A/N: The T rating is for swearing, violence, and extremely mild sexual content in later chapters. Does anything look familiar? Then it doesn't belong to me.
Mam said they wouldn't have another day as nice as this one for a long time. He couldn't feel the weather in his bones like Mammy could, but even he knew that melting snow in January was a rare sight indeed. Finnick tilted his head backwards to soak up every drop of sunlight and took another small bite of his bread, determined to make it last as long as possible. He had already eaten most of his thin slice, and although Ainsleigh had long since finished her piece, he still felt he was eating it far too quickly.
"Finnick, hurry up! I want to play!" Ainsleigh caught his stomach with her elbow, and he barely managed to stop himself from tumbling off the rock. "Come on, Finnick!" she repeated.
He rubbed his side and scowled at her, but she continued to pester him with the energy only a six year old who had been cooped up inside for far too many weeks could muster. "I want to finish my dinner first," he replied.
The redheaded girl would not be deterred. "You can bring your bread with you, Finnick. Come on, I want to play, and Mam says I can't go out near the road without you." When he made no move to get up, Ainsleigh tried to drag him from his spot. Finnick groaned and stood. At the ripe old age of eight, he would never win this argument; it was best to have it over with.
As he watched Ainsleigh kick at the rocks and ugly brown weeds that lay next to the road, Finnick let his mind water to far-off places that he might someday visit: New York, where Clodagh and Callum had left Ireland for; China, where he had heard that the emperor lived in a city all his own with a hundred wives; aboard a pirate's ship, hunting for treasure and fighting soldiers. Anywhere was more exciting than here. All he had seen of Ireland consisted of little villages of stone cottages with thatch roofs, rolling green hills, and acres upon acres of blighted potatoes that marred any beauty he could have found in this country.
Ainsleigh screamed and ran towards him, ripping him from his daydream. Finnick hugged her shaking body close and looked to see what had frightened her. He took an involuntary step back when he saw two skeletons walking up the road. No, not skeletons, but children. The O'Connelly brothers from a few farms away had grown so horribly thin that Finnick could make out every bone beneath their ashen skin. He clutched his younger sister tighter, wanting to protect her from the awful sight.
The older brother, Bradan, smiled at them and began to walk up towards the house, Sean following a few steps behind. It should have been nothing unusual; they were both close to Finnick's age, and they had always gotten along well at school. But now, with Finnick so aware of their sunken cheeks and wasted muscles, they seemed hardly the same species. He wanted to help them, but he knew that despite his parents' best efforts to keep them fed, he and his siblings were far too thin as well. Yes, Bradan and Sean would soon starve, but it would hardly be the first time death had touched their community in recent years.
But, as he'd learned well since their neighbors' too-small crop began to run out in November, the O'Connellys were certain the O'Daires had at least a few bites to spare. "Oi, Finnick! Share some bread, mate?" Braden's voice held the same cheery tone as usual, but he could hear the despair underneath.
Father O'Rourick preached every Sunday to extend the hand of generosity towards thy neighbor, but Mam said differently. Their food was theirs alone, and she would not have one of her children starve so that someone else's could live. So, after a glance at the crumbling piece of bread in his hand, Finnick shook his head, and the two boys continued down the road.
He took the last bite of his bread. Somehow, it didn't taste as good as it had before.
"And remember to always stay together."
"Don't worry, dear, they'll be fine," Da's voice was meant to be reassuring, but he sounded so uncertain that the effect was lost.
Their mother checked each of their packs, ensuring that they truly did have their tickets, food, clothing, and a bit of money. Anything else, Clodagh and Callum would have for them in New York. "You know how I worry about them. The two of you will keep each other safe, won't you?" Both boys nodded.
"Finnick and Patrick are smart lads. They know what to do." said their father.
Finnick tried to keep the tears in his eyes from falling. He didn't want to go; he'd give anything to stay here in Ireland with Mam and Da, where even if there wasn't always food on the table, he at least had his family. Finnick could barely remember Callum from his time at home, and since they had emigrated, there had been no more than a handful of letters a year exchanged between the two halves of his family. How was he supposed to stay with his eldest brother and Clodagh in New York until his parents came? Yes, Patrick would be there with him, but it wouldn't be the same as having his entire family.
As usual, his mother knew his heart as well as he did. "Don't worry, love," she whispered against his ear. Though he was only eleven, she still had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "It won't be too long at all. Remember, it took Callum four years to be able to save enough for Clodagh to come over. It took just three for the two of them to save enough for both you and Patrick. With four of you working, we'll be together again almost before you realize we're gone." She stroked his soft bronze hair with one hand and smiled at him. Ma did try to be strong for him; when he looked only at her mouth and forehead, Finnick could almost believe she wasn't crying.
