Warnings: mentions of torture
Characters: Johanna Mason, Annie Cresta
Series: Part 5 of Please feel free to take this personally
It's Annie who finally convinces her to try.
Finnick can't, with his grin and his effortless dives that can't not remind her of that day in the Arena.
But their tiny little munchkin kid splashes around in the waves like it's the best damn thing in the entire damn world and laughs when Finnick flicks seawater at him, and Johanna still fucking flinches and it's fucking ridiculous.
Annie's sitting on the beach with her, and just like always, as she's getting up to go swim, she smiles and turns back to Johanna and asks, "You want to come in?"
She always asks, and Johanna always says no, except this time Johanna takes a deep breath. "Yeah," she says, meeting Annie's eyes. "Yeah, I do."
Annie's smile goes from polite to something--kind, and not pitying, and it'd have made Johanna sneer and say something mean a couple years ago but now she just takes the hand Annie offers her and gets up.
"Took me a year, after my Games," Annie says, and leaves it at that. Johanna hadn't exactly forgotten how Annie won her Games, she's just...well, she's been self-centered enough not to think about it. And Annie goes in the water fine now.
Johanna wants to brush it off with an "I'm fine" or a "It's stupid," or something, but Annie would just shrug so it's not worth it. She also doesn't let go of Annie's hand once she's on her feet, so they walk down to the waterline together.
The water's not freezing ass cold, which helps, but it comes washing up over her feet and she flinches. Annie stops, doesn't let go of her hand. "It's okay, Johanna," she says, "I'm here."
"You were there, too," Johanna hisses, because she can't not, and time was it would've made Annie pull away, time was that'd have been why Johanna said it, but now Annie just squeezes her hand.
Annie didn't get electroshock, didn't get starved as much or hit as much, the poor crazy broken girl got locked in a room and ignored unless the guards decided they wanted a new punching bag. Nobody believed she'd know anything.
Johanna's still seething about that, still has a piece of her hopelessly jealous that Annie broke picturesque and delicate and obvious, and has pulled herself back together with quiet, deliberate determination, that she and Finnick have kept each others' heads above water while Johanna drowned alone.
She knows the anger and frustration and seething guilty jealousy is rising up because the alternative is terror. Knows that about herself now when she'd never admit it before. Isn't mad at Annie, won't let herself be, and Annie hasn't said anything or let go of her hand, so Johanna grits out a "Sorry" that she actually does mean.
"It's fine," Annie says, in her even, quiet voice. Johanna glares at her, but doesn't say anything else. Takes two steps forward while the anger holds, till the waves bring the water up past her knees and she can't keep her breath even.
"It has to be fucking saltwater," Johanna mutters, and it doesn't smell the same, the stuff they used in the Capitol didn't have the smell of fish and seaweed and whatever else that makes up the smell of Four, but the water was salt. So she couldn't drink it, she'd guessed, only found out later it was better for conducting electricity.
"I don't know why," Annie says, a little startled, like she's never thought of it before. "I mean, why the ocean is salty."
It's a blatant attempt at distraction, but Johanna grabs onto it. "Aren't there rocks that're salty?" she asks, digging her toes into the sand and the stones underneath and forcing her brain to register the wide, open horizon, the houses on shore, the sun on her back, all the things that say "District Four."
"Maybe that's it," Annie agrees. "It would make sense."
A wave comes that pushes the water up Johanna's thighs and she bites down a scream. The water'd come rushing in, on the Block, swept her off her feet and dumped her in a corner, coughing out water on her hands and knees, waiting for the next wave or the next shock or whatever they were going to do to her this time, and she couldn't breathe and she froze, and she failed, again, and it shouldn't have been a fucking surprise, has she ever fucking succeeded at anything?
"I won the fucking Hunger Games," she growls, and she's not sure if it was even understandable, but Annie squeezes her hand again.
"Damn right," she says, with a force that's unusual for her. "And you can do this."
Johanna looks at Annie, who's looking back with fierce, flashing, Victor's eyes, and Johanna grins back and takes another step, then another, until the waves push the water up to her waist and her throat threatens to close.
