Hot Dog/Gaeta

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one big cosmic joke

Orgasms end. Good lines stay forever.


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THG fic: "Spin Control" [10/21]
THG - Finnick teasing Kat
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Title: Spin Control
Pairings: Finnick/Haymitch, Kat/Peeta
Characters: Finnick, Haymitch, Chaff, Peeta, Gale, Kat; plus appearances by Mags, Johanna, Caesar Flickerman, President Snow, Effie, Claudius Templesmith, Beetee, Prim, Thresh, Rue, District Twelve ensemble and various OC
Rating: adult
Warnings: forced prostitution & non-con; people dealing with sexual trauma; rape fantasies; self-hate; canon-typical violence; minor character death (of major canon characters); implied physical abuse of children (in the Mellark household); alcoholism & drug abuse
Summary: When Haymitch Abernathy’s alcoholism makes the prime time news, Finnick Odair is sent to live in District Twelve to pick up the pieces. But it’s hard to save a friend if you can barely stand looking yourself in the eye. And it might become impossible once that friend decides to move hell and high water to bring two of his tributes home at once, even if it should cost him his own life.
Where’s My Victor? If you’re looking for the Peeta/Kat bits but don’t want to bother with the whole story, I’d recommend starting at around Chapter 17, where that gets going for real, though they do make their share of appearances before that too. Gale’s appearances will be scattered through the fic more evenly. Gale and Peeta both make their first appearance in Chapter 6. Kat, probably Chapter 11. Chaff is featured prominently as well.
“Spin Control” on LJ: Prologue -- Chapter 1 -- Chapter 2 -- Chapter 3 -- Chapter 4 -- Chapter 5 -- Chapter 6 -- Chapter 7 -- Chapter 8 -- Chapter 9
Fic on AO3

Chapter 10: A Wintermas Carol

Wintermas rolled around. Twelve days of the “Winter Man” delivering gifts to the Capitol children – since the districts, obviously, hadn’t been good enough to deserve them – while the adults celebrated underneath dying pine trees decorated with tinsel, and a thirteenth day of storming the shops and exchanging the luxury goods for something even more exciting. The districts, of course, wouldn’t have had any money to spare for the gifts anyway; it was pretty sea shells and winter flowers in Four, while Twelve seemed to ignore it entirely. District One suffered hard in sales preparation for the holiday every year.

Finnick was summoned to the Capitol, of course, spending every night at a different party on the arm of a different date, men and women and one person who seemed to identify as cat. Amongst them were a politician’s young daughter still in her giggling teens, a musician who complained that Finnick couldn’t sing, a jaded aging morphling addict with a special toy chest in his basement.

He said hello to Cashmere and Gloss and Johanna, posed for pictures with Bunita for a fashion magazine. He did a late-night-show, where he chatted with One’s Dare. It wasn’t just the whores who had been forced to come; everybody wanted to adorn their holiday celebrations with a victor, and if they couldn’t afford a Finnick or Bunita, they were just as happy with a Blight or a Kyle. He guessed he should be happy that Haymitch hadn’t been summoned, now that the media had remembered his existence; these celebrations were brimming with booze and party drugs. Though he still couldn’t help worrying about Haymitch, alone in Victors’ Village. It had been months since his breakdown and Finnick thought he was doing okay; he was sleeping on his own again most nights, though as far as Finnick knew still with the lights turned on – not that that did him any harm. But it was still the first time Haymitch had been left to his own devices since his return. Concern ate Finnick up every time thought about it.

On his last night in the Capitol, during yet another party at the mansion of yet another celebrity, Finnick was entertaining his date with little made-up tales about District Twelve in the hopes that she’d get smashed enough to fall asleep later without fucking him, when somebody cleared his voice behind him. He suddenly found himself facing Beetee Corelli and Caramel Doll.

