Against The Tides

Chapter 7: No Relief In Daylight

Annie wakes up in alarm. Not from any loud noise or scream, because there was no noise that came from her. Every night for the past two weeks, her nightmares have become something of a routine, and she knows exactly why. The reaping. It takes place today, however, it's been looming over her like a dark cloud and has now finally arrived. Annie no longer has to worry about being reaped, but the memories of her Games is still fresh, and lately more vivid in her sleep. The only bright side about it is that recently she has been able to jar herself awake without having someone to do it for her, whereas before, her dad would have to come in. That made it hard on him, too. His handicap, the loss of one arm, had made it difficult for him to do anything but grab one of Annie's hands and avoid being hit by the other.

This time, not only does she awaken on her own, but a new sensation has come with it. Tears. Her body begins to shake with her uncontrollable sobs. The weird thing for her is that she can't remember what exactly the nightmare was about that is causing this much emotion from her. And it's all she can do to keep herself from being heard outside the walls of her room.

A soft knock is on the door several seconds later. "Annie?" her dad calls out from the other side.

Annie takes a deep breath and clears her throat before she says anything. "It's okay, dad. I'm okay," says Annie, almost too well. Too happy, she thinks. But the door doesn't open and the knob doesn't turn.

"Okay, well, I'll be downstairs if you need anything," says her father.

Annie shakes off the dread that came along with the now vague dream, and slowly gets up out of bed. She knows it's going to be a long day. There will be the somberness of some and the elation of others. It's a mixed bag of emotions for the people of District 4, an aptly called Career District, because of its alliance during the Games to the other so-called superior Districts, 1 and 2. After what had happened in the arena to her last year, she doesn't consider herself "Career" material, but she did survived nonetheless. Now it's her turn, presumably, to mentor another tribute to survive. She tries to remember if that's what her nightmare was about, but she still can't pull the memories back out. Instead, she tries to shake off her anxiety and forget about her nightmare. They always come back anyway, thinks Annie.

She gets dressed promptly because she plans to make breakfast for her father. But before she leaves her room, she catches a glimpse outside her balcony door. She can see the boat anchored about 200 yards away from the beach. The faint outline of a figure stands on the deck, possibly leaning against the railing, but she can't make out it if the figure is facing the beach or the stretches of the ocean on the other side. All she can decipher is that it is Finnick on that boat, as he is almost every day. The times that he's not out there in the mornings are when he's helping Mags or Turlach with something else. Or when he's at the Capitol.

Annie is actually not supposed to know that he's gone to the Capitol. He's only gone for an evening, but comes back looking down and acting distant, even if he tries not to. Ever since they came back from her Victory Tour, it then became Finnick who kept himself at a distance. Not that he would deliberately avoid her at all costs, like she did to him before, but there were times when he didn't seem up for talking with her or even looking at her. She still wonders about that last night at the Banquet room in the president's mansion, how he had left with that redheaded woman. At first, a wave of emotions went through her – pain, fear, anger, shock, confusion, disbelief, denial, and even betrayal. But then their eyes met, just briefly. In that one-second glance, all those emotions dissolved into one that she still isn't quite sure she understands. She felt sorry for Finnick. She realized in that moment, regardless of the lack of information she had on what was going on, she had a feeling that Finnick was subjugated into spending time with this red-haired woman. It was the Capitol's Finnick that night that conquered in the end. District 4's Finnick, the one out there on the boat, is trying to regain his sense of self again, Annie thinks.

So, in the mornings since their return from the Victory Tour, when Finnick is home in District 4, she looks out her bedroom window or goes out on the balcony to see his boat there, with him standing on the bough, possibly looking in her direction. She wonders if he knows. If he knows that sometimes in the mornings when she feels the worst, after a long sleepless night of violent dreams, when she can barely get herself out of the bed, when she feels like she wants to die, she looks for his boat from the balcony of her room. Just seeing it there somehow brings her to a sense of peace, to a sense of belonging, and she knows she can last another day. That she wants to last at least one more day. Every morning, she goes through this routine. That boat, it seems, is her anchor to keep steadfast, to keep strong, and to keep reminding herself of the good things that are left in her life. But it's not just the boat, though, she tells herself. It's him, too.

She decides that maybe it's her turn to help him. But she doesn't know if she can, especially now. With today being the reaping, she's sure to be given the chance to talk to him, but it would be more likely about the goings-on of the day and who of all the victors are going. None of them are forced to go after their first year, but most of them do anyway. It's the one time throughout the year that victors are able to talk to other victors from the other districts. Some of them have formed a strong camaraderie with each other, so they go.

