District Thirteen - Promises
She doesn't believe them when they tell her.
I am there in the hospital with her when the footage runs live. We all see it—Peeta's rampage, the black wave, the explosion. All of it. We see their faces flash across the screen like I saw those faces in the night sky so many years ago.
The hospital ward is a mixture of emotions. There is a lot of anger and sadness, yelling and crying. I feel a sense of hopelessness, of weightlessness, like being suspended in midair, like the world around me isn't real, like this is all a dream. I've felt only bitterness for so long. It's hard to remember how to feel anything else.
She is there with her eyes glued to the screen the entire time, watching with horror as her husband perishes. I see a tear slip down her cheek. I watch her whole body collapse in itself. I feel bad for her, but I don't even want to try to comfort her. That would just end in disaster, like it always does when we interact.
The chubby blonde one is crying, too, but she doesn't do it all prettily. Her face gets red and blotchy and her nose drips snot. I guess she's crying for Katniss or Peeta or Gale, someone from her district. More likely she is crying for everyone else's suffering. She seems like the kind of idiot who does that.
She wraps her arms around Annie and must say something along the lines of, "It's okay, he's in a better place," because all of a sudden Little Miss Sunshine isn't so pretty and delicate anymore.
"He's not gone!" she screams. She pulls out of Delly's grasp, her face red and her eyes bright green, like a cat's. "He's not dead! He's not! He's not!"
Annie doesn't let anyone touch her. She just keeps screaming, "He's not! He's not!" Sometimes she says something logical, like she won't give up hope until they find the body, until there is more evidence than just the video and the Capitol's gloating. But mostly it is screaming.
Eventually they have to hold her down and sedate her. And, of course, they bunk her with me.
"It'll be best if she wakes up to a familiar face," a doctor tells me as she lays Annie in the bed next to mine.
"I doubt I'm the familiar face she wants to see," I respond.
"I know your history, but surely you can empathize with her. After all, you were friends with him, too, weren't you, Johanna?"
I just give her a blank look. "You obviously don't know much about me, do you?"
After the doctor leaves, I stare at Annie for a long time. She's all I have left of Finnick Odair, that stupid pretty boy who somehow found a way in to the shadow of my heart. I wish she didn't cover her ears after everything I say, or whisper to herself, or stare off into space. I wish she was more like Katniss, tougher and meaner and easier to relate to. I feel a sharp pang in my chest when I realize that I'll never see her again, either.
I know that in light of Finnick's death I should probably feel some kind of deep emotional bond to Annie, but I don't. I don't know if you could even say that Finnick and I had a deep emotional bond. It was more like we understood each other. We had a symbiotic relationship. He kept me from doing stupid stuff, reminded me why I had to stay alive. I don't really know what I did for him. Maybe he just liked looking at my sexy body.
I am definitely obligated to take care of Psych Ward over there, but I know it won't happen. She's got plenty of others who will do that—Delly and Greasy Sae and probably Haymitch. She doesn't need me breathing down her neck, too. Hell, if she asked me to off her, I wouldn't blame her. I'd probably do it.
She mumbles something in her sleep. Her eyes flutter open later. They roam around the room until they rest on me. "Johanna," she whispers. "…what…where…?"
"You showed your crazy," I tell her, looking at the ceiling. "They sedated you and brought you in here. Finnick's dead, Annie. The President blew him up."
Her face contorts into something like disgust and anguish. She rolls over so she's facing away from me, toward the white wall of our room. I hear her muttering something to herself. After a while it starts to get annoying.
"Either speak up or shut up," I snap. "I'm tired of listening to that noise. It's like static."
"Finnick wouldn't do that," Annie says louder. She sounds so confident I have to do a double take to make sure that it's the same girl. She's looking at the ceiling like me, her face calm and still. "He promised."
"Oh, please," I scoff, sitting up on my elbow. "What did he promise you? Did he tell you it wasn't dangerous? Did he say he'd come back? He lied to you, Annie, and you're a fool if you believe him."
"Finnick doesn't lie to me!" Annie shouts.
"Really? He never lied to you? He told you about the plans for the Quarter Quell? He told you about District Thirteen? He told you about everything he did in the Capitol, about every sleazy woman he fucked?"
"Shut up! That wasn't his fault! He couldn't help that!"
I know I crossed a line, but I don't care. "What, are you going to cover your ears now? Are you going to go off into Annieland? You know he called it that behind your back. He probably didn't even have to make an effort to fool you—you're too busy blocking out the world that you don't even see what's right in front of you! If you don't like something, you close your eyes against it. You're weak and pathetic. I could never understand what he saw in you."
Annie buries her face in the pillow, clutching it in her fists. I lay back down. There's a heat rising up from my chest—I'm getting ready to cry. Damn. I hate crying. It's not going to happen, not now, not ever again.
Little Miss Sunshine mumbles something from her pillow. I'm just pissed off enough to growl at her to speak up or shut up again.