It wasn't always electricity. That's what she told Haymitch because it sounds like a halfway sensible thing to be scared of, but sometimes they'd just flood her cell slowly and enjoy the spectacle, enjoy watching her try to hold it together, wondering when the pain was going to come, wondering if they were going to keep pumping water in until she drowned.
Johanna'd never learned to swim, no reason to learn when she spent half her childhood hauling lumber and the other half in a paper mill. Didn't see the point as a Victor, never bothered much with working out anyway. So when the water rose, and rose, until she had to stand on tiptoe and turn her face up toward the fluorescent bulb in the ceiling to breathe, she'd sobbed in terror and told them lie after lie, until the water receded.
Waist-deep and her body starts feeling lighter, the waves start lifting her onto her tiptoes and she's not stable, but Annie still has hold of her hand. She gets control of herself, takes deep shaky breaths and swallows hard. "I can't swim," she says.
Annie nods, Johanna sees it out of the corner of her eye because she's laser-focused on the waves coming in, watching so the rising water doesn't surprise her. "We shouldn't go any farther then," Annie says. "Just in case, until you learn."
Johanna looks at her. "Yeah, sure," she says, sarcastic. "I'm going to turn into a dolphin-mutt like your husband when I can't even fucking get wet without panicking."
Annie laughs. "You're pretty damn wet," she says, and Johanna just glares. "And you're still giving me shit, so I'd say you're doing fine."
And it's pandering and ridiculous, but it's obviously pandering and ridiculous, and that somehow makes it okay.
"I want to go all the way in," Johanna says, out of some kind of idiot stubbornness, the kind that's never done her one single favor, except, she guesses, keeping her alive in the Arena.
"Okay," Annie says, patient like she is when she's telling her kid he can't eat sand, "Then dunk yourself under here, I don't want you getting hurt, that's not likely to make you want to come back in."
Johanna winces. One step at a time, fine, but now she's supposed to throw herself under the water, on purpose? She bends her knees a little, watches the waterline rise up her stomach, stands back up quickly. "I can't," she says. It feels ridiculous, feels like failure, but she feels sick and lightheaded and the waves keep coming and it's too much and she backs up fast, one two three four steps, turns around when the water's back down at her knees, drops Annie's hand and strides up onto the shore and all the way to the edge of the sharp grass at the top of the beach. Stands there facing away from the water while stupid fucking tears come to her eyes and her breath comes shaky, wraps her arms around herself.
Annie comes up towards her, sideways so it doesn't look like she's sneaking. She doesn't say anything, doesn't tell Johanna she was brave, or it's a good first step, or say how good the water is. Just stands an arm's length away, facing toward the ocean.
Finally Annie lets out a whisper of a laugh. "Fuck them," she says, and everybody still gives Annie shit for being sweet and pretty and soft, so the expletive cuts harsh through the silence. And Johanna doesn't have any reaction to that other than to let loose a half-sobbing laugh until she runs out of breath.
Finally she wipes her eyes. "Seriously though," she says turning to actually look at Annie. "Fuck 'em." She turns to look back at the ocean. "And fuck all bodies of water, while we're at it."
Annie cocks her head to one side. "I dunno," she says, considering. "I like my bathtub."
That makes Johanna laugh again. "Okay," she allows. "Bathtubs can stay. But only hot water."
Annie nods. "Deal," she says, and Johanna grins, and goes with her instincts, and gives her a hug.
She always forgets Annie's taller than she is, because compared to Finnick, Annie's short, and she tends to act smaller than she is. But Johanna's head rests on Annie's shoulder and Annie's arms come around her back and hold tight and warm and comforting.
"You're amazing," Annie whispers in her ear. Johanna laughs a little.
"I got wet," she says, sarcastic, but she doesn't pull away.
"Yeah, you did," Annie replies, still standing there holding Johanna against her, and she's warm and solid and friendly and alive and the sun is warm and it's safe here, and finally Johanna steps away.
"Thanks," she says, looking away.
"Anytime," Annie says, with a twist of a smile.
Johanna shakes her head, and heads for home.