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THG fic: "Spin Control" [15/23]
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.
“Spin Control” on LJ: Prologue -- Chapter 1 -- Chapter 2 -- Chapter 3 -- Chapter 4 -- Chapter 5 -- Chapter 6 -- Chapter 7 -- Chapter 8 -- Chapter 9 -- Chapter 10 -- Chapter 11 -- Chapter 12 -- Chapter 13 -- Chapter 14

Chapter 15: Change

The stage had been set for one guest only, with two comfortable plush leather chairs in deep greens that corresponded perfectly with the chartreuse Flickerman’s stylist team had chosen for his hair and costumes this season. They also worked nicely to show off Haymitch’s plain dark blues, seated across from Flickerman in a tailcoat so simple in design that it could almost be called provocative. It wasn’t the senile Twelve stylists’, but Cherry’s doing, who had befriended Effie when tending to Finnick, taking over as a personal favor when she found her almost in tears over the Twelve designs this morning. Cherry had modified one of Haymitch’s old outfits without much fuss, dying it to match this year’s colors, adding the slightest tinge of dark blue to his hair to match shades. Haymitch had taken the abuse stoically. Elaborate styling would make him look like he meant business as mentor and satisfy Snow.

It had mostly been Haymitch who’d figured out how to best turn all that negative attention from his breakdown into something that would help their district marketing and eventually, benefit their tributes, plotting a rather heartwarming tale of recovery. While Finnick had received semi-formal training in tribute and district marketing by Calina and Mags, Haymitch had an intuitive knack for it. It was all about thinking outside the box, being different from the others, presenting a unique selling point. And once Haymitch broke out of his paralyzing fear of getting people killed by doing so, outside the box was where his mind went first.

Tonight wouldn’t be about surprising the crowds though, just about keeping people interested in the next big thing to come. It wouldn’t be the end of their story, just of the first act.

It was the hardest television appearance that Haymitch had scheduled this Games.

It was the eve of the second day of Training Week. Finnick and Haymitch had herded their tributes into the Capitol. They knew neither of them would probably survive, not even the girl, who was the candlemaker’s daughter and not starved and almost seventeen, but who Finnick secretly thought was a sociopath, and not in a way that the audience would appreciate or understand or that would help her stay alive.

Tonight, all of Panem’s eyes were on Arena Talk With Flickerman, even though this special was just focusing on of Haymitch Abernathy’s recovery from addiction. The Capitol liked watching the human interest stories in carefully administered, small doses; they digested them with the same ease and enthusiasm that Finnick’s starved, thirteen-year-old Seam tribute devoured his eight protein shakes a day. Spending two hours caring about an alcoholic made people feel selfless, more justified in going back to cheering for the dying district kids.

The version of Haymitch that Cherry had created looked collected and attentive and not at all exhausted on screen, not at all like two days of Games preparation had almost been enough to break him apart all over again. The dark circles under his eyes had been covered up with expensive concealers, and the ever so slight tension in his back when he was lounging in his chair made him appear like he was carefully taking in everything Flickerman had to say.

He was currently taking a sip of his drink, just water of course, as Flickerman had assured himself early in the show half with token concern, half with a laugh, because he wouldn’t ever have thought otherwise, of course. Since then, the conversation had taken a serious turn, while they discussed the issue of addiction like the responsible, compassionate adults that they were.

“Of course, it was hard,” Haymitch said when he put down the glass. “Didn’t lie about that last year, won’t start doing it now. I mean, yeah. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t had to go through withdrawal themselves. Capitol’s been golden, everybody’s been so supportive and great, really, but it’s just hard to explain. It’s… you miss drinking, every day, yeah. You don’t even do it anymore because you’re trying to forget what a failure you’ve become, or whatever excuse… I mean, that was how I was thinking about it then. You just do it because there’s the liquor, and that’s what you do with it, you drink it. And then, you can’t, doctors tell you that you can’t, it’ll kill you, it’s a disease. And it takes a while until that penetrates. And it’s hard.”

“Is it possible, maybe, that you were also using drinking as an excuse to yourself?” Flickerman delicately asked. “Haymitch, I don’t want to imply… But, maybe you didn’t want to face that, as it appeared at the time, your mentoring strategy hadn’t worked out. We were made to understand last year that you were feeling very burdened by that, possibly more than was justified. It’s just work, after all.”

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Haymitch said. “It isn’t even that I didn’t know I was depending on the alcohol, you know. It was an excuse. I was a drunk, that was who I was, I didn’t have to get my life in order, I didn’t even have to start trying because it wouldn’t work anyway, because I was a drunk.”