Four’s most popular victor before Finnick had surpassed him, Caramel tended to flee the room whenever Finnick entered it, and Finnick couldn’t say he liked looking the man in the eye any better, considering Finnick had inherited most of Caramel’s clients – considering some of those clients loved comparing them to each other. Now, however, Caramel inclined his head towards the woman at Finnick’s arm, giving Finnick an almost defensive glance, as if daring him to object to his presence.

“Oh heavens, Finnick, sweetheart, look at that, are those your friends!” Gaia, his date, chirped and tugged at his arm in a delighted way, oblivious as to how she was sounding like a ten-year-old. “And Caramel. How lovely to finally meet you again after so many years.”

“There is no day that I don’t remember you fondly,” Caramel replied woodenly, brushing a kiss across the back of her proffered hand.

Next to him, Beetee’s eyes fell on the woman’s empty glass. “Ah, I see you were just on your way to the bar,” he said nervously, although they clearly hadn’t been. “Miss Aurelia, isn’t it? Would you mind if I accompanied you in Finnick’s stead? I am a great admirer of your work. Your most recent showing was truly inspiring.”

“I did not know that you were a connoisseur of fashion!” Gaia exclaimed, blind to the fact that this was Beetee claiming knowledge of fashion, slipping off Finnick’s arm and floating off to the bar alongside the Three victor without even as much as a nod towards him or Caramel.

Uneasily Finnick glanced at the other Four victor, not quite knowing what to do with his hands.

“Mags says to ask you why you aren’t writing letters and to club you over the head for the answer, no matter what it might be,” Caramel said, face blank and tone expressionless, his eyes scanning the crowd. He’s just as beautiful as I am, Finnick thought, uncomfortable. They’d still be selling him today if it weren’t for my victory. “And I’ve been told that your parents are missing you, too.”

“Thank you,” Finnick replied, sipping at his drink and taking a position next to the victor, automatically making their conversation look casual, independent from whether it would turn out to be or not. “But that isn’t why you had Beetee steal my date.” He hadn’t known these two were close; they seemed like an odd couple.

In the corner of his eye, Caramel shrugged. “How’s Haymitch?” was all he said, and it reoccurred to Finnick suddenly that both Caramel and Beetee had been there the day Haymitch gave that interview, how both of them had cared. Caramel, Beetee and Chaff. And he remembered that one time Chaff had bullied Beetee into tweaking Haymitch’s console, so that it would play some kind of awful song, as a prank. He hadn’t considered that Beetee might have been in on that joke in the first place. Chaff, of course, would be home in District Eleven. The Capitol didn’t want anything from Chaff, Chaff and his ugly remains of a hand.

So he decided to tell the other victor the truth, carefully making sure that nobody was close enough to hear. “It’s going. It’s been made clear to us that it would be better for him to stay sober. He’s struggling, but he’s getting used to it, I think. I hope he’s okay on his own while I’m here,” he added, because even though this was Caramel, it was good to tell somebody that, sharing the fear.

Caramel gave him an uneasy look, making it clear that he’d rather be anywhere else. “Don’t write him off,” he said abruptly. “He’s tougher than you think.” Then after a second, “Is there anything we can do?”

Finnick look at him with surprise, before he paused to think about it. “Write him a letter,” he eventually said. “I don’t think he knows that people care.”

Caramel nodded, and that was when Gaia’s laugh drifting towards them again, making both of them turn around. “Oh Finnick, Beetee mixed me a drink from District Three,” she announced, her cheeks red. When she drifted back into his arms, Finnick was hit by a strong wave of alcohol; he gave Beetee a grateful look before swooping her up and asking her if he could try.

The other two victors faded into the background, and Finnick dedicated the rest of his night to convincing Gaia that she should have a lot more of those drinks.

***

When he returned home, District Twelve was covered in two inches of snow. Exhausted and freezing, Finnick huddled into the warm winter coat Cherry had originally designed for the Capitol, since he’d never have needed it in Four, and made his way across a sleeping town square, past the dead eyes of the Justice Building windows, down the street to Victors’ Village, little snow piles hemming both sides. It was dark already, early in the evening; unsurprisingly, most rooms in Haymitch’s house were illuminated.

