Hey everyone! I am so sorry for the lateness of this update, but with the big move I just had and everything else that's been going on I just didn't have time to work on this. Plus, for a while I was really sick, but I'm mostly better now. It's no excuse, but please don't be too upset with me…
Once again, if the timeline on the pregnancy is wonky, I'm sorry. The passage of time in the books was unclear to me as to when Annie found out she was carrying Finnick's baby, so I did the best I could to throw together my own makeshift timeline.
Sadly, this is the last chapter of this Fanfiction. I hope you like this final installment of this story. Happy reading!
Chapter 12: The End
"Where is that lady killer gotten off to anyways?"
"What can I say, you terrify him."
From the other room I raised an eyebrow, setting aside the paperwork I'd brought with me from District 2 when I left heading down the hall to find Johanna and Annie chatting over tea in the living room looking rather chummy. Annie smiled when she saw me motioning for me to join them. Johanna smirked slightly raising an eyebrow when I draped an arm around Annie's waist.
"My, don't you too look cozy." She said pointedly, shaking her head with laughter. "And here I thought you'd end up taking Katniss away from Peeta, yet here you are. From what I've heard her and Peeta are living together now."
"Whatever there might have been between me and her was in the past, you can't throw me off or get a rise out me over it now." I said matter-of-factly, crossing my arms loosely over my chest. Part of the dead part of my heart had halfheartedly seized up at the sound of her name but I refused to show it or seem defensive. My future was here with Annie, not back in District 12 with the retired Mockingjay.
"Well," she said standing up, "this has been a nice little reunion but I think I'd better get started on setting that crib up you ordered. Where's the nursery?"
"I'll show you the way." Annie said at once, bouncing out of the room and into the hall. Johanna hung back giving me a look that plainly said she was confused.
"I'm still not sure how you ended up here with her instead of with Katniss, but Annie looks happy and that's good enough for me." She said, pulling her ponytail tighter. We meandered towards the door slowly; I could tell she had something else to say she was holding in. "You sure do have a thing for going after other men's girls."
"That was a low blow." I said pushing passed her and stomping into the kitchen. As I sat down to do my neglected paperwork, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it I couldn't get passed her words. Surely that must be what everyone thought of me. First I'd wanted to be with Katniss, and then once Finnick was gone I'd moved in on Annie. Resting my forehead on the tabletop I tried to steady my breathing, the familiar injury making it difficult.
"Are you alright dear?" Looking up as Annie entered the room with her and Johanna's empty tea cups I forced a smile shaking my head. For a minute she stared through me as thought she could see the lie hanging in the air between us, but then she turned and the moment passed. "Johanna is such a godsend. You should see the crib she made for us! It's exactly what I wanted."
"I'm glad you like it." I said, forcing myself to turn my eyes down to my work when all I really wanted to do was watch the way the sunlight glistened on Annie's skin where she stood by the window sink. Finally she left the room, briefly resting her hand on my shoulder as she left. It was wrong to love her, I knew, but I couldn't stop myself. Especially not now that I knew she loved me back the same way.
After a few hours I'd finished all my work and called Beetee to see if he could come down and get it to take back to District 2 for me, knowing we were long overdue for a visit. He jumped at the opportunity much faster than I'd expected him to, promising to be on the first train the next day with a new batch of paperwork for me to get to work on and a housewarming present for Annie and the baby. It wasn't until I'd hung up the phone with him that I hadn't heard Johanna leave. Surely it didn't take this long to set up one crib?
As I headed up the stairs I heard laughter from the room Annie has designated would be the nursery and smiled poking my head around the door, my jaw dropping slightly. They'd painted all the walls a soft shade of blue like the ocean in the early morning light, Johanna stamping shapes of tridents and fish into the walls with little blocks of wood she must have brought with her as Annie sat on the floor and sews blue and grey stitches into the set of white curtains we'd gotten for this room the other day. A beautiful redwood crib sat in one corner by the window, the careful etching in the headboard catching my eye. Johanna has etched in a portrait of Annie and Finnick I vaguely recognized as the picture of them from their wedding that was on Annie's bedside table.