“You'll realize that you can have the same thing we're doing right now, except with someone who isn't an old, overweight drunk who’s gotten all his tributes killed.” Watching the broadcast from behind the stage, Finnick remembered Haymitch telling him that, just as calmly, last month at the lake. He didn’t like it when they said the truth on screen.

Flickerman smiled at the audience with a gentle, conspiratorial air. “And I think this is the point where we have to remind Haymitch that he was wrong, everybody. Remember those wonderful compliments we saw this year’s mentors giving him in our montage.”

Applause roared up, and Haymitch smiled bashfully, taking another sip of his drink.

Fuck you all, his face said in a very friendly way.

“Thanks,” he said, not missing a beat in building on the bullshit. “Finnick Odair’s been telling me things like that, too. Great motivator, is what he is. Incredibly kind man.”

“Has he been helping you during your difficult adjustment, then?”

“Oh, plenty,” Haymitch replied. “He’s a great friend, a great man. I wouldn’t know what I’d do without him. He’s been there a lot to listen, when I needed to talk. Great sounding board for a talker like me. He keeps encouraging me to call my therapist, even now that I’m cured.”

A lascivious smile appeared on Flickerman’s face when he leaned forward and winked. “You mean when he hasn’t been too busy charming the young men and women of Twelve. We know exactly what kind of a party animal your mentoring partner can be, you know. He makes it very hard for us to overlook.”

Face growing a little too blank, Haymitch put down the glass while he waited for the spurt of laughter in the audience to quiet down. His eyes followed his hand, the motion deliberate.

“Surprisingly,” he said, a little clipped, “he mostly stays in when we’re at home. Finnick’s a picture of professionalism, actually. Don’t forget he’s from a real successful district originally. We’ve been working on strategy ever since I settled back in. Little time to go out and have fun, and what time he could make for it, he’d still rather spend on the Games. It’s different in the Capitol, so many great people to meet, but mentors do most of their work at home. Finnick’s perfectly dedicated, no room for distractions. Real workaholic, that one. Twelve is incredibly lucky to have him.”

“He told us in an interview just yesterday that most of those intriguing future plans for Twelve were your idea, you know.”

Haymitch shrugged. “We work as a team.

“Granted,” he added before Flickerman could move on, getting more comfortable in his chair. “It’s gonna take time. We’re going to change everything, build something new from scratch. These things always take time, maybe decades – you can’t change stats like ours overnight. For the, what, fifty Games we sucked – I mean, no reason to gloss over the facts here, right? That’s what’s what – for the fifty Games we sucked, mathematically speaking, we’d have to play fifty great Games for the figures to even out. I’m sure you’ve got some expert on your team who can explain that with a diagram. We’re determined though. I’m determined, now. Finnick has convinced me that it’s possible to start over. I think there’s good reason for hope.

“And I don’t know that people have noticed her much yet, but my tribute, Aster, she’s special, even now. I got a feeling she’ll have one or two surprises in store for you this Games.

“Don’t write her off just yet.”

That got him a little bit of applause, not so much for Aster the sociopath tribute, who’d proven it was possible for a tribute to botch the parade, and who would certainly move on to butcher her interview. It was for Haymitch’s determination and verve despite the odds, and Finnick saw the subtle shift in Flickerman when he recalculated screen-time, deciding to detour to a short set of questions on mentoring Aster Cagney and Rodey Wills. What was it like to mentor tributes with so little promise? How did Haymitch manage to keep trying? Didn’t he know that the Capitol would love to see him succeed?

Finnick released a small breath. They’d be able to work with this, even though he knew Haymitch wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. Not that he was confident that Haymitch would get any sleep this whole month – or that Finnick would himself.

Time to start playing the Games.

***

Mags invited them to have dinner in the Four quarters after the tributes went to bed, on the second training day, and for a while, everything was good.

They both felt somewhat awkward about the invitation, coming back to the Capitol prepared to fight the press, when suddenly Mags was acting like blood family and everything was so mundane in the Four quarters. Everything was as if they weren’t back at the Capitol, where Finnick was expecting his first date tomorrow evening, where Haymitch’s sobriety was paraded up and down the television screens like a circus curiosity. There were four courses, seafood and fish salads. The light, salty dishes of Four, the smells and spices that Finnick had so painfully missed – and even Caramel’s presence was bearable. The only thing different from all the meals Finnick had shared with Mags here in the past were Haymitch’s presence and the fact that Mags wasn’t offering them any wine.

By unspoken agreement, Finnick and Haymitch had decided to keep things between them as quiet as possible, even in Mentor Central where only other victors and Avoxes would see; although there had, of course, been some friends who’d figured it out, and rumors were already making the rounds. Mags had watched him and Haymitch through the first two days with her sharp hawkish eyes, then told Finnick to bring Haymitch along.