Annie will be going because she was last year's victor, and by district rule, she will be one of the mentors. The other will be drawn. That means her father will be alone again in the house. She wants to talk to Mags, possibly, about watching over him. This seems silly, knowing that Mags is the one who should be looked after instead of her father, but Mags is unusually tough for her age, both physically and emotionally, whereas her father is not necessarily Career-material himself.

Once Annie is in the kitchen, she starts making breakfast. Not much is said between father and daughter, basically because neither really knows what to say to each other. Mornings are especially quiet, sometimes because for Annie, it's emotionally tiring bringing up the events of the latest night's visceral dreams of poisoned bodies, slit throats, exploding limbs or drowning lives. Those have been her constant nightmares. It's not something she really can discuss with her father, or anyone else for that matter. Sure, there are victors around her that may have that in common, but it's not as if they wish to compare nightmares that will never really go away.

"Annie?" her father asks. Annie turns to her father, who looks like he's been waiting for her to speak. Did he ask me something, she wonders. "Do you have to go? I mean, to the Capitol?" her father repeats, even though she didn't hear him the first time.

She looks at him, perplexed, as if trying to concentrate on the words that he had just said. It takes her another few seconds to form a response. "Yes, dad. I have to go. I'm a mentor," she says almost mechanically.

"Oh," is all her father can respond with. Annie gives out a chortle, but her father doesn't hear it. The rest of the morning drags on as Annie tries to prepare for her travel to the Capitol yet again. But her bag where all her clothes are supposed to be is only holding some underwear. This will be the first time she's had to bring clothes of her own. The only problem is that she doesn't know what clothes to bring, or how many. She's not sure how long she would have to be there. Sometime during the process of packing, she stops thinking about what to bring and starts thinking about what kinds of horrific deaths await those going in.

The deaths of the tributes in her Games, and even some of the previous Hunger Games before hers play into her head repeatedly. Sometimes in brief flashes, and sometimes longer if she can't stop it. The girl from District 7 bludgeoned by a mace. The boy from District 10 slowly being eaten by poisonous lizards. Lev, his head falling to the ground after being decapitated right in front of her eyes. Then she hears their voices, their shouts for help, and their screams.

The next thing she knows, someone is trying to pull at her wrists. She doesn't understand what is going on until she opens her eyes and sees Finnick kneeling down in front of her, his face fraught with worry. Annie's father stands at the doorway, but doesn't come in, unsure of what to do. Annie stops screaming, but she is confused. "Finnick?"

"Hey, what happened, Annie?" Finnick asks, his hands cup her face, trying to keep her steady. She grips at his arms and shakes her head.

"I don't know. I was… awake," she says. It doesn't make any sense to her. She knows she was awake only minutes ago, packing, or trying to pack, but she couldn't get the thoughts out of her head about what had happened in the Games and what will happen again. Usually images like these only come at night, when she's asleep, when she's expecting it to happen. "I was awake, Finnick," Annie repeats. Then it hits her and her confusion turns to fear. She is now having nightmares with eyes open. Her nightmares have turned into daymares. No, it's worse than that, she thinks. 'Turning' would mean that she no longer experiences them at night, when that's far from the truth. The realization that she's able to unknowingly bring up images while wide awake rattles her to the core. "Why am I having nightmares when I'm awake, Finnick?" Annie's hands begin to tremble uncontrollably. "What's happening to me?"

Annie's tears fall from her eyes, down her face, onto Finnick's hands, until he moves in to wrap his arms around her. She hides herself in his embrace, with her face, covered with long strands of her hair, burying into the crook of his neck.

'Why' indeed, thinks Finnick. Why is this happening to her? As if there aren't enough traumas in her life already, now let's add daymares to the list? He wants to yell out in frustration, but that won't help the situation at all. He knows that Annie doesn't need him to break down with her, but to be her anchor, to keep her steady. So, Finnick continues holding her, rocking her gently and stroking her back, hoping that he's actually doing something helpful for her at that moment.

"Finnick," says Annie softly.

"Hmm?" replies Finnick, still holding her.

"I don't think I can be a mentor," says Annie.

Finnick doesn't say anything immediately, basically because he doesn't think she can, either. And if he says so, if he lies to her, he knows she'll be able to decipher his lie. "I know. I'm sorry."