He nodded, too choked to say anything. His mother pulled him into an embrace. "Finnick, dear, I do love you, but this is for the best. She stroked his hair, and he could feel the wetness of her tears through the thin fabric of his shirt.
"I love you," Finnick managed to choke out. She kissed his cheek, and then it was time to go. He and his father and brother walked down to the town square together, where they met the man who would take them to Westport. He checked that he had all of his meager supplies and hugged his father and Ainsleigh goodbye before climbing into the man's wagon.
His younger sister chased after the wagon. "Goodbye, Finnick! Goodbye, Patrick!" she shouted. He waved back at her until she was nothing more than a speck in the distance. Finnick slumped down, already exhausted and desperate to go home.
"And who is waiting for you in America, young O'Daire?" asked the man. Though Da had introduced him as Woody, Finnick doubted it was his real name. With the man's oaken leg, it seemed too perfect, and he had no wish to offend the stranger by asking. "Eh? I asked ye a question, didn't I?"
Finnick tried to remember the question, but Patrick, it seemed, had paid far better attention to the conversation. "We're going to meet our elder brother and sister there."
"I get so many of ye children gon' to New York that I can't ever remember just who I've seen. But O'Daire, now that does sound familiar, and not just from your da."
"Did you take Callum and Clodagh?" asked Finnick.
"So the little one does talk, eh?" Woody turned to look at Finnick. "Ay, Clodagh! That's a familiar name if there ever was one. Tell me, boy, what is she up to now?"
"She works in some kind of factory, like we're hopefully going to. She's married as well," answered Patrick.
"Good for 'er." Though the man seemed friendly, Finnick didn't like him. Perhaps it was that he didn't watch the road as he drove or that he smelled like goats. More likely, he couldn't like the man because he was taking him away from home.
They crossed a creek, and Finnick was further from home than he had ever been before. "We're going to make another stop here," the main said, and he pulled off the road into a little hamlet. A very old but still attractive woman waited next to a heavy wooden trunk. "Ay, Mags! Good to see ye again!" The wooden leg did not slow his jump from the carriage as Woody hoisted the trunk up into the cart.
The woman, Mags, embraced him. "And you as well, Hannigan. It's been far too long." The man's face flushed a ruddy pink when she kissed his cheek, and he tripped over his words slightly as he helped her into the wagon. She laid her walking stick on her lap and looked over the two boys.
"Good day," Patrick said. Finnick nodded, but said nothing.
The woman smiled at him. "Hannigan, I don't believe you've introduced us."
"Lads, this is Margaret Donoghue, and Mags, these two are Patrick O'Daire and his younger brother…"
"Finnick," he supplied.
Mags reached out to shake each of their hands. "A pleasure, both of you. Are the two of you headed for America, then?"
He nodded, and Patrick spoke for both of them. "Aye, we'll be sailing for New York to meet our older brother and sister. And yourself?"
"Also to New York. Aboard the Westward Angel, yes?"
"Us as well," he answered, and she turned her gaze towards him.
"I suppose, then, that we'll be getting to know each other quite well over the next few weeks. I look forward to it. Now, be good lads and tell me all about your older siblings and what they've said of New York."
Normally, Finnick would have allowed Patrick to answer for him, but something about this woman drew out another side of him. He found himself enthusiastically answering her questions, telling her everything he knew about Callum, Clodagh, and her husband, any thought of Ainsleigh and his parents banished by tales of buildings with ten stories and factories where hundreds of people and machines wove together. The woman listened for hours, nodding along and asking for clarification as they slowly traveled towards the coast.
Nine days. It had been nine days since he boarded the Westward Angel, nine days since he had left the only land he'd ever known behind. In all his eleven years of life, Finnick had never felt more miserable.
He huddled in his bunk, clenching his stomach as the boat roiled in rough waters. Unlike Patrick, Finnick had quickly found what the sailors on board called his sea legs, but tonight even the strongest stomachs felt queasy. He could hear the crashes of thunder above and the sound of rain pounding the decks. At home, when storms like this hit, he and Ainsleigh would try to guess how long it would be between each lightning strike and its accompanying boom of thunder. Patrick had always said it was nothing but a silly game, and Finnick agreed, but it distracted them from thinking of the sheer strength of nature. Here, even in the crowd, he was alone with the storm, no Ainsleigh to play his game with. God, he missed her. But now was no time to cry. He needed to be strong now, not just for himself, but also for Patrick.
"How are you?" asked a gentle voice.
His brother only groaned in pain, but Finnick rolled over to see Mags leaning heavily on her cane and with a concerned look on her face. "I've been better," he answered. "How are you?"
