The first time, he's sixteen, and it's brutal, and it hurts.
Snow leads him there under false pretenses, claiming that one of Finnick's sponsors, the man who'd paid for the trident to be sent to him in the Games, is eager to meet Finnick. To talk to him. So Finnick is a bit excited because they are meeting at a nice Capitol restaurant and Finnick likes the Capitol a little bit. He likes the abundance of food, all the colors, all the shapes and architecture.
He takes the ride from the Training Center to the restaurant without an escort, which surprises him. People have been ushering him places for months. He will remember it as the last time he felt truly by himself, in that dark car, full of anticipation.
At the restaurant, an attendant leads him upstairs to a private dining room. The walls are all a violent shade of pink and the lighting is low. It plays tricks with his eyes if he stares at the walls for too long. He's seated at a table, alone again, until President Snow arrives.
"Mr. President," he gets up and Finnick thinks for an elated moment that Snow is going to join him and the Sponsor for dinner. He would be grateful- Snow has spoken to him a few times, been so nice to him, acted very proud of him and his victory. He may be the president, but he's the only one he knows here, in this strange room.
"Mr. Odair, sit, sit." He comes behind Finnick's chair and lies his hands on Finnick's shoulders, gently massaging them. Finnick feels a burst of angry butterflies in his stomach. The president's hands are on him, how stange is that? "I won't be joining you tonight, there's only a few housekeeping details that you and I need to go over before your date arrives." At the sound of the word "date", Finnick begins to feel uneasy. "Mr. Quick spent a great deal on your special weapon. You liked the trident, didn't you?"
"It was…it was perfect," Finnick says because it's true. He remembers watching the gleaming, golden thing fall down from the sky like it was a gift from the Gods.
"And you won. So I'm sure you can appreciate the lengths that Mr. Quick went to give you that trident, Finnick." There is a breathy pause. " I think he ought to be thanked, don't you?" He stops rubbing circles in Finnick's back, just grips onto him a little bit harder.
"Yes," he's a little breathless, his anticipation molding into fear, his mind buzzing with all the things he did with that trident, the scent of roses overwhelming him.
"Good. I want you to humor Mr. Quick. Be warm to him. Be open with him. You can trust him, Finnick." Snow presses his hand into Finnick's shoulder until it stings. It shocks him further. "And if you should fail to adequately thank Mr. Quick, then…"
Finnick listens expectantly, but Snow doesn't finish.He feels the weight of what he's saying and it's as prominent as the things Mags told him to do while they were in the Training Center. Always be polite, thankful. You have to charm them. You have to the best.
"I'll be good," he says. "I will."
He isn't that naive, he can hear the tone of threat in Snow's voice and it throws him for a loop. He hadn't noticed how large Snow seemed from all the way down at the bottom. What kind of consequences would come from his failure, if he doesn't do what he's supposed to. At home, the consequences for stealing any pearls or poaching fish is whipping. Finnick's never stolen anything, so he hasn't much experiences with punishment besides a light rap on his backside from his mother whenever he talked back or played too roughly with his brothers.
When Snow leaves, Finnick wipes his sweaty palms on his pants. A half an hour goes by slowly until the attendant is back with a man who has bright yellow hair and swirling tattoos on his cheeks. Mr. Quick is speechless for the first few moments as Finnick awkwardly asks him trivial things. How are you? Who designed your suit?
Finally, the man speaks and his voice is low. Too naturally low, almost definitely altered to make him sound more intimidating.
"You are just so beautiful," he says.
That's when Finnick's stomach turns. Mr. Quick touches his leg underneath the table, suggests that they go upstairs to enjoys dessert. Only now does he realize that the restaurant is a part of a hotel.
Finnick rides the elevator and his heart quickens as they go up and up. He feels like he's watching some kind of terrible accident, and he has no way to stop it, can't bring himself to look away. He once saw a boat crash when he was seven. It's engine had exploded so the flames were starting to lick at the boards of the deck. The crew abandoned ship as fast as they could, but a few didn't make it out as the boat came crashing into the docks, destroying them. It feels like that.
