Disclaimer: I don't own the Hunger Games or anything connected with the franchise. Please don't sue me - I just had a baby and thus am poor and obviously making no money off of this. Also, this is my first story in this fandom and the first thing I've posted here in many, many months - I might be a bit rusty!
Quid Pro Quo
The Hunger Games are fair. They're not rigged in any way to favor a specific tribute, unless you count the Careers, but that's no fault of the Gamemakers. Those districts made the decisions they made all on their own. Everyone has an equal chance of victory.
But every now and then, a tribute comes along who impresses me, and I know the world would be a lesser place without him or her. I can see a use for that tribute, should he or she become the victor – not just living out the rest of life in luxury, but something... more. Something better. And so I… assist… to ensure that tribute comes out of the arena alive.
In the 65th Hunger Games, Finnick Odair from District 4 is such a tribute. At the tribute parade, I'm immediately struck by his beauty, and I shift in my chair as I consider that the boy is tall and strong for one so young; that he has only just reached puberty and has not a blemish or pimple to show for it. It's likely that manhood, should he survive to see it, would only make him more appealing to the eye.
I observe him in training on several occasions and, although he likely does not have the skill to win against older, bigger tributes such as the muscular boy from District 1, I continue to be impressed by his prowess. He's quite proficient with knots, it turns out, and being from the fishing district, I know he can throw a spear even before he demonstrates this with a trident in his private session with the Gamemakers.
Finnick Odair is 14. No one under the age of 16 has ever made it out of the arena alive, not in 64 years of history, and it's likely Finnick won't, either. He has what it takes to do well, probably make the final eight given that he's from a career district, but when the pack disbands and turns on each other, if he's still alive, he'll be the first to go. The older tributes will make a meal out of him.
When I find this makes me unsettled to the point of indigestion, I know I'll intervene on the boy's behalf.
Finnick scores a 10 in training. All of Panem will be impressed by this, and he's likely to receive a number of sponsors because of it. At his interview, he continues to win favor as he demonstrates he has charisma and personality to spare. This is all for show, of course – for the sponsors. Charisma is not a weapon in the arena; he won't be able to charm his way out of a knife in the back.
When the Games begin, I watch alone in my study, as always. I keep my eye on Finnick, who manages to grab a couple of knives at the Cornucopia and escape into the dense foliage unscathed. Then the camera stays on the bloodbath, and I focus on the stack of papers on my desk, leaving the carnage as background noise. I've already chosen my victor. How the others die is immaterial.
After the initial bloodbath, the cameras focus on those who avoided that fight, including young Mr. Odair. I watch him curiously – the arena is primarily a jungle, and there are long vines hanging from the trees. He's using his knife to hack at them. Once he has several, he climbs into a tree and begins to manipulate them. It takes me a moment to realize he's weaving a net. And just like that, I know what will help him win these games. I watch until he completes his net and then climbs down from the tree, setting out on foot, likely in search of water rather than kills. He only came away from the Cornucopia with weapons; to win, he'll also need food and water. But that's a given, and he'll have plenty of sponsors.
I wait until the third day of the Games, when I've confirmed that Finnick has wanted for nothing and needs only an initiative to go on the offensive. Then I make a phone call.
I don't send the trident directly, of course. That would be scandalous and lead to an uprising. I use several channels, including office aids and a District 4 victor from a previous Games, to make sure the gold-gilded weapon is delivered to his mentor, and then to Finnick. By the time Mags receives it, no one can say for certain where it came from. An anonymous sponsor. Someone with money, and lots of it. Someone who clearly knows Finnick's strengths and wants him to win.
I smile when the boy receives it in the arena. His reaction is perfect – he holds it reverently, looking at it in awe. For nearly a full minute, he doesn't look up. His silence would likely have been longer, except that the camera jerks away to where another tribute – the girl from District 2 – draws close to Finnick's position. She's carrying a spear and an empty jug. Either she's cocky or the Careers view her as expendable; either way, she's on a search for water, and Finnick is standing at the edge of the arena's only source of it.
She's Finnick's first kill, and she's a Career. His popularity will skyrocket. He won't need any further help from me.
I continue to watch as Finnick Odair spends the next three days hunting tributes who are older, bigger and stronger than he is. One by one, he snares them in his net of vines, then spears them with the trident. It's a magnificent and bloody show. The Capitol citizens are pleased.
I step back into the shadows, letting Finnick enjoy his victory. I watch on television as he goes home, reunites with his family and moves into the Victor's Village. And then I give him peace for awhile. Months, in fact. He turns 15, and the celebration is televised. That's when I realize exactly how popular Finnick is in the Capitol – it's just a birthday party for a teenage boy, but men and women alike watch, riveted, hoping to catch a glimpse of Finnick Odair. They wish out loud that they could be there with him. They want to touch him. They've only ever seen him on television; they want to know that he's really so beautiful.
Yes. I made the right choice.
I visit District 4 a week before Finnick's victory tour. It's not a great time of year to be in the seaside district – the winter weather, while still warmer than most northern districts, is not fit for sunbathing. That's fine. This is a business trip.
My visit to the Odair home in the Victor's Village is unannounced and early, so I'm not surprised when Finnick's father opens the door, still wearing his bathrobe. He's surprised but hides it fairly well. "Mr. President," he greets me, pulling the door open and standing aside for me to enter. I do, holding my head high as always and followed by an entourage of four Peacekeepers. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"I'd like to speak to Finnick," I say simply, with entitlement, because… well, because I am. Entitled, that is.