When he unlocked his door, he was greeted by the warm breeze of the heating unit and a recently started fire in the hearth. In the kitchen, bizarrely, a cake was sitting on the counter; Finnick started chuckling hysterically when he saw it. It had a little figure drawn onto the icing, distinctively shaped like Haymitch, showing the viewer the finger. Merry Wintermas, it read. He didn’t even want to know how much it had cost Haymitch to convince the shy baker boy that it was okay to put that on there.

It told him so many different things, only one of them being that Haymitch had been fine. Finnick didn’t find it in him to go over that night, instead taking a page out of Haymitch’s book and falling asleep on the couch next to the fireplace, blanket wrapped around him. He could have scrubbed his skin raw without feeling like himself again, and he definitely could have slept for days in the hopes of never waking up.

***

In the following weeks, dreams haunted him whenever he went to bed. Suddenly it wasn’t Haymitch who was fighting with his sleep schedule but Finnick, who tried exhausting himself by running through the snow during the day and still found himself waking up in the middle of the night, aroused and in tears. After the week in the Capitol, his body wanted more.

Although he didn’t want to admit it to himself, he was missing his parents. At Wintermas, his dad would take him and his brothers to the pub and buy them a drink, not just beer or watered-down tequila but a “man’s drink,” watching their eyes watering and their coughing spells and laughing at them. It had been years since a stiff drink had overwhelmed Finnick, Twelve’s crazy black market concoction excepted, but on Wintermas, he’d fake the cough, and all four of them would act like they didn’t know that he didn’t belong to them anymore. Every year when he came home from the Capitol celebrations, he’d visit Uncle Lauro’s wife, who was a ropemaker, and buy the finest piece of rope he could find. Then he’d fashion a net, not an arena net but a purely decorative one the style of a fishing net with little beach gems worked into the seam, and give it to Mags as a Wintermas present. She’d laugh at him, but still dutifully mount it in her living room, exchanging it for the previous one. It was a gentle way of teasing the old lady; she held strange contempt for fishermen.

In District Twelve, there was no family celebration, no mom putting her hand on his cheek and telling him with looks that she didn’t understand but that she loved him despite what he was. Here, his environment wasn’t assuring him with Wintermas traditions that the bad part of the holiday was over. Neither Finnick’s, nor Haymitch’s house smelled of cookies, never mind of ocean salt; when he asked Fallon, she looked at him as if the idea of home baking anything but tesserae bread was pure decadence, and Finnick didn’t know the recipes. He thought of finally clearing a line and calling his mother about it, who would have loved the idea of her son in the kitchen, but he couldn’t imagine how to even start the conversation. Four ran Panem’s salt manufacturing, and so even the poorest among them had salt; Twelve always ran short on spices at the end of the month, and everything always tasted too bland.

Inconceivably, meanwhile, Haymitch had chosen this time to start socializing with Finnick on his own initiative. While Finnick retreated into himself, trying to ban the memories of the Capitol, Haymitch would eventually knock on his door, brusquely having this or that to discuss. He’d plop down on the couch of Finnick’s living room, looking him over, starting to criticize this or that dish, requesting changes for the next day’s meal and lending a hand, but never allowing Finnick to retreat from cooking duty entirely. This year’s winter was mild, no blizzards in sight, but Haymitch was still telling him to stock up on supplies just because. Noreen’s baby was sick – Capitol knew when she had started telling Haymitch things like that. Haymitch was discussing giving her some days off, since Finnick, strictly speaking, was her employer, although they both knew that normally, Finnick wouldn’t have cared; Haymitch definitely wouldn’t have.

While Finnick was in the Capitol, a package had arrived from Four. It was from Uncle Lauro, who’d apparently sent it on a whim, because it neither had a letter nor any other content but a couple dozen good lengths of rope. Uncle Lauro rarely ever said much of anything, but had seen Finnick spending many an evening sitting on the porch and repairing his father’s nets, understanding that it made him feel at peace; he likely couldn’t imagine a district without a use for good rope. With soft snowflakes swaying down outside, Finnick spent days on end fashioning a net out of it, a good net, a practical one, using stones he dug up from under the snow at the mines to weigh it down along the hem. He tried not to think of Mags. Then he gave it to Gale.

