Author's note: For Gabbie, on your birthday. I hope you enjoy the first chapter of your birthday fic.
Prompt: Sand, from the Panem Challenge, at Caesar's Palace forum.
Thanks to sohpypothetically for beta'ing.
Far to the north and west, the mountain spires of District 2 were still locked in darkness. None of the designers in District 1 had yet risen to their luxurious desks, to put pen to paper for the newest and most outrageous uses for chiffon. In the Capitol, true dark never fell and the stars and moon were pale copies of themselves, for the city lights rarely dimmed. Sometimes, holograms of the familiar constellations; the hunter, the pot, the bear and the maiden, were projected into the sky from the tops of the tallest buildings. Even then, the designers could not resist making the stars bigger, brighter than life. They created fantastic new constellations. A favourite showed two lovers, caught in the act. For an exorbitant price, companies could have their advertisements spread across the sky in celestial writing; Capitol Culture; New Edition Today.
But the sun's rays already gilded the golden coast of District 4, thousands of miles to the south and east. Large beyond imagination and as golden and liquid as egg yolk, the sun rose from the sea. But before the first red-gold shaft speared from the horizon, there was the grey predawn. An eerie time, it was neither true night or day and the light was dim and pale. Nothing was quite as it seemed; sand was grey and grainy with night's chill clinging to it. And if it clung to the sand, night still had the ocean in its thrall. Black and inky with grey foam instead of whitecaps, the water stubbornly refused to accept morning was coming. As it sucked and slapped at the sand, its chill preceded it.
From the children young enough to splash bare-skinned in the surf and run squealing from the waves, to the retired captains on their pensions who still walked as if there was a deck beneath their feet, everyone knew it was a dangerous time. District 4's elders spoke in their lilting accents-just made for stories-of Apollo, the sun, and Selene, the silvery moon. In the grey hour before dawn, Selene had driven her chariot, inlaid with silver filigree, back into the celestial regions and unhorses her four mares with their white flaxen tails. She fed them golden apples from her white hand. Her daytime counterpart, fiery Apollo, had yet to harness his stallions to his gilded chariot. With their manes running with fire, they waited, drumming their heels against the walls of their stable and eager to race across the sky and pull the brilliant sunrise behind them. When they did, their hooves would strike sparks that would spear down to earth as the rays of the sun. Before that, the sky was empty and unguarded. Superstitious sailors made sure to leave port when either the moon or the sun graced the sky. Plus, it was the preferred feeding time for sharks.
Long, coltish legs carried the boy swiftly between the colourful weatherboard shacks close by the water and he paused as his feet hit the sand, wriggling his toes deep into the soft, cold grains. Finn fixated on the contrast of the grey sand and his brown skin. A queer grin lifted the corners of his mouth, the left a little higher than the right, and put a dimple in both cheeks. His skin looked darker in the predawn light and when he squinted and looked down through his tangle of unkempt bronze hair, he half-fancied his feet had taken root in the sand. For a moment, he enjoyed the idea of being rooted to the beach but when he wriggled his toes deeper and failed to see their movement beneath the sand, he leapt backwards, kicking his feet in the air to assure himself they were still there. When he stumbled, the clump of spinifex grass behind him cushioned his fall. Sharp needles pricked at his bronzed skin but he was lucky not to be cut. Sometimes, Finn Odair was just lucky like that.
With the shivers of his little fright still reverberating through his nerves, Finn scampered down to where the sand was damp from the receding tide. The sand was so wet that is barely held his footprint for an instant before it smoothed out. Finn walked in a quick circle, trying to make his steps meet up, but each time, they were gone before he got back to the beginning. He tried gathering his lean muscles, not yet swelled with puberty, and jumping, but even then his marks were erased in moments. He frowned and stood with most of his weight on one foot while he wondered what to do next. As a blue-red soldier crab scuttled away from his disturbance, Finn jumped skittishly, brown feet slapping the sand. Crouching down on his heels, he watched as the crustacean corkscrewed into the moist sand, bony legs working like a little drill. The hole closed over and left barely a trace. Head to the side and hair flopping in his face, Finn scooped his hand down into the wet, sloppy sand and brought it up to eye level. Lips slightly parted, he wondered when the crab would reappear. When the little legs scrabbled at his palm, seeking to burrow back to safety, Finn giggled and flung the handful away. Wiping his hands off on his bare thigh, he straightened and walked towards the water.
At thirteen years old, Finnick knew very well that he wasn't supposed to be out of the house before dawn. Usually, his mother preferred he didn't leave the house alone, at all. As the thought returned, he cast a glance back over his shoulder and hunched down, as if his mother's keen, grey eyes could see him from here. Finn knew it was a dangerous time, but as his eye roved skyward, across the deep, deep blue sky that was so dark it was nearly black, he didn't think it was unguarded so much as peaceful.
