Against The Tides

Chapter 28: Just Dreams

Annie jerks herself awake for the second time that night. It doesn't take long for the feel of someone's touch on her arm, and then on the side of her head. For a moment, she thinks it's him, but as her mind frees itself from the depths of slumber, she notices the little things. The uneven footsteps, the sound of the breathing, the irregular movements of the touches on her.

Mags moves some of Annie's hair away from her face as she smiles. Annie can barely see her in the dark, but she knows Mags is making an effort to curl up the side of her lips that isn't paralyzed. She can also see how very tired Mags is.

"Mags," Annie says groggily, her voice scratchy from restless sleeping and groaning in the night.

Annie wonders if things are going to be worse for her now that Finnick is not there.

Finnick, can you hear me?

"You don't have to do this, Mags," she says quietly, "they're just dreams."

But Mags only grunts her refusal to accept that. "Nonsense," she mutters, then pats Annie's hand. "Back to sleep."

Annie turns to her side and hugs the pillow closer to her face. His scent is still there even though it's been days since his head last rested on it. It smells of an uncommon mixture of sweet fruit and seawater. But it's what she's come to recognize as part of Finnick.

Finnick, I'm still here. I'm not going anywhere. Can you hear me?

"Finnick…"

"Don't you worry. He's just fine. You'll see," assures Mags while patting Annie's hand again.

The problem is that they don't know when exactly they would be able to "see." The night that Bruma and Finnick had left, Annie stayed up because she couldn't sleep. She wasn't expecting him to come back right away, but knowing that he was out there risking his life to save others, to join in the uprising, her mind couldn't rest at all.

It wasn't until three days later when they were finally allowed to leave the confines of the village and go into the town. Neither Finnick nor Bruma had returned yet. Annie practically ran to the path that led to the town, but before she could leave, one of the Peacekeeper guards stopped them.

"Just a warning to you all. It was your people that brought this on yourselves. So, don't be surprised at what you see there," the Peacekeeper said, then snickered when some of the victors passed him by, scowling their discontent.

Even before Annie arrived there, she smelled it in the air and sensed the grief in the atmosphere of what she was about to be faced with. The air reeked of ash and smoke and scorched metal. But that wasn't the most distressing odor of all. It was the stench of burning flesh that overwhelmed people's senses, so much that Annie could feel the bile rising from within her stomach. When she finally arrived there, being one of the first from the Victor's Village to do so, it was as if everything sounded muffled all of a sudden, and the thumping of her heart beat loud and rapid up through her spine right to her ears and pounded away. She heard what she thought were mournful moans or sobs, but didn't wonder about where the sounds were coming from. She knew why those sounds were there. She knew because she saw what was purposefully placed in the center of the square.

Dead bodies were lined up in rows, more than a few dozen of them. Some of them were beaten to death, some hanged, but many were shot. It was as if the Peacekeepers didn't have time to torture the rest of them, or because they had caught a huge group of them at one time. But no one had thought it was because the Peacekeepers were feeling sympathetic and were merely trying to make the rebels' deaths as fast and painless as possible, because for the most part, they weren't.

Had she known it was her that was sobbing and moaning, she might've thought to stop herself, to not give the Peacekeepers more reason to snicker and laugh at her; but her mind was not focused on trying to maintain any kind of composure. Her thoughts were on who she might find within the rows of the dead lying there on public display. Her thoughts were on how she would find Finnick if he was in one of those rows.

For the split second after time she had to turn a body over to see the face, Finnick's face came staring back at her. Each and every time, she would see his face. It was only for a split second, and then the true features of that unknown lifeless man broke through. And each time it happened, she was never able to prepare herself and she would gasp, feeling the barrier of her mental strength break down little by little.

Ten minutes later, Mags arrived and was on the search as well, shuffling through row after row of the dead. Annie barely noticed her, or a few others who were doing the same thing. Searching. Some of the other townspeople searched for their own loved ones; upon finding them, they crouched over them or held them up in their arms, and mourned. The cries were the only things heard that morning. Even the Peacekeepers finally let the people do their grieving.

Annie had gone through the rows over and over again for an hour before Mags finally tugged on her arm. But it wasn't enough to stop her at first. Annie just kept going, mumbling to herself about not seeing his face, and what it means, and then going over it in her head that maybe she forgot what he looked like, detailing specific aspects of his face.

"Hair, light, then dark, then light again, like sea and sand and gold. Eyes as green as leaves and waves – no, like foam and grass…foam and grass. Face…strong cheeks, straight nose, long neck. Lips… lips… soft and… and…" she stopped briefly touched her own lips before her hand moved down and scratched at her clavicle. Mags touched her arm again, and Annie finally looked at Mags in the eyes before she turned her head from one side, then the other, letting her eyes roam the bodies lying around her a bit before they focused back on Mags. Annie laughed in shallow relief. "He's not here."

"He's not here," she says impassively, almost like she did that day at the town square, as if all emotion has already been drained from her. Mags doesn't respond, just sighs and pats Annie's hand again before rubbing her arm in comfort.

I can see you. I dream about you. It feels good to dream about you, but for some reason I can't stay asleep and I wake up, and you're not there. And sometimes I wish for the nightmares to come back again. Maybe if they do… maybe if they come back, you'll be here with me.

The image of Finnick disappears from her mind, and she laughs forlornly, pushing her face deeper into the pillow that holds his scent, mumbling words into it, as if it's actually him that she's holding. As if she's whispering her loving words into his ear. But her words are useless now, because he can't hear her, and she knows it. The kisses she imagines giving him are empty, because he can't feel it.

Annie doesn't let go of his pillow. She wonders how long it will take for the scent to disappear from it. If it will disappear long before he returns to her. If…

She feels the haze tempting her to find comfort in its emptiness. Maybe later, she thinks. I should sleep now. Annie closes her eyes again, no longer wanting to think about him, only hoping that whatever is painfully piercing her beating heart would go away.

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