"I wondered when you'd be up here to check on us." Blinking I turned to look at Johanna, her sheepish tone telling me quite plainly she wasn't sure how to act after her comment earlier. I smiled, trying to tell her without words I was over it without having to tell Annie what had gone down between us. "Do you like it? The crib was easy to get squared away, so I figured I could lend a hand getting the rest of this room ship shape."
"Thank you so much for your help." I said, Annie beaming at me from the floor. Reaching into my pocket I pulled out the small leather pouch I'd always kept my money in pulling back the strings. "How much do I owe you for the crib exactly? Annie never told me how much it cost."
"Think of it as a belated wedding present from me since I didn't get them anything before." She said, shaking her head when I tried to hand her money anyways. Annie leapt to her feet and engulfed her in a hug, Johanna looking almost lovingly down at her as she hugged her back. "I was always fond of Finnick, so it's the least I could do. We got to know each other pretty well from being mentors. Losing him was like losing a brother."
"He always spoke highly of you." Annie said softly, the other girl looking away not wanting things to get emotional. Pulling out of the hug she gathered up her tools and the spare wood saying a brief goodbye before heading off down the stairs. A moment later we heard the door open and shut, both of us sharing a look. "She never was the best at expressing herself. Then again, most of the Victors are a little messed up in the head somehow; we were bound to be after what we went through."
"Time heals most things," I said softly, taking her hand to help her stand. She wrapped her arms around my resting her head against my chest just under my chin.
"And love heals everything else." She said without missing a beat, kissing me in the hollow of my neck. Looking down at her I couldn't help but smile, knowing that as long as I had her, nothing could break me completely.
"Who are you?"
"What are you doing?"
"He's just a refugee!"
"No, wait… what if it's a disguise!"
The nightmare was familiar, just like the scars could trace from the real life events my mind kept replaying over and over again every single night. But in my dreams, Katniss didn't mishear my pleads for death and flee to save Panem from President Snow.
She sat by and watched them kill me.
"Gale, wake up!" Jerking upright, I blinking hurriedly as someone flicked on the light beside the bed and took my face between their hands staring deep into my eyes. As I felt the madness start to slip away I recognized the sea green eyes and collapsed into Annie's embrace, not the least bit embarrassed that I could tell she felt me shaking. "Were you dreaming about when you got captured again?"
"Yes…" I said into her shoulder, afraid to look up and see worry in her eyes. I know my terror scared her after having placed me on a pedestal to be her rock once Finnick had died. Pulling away from her I crawled out of bed carefully.
"Where are you going?" She asked scooting over to the edge of the bed. As she made to get out I shook my head, resting a finger to the tip of her nose affectionately.
"I'm alright love, really, I'm just going to make a cup of tea to calm my nerves." I said softly, not wanting to worry her. After a nightmare like that, I knew I wasn't going to be sleeping again anytime soon. "You go back to sleep alright?"
"If you're sure you're alright." Her soft smile was the one light in the darkness of my mood as I turned and left, burned by her lightness of heart as I disappeared into the swallowing black of the hallway.
Down in the kitchen I turned set the tea kettle on the stove but didn't turn it on, instead heading into the living room to the phone. Taking a deep breath I picked up the receiver and dialed one of the people I swore I'd never speak to again, counting the rings as I waited wondering if this was pointless.
"Hello?" The voice was lower than I remembered, a jolt of fear shooting through me. Should I really be making this call? "Who's there damn it?"
"Hi, it's Gale Hawthorne." I said feeling a little stupid. Why was I so nervous?
"I never thought you'd call here." Swallowing I clutched the receiver tighter, pressing it against my ear until it hurt. "Do you want me to go wake Katniss?"
"No, I called to talk to you actually." I said, biting my lip. "Peeta, how is she?"
"Some days are better than others, but things are getting better I think. Her nightmares aren't as frequent as they used to be, and she doesn't space out as much as she did when I first got back to District 12." He said, the openness in his voice astounding me. Before I'd left the Capital for District 2 Haymitch had told me he wasn't sure that Peeta would ever be able to go back to the way he'd been before, something about him being too scarred on the inside to pretend nothing had happened. "She'll never admit it, but I think she misses you."
