Title: When You Stand Beside The Ocean
Author: The Artful Dodger / dodger_sister
Fandom: Hunger Games
Category: Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Kid!Fic, Post-Series/Future-Fic, Romance
Characters/Pairing: Johanna/Annie & Finnick Junior
Warnings: PTSD issues.
Spoilers: For Mockingjay.
Summary: Johanna would never be rid of what they had done to her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t move past it.
Word Count: 5,066 words.
Date Written: Spring, 2012 (mostly).
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games series belongs to Suzanne Collins. I wrote this fic, for fun, not profit.
Feedback: Bring it. dodger_sister / TheArtofDodger@comcast.net
Beta’d: Thanks a hundred times over to the awesome vikingprincess. Seriously, babe.
Author's Notes: Look, I wrote femslash! I think this is my first. So, yeah, I love Johanna. A sick amount. And Finnick. And I am in love with the relationship of Finnick/Annie. And yet, post-series, there is nothing I ship harder than Johanna/Annie. Because they need each other, to move forward. And Finnick would want it that way. And also, there should be a little Finnick left in the world. So, really, this is just my headcanon for post-series, is what I’m saying here.
All Johanna could think about as she stepped through the front door of her house was how good a nice, warm bath sounded. They were all lavish with things these days that once would have been considered luxuries, but she liked none quite so much as a hot soak.
Of course, she should have known her fate would not hold such a thing in the cards tonight.
Instead, when she walked through the front door of the home she shared with Annie in District Two, she was greeted by a small two year old boy in the midst of a tantrum. Finnick Junior was laying on the floor, kicking his legs, flailing his arms about and screeching a slew of garbled words that occasionally sounded like ‘Johanna’.
She hung up her coat and looked down at the toddler.
“You got it out of your system yet, kid?” she asked.
Finn made a sort of hiccupping noise, choked a little on his own snot and looked up at her with his father’s big green eyes. He was wearing only a pair of undershorts and his yellow raincoat, which had been a present from the residents of District Four for the boy’s second birthday a few short months ago. He wore it most days, regardless of whether or not it was actually raining out, and despite Annie’s reluctance to even accept the gift in the first place.
“It’s not about that,” Johanna had told her. “They just…loved him too. In their own way, I guess.”
In the end, the boy wanted the damn coat badly enough and he almost always got what he wanted.
“Dodo,” Finn whined and held up his arms for her.
“Someday you are gonna learn to say my name right, aren’t you, kid?” she asked and scooped the boy up into her arms. He nestled down against her, head pressed into the crook of her neck and sighed out his exhaustion.
Something in the house smelled good and Johanna let her nose lead her towards the kitchen. There, in front of the stove, was Annie in a blue knee length skirt and yellow ruffled blouse, hair cascading across her shoulders. Johanna had opted to keep her hair short after The Capitol had shaved it - let it grow back into little spikes and kept it that way - but Annie hadn’t even cut hers once since they had moved into this house together after the baby was born.
“I just can’t seem to imagine going back there,” Annie had told her. “Not without him.” She had cradled little Finnick to her chest and closed her eyes. “It doesn’t seem right.”
“You wanna come home with me for awhile? I got a big place and nothing to fill it with.” She had been glad that Annie had been the one to bring it up because Johanna hadn’t been sure how to ask someone to come live with her, even though she had intended to all along.
“You think there will ever be a day when you don’t feel indebted to me?” Annie had replied and when Johanna had looked at her, the other woman’s eyes only reflected sadness.
“It isn’t about a debt. To you or him. I told myself I’d see you through the pregnancy and I’ve done that. This is just about…I don’t know. Not being alone with myself.”
It was half true anyways, even if the other half had been that she didn’t think Annie should be left alone with the baby, least not while she was still zoning out all the time and screaming herself awake at night.
Now, after two years, her house had become their house and neither one of them ever mentioned Annie and the boy moving out.
“He calmed down?” Annie asked without turning around as Johanna stepped into the kitchen.
“Seems like it,” she said and slid up beside Annie at the stove.
