Suzanne Collins owns everything Hunger Games.
Thanks to crumblingfool for the pre-read / sanity check, and thanks to you for reading.
This story takes place during the first half of Mockingjay, when Finnick won my heart.
They give him rope. He sees the calculation in their eyes, like they have plotted out the inches of his throat. It's not enough rope. Not enough. But that's a good thing. That's what he tells himself.
It's enough for some things, though. Enough for a sheep's shank or a monkey's fist. Enough for a bowline on a bight.
Enough to help his fingers find the way. Enough to moor him when he drowns inside the screams.
She crept up on him slowly. Less like the sudden wave that nearly drowned her and more like the tide, stealing inch by inch across the docks at home, rising until all the wood could taste was the sea, uncertain how it had become submerged.
The pale sea-green of her eyes.
When they fished her out of the arena, she was more sea than girl. The Capitol patched her up and put the waterlogged remnants of her on display, but after… after, he took her home. There was the guilt, of course. Before the Games, he'd given her what little he could, but it had all been with the knowledge that he was mentoring a dead girl.
Then she'd survived, and he'd been left wondering what more he could have given her. If he could have helped her to live.
Back at home, she'd sit on the docks and watch the water come in. Sometimes, for reasons he could never name but always understood, she'd put her hands over her ears and close her eyes, lost in another world.
"What do you see?" he'd ask her. "What do you hear?"
"I see him dying. I hear the silence after."
"What do you feel?"
"Like I'm drowning."
The first time he touched her, she shuddered, and he cursed his filthy hands. They didn't look right on her skin, not after they'd been…where they'd been. But as he pulled away, she shook her head, back and forth and back and forth.
So he didn't. He didn't pull away. He wrapped her up in arms he'd long since disowned and he held her.
She asked him questions. "Am I really safe?"
"Am I really home?"
"Are you real?"
He didn't know how to answer that one. He hadn't felt like he'd been real. Not since…
He held her tighter and pressed his lips against her forehead. "I am."
"Will you stay with me?"
He hears his name and tilts his head, his eyes still focused on the rope. The girl on fire is in front of him, her voice exasperated. It always is.
She must have been talking to him for a long, long time.
That seems to be happening a lot to him. He's here and not quite here, and if Annie asked him now if he was real, he doesn't know what he would say. It doesn't feel like he is.
He saved the girl on fire and he doomed the girl who almost drowned.
He doesn't know where the water comes from, hot and salty on his cheeks, but it tastes like home.
With the rope, he makes a noose. But it's not enough. It's not enough for him. And it wouldn't have been enough for her.
She crept up on him slowly.
He'd never associated much with the other victors. He felt like they all knew what he was now. How many of them had been turned into much the same? He didn't like the looks on their faces, the disgust that might have been real or that might have been projected but that still made him feel sicker than he did as he was washing off the stink of Capitol perfume.
But Annie… he could talk to her. He could help her. He wasn't the young, foolish plaything being sold for secrets and for lies. Not in her eyes.
He'd hear the tapping on the window late at night and look outside, knowing what he would find. He'd let her into the house he'd won through death and hold the girl who survived.
The girl who lived.
With him, she seemed alive.
"I don't like the dark."
"I have dreams and I don't know what is real."
"Then ask me."
She huddled deeper into him, lips above his heart. "But what about when you're not here?"
"I'm always here." He cupped her head in the palm of his hand. "In my heart."
He wasn't, though. Sometimes he was far away, looking at a woman with fuchsia skin and tattooed eyes and seeing nothing, listening to stories he hoped he might be able to use someday. Those women's secrets joined the secrets in his own chest, the ones that tore him up at night. The ones that made him rage, sucking in bile to keep them contained.
The ones that only Annie could soothe.
He wasn't with her in those moments, though. Not even in his heart. He wished he was, but he would never have brought her into those rooms. Would never have let her see that ugly, naked part of him.
He came home to her to find her in a ball beside his bed, rocking back and forth and back and forth. And he knew exactly how she felt.
That time, when he held her and uncoiled her, she held him. She uncoiled him.
