The Dead Man
"President Snow used to…sell me…my body, that is...I wasn't the only one. If a victor is considered desirable, the president gives them as a reward or allows people to buy them for an exorbitant amount of money. If you refuse, he kills someone you love. So you do it." Finnick Odair
He didn't feel happy or even relieved, as he felt for sure he would. His only real wish was to sleep, or at least be left alone to cry. But being alone was the only thing absolutely not allowed to him.
Somehow, Finnick Odair had thought that once the Games were over they'd give him the keys to one of those beautiful mansions on Winner's Row, right on the beach, put him on a train with a pat on the back…and that would be it.
He had not envisioned party after party, everyone exclaiming over him. He was not allowed to pick his own clothes and every night he seemed to be dressed in fewer and fewer strands of fabric. No one looked at his left leg or even mentioned the injury that had nearly killed him, thought if Finnick was honest with himself, even he had to admit he couldn't see the burn anymore.
During the Games he'd been able to push away the pangs of homesickness, but every night, lost in the muddle of strangers, he was plagued by homesickness so strong he couldn't eat for fear of being sick to his stomach. His thoughts often turned to his brother, Ronwyn, a month aged out of the Reaping, who had nonetheless tried to volunteer in his place. It was Ronwyn's ring he was wearing now, his token, a plain silver band stamped with letters from a past long forgotten, a language long lost, that supposedly said "Think of me, God willing."
Think of me. Finnick could never admit that it wasn't Ronwyn his thoughts turned to at the sight of those words but Annie, who the whole family heartily disapproved of. Even before he became a Victor he could have had any girl in the District. Ronwyn, who was also an unaccountable beauty, certainly did. But he'd long been in love with the sweet, homely Annie, who could swim faster than a porpoise and would lay on the sand with Finnick late at night, trying to teach him the language of the stars.
At the end of a fortnight of parties, Finnick was beyond exhausted. He couldn't sleep, not with the memory of Jade's head snapping back with the force of the trident Finnick drove into her heart. Not with the memory of Meredith, little Merry, dying in that terrible fire. He'd have to face her family, and wished that the Capitol had left him his scar. He'd tried to save her, but a being born in water was no match for the destruction of fire. It was at the end of those two terrible weeks that he saw President Snow himself, and was told that the rest of his life no longer belonged to him.
"You're not going back to your District."
Finnick was still blinking at the pond in front of him—a small lake, really. he hadn't been this close to any body of water since before the Games, and his body craved the feel of it. He snapped his attention back to the President. "What? Why! I've already played your Games!"
The butt of a gun hit him in the back of his head so hard he went sprawling face-forward into the pool. He resisted the urge to take a great sip, to push off and swim. Behind him, he was dimly aware of the President chewing out the body guard that had hit him, but all he could think of was his father and Ronwyn and Annie and the sound the gulls made, the relieved laughter they let out at the sight of the sea.
They weren't letting him go home.
"I won't stay here," Finnick said, raising himself onto his knees, "You're have to kill me. I'll run away. I won't stay here anymore."
"I think you will," President Snow said, holding out a hand to the chastised guard. The man handed him a thick, flat square of metal. When the President touched it, a video appeared, and before Finnick's time in the Capitol he would have found this magical. Now he was just staring at the sight of Annie, tied to a chair on the roof a building that was obviously somewhere in the Capitol. There was a large, hand-shaped bruise on her face.
"What have you done to her!" Finnick gasped, grabbing the tablet out of Snow's hands.
The President ignored him, "running away is your prerogative. You're welcome to it. But Annie will remain with us. If you cooperate, you can be watching the next Games together in your own District next year."
Finnick clenched his hands into fists and stared at Annie. "What—what do you want me to do?"
Snow smiled and Finnick backed away instinctively. The smell of roses was overpowering. "It's nothing too rigorous, I assure you. Nothing a young man who just won the 65th Hunger Games should have any trouble doing. I will put you in a nice apartment and every once in a while will request your presence—for no more than one evening at a time. The rest of the time is entirely your own. I hear the pool is quite something."
"But I can't leave, or Annie gets hurt."
The President gazed over the lake, "There's an old story, an ancient story, about a very wise man who built a beautiful garden and invited a young couple to live there in peace for all time. He only requested a small thing in return—obedience. That couple's disobedience led to eons of hardship and despair." Snow finally turned to face Finnick. "Freedom, young man, is never free."
The apartment was magnificent, even to Capitol standards. Finnick dropped his bags at the door and stared at the pool sunk into the middle of the living room. He had already started stripping out of his shirt when someone yelled, "Razz? That you? Are you okay?"
A boy stepped into the living room. He looked about six years older than Finnick's fourteen, he wore a simple sweater, green to match his eyes, and his dark hair was pulled back in a pony tail. He was strikingly handsome, incredibly familiar, and when he saw Finnick standing the doorway he groaned. "I told Razzle they'd get you, too. He said the President didn't need any more whores."
