There’s an old saying in District Four, about the spirit of the people there. Finnick thinks of it sometimes, tells himself, he is made of sea salt and ocean foam.
“Unbroken we stand, facing untameable waters.
Our willpower strong, untouched, clear purpose.
In the eye of the moon, we cannot hesitate.
Do what needs to be done, ’s not in our nature to fail.”
Clearly, failure has never been an option for him.
Everybody is talking about the Four kid and Haymitch is really getting fed up with it.
Since the heroic showdown he delivered in the Games and the startlingly humble - yet proud act, he put on during his victor interview, everyone has been talking about him. Tonight, there is the official celebration with all of the mentors and some other victors in the Capitol, and they are all oh so excited to finally meet him in the flesh.
Haymitch watches the other victors at his end of the table enthusiastically discussing their latest companion in misfortune and his lips curl into a sour grimace. This is new, he thinks and honestly, he hates it.
Usually, they keep their faces and leave this kind of chitchat to the Capitol bastards, at least so shortly after the Games. Because normally, everyone is still occupied with the guilt of losing another child and no one is in the mood to give that unlucky fucker who could have been one of yours any attention at all.
Haymitch does not like much about the other victors, but he has to admit, he likes how they tend to work as one collective organism when it comes to this. Or at least, he used to like it.
Gloss and his insufferable sister, who was last year’s unlucky fucker, seem to have gotten into an actual heated argument with a couple of Three victors and once again, he is insanely grateful to be District Twelve and therefore placed on the other side of the room.
“So, I bet he’s the most disgustingly arrogant shithead you can imagine”, Chaff mumbles and grins at Haymitch.
“Not you too”, Haymitch sighs and ponders if he could just sneak away to the bar. But of course, there are cameras everywhere and not even Alcoholic-Abernathy is allowed to miss a historical moment like this.
“Yeah, no shit”, Crissi, another Eleven victor, agrees with Chaff, “kid’s fourteen and the most popular person in the whole nation already.”
He nods gravely and adds: “And we’ve all seen what he did with that trident.”
Haymitch doesn’t like to think about the Four kid and he likes thinking about the fucking trident even less. Both of his tributes this year had fallen prey to the boy and his weapon.
Most expensive sponsor gift in the Games’ history. Youngest victor ever.
“If he takes any longer, I’ll get a drink”, he growls.
Chaff laughs and opens his mouth to say something, but he’s rudely interrupted by the door swinging open and the entrance of the boy, whose arrival was so eagerly awaited by everyone.
Haymitch barely stops himself from giving another sarcastic comment. It’s pathetic, they are all gazing at a child who’s nothing but a pretty face and a strong right arm and there is absolutely no reason for this fuss. No reason whatsoever.
Finnick Odair looks like the undreamed dream of a perfectionist.
He hates to admit it, but even he can’t part his eyes from the boy as he makes his way up to his place at the top of the table, his smile is unclouded and steady. Too bright for a murderer, Haymitch thinks.
“What a performance”, he grumbles and reaches for the drink, the Avox behind him finally had the decency to offer.
“They are going to wreck him here”, Chaff says, a surprisingly mild expression on his face.
“Don’t tell me you feel sorry for him”, Haymitch snorts, “he killed one of yours too, didn’t he?”
“Everyone here killed innocents, Haymitch.”
There’s a deep regret in his voice and Haymitch downs his drink in one go.
Chaff shrugs and explains: “To be honest, I think I pity the kid.”
But Haymitch can’t agree with him. He knows, better than most what the Capitol has in store for Finnick Odair, and still, he feels no sympathy.
“Can’t forgive him the fucking trident”, he says.
On the other side of the room, the boy raises his glass, his gaze wanders across their faces and does not linger on Haymitch’s for even a second.
It would be wrong to say that Haymitch forgets Finnick Odair exists, it is impossible when his face is all over the TV program and even in Twelve everyone seems to be talking about him, but when he gets back, Haymitch just stops thinking about him.
It’s what he does every time. Each year when he gets home after the Games, he gets drunk even more excessively than he does normally and pretends he can forget. Until Effie Trinket shows up on his doorstep, all dressed up and painted in bright colours that hurt his eyes, a different one every year, and announces that the Victory Tour is upon.
Then, they make him sober up and parade him around the district for a day and a night until he can finally go back to drinking violently again - till the next reaping comes. As long as he can rely on his bottles to take him away, he really doesn’t have to think about the Four kid most of the time. And when he sees him on TV, sometimes he doesn’t even recognise him, that’s how drunk he gets himself.
This year, Effie’s colour is blue, of fucking course, and she hasn’t only coordinated her make-up and dress, but also wears a wig that has turquoise streaks and shells arranged in it. Haymitch doesn’t pay any attention to her outfits, really, and if he does, then it is simply because of how obnoxious and out of place they are, especially in the grey coal desert that is District Twelve.
