Part I: A Sign & A Warning
The sky was a bit dark overhead. They had predicted that today would be sunny, but it isn't. The clouds hide the few rays that could have spilled down on the solemn crowd that is gathered, and then they all turn as they watch the beautiful widow - it is a title that she should not have to bear, not at such a young age - move forward to the casket.
She is silent for a long while, says nothing. Her face is white as a sheet, and her eyes are rimmed red. Her lips tremble for a slight moment, and then they are still. Firm. Resolved. Her eyes squint up at the cloudy sky for a second, and then they wander over the crowd. All of those familiar faces in the crowd - none of them can comfort her.
On her right stands Johanna Mason, who had been such a huge anchor this whole time. The District 7 Victor laces their fingers together and gives her a tight squeeze. There. Johanna. If not for her... Well, she doesn't want to think about it. On her left stands Katniss Everdeen, whom they whisper has gone a bit insane. The Girl on Fire. No, the Girl Who Was on Fire. No longer a Girl on Fire anymore. This gathering today has been Katniss's first venture out since she went back to District 12. It seems like such ages ago, doesn't it? But then again, everything has. Time means nothing now. Time-
No. She won't think about it, not now. Everyone is assembled here today for him. To pay him tribute, to tell him goodbye before they put the empty casket put inside the memorial, before they cremate the remains of his body that were so hard to separate from the others that they had found down there.
And everyone being here - it does mean something, it does. It tells her and everyone who is watching how much he meant to them, to the Rebellion. They are not here for Finnick Odair, the sex symbol and living legend they thought him to originally be. That is not what they are here for, because they know the truth about that now - the real, horrifying truth that he chose to reveal. And for what? Oh, that's right. To protect her. He did it for her. He did everything for her.
They aren't here for the Finnick of Capitol rumors and whispers. No, they are here for the funeral of Finnick Odair, the District 4 Victor who gave up his life during the mission to kill Snow, the one who was deeply in love, who was too young to die, who was one of their best fighters, one of their best pairs of eyes and ears. A hero. A hero who was a fighter, who fought until the very end, who went out doing just that - fighting.
They wanted to bury him in the former Capitol, where they were in the process of building a monument for all of those who had died on the way to kill Snow. So many lives lost - it was an honor to be offered it. Some of the families of those other dead that had been on the mission had accepted the honor, but others, like Annie, had refused. She wanted Finnick to be brought home, to District 4. She didn't want him to be somewhere that had caused him so much pain and grief, and the truth was that she couldn't bear to travel to the Capitol to see his grave. That place held too many nightmares for both her and him, and if she could help it, she never wanted to set foot there ever again. But she knew that she would have to, and soon.
Annie stepped forward and opened her mouth to speak, her voice loud and clear, her eyes shiny with unshed tears that she was holding back. Perhaps she had cried too much, had screamed and shrieked when she heard the news that now, her tears were all depleted in her torrent of grief. "The first time I met Finnick, I was nine years old. I was walking back home when he bumped into me on the street..."
"Do you really have to go this year?" Annie frowned as they lay on the small boat. It was just another cool, lazy day on the lake, and they were letting the water take them where it wanted to.
"I think so," Finnick replied as he turned to her. "Why?" he asked. "Does it bug you?"
"Nothing, I just - don't you ever get tired of it?" she inquired in a careful voice.
He let out a sigh. "Even if I didn't want to go, Snow called me and asked me if I'd like to meet up with him for an important discussion."
"I think the words you're looking for here are 'asked' and 'like to'," Annie pointed out. "You do have a choice, you know."
"Since when has a request from the Capitol ever been one you're allowed to turn down?" Finnick asked.
She frowned at that. "Then they're basically forcing you to go, aren't they?"
That was true. But it wasn't safe to talk like that, even here in their lake. Maybe even especially so here. If she kept on going on speaking like this, she would no doubt be dragged away to the Capitol, and then what? Turned into an Avox? Tortured and beaten to death? No, he wouldn't allow that. He never would. So Finnick dipped his right hand out of the boat and then brought it back up.
Before Annie had a chance to react or speak, he flicked the small amount of water into her face. She let out a shriek of delight and then began to laugh. "Finnick!"