Of course, there was also Johanna, whose eyes had grown wide in an almost comical way when she had figured it out, punching his shoulder and calling him a dog like it was the greatest thing she’d ever heard. And Haymitch’s friends knew, Finnick was fairly sure; Caramel obviously did, no matter Finnick hadn’t been able to look him in the eye even once during the evening, and Finnick supposed that meant Beetee and Chaff were informed, too. But Mags would always belong into a category by herself.

When Finnick had informed Haymitch about the invitation, a strange confused look had flickered across his face. Then, he had shown up dressed in good Capitol clothes, chosen without a stylist’s help, mixing muted colors without the flashier coats and pants that tended to complete ensembles. It was the first time Finnick got a glimpse of what Haymitch would consider proper evening wear if he had the choice and bothered to care, and it looked good on him. It looked neat.

Haymitch, meet the in-laws, Finnick thought with an almost hysterical edge, the main course appearing on the table between them. He reached for his fish fork and stared at it for a moment; he’d never even noticed that they didn’t have those in Twelve.

“It is called lobster,” Mags advised Haymitch with the superiority of old age, district pride shining through. “Seafood might look intimidating to those not familiar with it, but is in actuality very healthy and amongst the best food of Panem. This is a two pound lobster, hopefully sufficient for a strong man like you. You use those little pliers on the left of your plate to crack it open, which are called tongs, then you use the little fork on the right when need be. You dip the meat in the butter. I will demonstrate.”

“I remember,” Haymitch softly said. His eyes flickered at Mags. “You showed me on my Victory Tour.”

“Twelve savage probably thought he was eating a bug,” Caramel muttered at his plate.

“Aw Conny, you know me so well,” Haymitch deadpanned.

The use of that nickname that Finnick had never heard was an uncomfortable reminder that the two of them were friends, never mind that it was one of the friendships that belonged at the Capitol, where everything but the friendships sucked. Caramel disliked being close to Finnick so obviously that it was impossible to not return the sentiment.

Giving the two men a fond look, Mags reached across the table to pat Haymitch’s hand.

“I should have invited you to eat with us during Games long before. It must have been very quiet on your floor with nobody but that Effie Trinket and those stylists of yours.” Then she expertly started dismantling her own lobster. “Of course, you’ll be eating with us often from now on, alongside Finnick. You’re family now.” She gave the two of them an admonishing look. “Don’t think old Mags doesn’t notice these things.”

Haymitch cleared his throat, while on the other end of the table, Caramel snorted into his napkin.

Finnick had an uncomfortable feeling that he was blushing, which he couldn’t remember having done in years.

He thought he should point out that this thing between them was actually still pretty new, that they hadn’t secretly exchanged marriage vows or whatever Mags thought this was, and he didn’t even know if they were calling it a relationship. They hadn’t really been calling it anything.

“Actually…” he started muttering, not sure where he would go with it, but Mags primly wrinkled her nose.

“Old,” she announced to the table at large, “not blind.”

She was looking rather pleased with herself.

Awkwardly, Finnick glanced at Haymitch, but Haymitch was neither snorting to himself nor looking flustered. Instead, he was staring at his food, a strange expression on his face.

Mags attacked her lobster with gusto and Caramel watched the two of them in an uncomfortable way, then cleared his throat and focused on taking a sip of his drink.

Finnick felt something inside of him twitch when he realized that Haymitch hadn’t been claimed as family by anybody for a very long time, maybe not at all since he’d won.

Reminding himself that they were in the Four quarters, where nobody who shouldn’t see would observe them or care, he reached out under the table and bumped his hand against the back of Haymitch’s hand.

A moment later, he felt Haymitch’s hand wrapping around his and holding on to it like to an anchor for a moment, squeezing almost too hard.

A degree of Finnick’s tension resolved. Mags was happy for him. He was happy to have this bit of Four back, too, this little glimpse of home but not all of it, when he couldn’t have handled all of it. Food that tasted like it was supposed to. The twang of his district. He’d have that once a year, and that was good. That was okay.

It was good to have Haymitch close by, how that bit of Four could belong to him, too.

Maybe this Games wouldn’t go as badly as he’d feared, after all. Two days into the Training Week, Finnick really tried to believe that.

***

“It’s not like they’re going to make it.”

Finnick flinched, refusing to look at the door where apparently Caramel was standing, hovering but not quite entering.

It was later the same evening, and Mags had been deeply engrossed in a conversation with Haymitch about knitting, of all things, so Finnick had tried to remember his duties for a moment and snuck into the small Four study, where the Games channel was running on the big screen on the wall. At this time of night, the first in-depth analysis of tribute training would be coming in, targeting Games professionals and geeks.