“It’s time, Haymitch”, she says, with her horrible high-pitched and accented voice, and a constructed smile.
Every year, she smiles at him and he knows that is because she is Capitol and therefore as fake as they come, however he sometimes catches himself feeling warm deep down on the inside when he thinks of it. In fact, Effie Trinket is probably the only person that ever smiles at him in District Twelve.
“Well, fuck me”, he’s slurring his speech and trying very hard to remember the last time he showered or changed clothes or even made the effort to look at himself in a mirror. The only thing he remembers is punching the mirror in the guest bathroom and his hand bleeding but that must have been days ago.
The nightmares are the only thing even the drinking cannot chase away.
“’s a little messy”, he explains when she steps inside and then he frantically shoves away the sudden rush of shame. Why the fuck should he care about tidying?
“Yes, I can see that”, Effie says. She seems to be very focused on not touching anything, probably afraid of catching poor-people-disease or, even worse, broken-victor-virus.
“Didn’t think ‘t was time already”, Haymitch mumbles and drops down against the nearest wall. He realises he surely hasn’t showered in weeks.
“They sent you a letter, Haymitch. Like every year.”
Effie has puckered lips and raised eyebrows that glitter in a concerning shade of aquamarine. With a glance at her watch, she puts on a determined expression and declares:
“Your prep team will be over in a minute. I thought you might appreciate the heads up.”
Something about the way she says it sounds awfully familiar to him and he thinks that they’re probably having the exact same conversation every time, only that he can’t remember afterwards because he’s been drinking his brain away.
“’s terribly kind of you”, he mocks her artificial politeness and then leans over to vomit on the floor.
They get him camera ready at record speed and when he is subtly pushed into the Justice Building, he is about as sober as possible. It is absolutely disgusting.
The Mayor and his wife come to greet him and there are some other people there he doesn’t really know and doesn’t really care about, he tries to hold on to every part of himself and keep it together, just for tonight because now he will have to face the Four kid without mentioning the trident and he desperately needs a drink.
For most of the time he is so focused on not causing a scene that he doesn’t really register what’s going on around him. He remembers his own Victory Tour as a blur of faces and speeches and parties, which is how he knows that even the strictly governed District Eleven can manage to host a pleasant evening get-together. Whatever it is they are trying to host tonight, it is just pathetic.
“And here I was told you’d be the life of the party”, a friendly voice behind him says, just loud enough to make Haymitch come back to the present.
He turns to look at Finnick Odair and thinks that it would be quite the scandal if he repeated his puking-act from earlier in front of his famous company.
Then again, throwing up on Finnick Odair does sound somewhat tempting.
Instead he says: “It’s just a really boring party.”
Which is probably the most coherent sentence he has produced in weeks and, all things considered, he thinks he’s doing pretty well.
“Yeah, that’s for sure”, Finnick Odair says with a quiet laugh and teasing eyes and holy fuck, he is a child, where does he take his confidence from? How did he do what he did in that arena and is still able to chuckle like this?
Haymitch has a faint memory of himself after his Games, doing the same thing, pretending and playing, and he was good, no question, but even he could not have been this convincing. Maybe there is just something truly wrong with Finnick Odair and he was broken long before the Games even started taking him apart.
Youngest victor ever.
Sam was fourteen too, when they killed him. Haymitch forbids himself to associate his baby brother with Finnick Odair of all people and quickly shoves the thought away.
“You noticed?”, he replies dryly and at least it sounds casual.
“It’s nice to meet you, Haymitch”, Finnick Odair says, still smiling politely.
“Nice to meet you too, Odair. I think I might have heard about you.”
After all, Haymitch has been playing this game since before Finnick Odair was born and just because he is scared of a fourteen-year-old with a trident, it doesn’t mean he’s going to show it.
Most expensive sponsor gift in the Games’ history.
“I heard about you too. Didn’t think you would be this…”
His eyes are irritatingly green and blue, and their intensity makes even Effie’s ridiculous colours look washed-out and grey and just District Twelve like.
“I don’t have much to say to you”, Haymitch states bluntly.
Finnick Odair raises an eyebrow.
“And why is that? It seems that everyone else has a whole lot of things to say to me”, he wonders, his lips curled into an amused grin that is so fake, it makes Haymitch choke.
“Because I don’t trust you.”
For the first time there is something real in his expression, behind all the makeup and layers of smiles and practiced facial acrobatics.
“Can I tell you something?”, he asks, suddenly very quietly.
Haymitch looks at his perfectly manicured hands and hates himself for hating this child who only ever did what all of them did to make it out of that hell. A hell that is going to haunt him for the rest of his life - if the sweet poison which awaits Finnick Odair in the Capitol doesn’t kill him first.
“Sure thing”, he presses out.
“You are the only one who gets it.”