"Razzle Calais?" Finnick said, holding out his hand to shake. "It's sure nice to see a familiar face."
The boy shook his head, smiling, "I'm actually Dazzle. Razzle's my twin brother. Don't worry, though, getting us confused is the whole point."
Finnick grabbed his hand and pumped it anyway, "that was the most inspirational Reaping I saw in District One my whole life. My brother tried to volunteer for me, but he'd already aged out."
"We had a pact that we wouldn't volunteer for each other," Dazzle said, gesturing to one of the enormous, comfortable-looking armchairs that flanked the swimming pool. "But in the heat of the moment—I had to try."
Razzle Calais had been the Victor of the 62nd Hunger Games. A strong boy from District One, he'd been nearly eighteen on the day of the Reaping and had a size and strength advantage over every opponent that year (most of the tributes from the lesser Districts had been small and sickly-it had been a year of famine.) But the most memorable thing about those Games was Razzle and Dazzle, the twins who had volunteered for each other a dizzying number of times until they just threw themselves on the stage and demanded to both be allowed to go. In the end, Dazzle had to be knocked out cold to let go of his brother.
"Why are you here?" Finnick asked in amazement, still looking around the apartment. "I saw Razzle at the Games events. He was training the District One tributes. They were really good."
"Obviously not good enough," Dazzle said, smiling so sadly that Finnick started to apologize for killing the people who had tried very hard to kill him, but before he could get the words out Dazzle waved the sentiment away, "No, I'm sorry. It's just always hard on Razzle to see them go. And I do half the work, you know."
"Not even our parents can tell us apart, so why the hell not?" Dazzle scrutinized Finnick, "you don't happen to have an identical twin, do you?"
"Just an older brother."
"This is going to be very hard on you," Dazzle warned, "and Razzle and I will do everything we can to help you out, but it's still going to be hard." He stood up suddenly, "Go swimming. You haven't taken your eyes off that thing since you walked in. I'll make us some dinner. Hopefully Razzle will be back by then. Then we can give you the whole story."
So even though Finnick had a million questions, he went swimming. For once, giving up his right to rule himself didn't feel agonizing. It felt nice to have someone telling him what to do. Dazzle looked a lot like Ronwyn.
He took off his shirt and pants, leaving on the undershorts, and then jumped in.
District 4 produced beings of water, and Finnick was one of the best of them. He swam without conscious thought, muscles moving with precision born of long memory. It was what kept him lean and thin and alert and alive. According to the folk tales told in District 4, the water came at the beginning, and it will be there at the end. The sea is where all life was born.
Like it always had, the motions of swimming, of holding his breath and counting to fifty, seventy, a hundred, of skimming across the surface, drove thoughts of home and family and Annie, tied to a chair, out of his mind. When another body broke the surface of the water next to him, he felt like he'd been rudely awakened out of a dream.
He surfaced in time to see a boy flicking black hair out of eyes that were shuttered like long-forgotten attic windows. He stared at Finnick for a long moment, and then yelled, "Dazzle, you do know there's a kid in our pool, right?"
"It's a famous kid," came a voice from somewhere in the apartment, "be nice, Snow just sold him into the life."
"You killed Jade," Razzle said, expression unreadable. And it was right then that Finnick realized his eyes were green, like his brother's, but where Dazzle's were cool and bright like grass, Razzle's eyes looked just like pieces of emerald—sharp and cold.
Finnick swallowed, "I'm sorry. I—she was really good."
Suddenly Razzle smiled, "she really was. I've been there, kid. Not many people can say they have. I know what it's like. You're two weeks out, right? Sleep at all yet?"
"That's not going to change," Razzle said sympathetically, floating on his back and looking at the ceiling, which was strung with twinkling white lights that looked almost like stars, "you just pretend to cope with it better. They let you go back home?"
The anger he'd felt that afternoon came bubbling back, and even the cool feeling of water on his skin couldn't stop it now, "Snow says I can't go back. He tied up my—my Annie! He's hurting her."
Dazzle appeared in the doorway, looking down at his brother. Razzle cut his eyes to Finnick, looking down his lean body, "you've lost weight since you won."
"I don't feel like eating."
"Okay," Razzle pulled himself out of the pool. "But I do."
Finnick turned away, feeling his face get hot, and heard the peeling sounds of the twins' laughter. "Can you put on some clothes?" He asked, voice strangled.
"You're from District 4, right? Don't you swim naked all the time?"