It maybe had been a little overwhelming, spending time with Mags again who’d so firmly taken him aside and looked him in the eye and told him he was a good man, she hoped life in Twelve never allowed him to forget that. And about all the people who said to say he was missed.

It had been overwhelming spending time with Caramel, for that matter, who had lurked like he’d rather be anywhere else but stayed either for Haymitch’s sake or because Mags had demanded it, throwing Finnick dark looks across the room all evening, as if he had to stop himself from shuddering when he did.

He sounded wooden now, and Finnick wondered why the fuck he had come here while trying hard not to tense up in an obvious way and knowing he was failing.

His eyes flickered at the screen, noting that it hadn’t been Aster or Rodey who Caramel had dismissed out of hand, but the male and female from Two. Their stills were up, intimidating, tall and muscular eighteen-year-olds the both of them, stone-faced and distinguishable from each other only by gender; their weight and height stats were up, the commentator discussing each of their possible weapons preferences and range. It looked like maces, hammers or clubs.

He cleared his voice, trying not to think about how he’d spent all his life on the Victors’ Rock avoiding Caramel, of how Caramel reminded him of so many things. Of how he had to be reminding Caramel of so many things.

Of how Haymitch hadn’t been calling him Caramel tonight but Conny, and how Finnick had lived next door to that man for six years happy to not know that about him.

He cleared his voice, desperately wanting to be somewhere else.

Haymitch’s friend, he told himself, uncomfortably crossing his hands in front of his chest. At least, you should try, if he does too.

“They look capable enough to me,” he said about the Two Careers.

Caramel snorted, the sound closer to Finnick now, and that was the door clicking shut behind him.

“They’re not going to score high,” he said. “Nine, tops, both of them. They poll as dumb, because even the Capitol can see it, and they’re boring as fuck.” He didn’t reveal how he knew that, although poll results hadn’t been aired yet and would be modified to keep it exciting, anyway. And he definitely sounded like he didn’t even want to be in the room, so Finnick had no idea why he was. “Two’s making a statement with them, that’s all. They’re just desperate to play it safe after that female imploded last year. Next year, they’ll be the district to watch, they’ll be greedy for it. They’ve benched Lyme and she’s always been their most creative marketer, they’re working on something real different and new.”

“You shouldn’t be discussing that with me, I don’t mentor for Four anymore.”

“Like anybody really gives a shit about what kid survives,” Caramel said, a cold, dismissive kind of spite in his voice that sent a shudder down Finnick’s spine. It said Caramel refused to care about his tributes. His voice was full of hate.

Why would Haymitch even be friends with that guy, Finnick involuntarily thought, and then it had to be the Capitol knocking him off balance all over, because the next thing that popped into his head, full of self-loathing, was, why would he want to be with me.

There was a fierce grace in the way Caramel moved; even now Finnick could make it out in the corner of his eye, despite how the man clamped up when Finnick was around. Caramel was almost the exact same physical type as Finnick, same bronze skin and hair, and if their family status wasn’t a matter of public record, they’d be mistaken for relatives all the time. But Finnick didn’t want to be like Caramel, Caramel who people had stopped caring about when that younger, even more beautiful version of him came along; he didn’t want to know if Caramel ever got so nauseous he’d puked just from looking in the mirror, if he’d ever wanted to tear off his skin with his nails or better yet, a fisherman’s knife, after closing his eyes at night and dreaming of… dreaming of…

No. Finnick pressed his eyes shut, drawing a sharp breath.

The Games, he told himself. The Games are doing that to you, that’s all.

Tomorrow, his first client of the season wasn’t even a bad date, just an old regular, no weirdo, but for the first time in his life, Finnick had returned to the Capitol knowing exactly what it should be like to touch somebody and how it would be so completely different from when you were able to say no, when it was safe to retreat, when you could stop.

There had to be something wrong with a person who could fuck people for years and never even guess that.

“Are you going to tell me you’ll kill me if I hurt Haymitch, is this what this is about?” he heard himself say, opening his eyes to look at the screen. Breathing in, breathing out. Not looking at Caramel.

Caramel snorted again. “Enough of that already going around without my help,” he said, then shut up abruptly, as if he’d pressed his lips closed.

Then why are you here? Finnick wanted to spit out, hating everything about this, hating that he had come to see Mags and be home with Haymitch for a while – what a stupid thing to want – and then Caramel had had to be there and mess it all up.

“Did you know I was supposed to mentor at your Games?” Caramel said abruptly, cutting off his train of thought, voice nauseated and flat.

Something unpleasant and cold stabbing him, Finnick gave him a startled glance after all. “What?”

No, please. He really didn’t know where this would be going but he instantly knew that it was a story he didn’t want to ever be told.

