Title: hard candies
Rating: Hard T
Word Count: 4400
Summary: "You extend your arms out to the side, focus your vision on a swirling ball of color high above the guests, and savor the last bit of too-sweet candy on your tongue." Twenty-four connected scenes from Finnick's early life.
Warnings: This story contains non-explicit depictions of the rape of a young child. Violence. Underage consumption of alcohol. Underage prostitution. Some language. Mild spoilers for Mockingjay.
Disclaimer: Characters and other details were originally created by Suzanne Collins. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This is something I've been cooking up for Finnick. The writing is style is somewhat experimental and the fic is in second person POV. I love comments and reviews.
By the time you are nine years old you already have dozens of thefts on your conscience.
You wake early in the morning when the sun creeps sideways over the sea and you dive for oysters, look for shells.
You clean the oysters, pop one in your mouth, feel it slide, smooth and slimy, down your throat. You put them in your little wooden box and sell them for a few pennies and most days that's all. But sometimes, sometimes while the rich Capitol people frolic in the waves in their brightly colored swimsuits, you pocket a wallet or a necklace.
You bring the money home to your mother and she looks at you and the little sister, who holds a perpetual place on mother's hip, looks at you and they don't act questions.
The house is always full of brothers and sisters, mostly the younger ones because the older ones are out on the fishing vessels all the time. Even the older sister, even though father always said no daughter of mine.
Your mother notices you on two occasions. One is when you bring the money. The other is when visitors look at you and say what a pretty boy.
She smiles and for a moment she doesn't seem so tired. Yes, he is.
Yes, you are a pretty boy.
People from the Capitol like to come to the beach in Four. You never knew so many colors existed until you saw them sitting under their brightly colored parasols, gazed at their glittering skin.
Sometimes they pay you in candy instead of pennies and it melts, sticky-sweet, like nothing else in world, in your mouth.
Sometimes they push you to the sand. Little fish brat. But they don't do this to you as often as to the other little children who sell seashells and take things that don't belong to them. You are a pretty boy, after all.
By the time you are eleven you can add prostitution to the list of your crimes.
He gives you candy. Three pieces. He isn't Capitol (District Four has rich people too) but his candy is – unnaturally bright and unnaturally sweet.
Are you enjoying the beach, Sir?
I like the view.
He looks at you and then down at the box of oysters in your hands. I'll give you a dollar to take those back to my house.
Your eyes grow wide. They hardly ever offer you a dollar for anything.
So you take the oysters across town to his big house with its wide porch and its rose bushes and a housekeeper lets you inside and tells you to wait in the kitchen. But then something is wrong because he is there and he tells you that he wants to show you something, but he pushes you into a bedroom and locks the door and all see for long minutes is your fist clutching at the pillow, all you hear is the rush of the absent sea in your ears, all you taste is his Capitol candy, all you feel is pain.
You black out and when you wake up, his housekeeper is giving you a bath and dressing you and then he is there. He presses a wad of money into your hands (more than you've ever seen) and tells you not to tell and says that there is more where that came from.
And you run home and press the money in your mother's tired hands and she doesn't ask questions.
You could almost like the Capitol people, with their alien skin, their fantastic eyes, their swirl of colors, their sweetness. But then the Hunger Games is on television and you see those same colorful people rejoicing in the blood bath and you are worlds apart from them.
Every night you cry into your pillow. But when hunger gnaws at you and you hear the little brother crying from it and you hear the little sister's breathing, labored from her sickness, you remember that there's more where that came from.
It's the hardest thing in the world to go to him voluntarily, much harder than being forced.
Sometimes he gets it over with quick but sometimes he makes you stand in front of him, naked, with your arms stretched to the side, and he just looks at you for a long time. Perfect. Beautiful. His compliments sound sweet but taste bitter.
You start to learn how to please him. That he'll give you more money when you make him laugh beforehand or make him talk afterwards. That he'll become cross if you look at him too closely or don't let him see all of you.
On your twelfth birthday, you sign up for the tesserae and bring home your little cart of grain to add to your brothers' and sisters'. There are so many hungry mouths in your household, with mother and the brothers and sisters and the brothers' wives and the nieces and nephews that they let you take the tesserae fifteen times.
Your older sister takes you aside and says that you need to start training with the others. With so many in your family putting their names in so many times the chances that one of you will be called is higher than for most families.
So in the off season, when the fish don't allow themselves to be caught and the fishermen laze about, out of work, you start to learn to throw a spear, to use a knife, to start a fire. You've always been a quick learner.