In the room, the lights are even more energetic, spinning around. Finnick stands with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his suade dress pants, and he watches Mr. Quick move nervously around the room. He can see a bed from the corner of his eye. It takes a few moments of awkward pointing ,hinting, and bubbling fear for Finnick to realize that he's meant to lead the way to the bedroom. His heart is a runaway train, a speeding torpedo through the water. Mr. Quick puts his hands all over him and he's naked very quickly, shivering, trying to understand what Snow meant when he said, "If you should fail to adequately thank Mr. Quick…"
What would happened if he put his clothes back on and ran away? What would happen if he screamed?
He does scream when it happens. His skin is all ablaze with goosebumps as Mr. Quick's fingers dance around places he's never been touched. He gets half hard because it's so frantic and unexpected, but Mr. Quick is quick and he presses him down to the floor. And Finnick screams because it feels like he's being torn open, like that girl from District 6 actually managed to come back from the dead and stab him with one of those knives he cut away from her hand. She'd tried using them to free herself from the net he made, but Finnick had stabbed her in the chest before she could loosen the knots.
He cries and Mr. Quick coils himself around Finnick for a few fiery moments until he's done. There's something hot between Finnick's legs. Blood or Mr. Quick's come.
"Have I upset you?" Mr. Quick pulls Finnick's chin so that he looks up into the fake purple-blue eyes . If you should fail…
He furiously wipes away the tears. Be the best. He manages to say,
"Thank you for your gift."
The second time, it's a woman. She's not a sponsor, she has no shame in telling him how much she's paid to have his company for the night. it occurs to him that he's been going through these nights for money. This time, he rides to the woman's house in a car with a new escort. Snow must think that Finnick plans to run away. He has plans, but doubts he will carry them out. He's been living in the Training Center for a week now, even though his Games have ended long ago. He wants to go home so badly, it aches. His night with Mr. Quick has dropped him into all the fresh horrors he's never known. Like nightmares of vines that pull you under the water, into the undertow. He can't wash himself enough times to get the stench of everything away.
He's dirty with unwanted sex, with unwanted blood. He remembers the sharp pain of Mr. Quick and he wonders if the trident made the same kind of pain when he slid it into all those kids.
"Take off your clothes." The woman is demanding, older, angry. Her hair is long and full of gems, her eyes bright with fire and covered in dark makeup. It's the first time Finnick's ever been with a woman. He doesn't know what to do. He's shaking and inexperienced, wanting for her to do with him what she will so that he won't have to think about it. He hopes this is the last time he'll have to do it.
She gets frustrated with him when he can't undo her bra.
"I'm sorry." His voice is childish and small, it's all he can do to keep from shrinking in on himself.
"Are you a virgin, Finnick?" She drags her long, silver nail lightly across his cheek. He looks down and nods his head and tells himself that Mr. Quick doesn't count.
"Such a pretty boy. No one's ever tried to get their hands on you?" She climbs off him and saunters, really saunters to a table across the room, reaches into the drawer and comes back to the bed where Finnick lies, hands feebly positioned over his groin to hide himself
She kisses him, and when she pulls away there's something on his tongue. It's a tablet, and it makes everything hazy and silver.
She's seems happy that Finnick's virginity is hers for the taking. She keeps murmuring in his ear about being the first one, and she tells him to remember her forever. The sounds multiply and divide inside his head until they've become like a sing song that his mother tucked him and brothers in with. His mind is rearing and he's higher than he's ever been. Higher than the hovercraft that came to pluck him out of the Games.
She pushes herself onto him, and it feels good in a wrong way. It's warmer, much warmer than his hand, which is the only thing he's used to as a sixteen year old boy. It's on fire for a moment while everything is still and hazy and colourful. He panics about what the drugs are doing to him, but then he lets go and finds himself feeling weightless. She writhes on him too quickly though, making him come in a few moments. He hates everything afterward. There's nothing good left, he aches harder than before, and he's cold. She laughs at him, but brushes it off and nestles herself in between the wall and him. Then she tells Finnick a secret about a woman at her work who sleeps with thirteen year old boys, even buys them- like she bought Finnick.