Caramel’s lips had moved into a grimace that made him look anything but fuckable and beautiful, just ugly. On screen, he was an elegant man, with a dancer’s fluid motions, a soft smile. A man you didn’t have to fear while you peeled him out of his clothes.

“Not you,” Caramel clarified. “The girl. That brunette volunteer with the curls, whatever her name…”

“Landa,” Finnick cut him short.

Landa who’d stumbled upon him wandering the length of the train at night, because he was finding out that he couldn’t sleep on trains, especially not that night. Landa who’d sat him down and ruffled his hair and told him it would all be fine, because she’d thought him dead meat, the poor fourteen-year-old boy, a small, selfless kindness she could afford. He’d still have killed her, if need be.

Caramel’s chin jerked into a nod.

“I didn’t because I was too busy losing my shit and screaming at Mags,” he said, but it sounded like, Look at me. Look at what a sick fucker I am.

Finnick felt his eyes watering because he was training them on the screen with so much focus that he couldn’t blink. Not that he could have said what the screen showed.

“We’d had a male volunteer scheduled to take your place, see,” Caramel said. “He’d backed out, but I didn’t know. I hadn’t been told.” It happened all the time, Four volunteers were volunteers and it hit a lot of them, the morning before, what it meant, but Finnick still didn’t want to hear. Caramel wasn’t telling a tale but fighting a battle against himself, forcing himself out of sheer spite. “I was sure Mags had told the kid no at the last minute once she saw what a pretty boy had been reaped.”

Finnick’s breath caught in his throat.

Disbelief, colored by anger rose in his chest, finally making him turn around and take in Caramel, the fine, subdued, fashionably chartreuse silk shirt that said, not for sale anymore, the face that said Caramel hated this room, hated Finnick; he was bombarding himself with triggers in here but he apparently hated the world too much to care.

Finnick had been fourteen when he was reaped, at a time when they still said that fourteen-year-olds didn’t win the Games.

“Mags never would…” he breathed and Caramel laughed, in a harsh way, as if he was about to puke.

“Must be so nice to have been saved by your mentor,” he said, sweet as poison.

For whatever reason, Finnick suddenly recalled that Caramel had been a volunteer. He’d known that, of course. Nobody in Four was named ‘Caramel Doll’ by their parents. It was a Capitol name, one that sounded like it had been made to tell the audience that this one would be for sale, and Four volunteers did that sometimes, changing their name into something that would sell. It made it easier to transition, if you put things behind you, if you said, Yesterday, I was that person, but I’m a tribute now. I’m a hero of Four. I saved a child and I might just survive. Here is my weapon. This is my life.

But it was hard to imagine Caramel – Conny – thinking anything like that.

“What happened,” he said, mouth too dry, unable to even make it a question.

Caramel had been pressing his lips together so hard they’d turned white.

Maybe the Capitol had burned it out of him, whatever inner beauty there once had been.

Because it was a beautiful thing, volunteering in Four. Your name was carved into the Monument of Sacrifice in Middletown, an honor Finnick hadn’t known. You were a hero. People lit lanterns in their front windows every night during your run at the Games, because the Peacekeepers could stop you from celebrating the savior of a child, but they couldn’t forbid that quiet, angry, defiant show of respect; the whole district was illuminated in silent, heartfelt gratitude.

“I’m supposed to say,” Caramel said, each word clipped and dripping with sarcasm, “that things were different, before Bunny and me. I’m supposed to believe them that nobody knew what would happen to us. The times were different, see. They’d been selling victors, sure…” His voice trembled on the word, but didn’t slow, didn’t hesitate, just barged on through; this was just what it was like. “But not like this, not like us. A couple of gigs, whatever, and patrons wouldn’t show you off so much in those days. They were all drenched in guilt, you could feel it when you touched them.

“Like it makes a difference that nobody saw it coming, like that makes it nobody’s fault,” he added with rancor.

Everything about Caramel seemed to shake now, although objectively he was standing still. The study was too small to retreat, otherwise Finnick would have done so already; he’d have bumped into the desk. “Mags was my mentor, too,” Caramel said. “Said she didn’t know what she was setting up. Be charming, she told me. Play up your looks, change your name to something fancy and Capitol that makes them think of sex. And it worked, didn’t it?” It was a grimace more than a smirk. “I won that Games fair, I’d been a volunteer and suddenly I was a whore.

“Viral marketing, they call it, you know, what they did to you and me. When you offer up a product and it just explodes, runs wild on the networks. When looking isn’t enough because people need more.

“I wore a fucking fig leaf to my parade.”