Your mother finds blood on the back of your trousers and insists on bringing in a doctor that your family can ill afford, especially when all the doctor's visits should be going to the little sister. You close your eyes, embarrassed, as he looks at you and you listen as he talks to your mother in the other room and says things like abuse and superficial tearing.
And she comes in and looks at your face, her green eyes shiny like sea glass.
He gives me money.
She shakes her head once, as if she's got water in her ears. We don't want his money.
She runs her fingers through your hair as if you are the little sister, a weak bird hurt in the storm.
I thought you were stealing it.
But that would be wrong too.
Stealing is bad. But some things would be worse.
They don't call your name in the pre-Reaping nor do they call any of the brothers or sisters. So you don't have to travel to the Center Village, you don't have to stand in the square beneath the Justice Building and wait for them to call the name of the boy fated to die this year.
A few weeks after the Reaping you turn thirteen and they let you take the tesserae again. Your brother's wife just had a baby and they can't move out yet so they let you take it sixteen times. By the time you are eighteen your name will probably be in the pre-Reaping a hundred times, but you don't think about it much.
Some things you can't change.
He comes to your house, your house and he seems too big for it somehow and your little brothers and sisters stare at him as if they've never seen nice clothes before and you want him to get out.
And your mother, her lips draw into a line so thin and tight that it looks like she has no mouth.
Your boy stopped coming over. He was such a help with the chores.
He's getting older. We need him around here now.
And a cold rage builds in you, but you just smile because you can't rage at a man like him. That's what you and your mother both know. He has the power to undo you.
The little sister, who is on mother's hip, reaches out a sticky hand for him which he bats away. I don't know how I can replace him. His eyes skim over your home, not really seeing the bare furniture, the dirt floors, the packs of children, until they land on your brother who is only two years younger than you with red hair and freckles and your green eyes. What about this little boy here?
You say it so loud that everyone looks at you.
Your mother speaks quietly, the way she always does. I'm sure that there are lots of boys down at the beach who could use the extra money, sir. We don't need it here.
And you think that he won't come back.
You're old enough now to look for real work. You go to the captain who employs one of your brothers and he looks you up and down and then snorts into his mustache.
I don't need a pretty cabin boy. Try two doors over.
And you put two doors over at the bottom of your list, but no one will hire you, so in the end you go to two doors over and to that other captain who is dirty and who coughs into a filthy handkerchief. He hires you on the spot.
It's only a small fishing boat. Just the captain and three men. And you. You've stopped going to school, but fish brats don't need school anyway.
He works you hard during the days, hauling nets, scrubbing the decks, climbing all over the boat until he calls you his little monkey. Sometimes you have to jump into the water to untangle the nets and sometimes you lean back and look at the sky meeting the sea and the prow of the boat in front of you and you pretend that this moment is all there is in the world because happiness only lasts for brief moments.
And always fish, fish, fish, everything smells of it, tastes of it and you think that fishermen slowly turn into fish. When you don't catch any fish the captain's in bad mood, but you know how to put him in a good one. You don't even have to do anything wrong. You just have to smile. Tell a joke. Laugh at his jokes. It feels like it's been this way forever.
He works you hard during the nights. Even his skin smells like the fish but his mouth tastes like cheap rum. Sometimes he gives you some of the rum and its awful stuff but it makes everything else seem not so bad.
The other men know and they stay well clear of you because of it but they let you hear their whispered insults. Pretty boy. Cocksucker. Whore . Whore. Whore. They have insults for the captain as well but they are much quieter about them. He doesn't even try to hide it – he calls you his bedwarmer.
The captain will go for any type of seafood he can get, but what he really likes is the big fish with their sharp bills. You hate them because you have to help haul them onto the boat and watch them flop around and then you have to stab them in side with a spear or a trident and watch their fishy guts spill onto the boat and step carefully to keep from sliding in the blood.
But when you bring the money home to your mother, you can feel a little better about yourself than before because it's just the standard fisherman's pay – the captain never paid you a penny extra for the other.
It's good to have the money, because the little sister is getting sicker. She's so tiny for her age and she can't even go to school anymore and she just sleeps all day in the crook of mother's arm. Maybe she won't make it.
You get called in the Pre-reaping but you aren't concerned. The Capitol needs hundreds of kids to stand in the square, after all, and only two of them will be picked. The year before last your sister went to the Reaping. One year, one of your brothers got pulled three times and so had his name in the final Reaping ball three times. None of them were Reaped – no one you know has ever been Reaped and it's been years since they took someone from your village.