“Bout driving me crazy with that screeching,” Annie said and smiled, which helped Johanna breath a little easier. In the beginning, Finnick’s cries for food or comfort had often made Annie cover her ears and squeeze her eyes shut, blocking out some memory or another of other screams - screams of pain and misery and pleas for death.
Johanna knew, because most of them had been hers.
“Taste this,” Annie said and held a spoon out to Johanna. It was rice and some sort of fish with a creamy white sauce overlaying it.
Johanna opened her mouth, let Annie spoon fed her like she used to do Finn before he learned to hold utensils. There was something intimate about it, their faces so close as the taste exploded in her mouth.
“Delicious, as always,” Johanna said with mock-bitterness. Her complete and utter lack of ability in the kitchen was something Annie loved to tease her about and Johanna loved to let her.
Annie smiled and dropped her gaze, a slight blush creeping across her cheeks. “Thank you,” she said, though it was mostly directed at the floor.
Johanna ducked her head down a little, caught Annie’s eye. “Hi,” she said softly.
“Hi,” Annie whispered back and leaned in, pressed her mouth against Johanna’s, the softest of touches. “Missed you,” Annie breathed against her lips and Johanna leaned in for another light kiss before pulling away.
This was something new they were doing, since a day about two months ago when they had all been on a walk together and Finn had screamed until they let him out of his push-cart. His little legs had moved in those short jerky motions of all kids still figuring out how it worked, right up until he had tripped and landed face first on the hard ground.
He hadn’t moved then, laying perfectly still and Annie’s face had clouded over the way it used to do so often, though less and less these days.
When Finn didn’t get right up or start screaming for his mother in an instantaneous reaction, Annie had covered her face in horror. “He won’t get up, he won’t get up,” she muttered and that was the last thing she’d said for hours.
Johanna had picked the boy up off the ground then and he immediately burst into tears, blood flowing freely from a cut in his cheek.
Annie had been like a statue on the sidewalk, seeing something else in her mind - losing her husband or losing her son, Johanna was never sure most days. She had hoisted the boy up onto her hip and used her free hand at the small of Annie’s back to steer her towards the house.
Later, after she had cleaned up Finnick’s cut and sang to him until he stopped crying, she turned around to see Annie standing in the doorway of the living room.
“I’m just going to throw this out,” Johanna said and held up the towel she had used to clean the blood from the boy’s face. When she made to squeeze past Annie in the doorway though, the other woman had grabbed a hold of her wrist. Johanna had frozen then, so unused to being touched, too many memories rushing through her of the last time anyone had dared to put their hands on her.
“I couldn’t do this without you, you know. Not ever.”
Johanna had tried to shrug off the compliment, the hand on her wrist, but Annie had just tugged her in closer.
“Not ever,” and then she had pressed a kiss, quick and almost not-even-there, to Johanna’s lips before releasing her hold.
Johanna had left the room then to discard the bloody towel, her lips still warm and wet.
It had gone from there; stolen chaste kisses to good morning and good night kisses to hello and goodbye kisses to kisses that seemingly came out of nowhere and were only warned for by the light that raced through Annie’s eyes before she would lean in - always soft and warm and over far too quickly.
“He wanted to go out and play in the puddles,” Annie told her, snapping Johanna back to the present. “I told him it was too cold out. Apparently that makes me the bad guy, because he put on his raincoat and went to wait at the front door for you.”
“Let me guess,” Johanna said and stroked her hand through the boy’s silken hair. He was half-asleep against her shoulder and apparently had forgotten why he was throwing a fit in the first place. “I didn’t get home fast enough?”
“And it’s still too cold out,” Annie said in her best mother-voice and poked the end of the boy’s nose with her finger.
“Definitely too cold,” Johanna said and thought about her plan to take a nice hot bath.
She sighed out loud and wondered when she, Johanna Mason, had become this person - Wrangler of the Miniature-Sized Human. “How about a bath instead, Finny? You can even wear your stupid coat.”
Finnick grinned and patted her face with his soft little baby hand.
“It was suppose to be my bath,” she told him with a grumble, but shifted him to her other hip and headed towards the bathroom.
“Dinner in twenty,” Annie called after them and a much younger, far less domesticated version of Johanna Mason shuddered in protest.