"A bit seasick, but nowhere near as bad as most of the others." She smiled at him. "Do you mind if I sit with you for a while?"
He scooched over on his narrow bunk, and the woman sat down beside him. "Are you truly alright, Finnick?" she asked, this time in a much softer voice. Tears threatened to spill down his face. "It'll be fine, lad. Don't hold it all in, Finnick. That will only crack you later. Trust me; it takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart."
Finnick thought he was already cracking. One drop rolled down his face, and he sniffed. "I just want to go back home. I don't know if I'll ever see them again."
"Love, every time we part with someone, whether it's for a minute or a year, we never know if we're going to that person again. The future isn't ours to know." She patted his back, and Finnick scooted closer to her.
"Do you any children or grandchildren? Will they miss you?" As soon as the words left his lips, Finnick wished he could take them back. Mam had specifically told him not to be rude, yet here he was, asking whether or not a near stranger's family loved her.
The woman, however, did not seem offended and shook her head. "No, I never had any children. I do miss my sisters very much, but I doubt that they feel the same."
"How many sisters do you have?"
"My former sisters, I suppose," she corrected herself, "the other women who lived in my convent. I doubt they miss me much at all."
Finnick nodded in understanding. "So, you're a nun, then?"
"I was a nun for many years, but I am not any longer. I chose to leave fairly recently."
A woman in a nearby bunk gasped and scowled at Mags, shifting her child to her other side so he was further away from the old woman. Finnick was confused, for he had never heard of a nun breaking her vows and leaving the Church, but he did not ask for any more detail. It would be impolite, certainly, and he wasn't sure what the other woman had been so scandalized by. Yes, probably best not to know.
A violent wave hit the ship, and Finnick could no longer control his stomach. He vomited onto the floor, only adding to the nearly overwhelming stench of the hold. His breath came in short gasps as he tried to calm his body back to normal. He could not be sick again. It was only a waste of precious food. Yes, the crew served the passengers two meals each day, but the rations were small, not enough for eleven and thirteen-year-old boys, and the food that they had brought from home had long since ran out.
"Are you all right?" his brother asked. Finnick nodded, not quite prepared to speak again. "We're all going to die. It'll sink," moaned Patrick, tightly clutching his stomach.
Mags hushed him. "Don't worry your younger brother like that, Patrick O'Daire," she said. "You're older, and you ought to know better."
"I'm sorry, ma'am." Patrick's face had a greenish tinge, and Finnick found himself trying to put all the distance the cramped bunk would allow between him and his brother.
The woman's next words surprised him. "It's not me you should be apologizing to."
Patrick turned to Finnick. "We aren't going to sink, Finnick. 'Twas daft of me to think it." He looked at Mags, who nodded, and turned back away from them.
His brothers words should have been reassuring, but still, the thought of the Westward Angel slipping beneath the steely gray waves and becoming a watery grave for all on board played through his mind again and again. He saw the mast collapsing from the gales he could hear ripping against the sails, crashing to the deck and splintering the wood there. A hole opened in the side of the ship, and the sea claimed him. As soon as he dispelled that nightmare, another replaced it. In this scenario, the Westward Angel was driven so far off course by the storm that the captain became lost, and they drifted through the ocean as days became weeks, slowly dying of starvation and dehydration. Finnick shuddered.
Strong but slender arms wrapped around him. "You'll be all right, child," said Mags. He leaned against her. "You're a young boy far from home. I'd be more worried if you didn't miss your old life." She brushed his hair away to look directly into his eyes. "But you must remember that good things await you in New York."
"How do you know? You said that no one can know the future."
She smiled. "A smart one, you are. That I did, and a good thing it is too, for we'd all be driven mad attempting to avoid tomorrow or hurrying towards a better future."
"Then how can you say what I'll find in America?"
"Only a feeling." She patted his hand, and when another wave hit, he went rigid. Mags pulled him against her side so that he could rest his head on her shoulder. The waves hitting the ship began to shrink, and he could no longer hear rain hitting the decks above. Finnick nestled closer against Mags as his eyelids drooped in exhaustion and his breathing became shallow and even. The woman tucked his head more comfortably against her shoulder. "Yes, yes, 'twas merely a feeling, Finnick O'Daire."
A/N: I intend for this to be quite long – probably in the range of twenty to thirty chapters of about this length. I hope you've enjoyed the first chapter and would love to know what you think of the story so far. There will be quite a time jump between this and the next chapter, which is the start of the main body of the piece. This chapter was written using the prompts 'starved,' 'progress,' and 'raindrops' from Caesar's Palace. Thanks for reading!