He paused, breathing heavily as if he’d really fought instead of talked, and Finnick couldn’t look away from him anymore. He just watched, frozen, unable to speak or move, just knowing that he didn’t want to hear. This was not what he ever wanted to hear. A sudden, unwanted insight that he’d never wanted either told him that Mags probably couldn’t bear to hear it, too.

He’s Haymitch’s friend, he tried telling himself again but truth was, right now, he really, really didn’t care.

Looking at Caramel was too much like looking in a mirror, and Finnick couldn’t bear to know another story of himself.

He couldn’t bear for Caramel to become Conny, or whatever his real name might be. Mags never called him that.

Maybe Caramel just didn’t let her; he called Bunita by her Capitol nickname, too, after all.

“I hated them, all of them,” Caramel said, calmer now, though his whole stance was still tense like a bow. “I hated Mags. There are days…” His voice tightened, breathing it out. “There are days when I still do. I hated Calina because they hadn’t sold her like this. None of them had warned me, they hadn’t seen it coming. One or two people my ass,” he breathed. “That’s what Clipper said when I agreed to volunteer. Handful of people to fuck. They made me like this and now they somehow think it should be okay because they didn’t mean for it to be like that, because they didn’t fucking think. The crowds loved the slut campaign. They loved it so much, when Bunny came around three years after me, they did it all over again.”

The television was still running. In the corner of Finnick’s eye, without him consciously taking note, Aster was on, diagrams explaining why she didn’t have the build to fight with a spear, no matter Twelve tributes never had the build to fight with anything. “This one could run right past your defense,” a commentator said. “If she should choose a knife, and let’s never forget that her mentor won with a knife, she could sneak right past and her opponent will only notice when that blade is twisted in their back.”

Caramel had been sold for fifteen years, Finnick suddenly thought, and it had stopped only because Finnick had come along; it was his twentieth anniversary this year. It would be longer for Bunita. And it had been seven years now for him, but he’d won young.

None of it would ever end; there wouldn’t be another Finnick for him.

“Why are you telling me this,” he managed, something like fear forming a knot in his guts, but it seemed like Caramel hadn’t even heard.

“You’d think I’d have seen it coming from the name I picked.” The older victor laughed again, that terrible sound. “The fuck. I made it happen, too. And that name wasn’t even my idea.” Again the laugh, almost deranged. “Want to know why I picked it? I’d lost a fucking bet. I was a dumb kid who’d lost a bet. I had this friend at Games school, I’d dared him to steal this trainee’s panties and he did and he made up the name. If you do it, I’d said, I’ll use the stupid name you made up as a joke. Later, they used him to threaten me with.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Finnick demanded, louder, because he needed to know.

Caramel regrouped.

“Because,” he said, raising his chin, although he wasn’t looking at Finnick. “Because. Because Haymitch is my fucking friend and I fucking refuse to run away from the man he looks at like that. I refuse.”

He took a breath.

“Because, Odair, we’re fucked, you’re fucked, we’re all of us done, none of this is ever going to be over. Mags has this ridiculous idea…” He caught himself, maybe remembering he was about to say too much aloud but Finnick knew – Mags said Snow was insane to establish a system that produced veterans year after year, experienced and ruthless fighters and proven killers who all of them wanted him dead. She said the Games would annihilate themselves. She said one day, it would all topple over. “Nothing is going to change,” Caramel repeated. “We’re going to grow old and die although none of us deserve it and there still will be the Hunger Games. I thought everything was just repeating again. I thought you were like me.

“But you’re not,” he said. His eyes flickered at Finnick then, just briefly, and there was something dark and dangerous and deadly in them, nothing like you would never see in a Games. A child could never know enough about the world to look like that, not even an eighteen-year-old Career after the victory kill. “I was wrong. You’re nothing like me. You’re going to go home with Haymitch and you’re going to build a fucking life for yourself. So, just… don’t fuck it up. I don’t want either of you to be me.”

One of the things that all the victors shared was the constant awareness of the surveillance, of how there were bugs everywhere recording their words, and probably somebody somewhere was working on ways of intruding their thoughts. Caramel had stopped himself short of talk of treason, but still, these were not good things to say aloud; it just seemed that he had ceased to care. He might have decided that nothing could hurt him further, or he might have decided it was worth it, that nothing made a difference anymore.

Caramel lived alone in his house on the Rock; if friends came over to see him, Finnick hadn’t run into them.

“People,” Caramel said, breathing, “People. Mags. People tell you stuff. You’re telling yourself stuff. You think there are things you need to be. Four hero, Twelve hero, whatever. Fuck it. Fuck all of it. They made you, accept it. I can’t even understand how the two of you managed, how you’ve even made this thing between you two happen. Fuck all of them. Start thinking of yourself first.