"He's still asl—" Finnick's father stops mid-excuse at just a flash of darkness on my face and quickly shows a tiny bit of fear in his. "That is, I'll get him. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, perhaps?"
I wave my hand in dismissal. "I'll wait for him in the study, if you don't mind." I know the way. All of the victor's homes are laid out in a remarkably similar fashion. I settle in at an oak table in the study at the end of a long hall. It's several minutes before Finnick arrives, and although he's dressed, it's obvious he just woke up and pulled his clothing on in a hurry. His hair is still mussed. He looks… well, he looks fifteen. "Come in, Finnick," I say without emotion, motioning to the second chair in the room, across the table from me. "Have a seat."
He does so without a word, scratching at his head.
"How have you been, boy?"
"Good," Finnick replies, trying to look at me and not blush. For one so beautiful, for a Career District victor, he's awfully modest. "Working on my talent. Spending time with my family."
"As is should be." I nod and pause, considering him – mostly for effect. "Looking forward to the victory tour?"
"Such manners. Your parents raised you well." I pause again before narrowing my eyes and going in for the kill. "Your victory is still the talk of the Capitol. Everyone would like to know who sent you that trident."
"So would I," Finnick says earnestly, and I let a slow smile spread across my face. My tongue catches my teeth and briefly, a metallic taste fills my mouth, but I don't let it show in my expression.
"Indeed. Finnick… are you familiar with the term 'quid pro quo'?" At his confused expression and slight head shake, I continue. "It's from a very old language – some might say a dead language – called Latin. It translates to 'this for that.' So, you are given something, and in return, you're expected to give something back." I wait for his expression to return to neutral before continuing, "I sent you that trident, boy. And I dare say that without it, you might never have won." He's just staring at me now, trying to search out my meaning. "I gave you something – the trident, to begin with, but also your life. And now the time has come for you to do something for me in return."
"I never asked you for anything." I can hear the anger and fear in his tone.
"That's true, boy, very true. But do you truly believe that if I hadn't sent you that gift, you would be alive to sit here and have this conversation with me?" He doesn't respond. I've already made my initial point, so I forge ahead to the matter of his repayment, because his reaction is irrelevant. I know what it will be, but in the end, he will comply. He'll have no other choice. "As I said, the Capitol is still buzzing with the tale of your victory. But it's also buzzing about you. Just… you. You're quite beautiful, Finnick, and personable on top of that. You have a way with words that makes men and women alike swoon. Flash a smile and most of them are done for. In fact, you'd barely been crowned before several Capitol citizens approached me, wondering about the chance to spend an evening with you. They were willing to pay quite… handsomely… to spend a night being dined and danced… kissed… romanced… do you understand, Finnick?" He says nothing. He's just staring at me now, fire in his eyes, as if he's trying to kill me with just a look. Teenagers, while excellent for sport, are not the best conversationalists. "You will repay me with your body," I say point-blank, removing all pretense of niceties as my patience wears out. "You will spend the night in the arms of any Capitol citizen who's willing to pay the right price."
"You will, and you'll play the part well."
"I won't do it. You want my life? Take it. Have me killed. I don't care." His nostrils are flaring in anger and I can hear his voice catching – he's close to tears. I do so hate it when they cry. It's not good television, and in person, it's simply unbearably childish, as though they believe like a spoiled toddler in a candy store that crying will get them their way.
I want to tell him to grow up, so I do. "Your lovers will be expecting you to put on a good show for them. Crying like an infant will win you no points with me or with them. And you will do as I ask, Finnick, because if you don't, it's not your head I'll be after. I don't think you truly appreciate just how much you have to lose, boy." I look around at the walls, littered with family photos. "Your father. Reaped at 13, wasn't he? An older boy volunteered in his place and lost his life because of it. He's spent the rest of his years providing for the family of that tribute out of guilt. It would be a shame if one of them had reason to suddenly turn on him and put a knife through his heart, but I suppose that person… simply couldn't stand it anymore. Or your sister. What is she now? Ten? It would be a shame to see her reaped at 12. You'd mentor her, only to be forced to watch as she died a slow and painful death in the arena. But I could make her a tribute just as easily as I made you a victor."
"Do as I ask, and your family will be safe. Your friends, too. You have my word."
"And what good is your word?" he grumbles, scratching at the wood of the table, unwilling to look at me any longer.
"It's the only thing you have. I can promise I will let them live just as easily as I can promise to kill them." I reach into my pocket and find a piece of paper, which I slowly unfold and place on the table in front of him. "This is a contract – a contract that you will sign, surrendering your body to me and whomever I wish to sell it to. I'll leave it here for you to read over and think about, but I expect it to be returned when you reach the Capitol on your victory tour. I'll make sure we have a moment alone for you to surrender it, and before you head home, you'll meet your first… clients." Tears are rolling down his cheeks now, giant and silent in their slow glide, and it's most unbecoming of a victor. "Cry your tears now, boy. I expect a man to arrive in the Capitol. The citizens will be very put off if they believe for a second that I've delivered a child prostitute to them. You'll have to grow up now." I push back from the table, stand and head for the door, giving Finnick Odair one last look of disgust before walking out of the room and out of the house.
I do hope he gives up the crying. The puffy eyes and red nose, the sniffling, the flushed cheeks… only serve to dampen his beauty, and I can't have that. It won't do well for the money he'll bring in, not at all.