He smiled before he sat up, staring down at her. She really was beautiful, he thought. Those sea green eyes that were often compared to his, the beautiful hair that was a variety of browns, the way that she smiled at him so that his heart ached or felt like it was expanding - everything about her was just so alive. So vibrant. So full of life. So very Annie. Not that he'd ever tell her these things. Once, he'd started to, and she'd thought that he was joking. It was a sting to him, and he hadn't brought it up ever since. It wasn't her fault she couldn't take him seriously, none but his own. He was the one who constantly flirted in the hallways with admirers and let women at the photoshoots prattle on about how amazing he was before they tried to tempt him. So he could understand how his expression of affection for her would be read on her part as a joke.
"Finnick?" Annie asked, bringing him back to reality. There was an intense look in his eyes as he stared at her, and it scared her a little bit, made her heart flutter ridiculously in her chest.
"Annie," he said as he hovered over her, their faces almost touching.
"What are you doing?" she rose her eyebrows. Wait, since when did her voice get so breathless and her breath quicken? And why did she get the feeling that her cheeks were red and she was flushing all over?
A mischievous grin spread across his face. "Nothing," he said before he scooped her up and proceeded to jump out of the boat with her.
They splashed into the lake, the water soaking their clothes immediately. "Finnick!" she was laughing again, their topic of conversation now forgotten.
His hands were on her shoulders, and he was still smiling. "Want to go for a swim?"
Annie shrugged, and then watched as he proceeded to throw his t-shirt onto the boat. She took a moment to admire the muscles of his abdomen, and when she reverted her gaze back up, he was staring intently at her. "What?"
"See something you like?" he winked at her.
"Oh, you wish," she said in a deadpan voice. "However, I'm sorry to tell you that your chest is scrawny."
Finnick let out a sound between a snort of disbelief and an amused laugh. "Scrawny?"
She nodded. "Too bad."
"Oh, I'm going to get you," Finnick said.
"Come and try," Annie sing-songed before she plunged herself underwater and swam off.
Annie loved being in the water. It was peaceful here, quiet. Even when she was working on a boat in the ocean, the crash of the angry waves never bothered her. It was because they'd grown up in District 4, of course. Water was like a second home to them, their natural element. She could see so clearly here - the rocks and sand that littered the bottom, the kelp-like plants that grew and seemed to be dancing. She did a somersault, and that was when she felt a pair of arms wrap around her and pull her back up, above the water.
"I got you!" Finnick was laughing.
She coughed a mouthful of water out. "Finnick!" she protested.
"What?" he shot her an innocent look. "You're the one who told me to come and get you."
"That I did," she smiled.
"So?" he raised his eyebrows as he spread out his arms, giving her an excellent view of his body. "Am I still scrawny?"
It was the furthest thing from scrawny - not that she'd ever tell him that. A grin spread across her face. "Yes."
"Yes?" his eyes shot up even further before he edged closer to her, his voice teasing. "Did you say yes?"
"Yup," she nodded, still smiling.
"Well then," he sing-songed. "I suppose I'll have to convince you, won't I?"
"Really?" Annie laughed. "And how are you going to do that, Mr. Odair?"
"By doing this," he murmured, his voice no longer playful and teasing. It was soft and serious instead, and very, very intense. When had he gotten so close to her? Before Annie even got a grip on what was happening, his lips met hers, and she was still for a moment, frozen, quite unable to believe that this was really happening. Even with the water of the lake splashed all over him, she could smell him - that smell that was so distinctively Finnick, that was there even when he woke up in the morning or during any given time of the day. Then she was kissing him back, yielding, her arms finding their way to the nape of his neck as he ran his hands down her back and rested them ever so lightly on her waist. He tasted like chocolate and strawberries and mint, and his lips were so soft on hers.
This was something that Annie never thought that she'd be doing, ever. Okay, so maybe she'd thought about it every now and then. But she'd never thought it would become a reality. He was just such a flirt with those other girls, and even though he never actually went out with them or did anything with most of them (well, that's what he'd said, anyway, but she knew for a fact that he'd slept with at least two), she didn't want to delude herself into thinking that she was something special to him. Delusions. Reality. That seemed to snap some sense into her, and she pulled back. The reality of the situation was that he didn't have these types of feelings for her. Why would he, and so suddenly, too?
Finnick was looking at her with that intense gaze she'd seen earlier. He said nothing as they treaded above the surface of the water, his fingers going to his swollen lips as he touched them, feeling.