“There’s going to be a point when Haymitch will tell you that saving some kid or some bullshit like that is more important than the two of you. Don’t listen to him. There isn’t a difference, whether your kid makes it or some other. He loves fucking things up, too.”

Finnick was staring at him.

He didn’t believe him; he didn’t want to remember anything about this conversation, but he still knew he had been told something profound nonetheless. Something so foreign to him that he would never have gotten from Haymitch or Mags.

He knew, without a doubt, that the reason Caramel had never gotten from Mags what he wanted was because Mags couldn’t afford to question her life’s work; it would all fall apart. Because, yes, they were all of them fucked.

He knew, without even blinking, that Caramel had told him the truth about what had happened and yet he would still never hesitate to take Mags’ side.

You could still start trying to build that life now. He could feel those words forming, but when he tried to grasp them they just fell away, falling apart. Caramel, he was certain, would perceive them as a mockery.

He’s me, Finnick thought, although Caramel wasn’t, not at all.

“What’s your real name,” he said, insanely, inconsequentially. He was grappling for something. He’d thought he wouldn’t want to know, but now he did, anyway.

Caramel shot him a dark look. Then, he smirked.

“Coinneach Delaney,” he said. “So you might see why Mags advised a change.”

For a second, he seemed to be waiting for a reaction, but Finnick still didn’t know what to say. So Caramel turned on his heel, abruptly, and walked to the door. His stiffness had seeped out of him while he talked, leaving nothing but that dancer’s grace except it was a dangerous one now, the deadly, dangerous movement of a man who had killed with intent. Nobody would have touched that man and survived.

Conny, Finnick thought. The door fell shut, making him flinch.

I could never hate Mags, he thought, although the rest of him remained stuck. He’s right. I’m nothing like him. I’ll never want to be anything like him.

Of course, Caramel had probably never wanted to be anything like himself, either, but that wasn’t how it worked. That wasn’t their life. His whole rant had been filled with self-loathing and hate for what he was and what he had become, the same way Finnick had tried so hard to not feel about himself, except on display where everybody could see, nowhere near hidden from the world anymore. It made him shudder. There should have been a bigger reaction than that, but none of them seemed adequate.

Finnick was aware that while he might be standing in a small room smelling of Four, he was still in the Capitol, in a building built for the Games and a society arranged around them. He had hated coming back for the Games. Haymitch had hated coming back for the Games. They’d both of them known that this first time back in the Capitol might just be enough to break both of them and all their future plans apart.

But like always, having known that hadn’t meant he’d expected the reminder to hit him from this new direction this time. Again, the Capitol had found new ways of taking little bits of what he thought was true and right away.

Anxiety was rolling through his body; it felt like skin was rotting off his bones.

This is the best we’ll ever get to feel, he thought, like he had told himself a month ago going to sleep in Haymitch’s bed, except this time, he couldn’t make himself remember how anything about that was okay.

Tbc.

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"that they hadn’t secretly exchanged marriage vows or whatever Mags thought this was" <- this kind of cracked me up :)

Loved the (sad, painful, awful) story of Caramel and all the stuff about Four!!! Oooh, this was sooo worth the wait.

Thank you! It was so much fun to explore a little more of what I set up about Four in Moss on the Ruins. This includes Caramel. I'd wanted to write him ever since I started giving him mentions in passing in MOTR. :))

hooooooooooooooooooooly

You posted!

It's soooo good! I LOVED beta'ing this. The interview with Flickerman had me hanging on the edge of my seat to see what bullshit Haymitch would come up with next. "I'm a talker." JEEZ HAYMITCH. COULD YOU LAY IT ON A LITTLE THICKER? YOU'RE LUCKY THE CAPITOLITES ARE IDIOTS. (That's a direct quote from President Snow, btw.)

But actually, having said that, I really did like how Haymitch's patter on Arena Talk was a mix of reality embellished with lies and self-conscious, cringeworthy overstatements ("Capitol's been golden, everyone's been so supportive...."). It wasn't all bullshit. There was real stuff about the drinking and Finnick buried in all that, and that made it sadder, actually, that he had to give pieces of his dignity and privacy away to the Capitol to appease them, to appease Snow.

I love that you had them dye Haymitch's hair blue, btw. A respectable blue, but a blue nonetheless. And that he endured it. Stoically. It all just points to how while it's not physically torturous or anything, coming back to the Capitol always means covering up the real you, never telling the truth and giving people what they want to see. It was a subtle but great metaphor.

Caramel. Oh CARAMEL. His story is so heartbreaking, and his anger is so palpable. I love him as a dark mirror for Finnick, but also I loved getting to see him as a more three-dimensional character too.

More to say, but must go work now.