But this Johanna, the one here and now, just hollered back with laughter, “Yes, Mom!” and turned on the bath water.
Finn was still splashing about in the tub, after Johanna had successfully managed to convince him to lose the raincoat, when Annie came and stood in the doorway of the bathroom.
“Have you washed him up yet?” she asked softly and Johanna tensed, then shrugged.
“Not as much,” she said, but couldn’t quite bring herself to look over at Annie.
There had been a time when Johanna couldn’t even be in the same room as Finn while he took a bath. When he was still so tiny and Annie would dump slow trickles of water across his body with a water cup and yet somehow all Johanna could see was him choking and sputtering and coughing it back up.
They’d moved beyond that now. They’d moved beyond a lot of things, truth be told.
Johanna didn’t mind the rain so much these days, though she tried to avoid going out in it if she could. Downpours and thunderstorms threw her off her mark, but her office at work had an extremely thick curtain on the lone window, and nobody ever said anything if she shut herself in there whenever the rain picked up. Baths were certainly no problem for her anymore, though she veered away from showers at all costs.
But the kid? She still couldn’t bring herself to dump water over his head, no matter how much shampoo had just been massaged into his scalp.
“Hey,” Annie said softly and sometimes it irked Johanna how utterly non-judgmental the other woman could be, especially with the memory of how Johanna had yelled at her, sputtering out indignantly that Annie had to get her business together, had to take care of herself, of her child.
Had to get her head up.
Annie knelt down next to her and leaned in, always careful not to come in from behind, unseen, and rested her head on Johanna’s shoulder, pressed a kiss to the crook of her neck.
“How about you go set the table, dish out the food and I can finish up in here?”
A spot of anger rose up in Johanna, unbidden though not unexpected, and she jerked away from Annie, her face hot. She hated her own weakness more than anything else these days and she had to breath through it, pull herself in from snapping at Annie unjustly.
“This is no good,” Johanna said through gritted teeth, anger ebbing and flowing against her.
Annie smiled, soft and sure. “It’s not perfect, but it’ll certainly do. Good enough at the least.”
Johanna grunted and then instantly deflated, air pushing out of her lungs in an escape attempt. “It’s much easier to argue with you when you are being unreasonable,” she said with half-aborted gruffness.
“I’ll try to be more unreasonable in the future then,” Annie said and shoved Johanna back and out of the way, so that she could slide in and reach for the shampoo.
Johanna hesitated for a moment before excusing herself to the kitchen, shutting the bathroom door behind her as she went.
Finnick threw most of his food on the floor and completely ruined any efforts they had just put in by giving him a bath, but he was less fussy than usual at dinner and Johanna figured he would be easily asleep once his head hit the pillow.
Annie talked a bit about her day, a large portion of it spent cooking for the orphanage, and Johanna held herself back from urging Annie to go down there, do more on-site volunteering.
Annie would go when she was ready.
Johanna talked some about her day as well, mostly more desegregation issues. She’d pushed past her own bitterness about having former Capital citizens in their district, had finally come to terms with the fact that a lot of district people had moved into the Capital and there were still so many structures and buildings destroyed that space was an issue - though honestly housing space was still an issue everywhere, no matter how fast they all worked.
She just hadn’t expected that blending everything would be as complicated as it turned out to be. Her job keeping the law forced her to swallow it down most days, but not everyone had that holding them back and sometimes Johanna felt like the risk of violence just wasn’t worth having these people here.
“Bed,” Annie said suddenly and Johanna looked over to see Finn had nodded off, head bobbing forward and then jerking upright as he startled himself awake again.
“To bed, my little darling,” Annie said and Finn crinkled up his eyes in disgust.
“Story,” he said simply, yet somehow still as defiant as most kids were when faced with the prospect of bedtime.
“You were just asleep two seconds ago,” Johanna said in exasperation, but Finn remained steadfast.
He tilted his head back, little nose pointed towards the ceiling and repeated, “Story,” before slamming both hands down on the table in front of him.
Johanna glared at the boy, futile as it was. In any showdown, Finnick always won. She knew first-hand that he got that trait from his father, be it good or bad.