"Finnick…never told me the specifics," she says quietly. "I knew there was something special happening in the Quell, but he wouldn't tell me because then I'd be in danger. He didn't tell me about District Thirteen because he said he didn't really know anything about it himself. And he told me whatever I wanted to know about…about the Capitol women, no matter how painful it was for both of us. He calls it Annieland in front of my face, too, not just behind my back. He wants to go there one day. And you might think I'm weak and pathetic, but that's not all he sees in me. You can't sum up a person in just two words."
"…Stop talking about him in present tense," I say after a long pause, shifting my gaze back up to the ceiling. "He's dead, stupid."
"I'll believe it when I see a body," Annie retorts, doing the same. "Until then, I'm not giving up hope."
We lay there in silence for a long time. I can't bring myself to sleep. Finally, someone comes to check on Annie and, at my vehement request, takes her to a separate room.
I wonder if they'll actually show her the body, or if there will even be a body to show her. Which will do the most psychological damage? Seeing the mangled remains of her husband on a metal slab, or the lack of closure that will leave her uncertain for the rest of her life? I guess it doesn't really matter—the only person I can think of that is more psychologically damaged than Annie is me.
The noises from outside attract my attention. Slowly I crawl out of bed and pad into the busy hospital, wandering around until I come across a group of frantic medics and patients. Obviously something has happened in these few hours I've been dormant—the bitterness and anger have become merriment and profound suffering. I hear screaming and turn to find that the source is Katniss's mother, who is in hysterics and is fighting off Greasy Sae and Gale's mother. Haymitch ducks from the crowd surrounding her and backs away solemnly.
I hurry over to him and grab his arm. "Hey, big shot. What's going on?"
"We've taken the Capitol," he says hollowly.
A grin splits my face in two. I punch him in the arm, hard. "It's about damn time! I was wondering when all this was going to pay off!"
"There's something else you should know, too," he continues with a sudden sense of urgency. "We were wrong about Katniss's squad. It turns out some of them did escape the blast. They're part of the reason that we were able to overthrow the President."
"Wha…?" For the first time, hope bubbles in my chest, big and bright. "Katniss is alive?"
"And Finnick? Finnick's alive?"
"He survived the blast, but reports say that he was…defeated by some mutts in the underground tunnels. I was just on my way to tell his wife." Haymitch puts a hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry. I know he meant something to you."
It is like the floor is falling from under my feet all over again. It is almost made worse by Haymitch's words: I know he meant something to you. Not, I know how much he meant to you, or he meant a lot to you. He just meant something, remarkable only because no one else means anything.
"You know she's not going to believe you without a body," I warn.
"There…isn't one," Haymitch admits. "The mutts…"
Bile rises in my throat. "They ate him."
I shrug his hand off my shoulder and shove past him, past all the chaos surrounding Mrs. Everdeen, making for the exit of the hospital. He calls after me, "Hey! Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm going to tell her," I say.
Haymitch catches up to me, stopping me with an outstretched hand. "You can't do that! She's been traumatized enough already. Just let me handle it."
"Annie will want to hear it straight," I say confidently. I don't know why I'm even bothering with this, it's only going to become another screaming match between us, but something inside is urging me to do it instinctually. And if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's to always follow my instincts. "She'll want to hear it from me. Trust me, Haymitch. Besides, I think you've got enough to handle already." I gesture to Katniss's mother, who they have managed to calm down. She's seated on a cot, staring blankly into space. It's almost worse than her wailing. "What happened, anyway? Shouldn't she be happy that her daughter is alive?"
Haymitch suddenly looks very, very old and tired. "One of them is. Someone sent Prim into battle with the rest of the medics. She didn't make it back."
"Oh," is all I can say. Katniss's kid sister, Primrose Everdeen, is another casualty of war. I didn't know much about her, only that she never hurt anybody, that she only wanted to heal, and that she had a talent for it. It seems like we're sacrificing everything that's good and innocent for this cause. What's left? People like me and Annie and Katniss. The broken ones.
"Okay," Haymitch says, stepping aside. "Go. I'll let you tell her. Just…be gentle. Don't let her do anything extreme."
He tells me her room number and I practically sprint away before he can change his mind. Delly Cartwright fidgets by the door, looking like a timid, pasty mouse. My nose wrinkles in distaste.
"Oh! Johanna, what are you doing here?" she asks, surprised. She always seems a little bewildered in my presence, like she expects me to be off demolishing cities or eating the fingers of small children, or something.
"I need to talk to Annie," I tell her. "She in?"
"Yes…but she won't let anyone see her. She refuses to—" Delly lets out a little shocked squeak when I push past her and open the door to Annie's room, knowing from experience that they don't have locks. I turn back to Delly, whose eyes are wide at my breach of privacy.
"Don't bother us, this is official, important business," I say. Then I slam the door in her pasty, mousy face.
I stare at the door for a second, gathering my thoughts. Delly isn't pounding on it in protest, so I guess she's not as stupid as I gave her credit for. I don't hear anything behind me. I don't sense anything, either. I might as well be in the room alone.