Your town is one of the farthest from the Center, so you get to ride the train which you've never done before, but they don't let you ride in fancy cars with the plush seats that they always show on television. Instead, they pack you into the baggage cars on rough wooden benches that they've chained down for this occasion. No one talks much. You see a few of your old friends from school, but you haven't bothered much with one another since you started working.
You've never travelled, but you can't see the passing scenery because there are no windows. It is unseasonably hot and you sweat and sweat and you smell and the other children smell. The only thing you can think of is the day of work you have to miss for the Reaping and although even the sternest captain understands that the Reaping comes before everything, you won't be getting paid for the day.
And when they finally let you out of the train they make you present a little ticket with your name and age on it and white-swathed Peacekeepers herd you into enclosures and you can see the white walls of the Justice Building just like on television – tall and ugly and impressive.
And finally a man with hair so green it matches your eyes strolls out on stage and wishes you a happy Hunger Games in a dour voice. He reaches into the Reaping ball and calls a girl's name and a little girl from your age group steps up but she is quickly replaced by a larger girl, a volunteer. District Four is big enough and favored enough that children occasionally want to volunteer.
You are distracted, thinking about the work you've missed and how the captain will be cranky and your pay will be less than usual when they call your name.
You stand still, unable to process what you've just heard. They call your name again and then someone who must know you taps you on the shoulder and you move forward slowly as if you've tied an anchor around your feet. When you reach the stage the man with green hair touches your shoulder and says a few empty words and slowly the thought builds in your mind that you're going to die. But you know how to smile when you want to cry and that's always enough.
You get to ride on the train for real this time with soft leather seats and pleasant music playing in the background and they give you something called apple cider that tastes like nothing else you've ever had. Outside, the trees steadily rush by. You didn't even get to say goodbye to your family.
They give you an old woman for your mentor and you wonder if it's because they think you won't win. You can throw a spear better than most of your brothers and tie a knot with your eyes closed, but thirteen-year-olds never win and everyone knows they never win which means that they can't get sponsors. Everyone on this train knows it – from your escort, to the girl who is your competition, to the attendants.
But the old woman, her eyes are keener than you would have imagined. What can you do? she asks.
You tell her and she snorts in approval.
How can I get sponsors?
She looks you up and down with a critical eye. Just love the Capitol. A boy like you, they'll love you back.
Your prep team loves to look at you. Two women and a man, all with brightly colored, curling hair, they squeal and giggle over how lucky they are to get you as a tribute when last year they got some poor soul with acne and a wide forehead.
When you step out of your bath they make inappropriate comments and grab you in inappropriate places and, for the most part, you let them. People have done worse, after all. They wax you and rub lotions on your body until you are sure that you must no longer look like yourself. Your stylist is a middle-aged man who seems obsessed with your bone structure – at least he talks about it for half an hour. He tells you that he's going to make you into a Roman god, whatever that is.
The prep team coats you entire body in a fine gold dust, not skipping your intimate parts, though no one is supposed to see them. Then, they drape a garment that looks like a sheet around your body, leaving one side bare so that your chest is showing. The stylist paints your lips and eyelids with gold and then hands you a light, gold-painted trident that you'd never be able to kill anything with.
And when the parade comes, you believe that the crowds cheer louder for you than for all the rest, and you begin to think that it is a little bit possible that you could win.
Your name and especially your face are all over television and your mentor tells you that your interview could mean everything. You look good but so do several of the tributes – the announcers have waxed poetic about your beauty but they've done the same for the girl and boy from One, a girl from Five, and your own District mate from Four. You're younger than any of them.
But you have a talented prep team that paints your abs and chest to make them look more defined. Your stylist dresses you in a blue tunic cut down to your belly-button and you know you'll do well because, despite your age, you know things that other tributes never know.
You know how to flirt, not awkwardly with girls your own age, but with fully grown men. You know how to make people stare at the downward tilt of your head, the pout of your lips, the curve of your hip, jutted outwards. As you look out at the brightly colored Capitol audience you are reminded of the ones who used to buy oysters from you on the beach, the ones with their brightly colored parasols and you can taste the sweet, hard candy in your mouth.
The host makes a joke about your appearance, so you joke right back and flash him a nonchalant smile. Then, you lean forward to allow him to get a better look at your chest which he's been ogling since you arrived on stage.
You have an advantage. You already know the things that no child should know.
By your fourteenth birthday, you can add three murders to your list of sins.
The Careers took you in at the last moment, seeing how valuable you were, how well you could throw a spear, how popular you were in the Capitol. Trusting you was one mistake they made. Underestimating you was another. You stabbed and stabbed and stabbed them until your hands were slick with their blood, until their guts ran slippery beneath your feet.