“One story,” Annie said and scooped him into her arms. “One.”
“One,” Finn repeated, but held up his fingers to indicate two.
Johanna wouldn’t put it past the kid to be doing that on purpose.
“Me-maid,” Finn said once he was in his sleep-shirt and nestled under the blankets, with Annie perched on the edge of his bed.
“Mermaid, huh?” Annie asked. “How about the one with the stone warrior and the mermaid princess?”
She directed the question at Finn, but Johanna suspected Annie was really asking her.
“I like that one,” Johanna said from her spot leaning against the doorframe.
Finn looked from his mother to Johanna and then back again, before nodding and reaching up to pat his mother’s face. Annie smiled and tucked one foot up under herself on the edge of the boy’s bed.
“Once upon a time,” she began softly, though still loud enough that Johanna could hear her from where she stood.
Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom under the sea, there lived a mermaid named Nie. Nie was the Queen of all the mermen and mermaids, for she had been lucky enough to marry the great King Nick, strongest and bravest of all the underwater kingdom. Why, Nie had never known anyone so brave in all her life.
Nie and Nick lived quite happily in their underwater castle, so very in love were they. They often went out together to tend to the less fortunate mermaids and brought food and help to those that needed it.
“I will always fight for my people,” King Nick told her. “And I will always fight for you.”
One day Queen Nie was out for a long swim, when suddenly she felt something sharp pierce her side.
It was a hook from the end of a line and it had snared Nie in its grip. She struggled, jerking this way and that, but could not get free. The line was drawn up and before she knew what had happened, she was flopping on the deck of a pirate’s boat.
“We’ll get a pretty penny for her,” they said and threw her in the hold, where Nie stayed for many long dark days. Until finally, they took her ashore, trapped in a cage, and paraded the queen around like a sideshow to be laughed at and mocked.
One of the Land-King’s men saw her and demanded to know where they had found the mermaid. Then he ordered his men to take her away and Nie was roughly pulled from the cage and thrown onto their wagon. There she spent a whole day and night, flopping about on the dirty wooden floor, like the fish out of water that she was.
At last they arrived at the castle, and the Land-King’s men took her to a dungeon and left her there in the dark.
“We’ll be back tomorrow,” they said. “The King is a fan of seafood and he knows what a rare delicacy a mermaid can be. You’ll go well with some red wine,” and they laughed as they locked the door behind themselves.
Nie lay on the floor and cried. Would this be where her story ended? Would she ever see her King again?
Finn fussed a bit under the pile of blankets, nestling farther down into them, and brought his thumb up to his mouth, fingers curling around the tip of his nose as he did so.
Nie cried and cried, until her eyes became blurry. So blurry, in fact, that it looked like the walls of her dungeon were moving. She scurried backwards across the floor on her tail, as indeed a spot in the stone wall came bursting forward and then there was a woman standing there in the room with her.
The woman was made of stone, strong and solid, yet beautiful beyond words. She blinked her stone eyes at Nie and cocked her head.
“Why do you cry, fish?” she asked.
“I am no fish!” Nie said, finding her voice once more. “I am a mermaid,” and she sat up as straight as she could. “In fact, I am the queen of all the mermaids and mermen,” and she took a deep breath and let it out slow. “They call me Nie.”
“How did you come to be here?” the stone woman asked her.
“I was captured by pirates, who sold me to the Land-King. I fear I am to be eaten.”
“Barbarians,” the stone woman told her in disgust.
“Pardon my asking, but how did you come to be here?”
The stone woman shrugged, bits of dust falling off her shoulders as she did so.
“My name is Hanna and I am a stone warrior. I too was captured, though in a great battle. They intended to hang me, as an example, but I molded myself against the wall of this dungeon and when they returned for me, they thought I had fled. I had, in fact, intended to escape, but they shut the door as they left and I have been here ever since.”
“Oh my,” Nie said in shock. “All alone in this dungeon with no company or sunlight sounds utterly dreadful.”
“Hhmmph,” the stone warrior replied. “I suppose it has been rather unpleasant. But you are here now.”
“I fear not for long,” Nie told her.