“What’s that?” the boy asked, catching it out of midair and giving it a suspicious look. He’d just turned to leave after selling Finnick the first winter goosling he’d caught.

“I built traps out of these in my Games,” Finnick replied. “I’m sure you’ll find a use for it.” If there was anybody in the district who would.

Gale’s face darkened. “We don’t need anybody’s…”

“It’s a fucking gift,” Finnick interrupted him harshly, taking a page out of Johanna’s book. “Happy Wintermas, alright?” Then he shut the door in the boy’s face. He’d made sure that a smart boy like Gale would be able to reproduce the thing if he needed another, using obvious and easy knots, and with any creativity at all, he could use it on his forays into the forest.

But once he didn’t find anything to do with his hands anymore, he was just overwhelmed by a deep, disconcerting feeling of anxiety again. The snow outside reminded him of Raif and Bee. It tempted him to consider himself in that arena, how he could have survived that without a Career pack or any idea about snow, but he knew that way lay madness.

Another couple of days later, he was standing with his arms crossed tightly in front of his chest at the window of his bedroom, staring at the mix of snow and rain pouring down today in a strange fit of January warmth. Dirty puddles of mud had gathered on the lawns. He’d seen Haymitch trudging over, huddled in a scarf and an oft-mended coat, hearing him enter Finnick’s house and looking for him on the ground floor, then heading upstairs. Like always, there was a short pause when Haymitch arrived at the master bedroom’s door, then a strangely soft knock. Finnick didn’t bother answering, but Haymitch, surprisingly, came in anyway, though he telegraphed his entrance pointedly.

“So is this where we exchange roles and I’m the one who stops the craziness?” Haymitch said, and Finnick knew without turning around that he hadn’t fully entered the room, was hovering in the doorway with his arms crossed in front of his chest as well, leaning in the frame in that way he had. Haymitch often didn’t quite enter rooms, as if he couldn’t decide if he was invited to or if he even should care about being invited to, or just if he really wanted to make that commitment.

Finnick pressed his eyes shut, taking a deep breath and trying to pull himself back into the present, starkly aware of his responsibility to take care of Haymitch, of how he hadn’t been doing that. Haymitch was functioning, had been alright during Wintermas, but six months of functioning weren’t enough to cure you from the Hunger Games, never mind an addiction caused by those Games. A lifetime, probably, wouldn’t be enough.

“I’m sorry,” he said, trying not to be a hypocrite, expecting Haymitch to share and then not doing it himself. But when he reached for the words, he still found himself reeling, unable to stop them from slipping away again immediately. “It’s nothing. It’s the Capitol. Every year… One more bit of tinsel in my life and I’ll puke, I think.” He tried laughing, bitterly, but it didn’t quite work. There’d been this one client who’d covered his whole bed in tinsel, for some reason, before he fucked him on it. It hadn’t even been a kink thing, just a strange sense of humor. “Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be fine.”

“Well that’s alright then. Good to know you’ve got it all scheduled properly,” Haymitch said, not even trying hard with the sarcasm.

Then there was a pause, when Finnick looked down to stare at some spot on the windowsill. Haymitch didn’t say anything anymore either, both of them aware how there wasn’t really much that could be said and done when their lives would just always go on and on like this, rinse and repeat, until the two of them were finally old enough to be left alone sometimes. Until new victors had been produced to take their place. But even then, they would still have to deal with the people they’d become.

Finnick didn’t know how much time passed until he heard Haymitch move. But feet were shuffling, Haymitch’s winter boots on carpet, and he heavily sank down – not on the bed, Haymitch would never sit on anybody’s bed – but in the same armchair that he’d occupied the first night he’d been back in Twelve, next to the wall with the trident.

There was another pause when Haymitch was probably giving him one of the long and analytical looks that had been following Finnick during recent days before he said, very simply, “Talk to me, Odair.”

