"You're safe. You're safe," he whispered to the girl he held close. "I'm here, and you're safe in my arms. Safe. You're safe."
"If I'm safe, then why can't I breathe?" she thought. "Why can't I feel the air filling my lungs?" She rocked slightly in his grip, knees curled up to her chest and arms wrapped around herself. Her frantic mind barely registered his presence, much less his embrace. "I'm dying. I'm dying. I can't breathe. I'm dying," chorused through her head, her body shook uncontrollably, and tears made their way down her cheeks, one by one.
"Annie, you're safe. I'm right here. Nothing can hurt you. Do you hear me? Nothing can hurt you. You're safe," the young man crooned softly. Her rocking compulsion having subsided, he gently placed one hand on the top of her head and slowly stroked her curls, careful to make none of his movements too fast lest he frighten her more. One time, after he had carelessly settled his hand on her head too suddenly, she had begun ripping her hair out. He had exercised much greater caution ever since.
"Annie. Annie, listen to me. It's me, Finnick. I'm here, right here, and I won't let anything hurt you, ever. You're safe, Annie. You're safe with me. Safe. Safe." A single tear leaked from his eyes, and, unbeknownst to him, it dropped onto the bare skin of her neck that could never be clothed in anything that fell around it too tightly.
"Finnick?" she barely whispered, the warm wetness of the tear having finally pulled her from the trance and back into herself. Another tear ran down his face, and her hand slowly lifted to his cheek. "Finnick, are you crying?" Her voice and touch startled his gaze back to her child-like face.
"No, Annie. Of course not." He turned away to clear his throat into his sleeve, discretely swiping away any traces of the saltwater marks.
"Finnick Odair, don't you lie to me. I know what I saw." Her voice softened and she began stroking his face – "trying to memorize it," she would often say. "You know, crying isn't weak. When something hurts, you should just let it out. Like… like an arrow only flesh deep in your skin." Here she shuddered, fighting against memories that threatened to pull her back into the suffocating darkness. His arms immediately tightened around her to preserve both their sanities. "It's painful, but pulling the arrow and allowing it to bleed out a bit can make all the difference. So what's your arrow? Let me help you clean your wound, Finnick."
"Holding you, having you here with me is all I need. The Capitol can't touch us when you're in my arms. The arrow can't pierce my skin."
"But I'm such a burden, Finnick. I know you hate my fits. You hate having to comfort me." She turned away from his gaze and his loosely wrapped arms.
"Annie… Annie. I don't hate you. Annie, look at me." He lifted his hands to turn her shoulders and head back to his direct view. "I don't hate your fits, and I most definitely do not hate comforting you. I just… I hate why you slip away from me. I hate the visions behind my screams at night. I hate that I need a human touch all the freaking time to feel safe. I hate the reasons that we carry pieces of rope to knot. I hate the stupid, life-ruining Games!"
Eyes widening, the girl gasped. She managed to choke out "Me too" before the sobs and shaking commenced again.
"Oh! Oh, Annie! I'm so sorry! Annie! Come back please, Annie. Come back to me. You're safe, Annie. You're safe. Shh… you're safe. Safe and sound," he murmured.
"Safe and sound," she weakly repeated, still rocking but gaining some sense. "Knots, Finnick, knots."
He quickly dug out the rope lifelines from his pocket and placed one in her trembling hands. Together, they reviewed every knot they knew in the firelight until the memories subsided again.