"Don't tell her, but I miss her too sometimes. She'd just think I was being weak if you told her." I said, closing my eyes against the pain blossoming in my chest. Trying to ignore it as best I could I thought back to Annie upstairs waiting for me, and why I'd called in the first place. On the other end of the line I could hear Peeta's bated breath and knew, even after all we'd gone through together my secrets were safe with him. "But… that isn't why I called, to check on Katniss I mean. I need your help with something else."
"What could you possibly need me for?" He asked. I didn't blame him for being confused, after all, for the longest time we'd tried to get rid of each other in order to win Katniss's affection. We'd never actually been friends. "Gale?..."
"How did you know when Katniss was ready to move on from what happened and love you with her full self?" I asked, wondering when he didn't respond right away if the question was too personal for me to be asking him especially given out past history. "If it's too much, or you don't want to answer, then…"
"No, it's not that. I'm just… it's complicated, you know? It's not like you asked me for a recipe I could just whip out on the spot." He said slowly, and I could tell by his tone he was doing the typical Peeta thing of trying to find the right words to say. He'd always been so good at knowing just what people needed to hear.
"You're doing that thing again where you try and sugar coat it aren't you?" I asked, shaking my head as his gentle laugh confirmed my theory. That was one of the good and bad things about him: his ability to calm people with words and make any situation seem okay, like when he'd first been put on television by President Snow and said all the things trying to end the war before it even started. "Just tell it to me straight Peeta, please."
"I'm not sure she'll ever love me with her whole being, or let me love her fully. But, even if she could, I don't think I can give her my whole self either after what I went through. The war left marks on us all, some deeper than the flesh wounds and scars the combat left us with." He said softly, his tone honest and demure. "Sometimes, it's not about healing. It's about learning to love passed the pain. That's what I'm trying to do."
"And how's it working for you?" I asked, hoping it was good news.
"Well… I'm going to ask her to marry me if that's any kind of answer for you." He said happily, true joy ringing through in his voice. My heart contracted for the shortest moment at the thought of them tying themselves together officially, but as the moment passed I knew it would be the last time I ever pined for her. Now things would finally be over.
"When are you planning on doing it?" I asked having no trouble keeping my voice civil. "Congratulations, by the way. I'm sure she'll say yes."
"Thanks, but I'm not asking just yet. I want to wait until I'm sure she'd ready." He said, but even though he sounded slightly wary I could tell he was excited. "I just wish I could get her to tell me she loves you. Even that would be enough right now."
"I'm sure it'll happen soon." I said, hopefully for both him and me know that I knew I wasn't alone in my uncertainly. We said out goodbyes, Peeta promising not to tell Katniss that I'd called or what we talked about. As I hung up the phone and headed back into the kitchen to actually make the tea I'd told Annie I was going to, I couldn't stop the smile that slid onto my face.
Though we were all scared, time was healing us up as best it could. And, as Annie said, what time wasn't healing love was attempting to.
Jerking awake I shot up from where I'd been sleeping with my head on my paperwork down in the kitchen, momentarily confused. And then I heard the scream again, so loud and full of agony I felt my whole heart tearing apart as I rushed up the stairs and into the bedroom where Annie lay in bed. One look at her face was all I needed to know what was wrong.
"It's the baby! It's coming, now!" She said unsteadily, the end of her words caught in a scream as it tore its way from her throat, her face contorting in pain. Picking her up gently I carried her quickly down the stairs laying her gently down on the couch before picking up the phone dialing the hospital.
"Hello, this is the District 4 hospital, how can I—"
"I need to speak to Mrs. Everdeen, pronto! This is an emergency!" I said quickly, the woman on the end of the line tripping over her words slightly before placing me on hold. Annie moaned from the loveseat, her hands clamped tightly on her stomach as her head lolled back against the arm of the couch like it couldn't support the weight of her skull anymore. The other end of the line clicked.
"Hello, this is Mrs. Everdeen."
"Please, you've got to help us!" I said at once, my words slipping around inside my mouth coming out frantic and slightly slurred.
"Hold on now, Gale is that you?" She asked, her voice slightly panicked. "What's wrong?"
"Annie says the baby's coming, now. You've got to help us; I don't think we'll make it to the hospital on time!" I said, the phone receiver shaking in my grip. "What do I do?"
"But… the baby… this shouldn't be full term should it?" She asked me quickly, her voice strangely calm. Was I wrong to be freaking out so much?