Finnick leaned his head against the frame and closed his eyes. “I don’t know what to say.”

Haymitch was quiet for another long moment. “I’m not gonna pretend like I know what it’s like,” he eventually said, choosing each of his words carefully, haltingly. “It was different, for me. I was a novelty then, Twelve victor and Quell victor and all, but in the end I was just another coal-haired Twelve kid, token victor I guess. And then other victors came around, more exciting kids.” He was talking of Caramel and Bunita, 53rd and 56th Games respectively, and Finnick was grateful he didn’t say Caramel’s name aloud. It was the first time he’d ever heard Haymitch acknowledge the time they used to sell him in such a specific way. “But I was friends with them.” Again, leaving out Caramel, although now he definitely had to mean him. And although Finnick knew that that time had damaged Haymitch, too. “It does things to your head. You end up… you get all these ideas about what you think is happening to you because you mull it over all the time, right, because you have to keep going. You can’t allow yourself to let it go. And it still makes you feel like shit. But they’re doing it to you. You’re the victim. It’s a crime.”

Keeping his eyes closed, Finnick didn’t reply, focusing on the tone of Haymitch’s voice almost more than on his actual words. There wasn’t anything he could have said to that.

He was just grateful that Haymitch hadn’t used the word rape, shuddering even when he thought of it now, this quiet sense of sharp discomfort running all the way down his spine. He thought of his dreams, because they told him that everything Haymitch said was a lie. Haymitch didn’t know about those.

The trick is finding the right fantasy while you fuck them, you see, he wanted to say. You don’t want to be there and you don’t want to do it the way they expect from you, but you still have to perform. You want to think of the people he’ll kill if you don’t, but you can’t do that, because you won’t get it up if you think of what your kid sister would look like dead. You’ve got to find something that does it for you, anything. Sometimes, you get lucky and it’s enough to just picture some strangers, something that doesn’t have to do with you.

He wanted to say, I didn’t start out like this, I hated it at first. I hated it, but my body was still doing what it was supposed to. That’s easy at fifteen, like when you push a button. But things have changed. I don’t think I used to be like this, I think I was normal once, but I’m not now.

He pictured himself as a Capitol citizen, a rich and successful and beautiful businessman, who’d never have to spend a night in an empty bed for lack of being wanted, but who nevertheless snuck out at night into the darkened alleys and clubs that nobody ever talked about, because he wanted other people to hold him down, make him panic. Or maybe it would be the other way around, and he’d want to hurt other people, buy himself a victor. Buy a Haymitch or a Johanna.

Remembering screaming no in his dreams, Finnick felt his eyes burn and fought the need to cry, thinking if you had desires like that, there simply was no telling what kind of person you had the capacity of becoming.

Behind him, Haymitch was clearing his voice.

“Every time I came home…” he said and stopped. Then started anew. “Every time I came back from the Capitol, I felt like dirt. I couldn’t stop trying to get clean. It was like I was crazy, like I’d been replaced by this crazy person. I had Lyra, sure…” There was something strained in his voice when he said her name. “…but it hadn’t happened to her and I didn’t want to talk about it with her, she just gave me all that Two bullshit about it anyway. I just wanted it to stop. And then it would fade a bit, anyway, until it happened again. But it would have been better if I’d talked about it. If I’d had somebody who’d set my head straight about it.

“I was about your age then,” he added, and if Finnick hadn’t been so painfully miserable, he would have snorted at Haymitch, who was making it sound like he was ancient instead thirty-eight. Now he thought, he felt ancient himself.

Finnick wet his lips, never opening his eyes. “What else would make you feel better?”

It felt good to focus on Haymitch, not on what had been done to him but on Haymitch and what kind of a person he had used to be. It felt good to learn things about him. He tried picturing an eighteen-year-old Haymitch Abernathy, barely an adult, still growing out of starvation, with the exotic olive skin and the dark curls and that scowl on his face that said he didn’t trust anybody, nobody should even try. No surprise the Capitol hadn’t understood him enough to keep using him, this anomaly of a victor who’d looked like someone who should lose and still had somehow cheated his way to success.

