The Victor’s Village is on the water.
Probably, in the past, this has been considered an ideal spot. It wraps around a bay so blue that the color melts into the sky when the sun is at its highest point. The fishermen don’t come here, not because there aren’t fish but because there’s a ring of large rocks at the bay’s entrance, making the area private, perfect. Annie can remember a time when she would have given anything to live here, even in a little cardboard box, just to be able to live on these shores, to swim every day until she couldn’t and then fall into the white-warm sand and let the small waves bury her when high tide came in.
She even remembers one morning, years ago, absently, thinking the chance to live there might even be worth getting chosen for the Hunger Games. She quashed the thought immediately, but she can’t help wondering if it’s why the little slip of paper with her name on it was pulled out.
In the fourteen hours she spent not sinking at the Hunger Games, in the dark water under the dark sky as she was surrounded by the gasps and gurgles and bloated corpses of her fellow players, she could think of nothing but that moment. That throwaway thought which had doomed her to die that way. There had only been five players left but she couldn’t keep count of the cannon shots, and when they pulled her up into the hovercraft she thought it was because she’d drowned and just not noticed.
Now she goes down to the bay every day. She measures the distance with her feet from her door to the water but she never goes in, never lets it touch her. She knows, someday, high tide will rise higher and swallow her, leave her to tread water until her muscles melt off her bones.
Today she’s up early. She measures. Eighty-one, eighty-two...
There’s something in the water.
A golden head rises out of the water, bright green eyes fixed on her. She recognizes him, of course; everyone recognizes Finnick Odair. He gives her an odd sort of smile, and she recognizes that too - she couldn’t tell you what it means, but it belongs to those who know what it’s like to be in the arena, and no one else.
“You never swim anymore.”
She takes a moment to sort out what he’s saying. She had been trying to count the waves, to see if they might chase him up the beach. The three steps he’s taken out of the water are still deep in the sand, though, so she must be safe. For now. For this moment, which once you’ve been in the arena is all you can really ask for. “I never swim,” she says.
“You used to, didn’t you?”
“How would you know?” She asks irritably. This intimacy they share is uncomfortable in its perpetual reminder. She wishes he would go away. She wants to make him say it - because it’s the reason you won.
But he doesn’t even hesitate, and that isn’t what he says. “Because you used to sneak out to learn to swim when you were a kid. I was always afraid to, but watching you swimming behind the boats at night was what made me want to learn.”
She hesitates. “I forgot. I forgot how.”
He shakes his dripping hair a bit, and water goes everywhere. For the first time in ages, she doesn’t leap away from it like acid. Drops land on her cheeks, cool and open, and she remembers what it feels like to rise up from deep water, toward the light, the pressure dropping as the whole world under the waves gets bigger and bigger.
“I can teach you,” he says.