When the wild winter storms would race in, it meant one thing for children; story time. In District 4, they were lucky; the weather was much milder and they never saw snow. In District 2's high mountains, the passes often became choked with snow and great slabs of ice, and food had to be sent in via hovercraft. Then, the stonecutters would gladly set aside their picks and retreat to their snug cabins to work on small projects set aside from the rest of the year; sewing, carving, teaching their children. Of course, the young careers kept training all year round. There were vast, undercover workshops where the huge, raw chunks of stone could be shaped by clever hands and stone chips would fly inside, while outside, snow battered against the windows and the doors. Once, a tribute said in their interview that there were seventeen different types of snow. The Capitol got its fair share of snow, too, but it was always swept clear of the streets before anyone saw it.
Though they brought no snow, District 4's storms were wild enough to ground the boats and give the sailors a chance to turn to other work; salting fish and mending nets, for the most part. When the winds lashed the shutters and sent cruel fingers tearing through the cracks and around the house, Finn's grandmother would be invited to stay with the family, because it was too dangerous to leave the house daily and check on her in her little, weather beaten shack on the tip of Humpback Cape. For most of the year, Narai Odair lived by herself in a two-roomed shack with only the cormorants that perched on the nearby rocks for company. She saw her grandchildren but twice a year; in spring, when they all watched the humpbacks migrate, mother and calf, to the cold Arctic waters, rich with krill, and in winter when the storms made her sanctuary a living hell. Her house came close to flooding each year, and the wind scoured the fading white paint from the boards. So, every winter, she moved into Finn's room and he was happy enough to share with his brother because Grandma had a story for everything.
Father's threadbare armchair was given up to Grandma each year, and the two little Odair children sat on the rug by her knees with their backs to the spitting driftwood fire. Finn looked up at her crinkled green eyes, and she ruffled with hair with her calloused hand and told him he'd pinched them from her. He never really understood what she meant, and waited eagerly for the stories to start. Narai had worked on crab boats for fifty-seven years, and had been the captain for twenty-one. While her body had failed her; her arms no longer strong enough to haul on a rope, or her legs steady enough to bear her across the deck, her keen eyes marked her as one who was used to being in command. They belied her ability to spin a tale with such passion that Finn's busy mother, Sedna Odair, would stand idly in the doorway to listen, with a bowl of flour and flake propped against her hip. One of the stories Finn remembered best was about Selene and Apollo. In the bare hour of predawn, when neither moon or sun graced the sky, Apollo would take his silvery lover in his arms for the briefest of moments. Fire and ice, melding together before the stallions reared and pawed the air and Apollo tore himself away; doomed to retrace his lover's passage across the heavens until next he could snatch a moment with her. Finn never exactly knew what the sun god did when he took the moon in his arms, but he liked the story. They had all stopped when Grandma passed away several years ago.
Grey foam rushed past Finn's ankles then calves as he leapt into the water, making a laughing, rushing game out of jumping the wavelets close to shore. Soon the game lost its appeal and the boy pushed through the inky water, out to where it was deeper. As a wave lifted him off his feet and his toes scraped at the soft sand, Finn started to swim. Lazy, overarm strokes took him further out, past where the waves broke and the ocean was flat and still. When he looked down, Finn's body appeared pale and insubstantial and when he held his legs together, moving his arms in figure eights to keep afloat, he looked like one of the mermaids from Grandma's stories. Squinting past his feet, Finn tried to make out the golden arches and soaring colonnades inlaid with seashells where King Triton lived, but he could barely see his own body in the dim water. Again, the dimpled smile spread over his face and the boy put his hands out ahead of him. With legs tucked together, he dove under the water, swimming how he thought a mermaid might. He wondered if he could find a trident to wield, like Poseidon, lord of the ocean. He decided to look around the docks; there were always bits and pieces laying around there, though mostly fish heads and old, frayed rope. Once though, Finn found enough scraps of old crates to cobble together into a little skiff. In dripping, childish writing, he wrote 'Pallas', like his father's boat. When he showed his father, Satnus Odair chuckled, ruffled his youngest son's hair and said it wasn't quite seaworthy yet.
When swimming like a merman tired him, Finn rolled over onto his back and blew a spray of saltwater from his mouth, now pretending to be one of the whales that migrated past the coast every spring. He blinked rapidly to get the stinging salt from his eyes. Finn was blithely unaware that his games broadcast his location to the real lords of the sea. Not too far away, its wide gill slits flaring, a creature stirred and turned its blunt snout toward the sound of splashing. Sleek bodied and black eyed, the sharks were fearsome enough already to appear in the arenas without any genetic modifications. With an almost lazy flick of its tail, the grey nurse rose toward the surface.