"How dare you," she got out.
His fingers stopped moving, and he blinked slowly. "What?"
"Don't pull that on me," Annie shook her head. "Don't kiss me when it means nothing to you. Just don't."
"Annie," he murmured as he reached his hands out and dipped them underwater before he found her wrists and entrapped them with his fingers. "Annie, listen to me."
"If this is some way to distract me so that I won't ask you questions or so that you can-"
"Annie," he said in a quiet voice.
She went on, apparently not hearing him or choosing to ignore him. "... have another thing coming, Finnick Odair. It might mean nothing to you, but I-"
"Annie!" he practically shouted out her name. When she finally did stop and look at him, he murmured, "But it did mean something. It means something that might mean everything."
She didn't want to hope about this, didn't dare to. "What?" She managed to get out stupidly.
"Do you know how beautiful you are?" Finnick let out a breath, his fingers making smooth circles on her wrists.
Now she really was being delusional. Obviously, this was some sort of dream and she'd be waking up very soon. "What?" was all she could say. What was wrong with her? Why couldn't she say anything else? Why was she being such an idiot, especially in a dream?
"It's not a dream," he shook his head. "It's real."
"Shoot," she murmured, her eyes widening. "Did I say that out loud?"
Finnick let out a laugh, but it quickly disappeared. "Yes." She said nothing in response, simply stared at him, muted by her disbelief. This wasn't really happening. Could it be? How was this even possible? He could read the expression in her eyes, and then he leaned forward once again. "I'll show you," he said in a soft voice, and then his lips met hers once more.
A Little While Ago
One by one, those who knew him well came up and gave their eulogies.
Johanna, with tears rolling down her cheeks, spoke of how brave Finnick was, what a good friend he'd been, how to some people he'd never seemed serious but those who got to know him came to realize very quickly that he cared deeply for the people he loved and would do anything to protect them.
Haymitch said that Finnick had been a soldier through and through, and how he was proud to have known him.
Beetee's voice was strong when he went up, not his usual shaky and trembling tone. He said that even though Finnick had been through so much in his life, he had held on, and even when it seemed like he was so broken and lost - which he had been - he still managed to find his way back.
Plutarch talked about the Rebellion, and how Finnick had helped them all. They were eternally grateful and would be forever marked by this loss. What were they going to do without the wit and laughter that came from Finnick?
Gale said that he'd never fought by someone as enigmatic and that he would never forget how Finnick had given himself up in order to save them.
And so it went on. How he was a good man, what a waste it was, how he could always make someone crack a smile or even laugh when they were down, his energy in battle, how he loved fiercely and fought just as hard. How this was too soon, how he shouldn't have been snatched away from the world like this.
And finally, Katniss was up. She spoke of how Finnick was hard to read. How she had no idea of his true intentions in the beginning, of who he really was when they first met. She spoke of how she'd come to trust him with her life, of how she'd realized all of the misconceptions she'd had about him. She spoke of how Finnick had risked everything, of how she would never forget him, that he was able to make her smile when she thought she no longer could. How she couldn't really believe that he was gone - it just didn't register with her. It was too hard to accept, too painful.
Those Weeks of You & Me
"He went out fighting," Katniss reached out and tentatively placed her hands in Annie's. "You know Finnick. He-"
"Was it painless?" Annie asked in a soft voice.
Katniss was never one for lies, and especially not now, not when she knew that Annie would know whether she was lying or not. "No," she whispered, her voice barely a whisper as she lowered her head. "No, he didn't die like that."
"That's what I thought," Annie said in a muted voice, but she didn't close her eyes and let herself sink into despair. She simply stared at the girl before her, a girl who was barely a woman but had been forced to grow up so quickly, like so many of them had. "How did it happen?"
Katniss hesitated, but from the look on Annie's face, she could do nothing but continue. She was supposed to be comforting the grieving widow, but now - now she was saying things that she shouldn't be, telling the whole sordid truth about it all. "We were running from the mutts." She couldn't raise her voice from a whisper. "Peeta and Cressida were up, and then I heard Finnick yelling, and I realized we'd left- that we'd left-" She stopped for a moment, her voice full of anguish and guilt.
Annie was surprisingly calm. "And then what, Katniss?" she asked, squeezing the girl's hands, willing her to go on.