Sometimes, he thinks she is the rope. They give him just enough of her to keep him mad in non-destructive ways, but not enough to hang himself.
They give her to him in the silences. In the fluttering, distracted pieces of his mind.
They give her to him in doses.
They give her to him in Peeta's face, growing sallow on a television screen.
Is she in the same place he is? Have they hurt her in the same ways?
Is she even still alive?
He's not as visible as the girl on fire is, and sometimes he thinks that's good. But at other times, he thinks he needs to pull himself together enough that they'll let him be on camera, and not just as a voice in the darkness, speaking for the dead. If he was the face of a revolution, maybe they'd show him her face.
Selfishly, he wants to see her one more time.
With racing, angry hands, he ties his thoughts of her in knots.
And then with a flick of his wrist, he lets them go.
She was lying on the docks that day, her hair tumbling around her, sea-green eyes trained on the sky. It was a good day. Beside her in the sea, he was showing off, even though she wasn't looking. He speared a fish and tossed it to her, knit a net together from filaments that shimmered gold.
He wanted to wrap it around her. To keep her tied up in it, safe and perfect and unable to get away. But she was never meant to be contained.
As he hauled himself back up onto the dock, he felt something tighten in his chest.
Her voice was clear and curious. "Why do you look at me that way?"
She was staring at him, still lying on her back, face turned toward the side now, gaze intent.
Because you're beautiful. Because you're the only one who understands me.
He didn't know how to respond, so he fell back on the worst of acts. He raised one eyebrow and pursed his lips. Set his hips at an angle he'd been taught that women found sexy. He gestured at his mostly naked body. "Why are you looking at me that way?"
Immediately, he felt unclean.
But then she laughed. God, she laughed. It was the softest, most beautiful sound.
He didn't want her to. He wanted her to look at him differently.
Still, he wasn't accustomed to rejection or to the twisted-up feelings inside, the miles and miles of rope that were knotted around her name. He'd never felt that way.
Never wanted someone to want his body.
Because no one who did wanted the rest of him, too.
She turned her gaze back to the sky, as if oblivious to the way the knots were suffocating him alive.
"I wouldn't mind if you kissed me, though."
Everything came untied.
He stood there, dripping, bare feet on salty wood.
"Not at all."
He was afraid. Part of him wanted to put his own hands over his ears and close his eyes – wanted to keep this memory one of just her and him.
He knew how to kiss, but he didn't know how to kiss her.
But when he sat beside her, she looked him in the eyes and touched her hand against his chest. And he knew. He threaded fingers through hair that was softer than the sea.
And when he pressed his lips to hers, it was just like that. Just that soft.
It was like surfacing.
"There's nothing you could have done to protect her."
He listens to the doctor speaking to him, unsure if he's heard this particular lecture before. Not that it matters. There are lots of things. Of course there are.
He could have never loved her. But then he wouldn't have been himself.
He could have died. He could have refused to do this thing, this important, important thing that's bigger than he is and bigger than who and what they are. He could have told Haymitch no.
He could have begged her to go.
He ties the most basic of slipknots and he thinks about the first time he let himself be a whore to protect her. He'd done it before, for the safety of family and friends. For no reason, really, because he'd had nothing to be and nothing to do.
But the minute President Snow said her name, he knew his fate was sealed.
He regrets it, now. He could have said no.
They could have killed her then.
And then they wouldn't be able to hurt her now.
The night before the Reaping, they lay together in his bed. No other woman had ever been there before, and none ever would be again. He held her and he kissed her, and he told her that, no matter what happened, he would always take care of her.
(The very thought of it makes him want to cry.)
"Do you love me?"
So many times, he'd told her to ask him anything, but she'd never asked him that before.
He touched her hair and kissed her lips. "I do."
Had it not been for the Reaping, maybe he would have said those words to her for real. But that would have meant…
His whole body shuddered.
She deserved better.
If she felt his tremor, she only held him tighter for it, caressed the side of his face. "I love you, too."
"Don't say that."
"But I do." Her face was confused. "We don't lie to each other. We never do."
"But don't…" He wanted her love more than anything in the world, but he wanted more. For her. He shook his head. "You don't know."