Haymitch made a contemplative sound and if he thought the question was beside the point, he didn’t say so, taking his time to think it through.

“Mending things,” he said, surprisingly, and chuckled without humor. “My ma always made me mend my own clothes, but I was terrible at it. Hands are too big, I figure. I’d still try, though, even once she was gone. It felt nice, getting things back into shape, I guess.

“Throwing darts. There used to be this corner in the Hob where the miners would meet to throw darts, they’d carve them out of wood. We all wanted to be old enough to play when we were kids. I never ended up going, but there was this fancy dartboard on a tree at Swagger’s.

“Lyra,” he added after a long moment, quietly. “Lyra helped. Just having her there.

“Later on, liquor.”

There was something soothing to his voice, the ebb and flow of it and the gift that it was, because it was so rare that Haymitch decided to share. It made Finnick think of Wintermas at home, giving away the little things you found on the beach through the year, flotsam of those strange old things that people had dumped in the ocean before the Dark Days. They weren’t anything special, but keeping them for months so that you could give them away to somebody, that was special.

Taking long deep breaths, he thought of the sea and the way you braced yourself when you swam against the tide, of that confidence of withstanding something so much more massive and powerful than man. Feeling the strain in your arms and knowing that they wouldn’t give out on you yet. Spinning onto your back and spreading your arms, adrift, carried by the water, and opening your eyes to look at a brilliant blue sky.

Although he knew he shouldn’t, he still opened his eyes now; of course, all there was to see were grey clouds and the last few rain drops drizzling out, snow mud littering the Village. In the distance, the tree line was trembling in the wind like it might fall.

“Some days I hate this district,” he admitted in a small voice, which maybe was a complete non sequitur but maybe wasn’t at all. It was a failure of his, after all, when he’d been the one who’d wanted to come. It was his own fault. “I miss swimming. I miss the sea. I hate that there isn’t any water around. There’s the creek at the mines, but come on.

“This time of year, we wouldn’t even swim in Four, but at least you could look at the sea. I don’t know if you’ve ever really seen. It just goes on forever, away from Panem. Makes you wonder what comes behind, how there must be something else out there. And there are seagulls and salt in the air, and the water reflects the sun.”

He could almost feel Haymitch nodding. “Mags showed me on my Tour,” he softly said. “After the banquet at night.”

And then, almost hesitant, “I know it ain’t the same but I can show you a lake, if you’re up for a hike.”

***

It was cold and miserable and almost like a day on the move in the arena, but in a good way, a way where you knew that you were safe for now because it was just you and the woods, no mutts to be heard. The forest was dank this time of year; their boots sank into the mud, and melting snow was dripping off the soaked, naked trees.

It took them almost three hours to get there. They’d ducked out of the district at a weakened part of the fence close to the mines. Occasionally, Haymitch would grab his arm and stop him from walking into the rotten snare a long-dead trapper had left behind. Eventually, Finnick figured out how to watch out for them himself. They were huddled into the warmest coats that they’d been able to find in their closets, and Haymitch had brought one of his knives; but the only wild dog they encountered gave tail once they threw a rock in his direction, and they made enough noise to keep all the other game away.

It was the first day outside the bland district routine since Finnick had first arrived in Twelve and that, in itself, filled him with an excited sense of freedom, like suddenly the coal dust had vanished out of the air and left only the smell of wet soil and forest, like it was possible to take deep breaths. That alone made him feel like another man.

Then, they were slithering down a slope and suddenly the lake was uncurling in front of them, silver misty winter water, reaching miles and miles and dodging a peninsula, running out of sight behind it. A giant willow was inclining its head towards the water, almost touching the surface. The whole place would look spectacular in summer, like something out of a fairytale. In a subdued, wintery way, it was breathtaking to Finnick even now, as if the water had the power to swallow you up and never let you go again – keeping you safe.

