Everyone who lives near the water knows how to spot a drowner.
The ones who are flailing may be scared, but they're okay. The one bobbing silently in the waves, arms thrown out to the sides, mouth and nose slipping under with no fuss -- that one needs to be pulled in right away and probably treated for shock.
Annie Cresta goes quiet sometimes.
She hasn't been right since she got out of the arena two years ago. Most of the time, it's the mental equivalent of flailing in the water -- covering her ears, muttering under her breath, jumping at the mildest surprise. We've all learned to give her several soft warnings before we ring her doorbell. Sometimes, she doesn't even jump any more. Sometimes, she'll go several days without any incidents, almost the Annie she was before the Games. She'll go into town and shop, go out on her father's boat, and go on long beach walks with Finnick, which he's starting to call dates. (She's still not quite there yet, but she doesn't object to his classification.)
Then she starts to drown.
The first time was during her Victory Tour. She saw the face of the District One boy -- the one she killed, almost by accidenet, after he decapitated her boyfriend -- and she went absolutely still on the stage. Finnick swept in, totally against protocol, and gave her speech. He told me later that he rushed her inside as fast as he could, and she started screaming in the prep room, lost completely under the waves of her memories. He pulled her up as well as he could.
Since then, I've seen it a few times, always when she's in crowds. I visit her at home, and she's generally fine, if odd. But when we have a picnic in the village, especially if one of the other victors gets smashed enough to start talking about the Games, Annie's eyes will go wide, and she can't find her words. Finnick usually guides her home. Most of the others find her annoying. Even my patience is stretched sometimes.
But I can see that Finnick is falling for her. She will never treat him as an object -- I don't think she even registers how handsome he is anymore -- and she will always need him. So I find the place I need to be to help her.
She has been drowning for two days when I take her for a walk. It takes prodding to get her out of the safety of her house, but I think she'll do well in fresh air and sunshine, so I put my hand firmly on her shoulder and steer her out. We haven't gone far when she just stops walking.
"Annie, honey," I say, "don't you want to go to the dock and watch the ships?"
She turns toward me slowly, blinking.
I smile. "Your dad might be coming in today, remember?"
She nods vaguely.
It's surreal. I feel a wave of unreality come over me, and I wait for it to pass. It actually leaves me feeling a little bit dizzy. "Come on," I say. "Let's keep moving."
She frowns. Blinks. She finally speaks -- "Mags?" -- but her voice seems to come from far away.
"Let's keep moving," I say again, but this time I hear it. The words aren't coming out of my mouth much better than they're coming out of hers. Darkness flickers at the edges of my vision. I start to breathe too hard. "Annie, I..." I reach out for her, but my right arm won't move.
She blinks a little more, then suddenly, she's fully here, fully Annie. "Help!" she yells. "Anyone! Please!"
There's no one nearby. I try to tell her that I'm feeling better and it's all right -- I don't know why I feel compelled to say this -- but no words at all come out. My right leg buckles and I fall to the sand.
She runs to me. "I have you," she says. "I've got you."
Suddenly, her arms are under mine, dragging me up, pulling me back along the beach. She's incredibly strong. I didn't know that.
"Finnick!" she yells. Her voice sounds like she's far off at the end of a tunnel. "Finnick, get down here!"
Things go black for I don't know how long. I have the vague idea that I'm being moved around. I come to in a hospital that has to be in the Capitol. I don't know how I got here, and I can't seem to ask. My voice has returned, but so has my childhood accent, and even with that, the words don't seem to be shaped right.
I am there for a week, with no one to visit me. A therapist gives me pills and exercises, then I'm lifted back to Four on a hover craft.
Annie meets me at the landing site, Finnick at her side. They both look frightened... but frightened in the same degree. She's not drowning now -- I am.
"Mags," she says. "I brought you back as quickly as I could. But it took too long to get you to a hospital. I'm sorry!"
I try to say, Better a little mush-mouthed than dead on the sand, but almost nothing of it comes out -- it comes out sounding something like Behthehdeh. Finnick gets the gist and translates it. I have no idea how.
"You shouldn't be alone," Annie says. "The doctors want us to keep a close eye on you. So I'm going to come and stay with you. I'll take care of you."
I attempt a smile, and maybe get half of it right.
"I should have moved faster."
I shake my head and pat her hand.
I try to walk with them to the car, but my feet don't move quite right. Finnick picks me up and carries me.
Together, they get me back to my house. Annie has already set up my room for me. She's rigged up ship's rails for me to hold onto to get to the bathroom, and a bell to call her if I need her.
"And if you need me," Finnick says. "I'm just a phone call away. Annie's re-done your phone line so you can pick up from your bed."
"Very handy," I manage (vehenn, but they get it).
"Do you need me to stay, too?" Finnick asks. "I can. They thought a lady caretaker would be better, but I'll take care of you as long as you need. I don't care what anyone says."
"Until I die?" (Tidye?)
"Don't be silly," he says. "Annie and I aren't going to let that happen."
"He's right next door anyway," Annie says. "And if you'd rather have Finnick, I understand. He takes good care of me. But now, I can take care of you. I can."
I pat her hand and manage a relatively clear, "I know." I try to ask for something to drink, but the words are terrifyingly absent from my mind. I mime tipping up a glass.
"Water?" Annie asks.
She runs from the room and I hear her in the kitchen.
I pull Finnick to me. "She's fine," I say. If it's any more than sfai, I'd be surprised, but Finnick knows me. He knows what I mean to say.
"I know she is. As long as she's taking care of you, she won't drown. But if you need anything at all, you pick up that phone. If you can't say anything, just make a sound, and I'll be here."
