before he tries to cut her off to try to calm her. "Are you real, Finnick?"
Her head moves up to look at him, and for the first time since she distanced herself away from him, he can see a flicker of hope in her eyes, a flicker of emerald, then jade, then sea-foam green, just like his, and he nods. "I'm real. I'm here."
"Please," whispers Annie as a little bit of color flushes her cheeks. "Please hold me."
Finnick doesn't hesitate, and he's kneeling beside her, pulling her body close to him, tenderly wrapping his arms around her shoulder and back, pressing the side of her head against his chest as she's still keeping herself folded up in his embrace. He places his cheek against the top of her head. "I'm here."
"I can hear your heartbeat. You really are here."
"Yes." He remembers back to when she sought comfort in him on that train ride during her Victory Tour. Even then, he cared about her, but back then he still thought of himself as just 'mentor' to her 'tribute.' It still amazes him when he thinks about how she took precedence in his life since then. Did he ever think he would fall in love with anyone, let alone Annie Cresta? When he thought about it, no. Because of what he was forced to do for Snow, he never felt it as an option for him to find real love. Yet, he did. "Annie-,"
"I love you," says Annie, promptly cutting off his admission for his love for her. He chuckles softly.
"I love you, too."
"But I'm scared. What if he-"
"Shh, we'll figure it out. We don't have to be apart, Annie," he whispers, adjusting himself so that his lips are almost touching her ear before he continues. "Don't let Snow do this to us. He's done enough damage in both our lives already. Don't let him break us, because that means he wins. We can't let him win."
Annie shakes her head just slightly, "I'm scared, Finnick. I'm so scared."
He moves so that he can face her now and he place his hands on either side of her face.
"Me too," admits Finnick. "But I have never been more scared than these past two weeks when you weren't with me. We need to be strong for each other, understand? We need to. We'll find a way through this, I promise."
"You can't promise that."
"I promise that we'll get through this, but you have to promise to stay with me, okay, Annie? Please. Please."
She touches his cheek with her free hand, finally nodding. "I promise."
He can see that she's still terrified of what will come of this by her shaking body, but considering how things have been lately, he can no longer risk being away from her, even if she's just next door. It would be downright perilous, physically and emotionally for both of them, more so for Annie, and he would only blame himself in the end.
Annie's agreement allows him to exhale in relief and he pulls her slowly to gently, sweetly press his lips against hers. Her lips feel dry, but she responds back to his kiss with her own and it feels like right to be this close to her again. She must feel it to, because he feels her fingers run down the side of his face, remembering the shape and structure of his cheeks down to his jaw and neck. They fall deeper into their kiss before breaking just to breathe, their hands still holding to each other's face. He moves to touch her forehead with his.
"I love you, Annie. I promise we'll get through this." He says it as a declaration of truth that she has to believe, and even though she might not fully believe in it, he believes in it. He has to.