"I don't know. How long is full term anyways?" I asked, Annie's scream behind me striking my brain like a gong. "Whether or not she should be having the baby now, she is. Please, just tell me what to and come as quick as you can!"
She told me what to do calmly and slowly, making me repeat everything back to her to make sure I remembered them. As soon as I hung up I started dashing around the house getting a bucket each of cold and warm water along with some towels, grabbing a pair of kitchen shears to cut the umbilical cord if the baby came before Mrs. Everdeen could get here.
"Gale please, where are you?" Running back into the living room I took the hand she clamped down onto the collar of my shirt, her knuckles turning bright white. "Please, don't leave me! I can't bear this alone!"
"No, honey I'm not going anywhere." Helping her sit up I gently moved her into the position sitting up against the back of the couch with feet pressed firmly on the ground, knees wide apart. "I'm here for you, okay? I'm not going anywhere."
"I can feel it; I can feel the baby inside me trying to get out." She said in a strained voice, but her tone was oddly excited. When I looked up into her face I saw tears there, but I also saw a smile which even tinged with pain couldn't hide her beauty. "Oh, I wish Finnick could be here for this!"
"I'm sorry he'd not, but you have to know he'd be here if he could." I said, swallowing against the lump in my throat I felt at her words. Part of me was in agony thinking she would have chosen Finnick over me, the rest of me pushing it aside knowing it didn't matter now when she needed me most. "You have to be strong for him now Annie. Bring his baby into the world, you can do it. Make him proud!"
"Ohhhhhh it hurts, it hurts so bad!" She groaned, her hand clamping down even tighter on mine than I could have imagined possible from such a tiny girl. "Make it stop, please Gale, make it stop!"
"It'll be over soon baby, I promise." With my free hand I grabbed one of the towels I had soaking in the cool water pressing it against her forehead gently. I wracked my brain trying to remember what Mrs. Everdeen had told me to do but found myself drawing a blank. How the hell could I be perfectly fine, comfortable even, in a combat situation but not be able to handle something like this? "You just need to hold on a little while longer until Mrs. Everdeen gets here to deliver the baby alright?"
"Just stay with me, keep holding my hand!" She said through gritted teeth, her free hand scrambling against the floor trying to find a firm grip to cling to. "Don't ever let go of me, you hear?"
"Never Annie, never…"
Looking in the mirror at myself I whipped the tears from my eyes as I adjusted the black tie around my neck. Behind me I saw Beetee sidle into the room looking weary and more than a little upset, his own black clothing making the large shadows under his eyes stand out all the more against his pale complexion. Moving to stand beside me he rested a hand on my shoulder, the tears in his eyes mirroring my own.
"Are you ready to head over to… the funeral?" He asked his face wrinkling apologetically as I hung my head staring at the floor. This was turning out to be a lot harder than I'd thought it would be. "I'll be in the hall when you're ready to go."
Taking a deep breath I closed my eyes as I listened to his footsteps fade away, not looking up into my reflection until I heard the familiar sound of the heavy wooden door clicking shut. My eyes looked hollower now than they ever had during the war or before then, not even the time when my family had been on the brink of starvation coming close to the way my stare blanked out now. Inside I could feel my heart breaking but knew I needed this for closure. This had to be done. It was time to say goodbye.
"Gale are you in here?..." Turning around I watched as Annie poked her head into the room looking oddly content given the circumstances, her swift but solemn smile moving me forward towards her to take her hand. It was comforting in mine, her eyes staring into mine melting my soul where it sat quivering inside me. "Are you alright?"
"Shouldn't you be the one falling to pieces while I console you?" I asked, half laughing as she brushed away my tears. Taking a deep breath she shook her head, fixing on the brightest smile I'd seen in a long time. "How can you be so cheery about this?"
"Because I know it's time to say good bye and try again." She said frankly, leaning in to kiss me. Her lips were warm and reassuring against mine, the taste of salt from my tears pervading my senses as her fingers laced with mine. It was almost too easy to forget why we were here, why almost everyone we'd ever known and loved had turned up for this horrible yet auspicious day. As I pressed her back into the mirror, felt her gasp against my mouth as I slid my arms around her, it was almost as if nothing had ever gone wrong. It was like this was how things had always been, should always have been. Then the sound of sobbing from the hall caught my attention, and the glorious moment ended just as suddenly as it had started. I pulled back from her kiss and her embrace, but didn't dare let go of her hand as she led me into the hall where Beetee stood waiting blowing his nose into a handkerchief.