“People,” Caramel said, breathing, “People. Mags. People tell you stuff. You’re telling yourself stuff. You think there are things you need to be. Four hero, Twelve hero, whatever. Fuck it. Fuck all of it. They made you, accept it. I can’t even understand how the two of you managed, how you’ve even made this thing between you two happen. Fuck all of them. Start thinking of yourself first.

“There’s going to be a point when Haymitch will tell you that saving some kid or some bullshit like that is more important than the two of you. Don’t listen to him. There isn’t a difference, whether your kid makes it or some other. He loves fucking things up, too.”


Wanted to point this quote out, because it really HURT so much to read, and was brilliant, and Jesus, if I'm not careful, Caramel could become my newest fandom obsession. I love how he has just that ounce of ability to think outside himself left that he can still wish for Finnick and Haymitch to make it. And also, since I know what's coming, I went totally flaily when I read this quote, because WHAT A WAY TO FORESHADOW!

In other things, I found it sweet and adorable that Finnick wants to show off Haymitch to Mags. It was also a little sad that right now, Mags is the closest thing to a mother he can introduce Haymitch to. It occurred to me afterwards that it will probably be years before Haymitch gets to meet Finnick's real mom, because it won't happen until they get a victor. Yet another reminder of how incredibly fucked up the Panem/District system is. And for the first time (incredibly), it's occurred to me to compare the District sociopolitical system to apartheid.

Oh, and I love that Finnick found out Caramel's real name, and realized that Mags doesn't get to call him that, and therefore deal with him as a real person. What their conversations must be like, in the rare moments where they are more than functional. When they have to mentor together, it must absolutely fucking *kill* him every time. Do you think they avoid it? Do you think Snow lets them pick who mentors each year?

Anyway, just more random thoughts. Still awesome.

I went back and reread the Caramel scene, after reading the comments from the latest chapter and being amused (and a little irritated) at some of the reactions. (Like, I had to sit on my hands at the commenter that called Finnick and Haymitch cowards. I just can't with these idiots.) I knew when I read this scene that it was incredibly important. There is this expectation in our society that everyone must be selfless. But when you come down to it, I don't think people understand what that actually means. People think that there is one right answer, when there usually isn't. And they always assume that they themselves would act more nobly than the characters in the story they are sitting on their ass reading. It's a classic psychological phenomenon.

And well, I tend to think the whole idea that trying to take care of yourself instead of just sacrificing everything until you're a burned out husk is selfish is a load of crap. But you know that. :)

I finally went and googled Coinneach (because I wondered where you got that name from) and found out that it actually means handsome: very nice. :) Also, it's the name of a seer who was said to live in the 17th century. Given how prescient Caramel turned out to be, I think that's pretty damn cool.

That person... uh, yeah. I actually have a suspicion that he (I have a hunch it's a he) only read the most recent chapters, as I put in a thing at the opening author's note that basically said, "If you're just here for the Everlark, start reading at chapter x." (because sometimes I come looking for a particular character in a fic and then I'd appreciate such a pointer) Anyway! If he only read the little 74th Hunger Games bubble of SC, that might account for how he just doesn't at all seem to be aware of the themes of the fic. Or else, he just didn't like the ending and tried to argue that logically in some way, although his logic doesn't exactly work out. :p

But really though, should we really be surprised that some readers might call Haymitch and Finnick a coward? Because I'm kind of not. ;)

That is awesome about the name Coinneach, and believe it or not, I actually didn't know that. (or possibly I forgot after I picked it - the "handsome" thing sounds vaguely familiar) The seer thing also leaves me feeling very pleased. Hah. I have so many positive feelings about Caramel, and it pleases me inordinately that you and millari both like him so much!

I'm kind of sad that nobody ever commented on this paragraph:

The Capitol liked watching the human interest stories in carefully administered, small doses; they digested them with the same ease and enthusiasm that Finnick’s starved, thirteen-year-old Seam tribute devoured his eight protein shakes a day. Spending two hours caring about an alcoholic made people feel selfless, more justified in going back to cheering for the dying district kids.

It's all of both Finnick and my cynicism and bitterness about society's uselessness condensed in two sentences. I feel that it goes to the core of what the HG trilogy is all about, and what Collins wanted it to be about. (after all, she said she came up with the idea when she was zapping through TV stations and seeing war reports and talent shows next to each other. My belief that she hates what was done to her story by fandom (and editing and the movies) but decided to shut up and take the money was cemented when she gave that rare commentary about how THG isn't a love story at all, but a war story, confusing all the shippers ;))

I'm having a strange urge to podcast that scene.

(I've never done that, but if I dare say so, I'm really good at the reading thing -- apart from how my accent might be alienating to people who expect futuristic American drawls :D)

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