"And Gale was telling me no one was coming out, and I just couldn't - I couldn't not look. So I shined the flashlight down and then I saw-" Another stop.
Annie didn't say anything. She bit her lip instead, bracing herself, squeezing her eyes shut briefly. When she opened them, Katniss still said nothing.
There was silence for a few minutes before Katniss went on, her voice getting lower and lower with each passing word. "I shined the flashlight down. There were three of them. The worst mutts I've ever seen. They were half-lizards and half-human - the same ones who decapitated Castor and Homes and a whole bunch of Peacekeepers." At the word decapitated, Annie winced. Katniss felt incredibly idiotic then. Annie's District partner during her Games had died via decapitation, and now, to hear that the love of her life had died the same way? It was chilling, wasn't it? "I'm sorry," Katniss blurted out. "I didn't-"
"I have to know," was all Annie said in reply.
"They had him at the shaft," Katniss whispered. "They held him and he struggled. His head was - his head - they - one of them pulled it back, and then-"
"But it was quick?" Annie asked, needing to know. "Was it quick, Katniss?"
"Yes," Katniss whispered, and that was the truth, and Annie knew by the look on her face that it was. "I saw his life, you know."
"His life?" Annie sounded puzzled, and there was a perplexed look on her face.
"I don't know how to explain it," Katniss said. "There was a boat. Then the parachute with the trident in the arena. And Mags. The sky was pink. And then the trident Beetee made for him. You were in your wedding dress. Ocean waves crashed over the rocks. That's what I saw, and then it was over, and he was dead, so I activated the Holo and-"
"That's why all that's left of him and the others are just parts," Annie whispered.
"Yes," Katniss nodded, and then tears began to slide down her cheeks. "Yes."
They hugged each other in their grief, held on, the tears running down their faces as they clung to each other and cried for who they had both lost.
"You wanted to see me?" Finnick asked.
"I did," Snow nodded, not moving from his seat.
"What is it?" Finnick inquired in a careful voice.
"I have a proposition for you," the President smiled, and he went on to explain. How this happened to a lot of the Victors, and Finnick should feel lucky. In fact, Finnick appeared to be the most popular one, and he was in high demand. It was all very simple. Snow sold their bodies to the highest bidders in the Capitol or to those he thought had done him favors. As if to make it all better, the President went on to say that all of them gave gifts and/or money in return.
"No," Finnick shook his head as he tried to keep his voice calm. "I won't do it."
"Really?" Snow asked.
"You're telling me you want me to be some kind of sex slave, and you expect me to be okay with that?" His voice had risen an octave or two. "How could anyone be okay with that?"
The President had a strange smile on his face. "Very well, then. You're dismissed."
"Just like that?" Finnick rose his eyebrows in disbelief.
"I do hope that you chose wisely, young Finnick," the President said, his tone ominous.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Finnick demanded. "What are you going to do?"
"Nothing," Snow laughed as he gave an airy wave of his hand. "I believe you were dismissed, Mr. Odair."
Finnick spun around on his heel and backed out of the study, making his way back to the party slowly, looking over his shoulder to make sure that no one had come after him.
"Finnick!" Plutarch Heavensbee boomed, a smile on his face as he placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. "How are you liking your stay this year?"
"I'm fine," Finnick attempted to return the smile, but it came out as more of a grimace.
The rest of the night seemed to pass by in a blur - the hand-shaking and talking, the leering of married women twice his age, the winks given by those who looked younger then those other women as they tried to touch him. He retired early, not even looking around for Mags. Had she known that this would happen all along? Is this what the President in her day had forced her to do after she'd won? No, that was absurd. It was all Snow's doing, this Finnick was sure of. It was a secret well-hidden, but if it had been going on since Mags's days, then surely it would have gotten out.
As he dragged himself out of the car, stumbled through the elevator, and finally went into his suite, he panicked as his thoughts raced. He didn't even bother to turn on the light as he fumbled around in the dark for the phone, calling the number, desperate for the other line to pick up. He lay down on the floor, and on the fifth ring, a familiar voice spoke. "Hello?" Annie asked.
Her voice brought him back to reality. But he didn't answer, simply breathed. What the hell was he doing? Why was he calling her? The President would know what he was doing, wouldn't he? This set his mind in a state of frenzy. Shoot, shoot, shoot. If the President thought that Finnick was telling Annie anything at all, there was no doubt that he'd have Annie harmed, possibly murdered. Dammit, what was he doing? He had to hang up now.