Slowly, I turn around. It takes me a second to find Annie. She isn't laying on the bed or seated in a chair—she's curled up in the corner with her knees to her chest, staring at nothing just like Mrs. Everdeen. I don't know what's happened since the nurse removed her from my room, but she looks bad. She looks like she did back in the Capitol, except cleaner. But the terror is there. The terror, the loneliness, the hopelessness, the confusion. The crazy. It's there. Like someone has just killed an Avox in front of her like they used to, just to get her screaming, to see if she'd say anything valuable. Just to hear her scream. To hear us scream.
I push the thoughts away, taking a few deep breaths.
"You were right, Annie," I say, not even bothering to beat around the bush. "He survived the blast. But he didn't survive the battle. They confirmed it for real, this time. He's dead."
"I know," she whispers.
"Who told you? This information is—"
"No one told me. But I knew he wouldn't break his promise," Annie breathes. She drags her nails across her forearm, drawing blood. "He wouldn't break his promise."
She's not making any sense. "Annie, he's not coming back. But it's not his fault. That's not a promise he could keep."
"He kept it!" Annie shrieks. "He came back…h-he came back…"
"What are you talking about?"
She looks at me for the first time, her eyes green and bright with tears and agony. Her lips form the words, but I think she says them a couple times before the message becomes clear.
I can only stand there and stare at her. What do I say to that? Congratulations? My brain goes numb. Annie's eyes shift to the floor, but the paralysis doesn't subside. She starts rocking back and forth, words tumbling out of her mouth in sobs so powerful I can barely understand her.
"The…the doctor told me…when she examined me after we left…she tested me…and I knew, I knew when she told me…when she said, 'Congratulations, you're going to be a mother'…I knew then that he was gone. He wouldn't have left a part of himself…for me to have…not like this, not now. Not unless…" She bursts into ragged gasps, tears flowing down her face. "Oh, gods…Finnick…"
I sink to the floor, resting against the door. A baby. Finnick has a baby. I remember having a conversation with him one year in the Capitol about children. He said that he didn't think he could reproduce, with all the sperm killers he choked down. "I don't want children with any of those women," he'd declared. "There's only one woman who I want to start a family with, and it's never going to happen anyway."
It did. And he'll never get to see it.
I crawl over to Annie and grab her hands before she can make a bloody mess of her face, too. She starts struggling, but I pin her down so she can't move. "Annie. Annie, look at me," I repeat it until she does, until she goes quiet and her eyes lock on mine. She looks like a trapped wild animal. "Listen to me closely. You are carrying Finnick's child. It's the only thing left of him in this world, you know that? You better take care of that baby. I don't care how sad you get, or how angry, or whatever it is you feel. That kid is going to grow up healthy and strong and alive, and you're going to be there to raise it. It needs a parent. Do you understand me?"
Annie shakes her head. "Not me…I'll be a bad mother…"
"There is no one else Finnick would have wanted. He told me so himself. He only wanted to start a family with you. That's why he married you. He wanted to have a life with you, and he wanted to make life with you. He loved you more than anything. What he felt for you was real and good and true, something that I can't even begin to comprehend, something that was so rare for him. Don't throw this away because you're afraid. I know you loved him too, and I know you're going to love this baby. That's the most important thing." I take her hands and press them to her belly, where the life is growing. "Have faith in Finnick's decision. Have faith in yourself. You know this is what he would have wanted."
I let go of her hands. She lifts them from her abdomen and stares at them, like she's already got the baby in her hands. When she looks up at me, her eyes are flashing with the strength of motherhood. "He would have wanted this."
"Finnick would have been a good father," I say.
"He would have been great," Annie agrees. "You know…he loved you, too. He loved you in a way I've never seen anyone love another person. He really did."
I shake my head. "He didn't. I represented everything he hated in the world, just like you represent everything he loved. He didn't love me. He just couldn't bear to let me go."
"But you loved him," Annie says, phrasing it almost like a question but not quite. "And you'll love this baby. Come with me to District Four after this is all over, Johanna. Come with me and help me raise Finnick's baby."
I think of the little bag of pine straw in my drawer, of rough bark under my hands and the smell of sawdust and smoke in the air. I think of the snowcapped trees in the winter, sticky sap in the summer, mosquitoes and cicadas and kicking pinecones. I remember the hardy laughter of men at work, calloused hands on my hips and whiskers scratching my neck, jars of pickled vegetables and meats rattling on the shelves. Log cabins puffing smoke, fresh blueberries on my tongue, an axe in my hand.
"There's only one thing in this world I can bring myself to love," I tell her. "And it's not in District Four. It never was."
"…I understand," says Annie. "Thank you, Johanna."
I see the look on her face, and I know she doesn't need my kindness anymore. I'm amazed I managed this conversation without slapping her at least once—maybe it is because she's the vessel for Finnick's legacy. Or maybe I'm actually starting to like her a little. Or maybe I'm just getting soft. I think I can manage one more act of decency today, though. Because he deserves that much, at least.
So I take her hand and don't let go.