Hanna said nothing, but gave Nie a strange quizzical look.
The next day, when the guards came to take Nie away, they were surprised by Hanna, bursting out of the wall and slamming them with her giant stone fists. One of the guards dropped his sword and Hanna picked it up and brandished it at him.
“Back away from her,” Hanna cried and the guards retreated in fear, slamming the dungeon door shut as they went.
“You have saved me,” Nie told her in surprise and awe. “I owe you a debt.”
“Your company is all I need,” Hanna said. “I have been alone a long time, no voices even to be heard through these walls. If you would talk to me, I will keep you safe.”
The boy’s eyes were falling shut now, his thumb slipped from his mouth, but Annie just tucked the blanket up under Finn’s chin and kept talking, soft and soothing in the quiet of the room.
Hanna sat next to Nie on the floor and the queen began telling her stories; talking of the beautiful underwater kingdom in which she lived, of her loving husband who was most certainly looking for her now, of the future Nie dreamed of in which all of the kingdoms lived in peace with one another.
Even when Hanna retreated into the wall, Nie kept talking, the flow of words a comfort to them both.
Every day, the guards would return, more and more in numbers. Often Hanna would be injured, a blow to the head, a cut to her face, her body bruised and damaged. The longer it went on, the more of a beating Hanna took and Nie knew it would not be long before her friend could fight no more.
And then, one day, a miracle occurred.
A rescue came to their aid.
The door to their dungeon was kicked in and men in black clothes and masks - Ninjas, Nie thought, though they had always been a myth that no one but very small children believed in - came rushing into the dungeon cell.
“The Mermaid King has sent us to rescue you, your highness,” one of them said and scooped the mermaid queen up into his arms.
“Wait, wait!” Nie cried, before they could carry her from the room. “Not without Hanna!”
The ninjas looked around the cell, but they saw no one.
Then suddenly, Hanna was bursting forth from the wall, just as she had done that first day, so many weeks ago, when Nie had been tossed on the floor of the dungeon and left there in the dark.
“She is a stone warrior,” the ninjas protested. “The Mermiad King did not hire us to save her.”
“She is my friend,” Nie said stubbornly. “And we shall not leave without her.”
So the ninjas and the mermaid queen and the stone warrior crept out of the dungeon and down the dark hallway. The Land-King’s guards descended on them and Hanna bellowed a great cry and slammed them one by one against the wall, leaving them broken and beaten on the stone cold floor.
When they escaped to the outside, Nie saw her friend turn her face to the sunlight and smile.
“We must hurry off,” the ninjas told them.
“I should go in the opposite direction and lead them away,” Hanna said, but Nie just shook her head.
“You will come with me. We will stick together through all things from now on,” she told her friend.
And when Hanna just cocked her head at the queen and smiled, Nie knew in her heart of hearts that they would be friends, together, for always.
And they always were.
Finnick’s head was rolled to the side, face pressed into his pillow as his little chest rose and fell with the breaths of his sleep.
“Dream well, my little merman,” Annie said softly and leaned over to kiss the boy’s forehead.
Then she stood and came over to where Johanna still stood in the doorway, trying to slide past her in the open space. But Johanna reached out and grabbed Annie’s hand, pulled it towards her and entwined their fingers together, palms warm and solid against each other.
The words always stuck in Johanna’s throat at times like these, but when she looked up she saw all the words she couldn’t say, bare and open, in Annie’s eyes.
Johanna nodded and let out a breath, because it was enough.
It was enough for them.
“Ergugh,” Johanna sighed out in a noise of exhaustion, collapsing back onto the sofa, sinking into the cushions as she did.
Annie was sitting quietly at the other end, knitting, the television flickering in the background with the volume down low.
“I told you,” Annie said softly, “you need to spend at least part of your day out doing field work. Sitting in that office for hours with a stack of paperwork does you no good at all.”
“It was raining today,” Johanna told her and Annie just murmured in understanding.
The television was reporting about five new schools opening up across the country in the next month, all upper levels.
“How many do you think will attend these schools?” Johanna asked, tucking her feet up under herself.
“I suppose too many will opt for work instead,” Annie replied and Johanna could hear the edge of disappointment in her voice.