"Hello?" He could hear the frown in Annie's voice. "Finnick, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me," he said quickly at the same time a voice in his mind screamed "You complete idiot!" What on earth was he doing right now? Was he out of his right mind? He had to stop talking to her, right now. Right now right now right-
He could hear the smile in her voice over the phone. "Hey, you," she laughed. "I miss you."
He didn't say anything. He had to hang up, now. Hang up, hang up, hang up. He quickly pressed the 'end' button, relief coursing through him as he did so. There.
The phone rang almost immediately. He knew who was calling, but he refused to pick up, couldn't do it. He'd almost jeopardized her just now, and he wasn't going to be stupid enough to actually press the little green button and listen to her voice and have her try to get the truth out of him. No.
He fell asleep like that, his eyes fluttering shut as he told himself that this was all for the best, turning the ringer off of the phone so that he wouldn't have to listen to it all night.
The next morning, when he woke up, his face pressed against the cool carpet, he saw that Annie had left him several voice messages.
"Hey, Finnick. It's me. You sounded a bit weird just now. Are you okay? Call me as soon as you get this." Beep.
"Why aren't you picking up? You can talk to me, you know." Beep.
"Finnick, come on. I'm not going to bite you or anything." Beep.
"Did you put the ringer on silent?" Beep.
"Finnick, just tell me what's wrong." Beep.
"I'm not going to tell anyone. You can tell me and I promise I'll keep it a secret, I swear." Beep.
"Finnick." This was not Annie's angry, concerned voice that had flooded through the other voicemails. This voice was one that was full of fear and shock and sadness. "Finnick, you need to call me as soon as you get this. Something's happened." Beep.
"End of messages," the automatic phone voice said. "To repeat your messages, press '1' now. To delete your messages, press '2'. To save your messages in the archive, press '3'. To forward your messages, press '4'. To-"
Damn it, damn it, damn it. What had he done? Had someone hurt her? Why was he such an idiot? Why had he called her? His fingers were a blur as he quickly pressed the buttons on the phone, but there was no answer. It kept on ringing and ringing and ringing. Finally, he called his own house, and on the eighth ring, someone picked up. "Hello?" Annie whispered. "Who is this?"
"Annie? What's going on?" Finnick demanded as he sat up. "Are you alright? Did they hurt you?" He stood up quickly, then he repeated. "What's going on?"
"It wasn't me, Finnick," she continued to whisper, and he could tell from her voice that she'd been crying, something that she rarely ever did. "It wasn't me."
"What?" he frowned, not understanding her. "Annie, what is going on?" She was silent. "Hello? Annie?"
"Is Mags with you?" she asked suddenly.
"They tried to get Mags?" his voice was incredulous.
"No," she whispered. "Finnick, go get Mags and then come back."
The door to his suite suddenly swung open, and Mags came striding in, hobbling along on her cane, a worried expression on her face. "Finnick?" she asked.
"Is that Mags?" Annie asked over the phone.
"Yeah," Finnick said. "Look, just tell me what's wrong."
"Who's on the phone?" Mags asked as she reached him and took his hand in hers, guiding him towards the couch.
"Annie," Finnick mouthed at her before a frown appeared on his face as his voice went back to its normal pitch. "Why are you taking me to the couch?"
"Sit down," Mags commanded, and in such an authoritative voice, too, that he did. Mags very rarely used this type of tone on him, and when she did, it was always because something important was going on and she wanted him to listen to her.
"Finnick?" Annie sounded a bit scared.
"I'm still here," he said softly, trying to reassure her, but a gnawing feeling was growing inside of him, one that told him something was terribly wrong.
"It's your family," her voice was quieter than he'd ever heard it.
"What about them?" he demanded, even though the puzzle pieces were fitting together in his mind now. No. No, no, no, no. No.
"They're dead," she whispered.
Finnick wasn't aware of letting the phone slip from his fingers as it crashed onto the carpeted floor. He wasn't aware of rocking back and forth on the couch before he collapsed to his knees and began to shout and yell as he clawed at the floor. He wasn't aware of Mags wrapping her arms around his shoulders, of Annie on the phone, still listening, listening to him sob and grieve, listening as the tears streamed down her face.