When he gets back to the Training Center, he showers methodically, vigorously scrubbing at his skin. The shower isn't enough, he needs the salt water of home. There's a million little holes going through him and the sand would fill them up.
He ties the towel to his waist and stares at his reflection in the mirror. The entire third wall of the bathroom is a mirror. He stands out amid all the white and metal because his skin is red and he's the most beautiful thing in here, probably. Or that's what they tell him. Before The Games, he would have believed it because everyone at home told him he was pretty. Women pinched his cheeks and girls at school always whispered and spread rumours about him. He can remember when he was thirteen, when Malda Hook told everyone that he'd touched her under the pier, and he hadn't even spoken to Malda, let alone touched her. When it got back to Finnick's mother, she dragged him home from the beach by his ear and he had promised that it was a lie and cried when she threw a bucket of ice cold sea water over his head. His mother's worst fear, among losing her husband out at sea, was that Finnick or his brothers would get a girl pregnant.
But now his brother Monaghan is getting married, and he's going to have to feed and train his own children. He's even got his own small house down past the east docks.
Snow is there when he comes out of the bathroom. When he sees him and smells the roses, he puts his hand on the knot where his towel is tied, wishing badly that he was fully clothed, or perhaps under a pile of blankets.
He starts off by telling Finnick that he was inadequate. Finnick can't pay attention much because he's shaking with anger. His eyes are bloodshot, puffy. He's been crying on and off in the confusion of the tablet. The Capitol lights that have been playing tricks on him all night.
"When can I go home?" he says through gritted teeth.
Snow smiles, unfaltering. "That's not a part of the deal, Finnick."
"Then what?" he says, stepping back.
Snow stares back.
"You'll kill me? Kill me. I don't want to do it. "
Snow's grin curves upward again. Finnick wants to live, but he decided in the arena that death is better than some things when he saw the Career from 1 stick his knife in between the girl from District 10's legs.
"You know, Finnick, I think that I would like to come visit District 4 again. Perhaps we could film a special program. 'Catching up with Finnick Odair'. Where you live now, your family, those brothers. One of them is getting married isn't he? And of course your father's fishing boat. Goldaline, what a lovely name for a ship."
This time, Finnick blinks back, a whole new and strange terror clawing at his chest.
"A dangerous job, crab fishing. So many hazards and accidents. I hear that some boats set sail and never come back."
"They always come back," he says breathlessly.
"Well, your father has been lucky, hasn't he?"
Finnick lowers his head and breathes raggedly, willing himself no to cry. He thinks about how easy it would be for Snow to snatch up his father and drown him in the deepest part of the ocean.
"When can I go home?" He tries to sound less feeble, but he returns to a much more boyish state.
"You will return to your district for the time being. Only for a few weeks, I'd suspect. Then you'll come back and resume your…duties. And this time, there is no room for error. You will be adequate."
"And if I don't come back here you'll kill them?" The words sound so alien on his tongue. He's never truly feared for anyone's safety but his own. His mother always stood at the window during a storm, turning her pearl in her hands. Outside the waves would be obscuring everything, and she could only see the distant silhouette of the Goldaline when the lightening struck in the right spot. But Finnick never feared that his father would die, he knew his father was a true fisherman. He weathered storms constantly. His father was born out at sea, under the deck on a pile of nets.
Finnick did fear for himself. In the arena, the cameras often didn't catch his week moments, when he would softly shake and cry with the fear of sleeping in a cage full of killers. He saved them for the dead of night, when he appeared boring and asleep.
He thinks of his father now, on the Goldaline who is surely asleep in his quarters, out in the east, during the late-summer catch. He fears for him.
"I'm sure there's no reason it should come to that. This isn't a bad thing, Finnick. Think of how popular you'll be. You'll be famous, rich. Think of the company you'll keep." Snow's eyes twinkle with something. Finnick realizes he's enjoying this.