"Because I have to do it anyway," says Annie. Finnick is quiet, but he sighs and nods his head. Since her head is still buried in the crook of his neck, she can feel his answer as he nods. She wishes she can ask him to be there with her while at the Capitol, but because of Finnick's reputation during previous games, despite his mentorship to her at last year's games, she knows she can't ask him that. Not after what had happened at the Victory Tour. She knows that what he does in the Capitol is something of a game in itself for him. One that he sorely despises playing, maybe even more so than the Games that brought him there in the first place. It's a truly horrific thought, but that thought finally brings her back to steadfastness.

Annie pulls back, and hey eyes are looking straight into Finnick's eyes. She was in this same situation before, back on the train during the Victory Tour where she was being held by him then, too. But that was in the middle of the night and it was dark in her room. This time, in the light of day, she can see the expression on his face, and the darkened, tired circles under his eyes, as if he had not been sleeping at all. On the train, it was her who had removed herself from his embrace, a little embarrassed. This time, it's Finnick who turns his eyes away and separates himself from her.

"C'mon, let me help you up," he says as he pulls himself up from the floor and puts his hand out in front of her. She slides it into his without hesitation and she's off the floor with ease. But as Finnick is about to let go, she grips his hand tighter and he looks at her questioningly. Knowing that she'll be alone again, even just to pack, sends chills through her.

"Can you… just stay. Until I finish packing?" Annie asks quietly.

This time, Finnick is unsure. "Your dad can maybe help…" he says, but Annie shakes her head.

"Please?" asks Annie quietly. Although Annie loves and cares for her dad, this isn't something that she can find comfort in from him, and he only just proved it some minutes ago when all he could do was stand there at the door while Finnick held her. Finnick hears the emotion in her plea and knows he can't leave her now when she's asking him to stay. Finnick nods his head.

He's not sure whether to sit on the end of her bed or just lean against a wall or something, but as he looks around, he sees the balcony door and walks toward it. From there, he can see exactly what she sees. It's a beautiful site, really. He has a similar view from his balcony window, but on his side, there's more activity because his view takes in the harbor of the town square as well. From this side, Annie's house overlooks the Victor's Beach, thus less traffic and less people. So quiet, so peaceful.

"Why are you smiling?" Annie asks. He didn't notice that she moved to stand right next to him, staring at his smile.

"Sorry, was I?" he says as the smile fades.

"Don't be. It's nice to see you smile. It was… real," she admits. She looks out in the direction he was looking. "I see you out there a lot in the mornings. You were there earlier today, weren't you?"

Finnick smiles again. "Yeah, it relaxes me. Helps me to…" he tries to find the right word for what he's thinking while he's on the boat.

"Find yourself again?" she concludes. Finnick turns his head to look at her, somewhat amazed at her perception of him.

"Yeah, I guess so," he admits. Then he refocuses on the current situation. "You ready?"

"Yeah, I guess so," she says back. He gives off a chuckle of his own and decides to help bring her bag down the stairs for her.

As he gathers his own things back at his house, he wonders just how perceptive Annie is. What she knows about him after their times together, during training, during the Victory Tour, and that awful final night at the Capitol. Just the thought of it brings a scowl back on his face. He's glad to at least have left the house before thinking about it.

He remembers it as if it just happened last night. He had hoped that Annie was hiding in some other part of the Banquet Room when he left with the redhead. Nukhee was her name. He only remembers it because he has been trying so hard to forget it. He had done what was requested of him by President Snow, played his role as he normally does during the Games. But it was all for naught. He wouldn't have known either way if Nukhee hadn't said anything. But she did.

"Where do you get these beautiful roses?" she asked. "They smell so deliciously sweet."

"There's only one place to get them, darling," he said as he hid his disgust about those roses behind his Capitol grin. "The president only hands them out to those that give something in return, right?" he continued, hinting at the reason for their interlude, but her face brightened up in girlish surprise.

"Oh, you know the president, of course! I so wanted to meet him tonight, but then you came along…" and she giggled as she stroked Finnick's arm teasingly.

Finnick never questioned the president's assignments. He didn't want to know the reason or the cause for why Snow assigned him all these women. He assumed it was for money or a tradeoff of something else more valuable. But all the women knew President Snow. All the women he had been with had made a deal with Snow personally. So, how could Nukhee not be on a first-person basis with Snow?

"I have to go," he uttered. At that moment, Finnick found himself dressed and out of Nukhee's place without so much as a goodbye kiss.