"The service should be starting shortly. I'll meet you two down there as soon as I can, alright? I've just got one more thing to take care of." Annie smiled, kissing my forehead before letting go of my hand and releasing me into Beetee's care for the time being. He clapped my shoulder briefly before leading the way down the stairs and out onto the lawn, both of us walking slowly down to the beach where several small black tents and chairs had been set up next to a small black boat draped with silk, flowers, and ribbons as was custom for funerals in District 4.
Beetee and I took headed the queue taking their seats, a young woman I'd never met before handing us each a water lily blossom to throw into the boat with our good wishes on the way into the afterlife and our last words for the departed. We took a pair of seats in the front row making sure to save a seat for Annie right by the isle so she could be the first to say good bye. Much to my confusion, she was still missing whenever started taking their seats and settling down for the ceremony to start. Beetee and I searched the crowd sharing a look as we turned around the plainly said neither of us had seen sight nor sign of her.
"I guess she couldn't do this after all." I said in a tight voice, wringing my hands in my lap. Beetee looked sideways at me raising an eyebrow in confusion. "This must be hard on her, you know? Maybe she couldn't handle it after all and decided to stay up in the house to watch out a window. Maybe she needs to do this alone."
Music drifted over the crowd drowning out my thoughts and words. Forcing my eyes to face forwards I looked over at the boat, so empty and yet so powerful all the same. I was vaguely aware of the words being said by the officiator of the ceremony but their meaning didn't enter my skull as I watched the torches on the ends of the boat being lit. It wasn't until everything was almost over and people were getting to their feet to place their water lilies in the boat that Annie made her way forward, everyone parting to let her through. I caught her eye as she came forward, smiling around the two lilies she had by the stems clenched in her teeth. Taking them from her I leaned in to kiss her forehead carefully, questioning her silently with my eyes.
"Sorry I took so long," she said, shifting the bundle in her arms. "But little Minnow here was being so fussy and I didn't want him interrupting his Daddy's funeral."
"I'll hold him while… while you go say goodbye to Finnick." Johanna offered, Annie relinquishing her son with a small smile taking her flowers back from me. Taking my hand she stepped forward towards the boat with a flower for both her and her son clutched in the hand not holding deadly tight onto mine. As she reached the edge of the boat she let go of my hand and looked down at its meager contents, several pictures of her late husband looking back at her in place of a read body since it had been blown to pieces by Katniss's grenade.
Kneeling beside the boat she rested her hand upon its rough wooden side leaning her cheek against it as she placed her two flowers inside next to the picture of the two of them on their wedding day dancing for the first time as husband and wife. Their dream had been a short lived one, but more beautiful than almost any other romance I'd ever seen before in all the years I'd been alive. I stepped away while she said her goodbyes so she could have some privacy, placing my own flower next to hers as she stood.
"Goodbye Finnick, you were a great man. I wish… it hadn't had to go down like it did. We'll never forget you, or let Minnow forget who his father was or how brave he was right up to the end." I said quietly, feeling a little foolish but knowing it needed to be said even if it was just for my benefit. The wind rustled through my hair, whistling off the water and waves as Annie took my hand. "I mean to keep my promise to you, to take care of Annie for you. We'll never forget you O'dair, you smarmy victor you."
Walking back to Johanna as others walked forward Annie took the baby back kissing his forehead, pulling the blanket back so Beetee, Johanna and I could see his face better. Yawning he opened his eyes with a gurgle, the same shocking sea green color of his mother's eyes as she watched me watching her son stared back at me, Minnow letting out a small squeal reaching a hand out of his blankets for me. Looking up at Annie I half raised my arms, Johanna and Beetee moving off to place their water lilies in the boat and say goodbye as I took the baby into my arms holding his softly.
"He wasn't the only reason I was late to the funeral you know." She said suddenly, her eyes full of warmth as she watched me coddling her child. Looking up at me she locked eyes with me, her tone shifting to one of reserved distance. "I got a call from Peeta. He wanted to know why he didn't see us at the wedding."
