A/N- I know that I no longer exist on this website, and I am sorry for that. This was written for my darling Penelope Wendy Bing as part of a Christmas Fic-Exchange that I couldn't help being a part of. Pen-la, I love you very much, and I hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and have many blessings in the year to come.
I hope you enjoy this.
It's odd that nothing I do for him is right anymore; nothing I say is ever what he wants to hear, and I can never touch him in a way that is comforting. Even the way I walk next to him on the cold, winter's shore of the ocean is somehow wrong, unfulfilling, not enough. I'm not enough for him anymore, not enough to make him smile.
I should have expected this. After all he's been through, there's no reason for him to still be satisfied with this humble girl from District 4, but somehow, I always thought he would be. Once I accepted the fact that he loved me, that is. I never imagined this as an outcome, but now that it is my present, I must find a way to make the best of it.
Walking along the shore isn't the same anymore, and Finnick isn't the same. But I am the same, which means the ocean still terrifies me in a terribly beautiful way, and it still calls to me in a way much the same. So as Finnick's cold hand rests in mine, I pretend that it is imbued with the warmth of the ocean in summertime, fish dancing against my legs with their smooth flesh and water rushing between the gaps in my fingers.
Closing my eyes makes the fantasy easier to live out, because I always seem to be just a blink away from losing touch with reality. I stumble in the hard-packed sand, but Finnick's hand doesn't squeeze on mine reassuringly like it used to when I tripped, it just lies limply in my palm, as if the only way it could bear to be with me was to pretend it was somewhere else.
So I squeeze his hand instead, hard enough that he flexes his fingers a tiny amount, and my hand stings with the exertion. It causes blood to flow into my fingertips, and the warm water cascading through my fingers is less of a fantasy and more of a reality now.
Golden threads dance before my eyes, beautiful and strange; turning what was once serious into something so incredibly funny that a laugh burbles to my lips. The threads of gold coil together to become thick, strong ropes that twist around the pale, white necks of mermaids, and I laugh as their faces turn blue against the constricting loops, becoming indistinguishable against the water surrounding them. As the vision fades, my eyelids flutter open to the image of Finnick, who has stopped and limply placed his arm around my waist.
I look into his sea-green eyes, once so lively and laughing but now expressionless, and a memory finds its way into my mind, projecting itself over the field of my vision with almost complete transparency, so that while I see the past, my present is still flooded with Finnick's lifeless green eyes.
"Are you, are you coming to the tree?" I ask Finnick as I twist away from his grasp, my feet dancing through the cold waves of the ocean in the dead of winter. "They say it's under the waves now." I quirk my lips up in a gross approximation of a smile, trying to get that flash of white teeth he so often rewarded me with in the past.
"Annie, get out of the water; you'll catch a cold." The smile drops from my lips as the tone of his voice reverberates through my skull, banging the broken drum or my barely-beating heart. His voice is so flat, so dead that it makes me want to cry. Something twists inside my stomach, and it is so real and painful that I want to cry out, but I resist because I know that the damage is being caused by nothing physical.
"Maybe I want to catch a cold," I say in a childish tone, as if I am being rebuked by my mother and don't want to listen no matter how illogical I sound in my argument. "Maybe…maybe I want to drown. Maybe I want to slip beneath the waves and never resurface. Maybe I would find the Hanging Tree there." My tone becomes wistful, because the Hanging Tree is a sort of fantasy of mine. The Hanging Tree is the memory obstructing my view of Finnick's eyes.
When I was younger, my aunt told me a story about a place called Atlantis. It was a utopia, where everything was beautiful and everyone was happy. But something happened to the place, because nothing perfect can ever last, and it sunk beneath the waves of an ocean, swallowed whole by the mightiest deity of all.
When Katniss sang about the Hanging Tree, stories began to form among citizens of District 4—stories about the Hanging Tree being underwater, the only place that something could be beautiful and deadly at the same time. It reminded me of my aunt's stories of Atlantis, and I began to yearn for it, that Hanging Tree beneath the waves of my ocean.
"Don't be silly, Annie, those are just stories. The Hanging Tree isn't even real."
"Oh, Finnick, but it is, and it is quite beautiful. The branches are draped with golden ropes, and hanging from the ropes are angels, dangling by their angelic necks like a Christmas tree topper gone horribly wrong." I crack a wry smile, and spin in the waves lapping at my ankles until my simple, white dress twirls away from my skin. "And all of the angels are singing:
"Are you, are you coming to the tree?" I sing in a haunting voice, a voice that has always frightened strangers and brought chills to my Finnick.
"Annie, stop it." He doesn't look like he has chills; he looks like he couldn't care less, but somehow he sounds even less caring than he looks.
"Where they strung up a man-"
"Annie." His voice is dead, lifeless, ghostly.
"They say murdered three." I'm not even singing anymore, but somehow I can still hear the haunting melody surrounding us on the shore of this empty ocean.
"Strange things did happen here; no stranger would it be-"
"Annie, really. You're being childish."
It's not me, I want to whisper, but it certainly sounds like me.
"If we met up at midnight in the Hanging Tree." The song comes to an abrupt end, and the silence left in its wake is disturbing and final, working its way into my bones. Something inside me is yearning for release, aching to come out of me and fill this impenetrable silence with something, anything. The twisting in my stomach is so strong and fierce now that I can no longer contain it, and something inside me rips and tears, dragging its way out of my stomach and my throat as I scream so loud that Finnick disappears into vapor, leaving nothing but ethereal wisps of his sea green eyes.
"ANNIE! Annie, hang on, hang on!" The voice isn't dead, isn't uncaring, neutral, ghostly. It cares, the voice cares!
"Finnick?" I rasp, because suddenly my vision is cloudy and I can't see anything but a dim light above my head and I am conscious of the fact that I am lying on my back and there is something wet and sticky on my stomach, but I can't lift my hands to wipe it clean.
"Oh, Annie," the voice says softly, pityingly. "No, sweetie, it's Katniss."
Katniss? What's she doing on the beach? Where's Finnick. What's—
It all comes rushing back to me as tears leak down my face. The rebellion, the deaths, the Mockingjay. Finnick. My baby. "My baby."
"Right here, Annie. He's right here." Katniss holds him out to me as my vision begins to clear, and I scream, because I will forever be haunted by those sea-green eyes.