Epilogue: The New Age

The waves slosh against the sides of the boat, small but sturdy out at sea. Pinks and oranges mesh and whirl in the early evening sky, but her heart is rather grey, like a wilted, dried rose. With a glance to the stern of the boat, she readies herself for the piece that will be taken from her today.

A little girl of no more than four peers over the side of the boat into the depths below.

"It's a far way down, mama," she says, looking over her shoulder for confirmation.

The girl's mother smiles patiently. "Yes, Bellamy," she agrees, "but your uncle's a very good swimmer." Her hand extends across the wooden plank of the boat to meet Annie's, and squeezes it tight.

Annie returns the smile of her sister-in-law, though her chest heaves with sorrow. With the sun beginning to sink in the sky, she carefully crosses the boat to join Fletcher at the bow. In his hands he holds a marble urn.

"He made me promise," Fletcher had told her on the day they were reunited after her return, "that I would take him out to sea. That I would set him free."

Though she wanted nothing more than to keep her beloved close, Annie had nodded her consent, for she had known it then as she knows it now, surer than ever, that this is what Finnick wanted. And he would have entrusted the task to Fletcher, who had survived the attack on the night of the Arena break-in by wrapping his bloodied head in his shirt and crawling back home, and gone on to be involved in a force determined to resist Capitol invasion and purge the district of its chains.

Today, Fletcher's eyes search her with a softness she has seen so often in his brother.

"Together?" he asks, holding the urn to her.

With a steadying breath, she shakes her head. She cannot bear to let him go, though the urn contains only what pieces of him they could find.

He nods in understanding. With his two daughters and pregnant wife standing by, Fletcher removes the lid of the urn and sets it on a plank. Then, when a breeze drifts by, he turns the container upside down.

They are just ashes, Annie tells herself, but as they catch in the wind and fly, she hears his laughter, sees his sea green eyes, feels the touch of his lips against her skin. They are him, once and forever. The boat lurches over a wave, and she takes the opportunity to stretch out her fingers to him, to catch a piece in her hand. It floats to a perfect landing and she closes her fingers overtop, cradling the one morsel that she will selfishly keep.

The weightlessness she feels at his release is unexpected.

Fletcher steers them back to shore, his gaze hardened again, but thoughtful. Annie takes a seat close to Kessie, who cradles her youngest daughter's head against her shoulder.

"How far along?" she asks conspiratorially, allowing her hand to gently brush Annie's stomach.

Annie can't help but look down in surprise – she thought her loose clothing concealed the swell.

"Just a few months," Annie replies, short of words, and Kessie smiles brightly.

"I'll let you tell Fletcher on your own time," she promises. "But these two—" she points to Annie's stomach and then to her own, "—might get into some mischief together. Cousins."

Annie can only nod, unable to mask a timid smile. She had returned to District 4 expecting ruin, loneliness, and heartbreaking memories. Instead, she had found something there. Family. Survival in the unlikeliest of places, amidst the destruction and death.

And as Fletcher steers the boat into the harbour, she finds something else in the wind swirling around her. Sure as the sun, she feels his presence in the salty air, as though Finnick has finally come home.

"I didn't love him," Johanna had said to her before they parted ways in 13, "but I wouldn't blame anyone who did."

Annie had loved him, and loves him still, for to her, he is here somewhere, lurking behind a fishmonger's stall or on the field playing Kick-The-Ball. He is in the wind, in the sea, in their home on the beach. He is in everything she sees in this district, their home.

Taking her hand, Fletcher guides her out of the boat.

"I'll walk you back home," he offers, glancing over his shoulder at the curious eyes that watch them on the shore. People who have heard only stories and rumours about the mad, mad girl who lived. The one who blocks her ears during confrontations, who squeezes shut her eyes at violence, who screams when it all becomes too much.

"That's all right," Annie assures him with a sudden burst of confidence. "I'll be fine on my own."

Even Fletcher is sceptical, though she knows he hates those watchful eyes. He prefers a quiet life, yet his similarities to the fallen Golden Boy are not unnoticed in the district. Moreover, his fraternization with his late brother's wife draws questions and assumptions.

"All right," he agrees gruffly. "I'll call on you tomorrow."

She nods, leaving him to tie up the boat while she bids good evening to Kessie and the two young girls with strawberry blonde curls.

"Annie?" Fletcher asks from behind her. She whirls around. With a torn expression, he asks in a small voice, "What we did – it was right?"

It's custom in District 4 to bury your dead. To reunite them with the earth so that they may always have a place within it.

Finnick was never quite convinced by that. He had his own views of death, burials, and the afterlife. He had seen too much hell on earth to want to remain a part of it.

"It was right by him," Annie says, and with another warm breeze tickling her neck, she knows it's true.

Her little house by the sea seems much bigger now that Finnick isn't there to fill it with warmth and love and laughter, but Annie knows she will never leave it. It was built to hold her and their family in its arms and to look over the sea that now carries her love.

When she arrives, the sun is quite low in the sky, close to dipping beneath the horizon. With her last few minutes of daylight, she gets on her hands and knees in front of the garden bed. She digs a hole near flowers – daisies, as he had suggested – and slowly unfurls her fist, clutched tightly with the speck of him that flew into her hand. She drops it into the soil and buries it.

Just as he was in life, there are parts of him that will be chained to the Capitol forever in death. There are parts that will fly over the sea, that will swim in the depths, and that will float on freely. And there is one part – just one – that will live as he lived, next to Annie in a little house by the sea.

She stands, making her way to the sand and down to the water, where she washes her hands. Then, with the tide rushing to her ankles, she shuts her eyes in the setting sun and feels the wind move all around her.

They say she is scared, but she looks ahead with determined eyes and a brave heart. They say she's weak, but only the ones who have lost everything understand what it is to be strong.

They say she's mad.

Only one will ever know the truth. She's not mad – she's madly in love with a ghost. A ghost with sea green eyes and tousled bronze hair. His smile, for so many years crooked and superficial, is finally the genuine, wide smile of a victor. His knees are scraped and his hands are crusty with dirt and blood, but he stands tall. He walks beside her every day of her life, watching over her and the son she carries in her belly. He waits patiently, as he always has, for the moment that they meet again to walk hand-in-hand to someplace that's just like a dream.

the end.

In my head (and in my heart!), Kessie is pregnant with a son, just as Annie is, and they'll grow up together almost as brothers, with Fletcher teaching them to fish and to commandeer the seas – just like Leander did for Fletcher and Finnick. It was important to me that Annie went back to District 4, as it IS her home, and I think she will stay there forever, where she can always feel Finnick's shadow watching over her.

I know a lot of you pleaded with me not to "kill" Finnick. When it came down to it, I wanted this tale to be true to the book, and though I diverged on a few points, I accomplished what I set out to do. And so did Finnick, I think. With his loyalty, his strength and his determination, he helped to bring about an end to the Games, to rally up support for a rebellion in the districts, to invade the Capitol and kill Snow while getting Peeta and Katniss out alive. Most importantly, he was set free and married the love of his life. I think he knew all of that when he set out on his mission and I think he died knowing that it was time. That he had fought for long enough. He was a tortured soul and just as mad as Annie, in ways, and had he lived, he would have lived a haunted man. In the end, I think he found solace in death, and I think he accepted Annie's vision of it – that it's not nothingness, but a place softer than Earth, where the chains shackled to your ankles are released and you're free to float on in peace.

You may disagree - and I know many of you will! - and that's fine with me. However, I do hope you enjoyed my take on Finnick's tale. It was a challenge, but a pleasure to write, and I thank you all for your time, patience, and kind words!

All the best.