"When was it?" I asked, knowing the answer before she said it from the look she was giving me.
"Today," she said shortly, wrapping her arms around herself looking tense. I'd noticed as she started to get well that she was particularly wary to bring up Katniss, almost as if she was sure I was going to run back and let her torture my heart some more at any second. "Why didn't you tell me it was supposed to be today when I set the date for the funeral? I could have picked another day."
"I honestly didn't even know about the wedding." I said swallowing passed the lump in my throat. Her eyes registered her surprise. Looking away I watched everyone saying goodbye to Finnick and sighed. At least now it made sense why Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch hadn't come to the funeral or responded to the letters I sent them about it. "I think they'll be needing you to set fire to the boat soon from the look of things. People are heading back to their seats."
"Can you take Minnow up to the house and put him down for bed for me?" She asked, kissing his forehead and then mine when I nodded before heading off back down the beach towards the boat. Turning I headed back towards the house, only turning back to look once I was on the porch. What I saw nearly took my breath away.
Annie standing with her heels being eaten by the gently rolling waves on the edge of the shore watch the burning boat start to sail away off out to sea. Even from such a distance I could see resolve in her stance, but no tears or marks of a great sadness. I knew she'd said goodbye to her late husband long ago, but when I'd suggested after the baby was born safely that we have a traditional funeral to put his memory to rest for everyone else who had known him, she'd said it was a good idea.
Sometimes I wondered if I'd ever really understand her completely.
Minnow shifted in my arms making an agitated sound, pulling at the edges of his blankets with his small hands. Shaking myself out of it I hurried inside the house where it was warm, heading up the stairs to the nursery to lay him down to sleep. After I'd rocked him and fed him I lay him down in his bed, smiling as he yawned already starting to dose as I pulled the blanket up over him. Switching off the light I watched him as he fell asleep for a moment, my hand absently moving to touch the birth certifigate framed on the wall like it always did when I was in his nursery. Somehow I just couldn't believe she'd given him the middle name Hawthorne because of me.
"How's our boy?" Turning I looked at Annie, her hands crossed over her chest as she leaned back against the doorframe. Thought she looked a little tired and emotionally drained she was still smiling, eyes twinkling as I made my way over to her and pulled her into my embrace.
"He's beautiful and strong as always, just like his Mama is." I smiled, kissing the top of her head. She pulled away from me giving me a seductive look, wiggling her finger for me to follow her as she turned and headed off down the hall for our bedroom. Pulling the nursery door until it was only cracked I stalked off down the hall after her, tugging off my jacket and tie as I went. Something told me Annie and I were about to celebrate life in the best way possible.
"Gale, can I ask you something important?" Looking up from the paperwork I'd been doing I rolled my eyes. Annie had been sitting on the counter sipping coffee as she watched me work for several quiet minutes, but I'd known she'd come in the kitchen for a reason. She left me alone while I worked unless it was important.
I'd stopped going back to District 2 as soon as Minnow had been born, instead getting all of my work faxed to our home in District 4. Beetee came on the train once a week to fill me in on matters papers couldn't convey but most often just to visit, both of us needing to keep up our friendship.
"Annie, we've been sharing a bed for almost a year now and you still think you can't ask me things without asking first for permission to ask me?" Smiling I set down my pen, pushing my chair back as she slid off the counter and made her way over to me. Climbing onto my lap she slipped her arms around my neck holding me tightly, her eyes flashing the way they only did when she was truly excited about something. "What do you need to ask me lovely?"
"I was just wondering, you know…" She said, pressing something I hadn't seen her carrying against the back of my neck. Reaching behind me I took it from her, pulling it around where I could see. It was a ring box. "I was just wondering if you'd marry me."
"Annie…" My throat suddenly dry I looked up at her desperately, struggling for the words to say. Her gaze never faltered as she watched me try to contain myself, a slow smile spreading over her face as I nodded. "Of course I'll marry you! I love you…"
"I love you too." When she kissed me, it felt like it had that first time before she married Finnick, so flesh and innocent I could have cried. Pulling back she laughed, resting her forehead against mine as I wrapped my arms tightly around her waist.
Finally, love had healed what time couldn't. Love had finally given me her.