Back home, he drifts in without a camera crew for once. They'll get him his next visit, surely, and they might even do that catch up program with his family. His mother won't like that. Finnick tries to shut up his mind, to strip the past week away from him as he comes off the train and starts to smell the salt in the air. The wind hits his face as he walks to the west side, where his parents live in their old house. Finnick has his own house for victors near the train station, but it's far too away from the sea and the docks. His parents insisted on keeping the old house and living there anyway, which Finnick was secretly grateful for. He didn't much like being that far from the sea either.
"Finnick!" Some familiar faces wave to him, but not many people are out. It's late, nearly eleven o'clock. He lets himself into the house and immediately takes his Capitol brand shirt off. The house is dark and asleep, he won't wake his mother.
He finds seaweed bread half-stale, and eats it in the dark, watching the kitchen in become more distinguishable as his eyes adjust.
"Finnick are you back?" His younger brother, Everett, sleepily stands at the bottom of the stairs.
"Shh, don't wake up Ma. She hardly sleeps during the catch," he whispers.
"Only cause it's storm season." Everett is a mama's boy. He's almost eight, and still attached to her hip.
"Go back to bed," he whispers a bit louder. "I'll see you in the morning."
He watches his brother disappear up the steps, and hears the sound of his bedroom closing. He breathes in the smell of his house; seaweed, sweat, and shrimp. He can't help but mourn it because he feels different. When he became Victor, it was strange having the money and the fame, but dinner was still on the table at the same time, and now that he was rich, Finnick could expect a full meal. He'd gone hungry as a child, especially in the long weeks where his father was out to sea.
His mother looks at him differently now. Like he's a killer (which he is), like he's gone Capitol. Monaghan used treated Finnick with an air of resentment, mostly because Finnick was naturally better at things than he was. Plus, Monny didn't get on with his father the way Finnick did. But when he came home from The Games, he became nicer to him. It used to be that Monny was Everett's favorite to play with, but now he jumps on Finnick's shoulders and wants to play swordfight.
His father is the only one who still looks at him like he's no different, like there were no Games. When he spends long hours repairing the Goldaline with him. Finnick always finds himself slipping into a fantasy where he never went to the Capitol. He pretends to be just another Sea Brat working in the sun. He misses his father, wills him to come home soon, even if it means a bad catch.
In the morning, Finnick wakes to the feel of a body against his hip. He can hear Everett snoring at his feet. He's much too small for his age, and he's always tended to sleep in either his parents or his brother's beds.
"Get up." He gives his brother a kick.
Everett groans and raises his head weakly. The air is muggy and thick and hot, and Everett's t-shirt sticks to his chest. He coughs and rubs at his eyes, sitting up. The moisture in the air triggers the fits he has with his lungs.
A storm is coming.
Everett and Finnick slump down the narrow staircase, hearing their mother in the kitchen. He smells scallops and sea salt and pepper. Even The Capitol couldn't make seafood the way his mother did.
"Ma, Finnick's home!" You can tell Everett's been waiting all night to say that. Their mother looks up, tucking her hair behind her ear.
"Finnick," She says, and she comes toward him to wrap her arm around his head and bring him to her chest. It's always the same hug; she clutches onto her children like she's going to lose them, and she very well might. He wants to tell her what he's done, he wants to tell her about the twinkle in Snow's snake eyes. Buried in the crook of her neck, he almost whispers all the horror to her. The very intruding sound of thunder interrupts him.
"Oh dear." he lets go of Finnick and goes to step outside, taking the back door that leads to a the beach. Everett goes chasing after her while Finnick stays where he is and surveys the kitchen in the daylight. He decides not to say anything to his mother because maybe Snow has the house wired, and maybe he wants Finnick to keep it a secret. He sighs and flips the stove off, grabs a scallop from the pan.
He goes outside and eats standing with his mother and brother. They watch the horizon from the shore. Storm clouds, all fierce and angry, sit in the distance and somewhere out there is his father. Finnick feels a pang in his chest, so he wolfs down the steaming scallop and chews furiously, trying to get rid of Snow's voice in his head.
You will be adequate.
He feels a chain tied around him, tethered to The Capitol. The storm is coming and wouldn't it just be convenient for Snow to throw his father into the sea? Because Finnick wasn't a good fuck? Because he didn't make Mr. Quick happy?