Ronwyn did, and so did a lot of the men, but Finnick liked layers. People stared at him enough as it was. He got out of the pool and shook out his hair. He'd asked his prep team to just shave it all off and they'd gasped, as if losing his gold locks was like destroying a national treasure. He wandered into the kitchen only after putting on a shirt that was soft and grey and had the least amount of bedazzling on it. All his clothes came from the Capitol, and they were a little extraordinary.
Dazzle pointed at the oven, "want to take the bread out?" When Finnick just stared, Dazzle rolled his eyes, "I know, they have a whole team of people who would take care of us, but after a week of people going in and out Razzle demanded a kitchen. People still wander in and out, but it happens less if we cook for ourselves. Get the bread out, or it'll burn."
Finnick opened the oven and cringed at the sudden blast of heat. What was wrong with him? He reached his hand inside…
Only to have it slapped away by Razzle. "Oven mitt! Towel! Something! Are you trying to get another burn?"
Finnick turned away from the heat, closing his eyes against the memory of Meredith yelling at him from the flames. A hand touched his shoulder and he tried not to flinch. "Hey. If you don't like heat that's fine. We ordered sushi."
"Razzle had a paranoia of spiders after his Games," Dazzle said, flashing his brother a smile.
Razzle rolled his eyes, "You would too if your Games took place in a menagerie of giant insect creatures." He led the way over to the table and motioned for Finnick to sit. "So, you have someone you care about..."
"Annie. She's…" Finnick didn't know how to describe her, the way she soothed the animals with her presence, the way she spoke that was so off-putting to everyone else but mesmerizing to him, the way the thirteen-year-old made up stories about seeing djini or talking to angels, stories so enchanting Finnick wanted to believe them with all his heart. "She's everything to me."
"There's your problem," Dazzle said, jabbing a fork in Finnick's direction, "I mean, you being smoking hot doesn't help, and fourteen to boot, but it's the leverage that makes it possible for Snow to keep you here."
Razzle nodded, "right after I won my Games I was all set to go back to my District—I know everyone thinks One must be just like the Capitol, but it's not and I missed home—and then Snow shows up at my rooms, takes me down to this prison thing, and he had…" he looked cut his eyes to his brother and shuddered, and when he continued his tone was that of barely controlled rage, "They were torturing him in front of me."
"They picked me up as soon as he won the Games," Dazzle said, his voice a perfect monotone, "and he was pretty banged up. Three weeks in, they were getting inventive."
"I almost killed Snow," Razzle said, "Literally, I had my hands around his throat. I was screaming like…and then Snow just laughed in my face, said that he'd let Dazzle go if I promised to stay in the Capitol. I said I had the Victory tour and I had to see my family and he said no one's expecting you for six months. And then you'll return as often as you can. I said he couldn't make me do anything, and then one of his men pointed a gun at Dazzle's head."
Finnick looked at Dazzle, who was concentrating hard on his tilapia.
Razzle shrugged helplessly, "what could I do? I let Snow go and he laughed, said that twins would be even better, we were going to make him so much money. It wasn't until a couple days later that we realized what he wanted us to do."
"Everyone wants to sleep with the Victor," Dazzle said, still looking at his fish.
A glass shattered, and it took Finnick a moment to realize that his hand was bleeding. A napkin was thrust at him, and when Finnick looked up at the twins he realized he was crying. Either that, or the room had gotten a lot blurrier.
"Yeah," Razzle said, holding the napkin against Finnick's cuts so the bleeding would stop, "Guess you never really leave the Games, huh?"
His first was Calpurnia Romanus, a middle-aged widow with boundless energy and long fingers and pearls that she wore on her wrists, ankles, and especially around her neck. Rivers of pearls. Finnick found himself counting them again and again, always coming up with a different number.
"You seem distracted," Calpurnia said, her voice issuing from somewhere above Finnick's head, "perhaps a call to President Snow would fix that?"
Annie. "No, I'm sorry," he looked up at her. She was the first naked woman he'd ever seen outside of the context of water. "I'm—this is my first time."
She cooed and nodded and did most of the work, exclaiming over his body. Finnick swore he'd eat all the sweets he could find. He didn't want to be the beautiful boy any more. When she was finished he turned his head, hoping that she wouldn't know he'd tried to imagine Annie and had trouble thinking of her as anything other than a frightened girl with a bruise on her face.
"I know," Calpurnia purred, "it was good for me, too. As soon as I saw you in the Games I knew I had to have you. That other boy is getting old, and I'm not into the girl."
For a moment, Finnick thought about the Victors from the last five years, and the face of one exceptionally beautiful girl stood out to him. He pushed her away. He was already caring about too many people.
"How old are you, darling?"
He thought about lying. More for his own benefit than Calpurnia's. If he said fourteen out loud he was cry, he just knew he would. He was crying too much lately. But he said it anyway, defiantly, hoping she would feel bad. He was fourteen. He wasn't old enough for this, no matter how his body looked or what it did.