“Friend of mine had a gran who showed him this place, when we were kids,” Haymitch was saying behind him, but Finnick had trouble taking his eyes off the water and starting to listen. “We came here, once or twice, but we were too scared of the Peacekeepers to stay outside the fence for that long. Once, we snuck out to go swimming, like Capitol kids in a movie, but none of us knew how and we were just too intimidated to really figure it out.”

“I’ll teach you how to swim,” Finnick said, following the rocks along the shore across from them with his eyes, the water shyly hitting the ground below him without barely any disturbance. He wondered how rocky the ground would be, whether there would be sand, how far it went down, what kind of fish would be living in here. Trout and pike, he’d guess. He knew nothing about freshwater. He’d never seen a lake like this for real.

Haymitch snorted at him. “You ain’t gonna jump in there and die of hypothermia, are you, Odair? ‘Cause I’m not gonna be the one jumping in after you and saving your sunburned fisherman’s ass. That lake would be frozen if this winter wasn’t such a joke.”

“Next year you’ll be able to.” It was like a weight had lifted off his chest, a particular weight hiding behind all the others that he hadn’t even known had been there. It wasn’t just because he was standing here, with this spectacular sight in front of him. Or because he was suddenly realizing that he’d thought he’d given up swimming to come to Twelve. It was that he was outside the fence, and he had never been outside of a fence; it gave him a thrill.

It was that Haymitch had taken him here, uncovering this gem for him.

“Is there a place we can sit down?”

“Sure, let’s stare at the water for a while, let’s do that,” Haymitch said, but the mockery fell flat when his voice couldn’t hide how satisfied he was feeling with himself, a job well done. When Finnick turned to smirk at him, the other victor’s whole stance had relaxed, shoulders to toes, his tension receding as well.

***

They found a stone ledge to sit on, crowning the lake. In summer, they could dive into the water from here; despite the winter algae deadening the surface, Finnick still gathered that it could be deep enough.

They sat there for a while, trusting in their coats to keep them dry, listening to the noises of the water and the forest, the occasional drop careening down a tree and hitting the lake. It felt as if the whole world were asleep, this free expanse of Panem between districts that everybody pretended didn’t exist. The Capitol claimed to own this, but it didn’t.

With a contented hum, Haymitch picked up a handful of pebbles and started throwing them at the lake. They hit with satisfying little plopping sounds, vanishing out of sight.

“So how do you know Beetee anyway?” Finnick asked after a while, thinking back to the Capitol, of the meek Three victor abducting Finnick’s date to get her drunk. Those Three cocktails had done the trick, too, leaving her so addled that she had dropped into bed like dead weight and woken up convinced that they had spent a wild kinky night.

Also, Finnick already knew how Haymitch had grown close to Chaff, since it was the same way Finnick had gotten to know Chaff this year, and he blithely skipped over Caramel.

To his surprise, Haymitch gave him a startled but amused huff in reply, and Finnick immediately knew that this would be a good story. “’T’was on my Victory Tour,” Haymitch said. “Lyra had gone off Capitol knew where, so Beetee – he was nineteen, I think, he’d won the 47th – he showed me around. Shared some of this weed he used to smoke.” The pause that followed was deliberate, setting up the punch line. “Picked the lock of this fancy guest room in the Justice Building and seduced me on the bed.”

Finnick sputtered, so hard it made him cough. “Beetee?” he asked. “Our Beetee Corelli?”

Haymitch laughed, actually laughed. “Yeah,” he said, waving it off. “He was different then. You wouldn’t recognize him now. He smoked pot all the time, invented all this crazy shit while he was high.” His chuckle turned into something of a hiccup and stopped, though it echoed on in his voice. “First time I ever got it on with a man, too. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, of course. So later, he sent me this massive dildo thing, with directions. For practice, you see.”

Finnick gave him a disbelieving look, trying to ban the imagine of Beetee building sex toys in his lab from his mind and failing. He just kept picturing it, looking like something out of a cartoon.