As he headed back to the train, he went through the conversation with Snow in his head and came to one dreadful conclusion. That Snow might not have ever intended to recruit Annie at all, but because Finnick had come in to meet him with such an arrogant attitude, Snow found a way to manipulate Finnick yet again. It was so easy, too, for Snow. He could manipulate others to do his bidding as long as there were people that they cared about, that they loved. Finnick loved his parents. Snow used that to his advantage. Now Snow did it again, and this time, Finnick knew it was just a warning.

By the time Finnick had gotten on the train, where everyone had been waiting for him, he was so emotionally worn from the events of that evening as well as the whole tour that he wanted so badly to just sleep and never wake up. Then he paused in front of Annie's room. Annie sat there on the side of her bed, her head slightly tilted. She looked at him with sad eyes, but didn't say a word. He didn't either. He simply put his head down and went to his room. He didn't come out until they arrived back in District 4.

Since then, Finnick had not been able bring himself to look Annie in the eyes. And the rare occasion where he was instructed back to the Capitol in the months after the tour, it was always hard for him the few days after to pretend that nothing was wrong. He would spend his mornings on his boat doing just what Annie had perceived. Finding himself again. Each return became harder than the last.

Now Annie will be with him again on this trip. He doesn't know how she'll take it, being there as a mentor. Having to watch the gruesome acts of violence displayed on the screens in the remake center will be hard, no doubt. But he knows he won't be able to spend much time there with her. He knows the president will keep him busy with an assignment or two or three, however many he wants to assign him. It was his agreement, after all. To take on more assignments so that Annie wouldn't have to. At least that's what the agreement was, but Finnick will never know for sure if President Snow had actually wanted Annie in the first place. And after what happened earlier today, he knows Annie would not have been able to do it even if it meant her life.

"You know, the way you're bounding down the stairs, someone would think you were actually excited to go," Turlach says as Finnick makes his way down the stairs.

"It's not excitement that you're seeing," replies Finnick. Finnick looks at his big brother who wears a concerned look on his face. They've gotten along pretty well since their parents died, maybe even more because of that. But lately, with Finnick having to go to the Capitol more than once a year, Turlach can see the affect it's having on Finnick and it's not good. Finnick's declining optimism and the fact that he has been waking up more in the middle of the night in the days after coming back from one night at the Capitol.

"What is it, then?" asks Turlach.

Finnick shrugs his shoulders, and answers "Anxiety? I honestly don't know. I'm still trying to figure things out myself."

"And you can't do that here in District 4?" asks Turlach somewhat impatiently.

"No, not now. I have to be there," Finnick pauses.

"So you can add another set of women to your 'list'?" Turlach says pompously. Finnick doesn't look at Turlach, but Turlach feels his regret right after the words came out of his mouth. "Sorry-"

"No, you're right," Finnick cuts him off. "That's exactly why I have to go, to give as many women as possible the pleasure they so desire from me."

"You know that's not true. I'm just frustrated because I know you're keeping things from me," says Turlach. He stands in front of his little brother, forcing Finnick to face him, to look him in the eye. "You're my little brother. I'm supposed to watch out for you, aren't I?"

"Are you?" asks Finnick. Turlach isn't exactly sure if Finnick is implying something, but he feels the slight ache in his heart anyway. He wants to ask Finnick what he means, but at the last second, decides against it. If it is what he thinks it is, he'd rather not know. He'd rather not be reminded by his little brother the fact that he didn't volunteer to take Finnick's place when Finnick's name was called in the reaping 5 years ago. Instead, he sighs and just stands aside to let Finnick go. Finnick puts his hand on Turlach's shoulder, and Turlach hesitantly looks back at Finnick. "Yes, you are. But I still need to go to the Capitol. Annie still needs my help, you know that."

Turlach nods. "Then help her."

"Can you keep an eye on her dad?" asks Finnick. Turlach would've done it anyway, but having Finnick ask him for help gives him a considerable sense of usefulness that he hasn't felt in a while, especially from his little brother. Turlach repeats the gesture and place his hand on Finnick's shoulder.

"Sure, I can do that. Take care of yourself over there, okay? I heard those Capitol women can be really demanding," Turlach jokes half-heartedly. Finnick curls his lip in that fake confident smile he sees when Finnick is on the television.

"You know I will."

They walk out of the village, just as everyone else does, and heads towards the square for the reaping of the 71st Annual Hunger Games.

In his head, Finnick hears the question he asked Annie earlier. "You ready?"

"Yeah, I guess so," he whispers to himself.

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