"The summer storm came early." His mother's voice is frail, she reaches into her pocket and Finnick is sure she's turning her pearl in her fingers.
"They could make it closer to shore before it hits." Everett grabs his mother's other hand, and Finnick finds himself watching them intently. What if he's killed his own father?
"I'm going into town," he says, turning in the sand.
"Can I come?" Everett squeaks behind him. His mother doesn't turn her head from the storm and the sea.
He trudges up the hill that brings him to the street where his house sits. He takes shortcuts through backyards and empty store lots until he's near the Marketplace. It starts to rain then, first in fat little drops, but then in sharp little daggers of warm water. This was always Finnick's favourite place to go when he could afford to buy something. The street is narrow and lined little huts that are all open counters. When he arrives, the vendors at the Marketplace are closing their counters and pulling the doors down on their shops as the rain starts to hit harder. He walks through the Market street and the smell of fish and seaweed is soon being covered up by the smell of rain. At the end of the street, he comes to the only stand left open.
Annie Cresta, who sells sea glass jewellery with her grandmother, leans out onto the counter of her stand, resting her elbows there and looking up at the darkening sky. Finnick catches her eye as he comes toward the hut. He's seen her here and at school, but only ever said one or two words to her.
"Hello Finnick Odair." She has a bright smile, and Finnick wonders if she wants him to buy something. But of course she wants him to buy something, she's poor. He wonders how many tesserae she's signed up for.
"Hello Annie Cresta." She looks a little shocked that he knows her name. He only does because Monaghan bought one of Annie's rings as an engagement ring for his fiancée and Finnick stood in this same place staring at the collection of jewellery until Monny found one that looked the most like a diamond.
Annie sweeps some rain water off the counter top, only for it to fill up again.
"You'd better close up before you drown," Finnick says. He flashes the girl a half-grin, knowing that he's trying hard to seem appealing and wondering if it's working.
Annie Cresta stares at him a little, shyly smiling back, tucking her hair behind her ear. Finnick thinks about how there's no more room for error. He will have to act the way he did during his Games. That's what Snow wants.
His mentor told him to work the heartthrob angle, give big smiles, all teeth, charming, attractive, desirable. He did what he was told. He spent the entire interview with Ceaser Flickerman looking toward the audience with his desirable smile, believing that everyone loved him. Except the other tributes, of course. They often just referred to Finnick with malice as "Pretty Boy".
You're gonna die, Pretty Boy.
"Were you in the Capitol?" Annie suddenly asks.
"For a little bit."
Annie leans on her elbow, looking dazed. "You're so famous now. What's that like?"
He tells her, "I don't feel famous."
"But you are, you know, I see you on TV all the time."
He suddenly feels defensive, scared by the image of himself on Annie Cresta's television screen. "If you see me on TV, just ignore me."
Annie lifts her eyebrow but smiles at the same time, amused. Finnick considers taking Annie Cresta underneath the pier where he can take her clothes off and get used to the feeling of being with a girl. He looks at her messy brown hair and imagines that he could run his fingers through it, and how that hair would feel if it were draped across his face. If she was draped across him. It would be easy practice.
But he can't fuck Annie Cresta because it would be poisonous. He feels the vicious, self protecting need to keep his district far from The Capitol, and this Capitol act is getting sickening. He's not going to pull that act while he's at home. Annie will just remain what she is; the girl who sells sea glass rings that few can afford the luxury of.
"Have a good storm, Annie." This time, he forgets to smile.
It's later and Finnick's mother is getting more restless with each strike of lightening and thunder. She turns her pearl in her hands and stares out the window, as usual. Finnick has cooked dinner for his brother, but he himself can't stomach eating something while this storm rages. He wonders, as he fills Everett's plate, if he will ever see his father again. Snow could punish him, ruin his family, with the snap of his fingers.
When the door opens, all three of them jump with momentary elation, thinking briefly that the Goldaline has made it safely to shore and their father has returned to eat dinner on time and everything. But it's just Monaghan, who shivers and starts stripping off his soaked clothes as soon as he gets in the door. Monny would have been a fisherman like their father, but he always had a knack for carpentry and handy-work around the house. Now he builds boats and repairs docks safely on shore.