“Talk about the history they don’t teach you in Games school,” he said, and Haymitch chuckled again.

He was used to Mags knowing everything, but here was one thing everybody would make sure the old lady would never get to hear.

Then he thought of Owin Cagney of the Seam Cagneys, not the candlemaker Cagneys, and his amusement died down.

“I thought you just don’t do same-sex here in Twelve.” He knew some districts didn’t, not where people could see.

Haymitch made an agreeing sound. “Yeah, it’s all real hush-hush here. Not a right we’ve earned, I guess. Like I said, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, or if it even was okay to feel for men like that. I’d been wondering about that for a long time, never thought I’d find out. But I figured it couldn’t be worse than killing other kids.” Then he added after a moment, “Never did it with a guy again, either. By choice, I mean.” Covering up the slip in a rush, he snidely said, “Or much of anybody else for that matter.”

Finnick gave him a glance, opening his mouth, but Haymitch already spoke on, his voice cracking a little.

“’Course, my girl had just died then. So. So we were clear on how it would be a one-time thing.”

He took a breath, slowly releasing it, the way Finnick himself had learned to do to calm himself down.

“What was her name?” he asked softly, thinking nobody had probably asked him that for many, many years, if ever.

Looking off into the distance, Finnick thought Haymitch didn’t even see the lake anymore. “Alsey,” he replied then. “She had beautiful hair. Braided it in this real special way, a little like Fallon. I couldn’t stop touching it.

“I never thought to bring her here. Should have, though.”

It was amazing how, sometimes, it was even possible to have a normal conversation for a while, even a funny one about a stoned, young Beetee who sent new victors sex toys for educational purposes. And then, eventually, it all came around to the dead again and how the Capitol was running their lives, and how it wouldn’t ever truly be their lives again because they’d had the audacity of staying alive.

Finnick wondered how long Haymitch and Alsey had been together before she was killed, and whether they’d already been thinking of getting engaged, and whether Haymitch had sometimes secretly been relieved that she hadn’t been around to see him anymore once Snow started doing all those things to him.

He wondered if his district’s disgust for who he seemed to be had ever started hurting less, and whether those old school friends had tried staying his friends for a while after his victory, whether they had been the ones to end that friendship or Haymitch. There were a lot of things he could ask about the past, but there were also some about the future.

“So will you let me teach you how to swim?” Finnick glanced over to Haymitch. He was serious now, not teasing anymore. “Once it gets warm enough again.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Haymitch snorted at him. “Sure, Odair,” he said. “You start talking to me, like a good little victor, once you go crazy in the head again, I’ll let you teach me how to swim.”

Finnick smirked. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Then he added, “And I’m sorry, you know. I haven’t said it enough.”

“Sorry for what, this time?” Haymitch asked.

“For getting you into this mess,” Finnick said. “For having to protect my family for me. I don’t know.” He sighed. “I know there would have been ramifications for you anyway, and if I hadn’t volunteered to mentor here, somebody else would have been sent. But, I wasn’t thinking of you when I did it. I was thinking of me. I wish you’d had a choice to stay on your own here, if that’s what you would have preferred. You should have had a choice.”

Haymitch grimaced. “I’d need Beetee to send me directions if a choice dropped in my lap.”

“All the more then.” Finnick shrugged.

One of these long moments of silence fell upon them again when none of them spoke, the ones Finnick started growing used to because they were ceasing to be awkward, starting to feel like a reassurance, teaching him that maybe you could talk about some things if you were given enough time to find your voice.

So when Haymitch spoke again, Finnick had had time to notice how the shadows had been growing longer, how the very early winter sunset was heralding afternoon; they should head back before they could get lost in the dark. Not that they couldn’t always come back here, what with Cray’s Peacekeepers caring as little as they did.

“I wouldn’t have made it on my own much longer,” Haymitch said, as if he’d come to a decision.

“I’d probably have fallen back into the bottle already and died.”

“Thank you,” Finnick softly replied.

Haymitch had given him plenty of gifts for Wintermas, he thought.

on to chapter 11

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