"I do." Her finger danced across the space between his eyes. "I know who you are inside. Not who they made you be." Then quieter, she asked, "Do you think I'm the person they made me be?"
How was it that the girl who was mad knew reality better than he did?
"No. No, sweet girl."
He kissed her lips then, kissed her nose and kissed her eyes. When he put his hands on her skin, it didn't feel wrong.
It didn't feel wrong.
And when she took him inside her, he felt like he was his own.
It wasn't until the jabberjays.
He'd feared it, of course, but it wasn't until then that he had known.
By then it was too late, though, the plan already set in motion. As soon as he could pull his head up from his knees, as soon as he could hear his own thoughts again, he turned his face up to the sky.
And he said, "Forgive me. Forgive me, please."
When the girl on fire figures it out, he gives her his rope. He doesn't know how she's been deluding herself for this long about what they're doing with Peeta, but he knows that it's something she can never un-know. She can never look at the broadcasts or the memories of those last few days the same. She can never look at herself the same way again.
Because there's no escaping who's to blame.
He shows her how to make a few basic kinds of knots and then he sends her on her way.
Curled up with his own memories and the sound of Annie's screams, repeated over and over by his own personal chorus of jabberjays, he makes his knots in his mind.
He is the rope.
And he's not enough.
He's not enough to hold himself together.
He stares into the emptiness. Into the dream-eyes of a sweet, mad girl.
Breathing salt water, he says, "You see, Annie?
"You see how now we're the same?"
They think he loses it after Katniss does, but the sad truth of it is that he lost it the minute Plutarch said they couldn't save her.
He wakes from the restless, drug-induced slumber they put him in to find the girl on fire staring at him, terrified.
He doesn't know why she always comes to him. Is it because he alone understands what it means to condemn someone with love?
"They're going in," she says, shaking. "They're going to try to save them."
And it's the first good thing he's heard in weeks. Dead or alive, she'll be his again.
She won't have to scream anymore.
He smiles and winds his rope around his hands. It's tying him to her now, over all those miles and all that space.
It's tying all of him. All the things he's said and been and done.
She wouldn't care, he knows that now. She wouldn't care what he's done.
After all, he's only ever made love to her.
Bound by knots and hope, he follows Katniss to the surface where he breathes in too-dry air, wishing he could see Annie's face and wishing he could see the sea. He watches the Mockingjay talk of love.
And it's not enough.
Her love was never enough.
But his and Annie's…theirs was.
He doesn't talk about love.
Instead, he talks about the parts of his life he came to hate, the parts where he was used. He tells himself Annie would have loved those parts of him anyway.
He's giving all of his secrets away.
After, he tries to make knots, but even the feel of hemp inside his hands can't soothe him. He isn't the rope and neither is Annie.
He's her. He's in her head.
He puts his hands over his ears.
"Did you love Annie right away, Finnick?"
They had to pull her from the sea first. She had to wash the memory of dirt off of his hands and off his lips first.
She had to remind him that there was more of him to see.
"She crept up on me."
Like the tide of a rising sea.
"I used to wish they let me drown," she said.
"Don't." He kissed her hands and kissed her hair.
"I used to."
"I can't…" He couldn't bear it. He never could.
She turned inside his arms and touched his face. "I don't now. I don't."
And in spite of everything…in spite of all of it and in spite of how he sometimes thinks he should have let her die, he can't.
He can't wish it.
He can't bear to think of a life that hadn't had her in it, either.
Somehow, he's there and it's time. He's with the girl on fire and he's burning alive. Gurneys rush past him and there's blood.
And then there's nothing.
Because on the other side of the hall, a woman is screaming his name. "Finnick!" There's brown hair and pale skin and all of it is running. He's running. "Finnick!"
He doesn't know how he got here, doesn't know what everyone is doing.
But he knows that voice.
He knows those eyes.
He knows who he is.
He's in her arms and she's in his and no one is in pain. No one's hurting.
And it's so much more than enough.
It's lips and mouth, skin and hands, and she's naked beneath this sheet the way he's always been naked before her.
As he kisses the girl who almost drowned, he lets go of the rope.
And then he lets her pull them both to shore.