"Finnick's home!" Everett shouts again. Finnick rolls his eyes.
Monaghan comes and gives him a dripping hug. "How was the big C?"
"Creepy as always," Finnick says, thinking of how he and his brothers shamelessly made fun of Capitol citizens whenever they watched the Games. Now he's been inside one of them, and it gives him shivers.
Monaghan goes upstairs to grab a dry shirt. Monny always comes for the storms, just to make sure that their mother doesn't hurl herself into the ocean to search for the Goldaline herself. Finnick's grateful; he wants to sleep and sleep and imagine that he won't have to wake up tomorrow morning.
He kisses his mother goodnight, hardly able to look at her.
"He'll be home in the morning," he tells her, but he's not so sure. The thought makes him want to throw up.
Everett mimics him, kisses his mother, and follows Finnick up the stairs and into his room. The rain hit's the window and makes loud, scattering noises that makes the hair on his neck stand up.
"The thunder…" Everett starts, but Finnick just throws him an oversized t-shirt to sleep in. He certainly won't sleep through a storm by himself.
Monaghan comes into Finnick's room as they settle themselves into the mattress. Finnick runs a hand over his face, unable to get the future out of his mind. What will happen in a month's time? Who will buy him?
"It's nasty out there, " Monny says, nodding his head toward the window. "Reckon they'll save the catch?"
"Is Pa gonna get lost?" Everett asks, his lower lip turning dangerously into a pout.
"He's weathered worse," Finnick tries.
Monny and Everett are quiet for a moment as worry swells within the room. Finnick wonders what any of them will do if their father dies. Thunder cracks, Everett coughs, and Monaghan slips back down the stairs to join Ma.
He feels Everett tighten onto his arm whenever the room flickers with lightening. The lightening reminds him, strongly and suddenly, of one of those lost nights in the arena. Finnick had been curled up in a makeshift fort made of branches when an electrical storm struck near him. It had cracked and lit up the whole fake sky, blue and eerie. It's here, in the room full of lightening that Finnick realizes the Games have yet to end. That they are, in fact, only just beginning for him.
And his father could be dead, and it could be all his fault. The fear is parallel to his survival instinct. It's rawer, realer. He feels Everett's vice grip and hears Monny's deep voice soothing downstairs and he vows to protect them. He prays to some god, or Snow, promises that he'll be whoever the Capitol wants him to as long as he gets through this night.
When Finnick awakens, Everett is no longer beside him. He hoists himself up on his elbow and welcomes the familiar ache in his chest. But the air isn't as thick, so maybe it's a good sign. With growing dread and stinging eyes, Finnick tentatively climbs down the stairs to see what kind of state his family could be in. Has Snow taken his father?
His heart thumps loudly. No one's in the kitchen.
He steps outside through the back door with his eyes closed. In a few steps there's sand under his toes.
When he looks toward the docks, he sees the familiar mast of faded white canvas high above the houses. The Goldaline.
Finnick runs down the beach, the sand wet and slowing him. He runs like there's a District 1 tribute behind him. He runs like Mr. Quick is behind him. Panting, his feet hit the familiar warm wood of the docks. Everett is who he sees first, bending over the edge of the dock and feebly tightening Goldaline's ropes. Everett looks up and notices Finnick, who has slowed to a cautious walk. He could still be dead, thrown overboard. Finnick was inadequate, as Snow said, and this is going to be his punishment.
"Pa's home!" Everett says it like he's been wanting to say it all night.
Finnick comes up to the side of the massive boat slowly. He processes Everett's words, his mind trying to make sense of it. His face falls, and he realizes that he's been given a second chance.
The storm cleared in the night, and the sky and the water are blue and healthy. Finnick chokes back a sob as he looks up at the deck. His father's silhouette obscures the sun. He hasn't noticed Finnick standing there yet, so Finnick just watches. He's whistling a sailing song, coiling rope around his hand. He's come home and Finnick's come home, and all the fear is evaporating from his skin.
He should have known the sea would bring him back.
If there's anything a boy from District 4 can trust, it's the sea.