And the tears pooled in his eyes but never dropped, and he wiped them away quickly and hoped she wouldn't notice, hope she wouldn't make a phone call and hurt Annie more, make her gone for good. But she did notice. "I have a son your age."
He didn't like to think of the Capitol people having sons and mothers and wives. They were exempt from the Games. They shouldn't count.
Something heavy dropped around his neck and Finnick glanced down, automatically counting the pearls that drooped over his shoulders. They were thick and round and reminded him of the good days on a boat in the sea. Pearls were so valuable in District 4. You could guarantee your family six months of food with just one. And Calpurnia was giving them to him like they were so many worthless rocks.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"After what we did," the woman said, almost giggling, almost like a girl. Annie giggled a lot, "I think you can call me Calpurnia." And then she put a hand on the back of Finnick's neck and dragged him back down onto the bed.
He didn't get back to the apartment until the very early morning, and was surprised to see Razzle sitting on one of the chairs next to the pool, playing a game of cards that only took one player. When he saw Finnick he swept the cards out of the way and ran to meet him. "Are you okay? Usually Calpurnia's nothing. I mean, she's…passionate, but she'd not mean. Are you hurt?"
Finnick shook his head, and Razzle fingered the pearls. "I have a couple of these, too. Dazzle has more. He collects Calpurnia."
Finally finding his voice, Finnick croaked, "were you waiting for me?"
"Three weeks ago you were killing people in the middle of a lava pit," Razzle said, quietly, "and now Snow's selling your body. It can mess with your head. Just…" Razzle sighed, ran a hand through his hair. Finnick looked away and twisted the ring on his finger think of me, God willing. Ronwyn always ran his hand through his hair. "You can talk to me, if you need to."
"I don't think I was very good," Finnick blurted out. And then he flushed, "I mean…that's what she implied."
Razzle laughed, clapping him on the back, "you don't have to be good! To the Victor goes to the spoils. They're not…you know…making love with you. They're just doing it to you."
"Isn't that worse?"
Razzle shrugged, "Look, I didn't have a girl back home. Of course I didn't, Snow used my brother as leverage. We're not cheating on anyone here, Finn. We're only doing this under duress."
Finnick nodded, even though it wasn't Annie he was thinking of for once, not really. He'd just always hoped that the first time he was with someone, it would be special. With someone special. Not with the highest bidder. He spoke, just to break the silence, "Where's Dazzle?"
"With a client," Razzle said, looking at the door, his face a picture of worry, "now she's a real piece of work. He should have been back an hour ago, but who knows? She could have him chained in her basement."
"People just take Dazzle?"
"No one can tell us apart except us. And apparently Snow," Razzle looked at Finnick, eyebrows knitting together. "And you?"
Finnick nodded, "your eyes look different."
"Don't go spreading that around," Razzle warned, "They think they're sleeping with a Victor. I needed some time. I trained those kids for a solid month, and they're both gone in a day."
"I'm sorry about Jade," Finnick said again, feeling miserable.
Razzle patted his shoulder, "I'm glad you won, Finn. I'm going to the bad place for saying it, but I'm sure glad you won. You've got spunk." He lifted Finnick's chin, "I'm sorry as anything you ended up here with us. They only take the pretty ones. But life never was fair, huh?"
Finnick jerked his chin out of Razzle's grip and the boy swore softly before wrapping Finnick in a hug. "The first time's the worst, Finn. Just try to forget about what you're doing. And remember that there are people who like you for something other than your ugly mug, okay? Me and Dazzle aren't going anywhere."
Even though he'd been grabbed and groped since the Reaping a lifetime ago, this was the first true hug Finnick had gotten since leaving his district, and he leaned into it, clutching at Razzle's shirt desperately. He barely listened to the soothing clucking sounds the boy made, so glad he was for physical contact that wasn't demanding anything from him, wasn't taking…
The door opened behind him and suddenly Razzle was gone, bounding up the stair to reach his brother, who drooped in the doorway, rubbing at his wrists. Finnick turned away and tried to suppress the urge to be sick.
He jumped into the pool before the twins could get fully into the room. He hoped the water would help mask the tears that dripped uselessly down his face. When he surfaced for air he saw Dazzle falling listlessly over the arm of a chair, saw Razzle's hands skim over his body, over the bruises and blood, over the marks around the wrists and ankles. Finnick dove down again, went as deep as he could.
He hated the Capitol. He hated this place where people thought hurting people was the same as loving them.
The page and a half of Finnick's story is the most interesting part of the whole trilogy. We just thought we'd try to do it justice.
This is our first foray into this world, guys, and it'd be great to hear what you think. Obviously the road ahead is going to be pretty rough for poor Finn, but let's see if we can't manage to make him a little brave, in the end.
Until then: think of me, God willing.