The law that allowed fourteen year olds and up to forgo their education for work had been a necessary one, but the number of children who had taken their leave of school had been staggering. Still, when there had been so much work to be done, so much rebuilding, people had been supportive of the measure.
Johanna could only hope that access to more schools would bring more children back to the classrooms.
She yawned and blinked her eyes and then Annie was there, sliding down the sofa towards her.
“You are exhausted,” Annie told her and leaned in, her lips soft and warm against Johanna’s own.
“Hmmm,” Johanna murmured against the other woman’s mouth.
“You should sleep,” Annie said, but brought a hand up to clutch at the front of Johanna’s shirt.
“I suppose I should,” Johanna told her, but mirrored the actions and curled her own fingers into the fabric of Annie’s blouse. “But I wanted to watch Portia’s show.”
“Mmmmm,” Annie said and kissed her once more. “It’ll air again in a few days.”
Everything was pleasantly buzzing around Johanna and she felt warm and content like this, feet curled up under her on the couch, Annie practically in her lap, gripping each other loosely, mouths finding one another and then pulling away again.
Annie hummed against her mouth. “You know, my sleepy stone maiden…” she said.
“Warrior,” Johanna corrected her. “That’s stone warrior to you, my queen.”
Annie laughed, soft and lilting. “Indeed. But you,” and she kissed Johanna once more, “can’t protect your family properly if you are half-asleep. So to bed with you.”
She’d heard it before, a favorite line of Annie’s when she was corralling Johanna half-asleep to her bedroom, but somehow tonight, tonight it felt different.
Protect her family.
Something Johanna had never thought she would have again. Something that she knew, somewhere in the back of her mind, she somehow thought she didn’t deserve.
And maybe this was meant to be Finnick Odair’s family, maybe this was not as they all envisioned it would be, but this was it, here and now, and she suddenly knew with a ferocity that she wanted this. Wanted them, Annie and Finn, to be hers too.
Johanna brought her free hand up, cupped the back of Annie’s head and pulled the other woman against her, held her there.
No more pulling away.
Their mouths moved, sliding against one another, wet and warm and open. Annie was breathing hard into her mouth and Johanna traced Annie’s lips with her tongue, softly probing, gently nudging, tilting Annie’s head and opening them both up for more.
When they separated, Annie was flushed and panting and Johanna found herself cocking her head and grinning, an enormously freeing feeling settling over her.
“I should go to bed,” Johanna said and reluctantly released her grasp.
“Yes,” Annie said softly. “Good night.”
Johanna stood up from the sofa. “Don’t watch Portia without me,” she reminded the other woman and Annie shook her head and sighed.
Johanna smiled and headed towards the stairs.
It was always right there, sitting in the little picture frame on the side table. A photograph of Annie and Finnick from their wedding, his arms wrapped around her from behind, smiles as bright as the people they belonged too.
Next to it was a photo of Johanna holding Finn aloft with an arm around his waist as he laughed with a full open mouth and Annie poked the end of his nose, her own smile fully in place. Johanna can see it now for the first time, that what had always appeared to be her own stoic expression in the midst of that brilliance, was actually a smile: her mouth turned up at the corners ever-so-slightly, while her eyes shone with warmth and joy.
She remembered it everyday still - the last time she had seen Finnick she had begged him, words caught so hard in her throat, “Just live, Finnick. For all that there is, just live.”
“Only if you do the same,” he had told her with half a smile.
It’d meant something so different to her then. Living was simply surviving, one day to the next, just fall asleep breathing each night.
She’d done that, surviving, pushing forward, one day at a time.
But that wasn’t living. And that wasn’t what Finnick had meant.
He might have known he wasn’t coming home and he had wanted to make sure she kept on.
He wanted to make sure she lived.
Johanna had never thought she could do that again, not after everything the Capitol had taken from her. It still weighed her down everyday, would always be there, inside of her, everything that she had been through, that they had been through.
But here she was; with Annie, Finn and her warm home waiting for her at the end of every day.
She never thought it’d be enough.
Until one day.
Until one day it was all she’d ever needed.