On the day you turn fourteen, you get a birthday present, a reward for the butchery in the form of a sliver parachute attached to a beautiful golden trident. You take it, turn it in your hands thoughtfully – it is weighted perfectly for you. It's the best gift you've ever seen a tribute receive and you're not an idiot. Rich people don't give such elaborate gifts freely – there will be a price to pay and you don't think too much about what that price might be because you've began to see something else.
You are going to win.
The knowledge is like a soft song in the wilderness. You are going to win and when you win you will be rich and your family will be rich and your brothers and sisters will never be hungry again and your mother won't have to work so hard anymore. And the little sister – you can take her to a Capitol doctor now. They can cure anything in the Capitol, things that kill District people by the thousands.
In the next two days, you add another two murders to the list, but then you've won and they lift you out of the arena and all the announcers and the news teams, they crow that you have not a scratch on you because that's so rare especially in someone like you who is so young, especially in someone like you who is so deadly. Most victors come out starving or poisoned or seriously injured, sometimes missing a limb or trying to hold their guts inside of them. But you, you had such generous sponsors. You never had to worry about anything.
You think that the President expects you to be shocked when he tells you that he's going to sell you. You think that he expects you to cry or rage or tell him never, never. But you aren't like the other victors. You know that you don't get something for nothing and you know that you should never, ever rage against a man like the President. He doesn't even need to threaten your family, but he does anyway.
So you only glance out the window at the glowing orange and pink of the city and say: When?
He straightens his fine suit and you think he is disappointed. It's as if he gets a thrill out of ruining people's lives.
After your Victory Tour. Those patrons who contributed to getting you that trident bought the opportunity to bid to be your first.
The President has a silver bowl full of candies on his desk and you reach forward to take one and pop it in your mouth. It isn't particularly sweet, having more of a minty flavor; unusual for the Capitol. You don't tell the President that it won't be your first.
You step off the train in your village in District Four and even though the train station is several streets back from the ocean, you can smell the sea air and you can see seagulls flying and you start to feel like yourself again. In the Capitol you were someone else.
You look around the platform for your family, but you only see your mother and then she's hugging you and crying and crying and you begin to realize that it's not just because she's happy to see you.
Then, she whispers in your ear that the little sister died on the first day of your Hunger Games.
You move to a big house in Victor's Village and your mother and some of the younger siblings move with you, but the older ones don't come because it's on the other side of the District and they'd have to find new jobs. You sit in bed all day and remember the blood on your trident and the little sister giggling and you miss living in your overcrowded little house with its dirt floors.
You don't know what to do with yourself. Your whole existence has always been geared toward survival, but now you've survived.
Your mother tries things to lure you out of your room, like inviting the new neighbors over or playing games with the brothers and sister, but it all seems halfhearted with the little sister gone and you can hear your mother crying at night.
One evening when the stars are bright over the sea, your mother comes to you and whispers I heard that he died. And you know immediately who she means because you both talk about him, your first, this way, never saying his name.
So you buy a train ticket back to the village where you grew up and you sit on the plush train seats and order the most expensive champagne which they give you despite your age and you eat expensive chocolates out of a silk-lined box.
And you don't visit your brothers or sister when you arrive, but you go to the only cemetery in the village where they bury the rich. The poor have their ashes scattered at sea. You find his name on a shiny black tombstone and though you've told yourself that you came to spit on his grave, you just cry.
They throw a party for you. There are bright, swirly lights hanging in balls from the ceiling, elaborate even for the Capitol. The wine flows and the guests are dressed in elaborate velvet costumes, but you wear nothing but a plain white shift. It's a small party – maybe a dozen people – and you go around and speak to them all because that's what's required of you. They laugh at your jokes even when they're not funny and you show them the same curtsey.
Aren't you just the prettiest boy alive? One woman asks you.
Yes. You say this with a hint of a smile to show you are aware of your own arrogance.
She puts her hand on your bare knee. What do you want? she asks.
What do you want? What can these people give you that you don't have already? It's something to think about. Nothing, you answer her.
Velvet-clad attendants serve dessert, but you ignore the chocolate cake and fancy ice cream and pop the little bright hard candies in your mouth. Before you are finished, your escort taps you on the shoulder and tells you it's time. You stand up and walk to the small stage near the front of the room and they undress you. It is a bit intimidating, even for you, being naked in front of so many people, but you just extend your arms out to the side, focus your vision on a swirling ball of color high above the guests, and savor the last bit of too-sweet candy on your tongue.
They start the bidding.
This is a beginning.