"You're a good boy. Carolyn would be proud." (Yehgaba. Cainpra. I shudder at the sound of my own voice and resolve not to talk if I don't have to.)
Finnick leaves after a while, leaving me with Annie. She cooks for me, and does my hair. ("It's just like a slumber party with the girls," she declares. "I should do something fancy.") She stays with me for six weeks, until I'm walking reasonably well, and can manage to make myself understood about half the time.
She doesn't drown once.
That won't happen again until the 75th reaping.
Either the conversation alluded to at the end of Narrow Path in which Effie tells Haymitch that she can't wait much longer to have a child, or any other moment of happiness for Haymitch and Effie for Anon
(Luckily, this happens at the same time as the other anon's request, so hey -- twofer!)
"You know this is nuts, right?"
I take a deep breath. I knew what the first words out of Haymitch's mouth would be, and I promised myself before I came over that I wouldn't get upset. "I don't know anything of the kind," I say.
He stands up and goes across his living room. There was a time in his life when something like that would have been an obstacle course, but he's been sober for two years now, and keeping his place cleaned up is part of that. He claims it's a trick to help him remember not to get drunk ("If it looks spiffy, I don't want to be the one to mess it up"), but I think it goes deeper. I think keeping his place clean, keeping himself groomed, getting back into physical shape, and staying sober all come from the same place: He's starting, in some measure, to not hate himself anymore. I'd love to give him more time for this project before dropping this on him, but I'm quite frankly running out of years. "I'll mess it up, Effie," he says. "You know I'm going to mess it up."
"No you won't."
"Yeah? What makes you think so?"
"I love you."
"You've loved me through other screw-ups."
"Fair point. But I trust you."
"I don't know about this, Effie."
"I'm forty-four years old, Haymitch. I don't have time to wait."
"Can't they... I mean..."
"Make it last longer?"
"Maybe longer than they used to be able to, but not forever. And sometimes it can take a while." I go to him and sit down on an ottoman. His place looks out over the Capitol, and I can see lights twinkling in the darkness. It's not far from the little house we bought together right after the war, but after his last relapse, we agreed to live apart for a while while he got himself back together. "I want to have a baby, Haymitch. With you."
"There's got to be someone better for you. And for the hypothetical baby."
"No. There isn't." I hold out my hands.
After a minute, he takes them, and sits down beside me. "I spent the better part of a quarter century swimming around the bottom of a bottle."
"And you're always going to struggle with it. I know. But the doctors beat the neurochemistry of it. The rest is up to you, and I know you can do it. Because you want to."
"But a baby... I'll drop him."
I laugh. "You're not going to drop him. You haven't dropped Caleb yet, and you've carried him around half the Capitol."
"But I can give him back to Jo and Gale at the end of the day." He kisses me, then leans his forehead against mine. "My own child..."
"Will have a father who loves him. Or her." I smile. "You'd be a wonderful father, Haymitch."
He puts his hand on my face. "Effie..."
"Do you think I'd be here if I didn't think this was what you want?"
"What I want and what I can have --"
"Are the same today, Haymitch." I kiss him. "You can have the child you always wanted. There's no reaping. No war. You can give her the childhood you always dreamed about giving someone."
"I'm fifty-two years old. I'm old enough for grandchildren."
"Technically, so am I. But we wouldn't be the only people our age in the Capitol with a baby. A lot of people in the city put it off, and a lot of men just keep having children. My dad would wait for each one to grow up, then have another."
He looks away.
I bite my lip. "Did I misread you? Isn't it what you want?"
"Thirty years, Effie," he says. "You and I have been together almost thirty years. I think you've misread me three times, and never about anything important. Even when your brain was addled with those damned pills, you knew me."
"Then it is what you want."
He gets up and goes back to the window. He looks like a black cut-out against the sea of lights. "All my life," he admits. "But that doesn't mean I'll be good at it. I might be terrible, Effie."
"I asked Johanna if she was ever afraid of being bad at it. She said that everyone finds some way to be bad at it. And everyone finds some way to be good at it. She's trying to make sure that she finds more good ways than bad ways."
"Sounds like Jo."
"It sounds true." I get up and stand behind him, slipping my arms around his waist. He takes my hands and kisses my fingers, and I settle my cheek against his strong muscles. "We can do this. We can raise a child together."
He turns in my embrace and kisses me. "Effie, I will."
"But there's one thing. One absolute... " He kisses me again. "I love you, Effie."
I smile. He doesn't say it often, and I know it takes a lot out of him to do it. They aren't words he takes lightly. "I love you, too."
"But I'm not doing this halfway. Do you get that? No weird, off-kilter arrangement like Jo and Gale have. No five year Capitol contract that we evaluate to see if we still like the terms. I want to marry you. The old fashioned way that my parents were married. All-in, all or nothing, even when we can't stand the sight of each other for a while, right to the end."
"What if we fall out of love?"
"We fall out of love every three days. We always fall back in."
"Haymitch, you drive me out of my mind, but I'm never not in love with you. And I don't believe you've fallen out of love with me, either. Even when I was... addled."
"Okay, well, sometimes I'm not infatuated. You know what I mean."
"So... will you marry me, Effie? For real?"
"You don't even need to think about it?"
"I've been with you for three decades," I say. "And I'm not even winded. I could do five or six more without breaking a sweat."
He raises his eyebrows. "We'll see about the sweat thing later."
I blush. I don't know why after all these years. "You're impossible."
"You're pretty much going to be stuck with that if we go through with this, sweetheart."
I smile. "I'm looking forward to it."
He bites his lip and grins. "So am I."