He finds him coincidentally, face down in a pool of his own vomit, and seriously considers to just pretend he hadn’t.
It’s late at night, they just announced a Seven girl as this year’s lucky winner and Haymitch, whose tributes have been gone since the bloodbath on day one, is just really looking forward to going home again. Back in Twelve, the wind is rougher, the alcohol is stronger, and everything smells and tastes exactly the way it should, bitter and repulsive and real.
So, when he finds Finnick Odair on the elevator floor, his immediate reaction isn’t exactly cheerful. But even in the Capitol it takes a moment to get to the top of the building and unfortunately, Haymitch is not drunk enough to ignore the passed-out boy with clear conscience.
“Odair”, he says as he crouches down next to him.
The only response he receives is an inarticulate moan. Haymitch sighs and in this moment the elevator stops on the twelfth floor and the doors slide open.
“Fuck this”, he groans with emphasis, before sliding his arm under Finnick’s and heaving him up against the wall, half carrying, half dragging him into the penthouse. Finnick stiffens at the touch but is apparently in no condition to resist effectively, when he opens his mouth, presumably to protest, he instead manages to throw up all over Haymitch’s shirt.
“Great”, Haymitch mumbles, “just great.”
He drops Finnick onto a sofa and tries to take off his dirty shirt, but gets stuck in it for a moment, cursing the amount of drinks he’s had and the stench of vomit in his nose. When he finally frees himself of it, Finnick has curled up into a ball, hugging himself tightly and facing away from Haymitch.
“We need to get you cleaned up”, he announces unenthusiastically, but when he places a hand on Finnick’s back, he flinches, and a tiny whimper escapes his throat. It’s enough to make Haymitch’s heart shatter in his chest.
The thing is, he still doesn’t like the boy, how could he ever, but he may have been paying attention and it has come to his notice that Finnick Odair might not be as terrible of a person as he thought. Haymitch has been around long enough to know that the lovers, victors like Finnick entertain, aren’t actual lovers and he knows best what the consequences of breaking the rules in the Capitol are.
And then of course, there is Mags. Haymitch has always liked Mags, he doubts that there are many people who don’t, and he’s seen the way she treats the boy, knows she must have been raising him as if he were her own and he trusts her judgement. He also, maybe more importantly, noticed how Finnick behaves around Mags, which is so opposed to the way he acts for the cameras, Haymitch could feel guilty for ever holding him to it.
So, Haymitch breathes out heavily and kneels next to the sofa, cautiously places his hand on Finnick’s shoulder again, this time expecting the flinch.
“Finnick”, he says quietly.
The boy shudders and shakes his head against the cushions and Haymitch fears he’s going to puke again.
“Finnick”, he repeats, more urgently this time.
“I need you to work with me here, alright? I’m going to carry you into the bathroom so you can get cleaned up. So, I need you to cooperate, okay?”
He’s not even really sure if Finnick can hear him, but Haymitch keeps talking while he carefully grabs him under his arms again, towing him all the way to the bathroom. It’s a messy affair, with Haymitch drunk and Finnick as good as unconscious the procedure takes a lot longer than it should have, but the boy is made of muscles and bones and is way heavier than Haymitch anticipated. Or maybe he himself is simply weaker than he remembered.
When he finally places him on the shower floor, propped against the wall, he’s sure they made it through the unpleasant part. As it turns out, that is optimistic thinking.
As soon as Haymitch turns on the shower and cool water drizzles down on them, Finnick stirs, his eyes open and he squints, his fingers feebly reaching for the water drops. The sight of Haymitch, half naked and wet, seems to startle him, when he approaches and tries to help him undress, Finnick pushes himself away from him as far he can, then, his body goes rigid under Haymitch’s touch.
There’s something absolutely horrifying about the boy’s reaction and he immediately pulls back. The realisation hits him with the brutal force of a mine explosion or cold withdrawal:
Drugged and half naked in a shower with another man is probably daily life for Finnick Odair and Haymitch has no doubt that it is his waking nightmare. As intoxicated as he still is, he surely can’t distinguish Haymitch’s innocent attempt to help him from his usual clients’ behaviour.
And, by all means, how should Finnick even be sure Haymitch isn’t trying to fuck him right now? They’ve barely ever spoken and for all he must know, it’s actually a likely thing for him to do; given the kind of people he’s exposed to most of the time, he must assume it’s the most plausible course of action, really.
Suddenly, Haymitch feels like it is his turn to throw up.
“I’m sorry”, he says, uncomfortably running his fingers through his damp hair. He sinks down on the floor next to Finnick but leaves a certain safety distance between them.
“Where am I?”, Finnick chokes out. His words are dangerously slurred.
“You’re safe. I mean, these are the District Twelve quarters. I’m not… I was just trying to help you clean up.”
It takes a moment until Finnick seems to register the meaning of his words, but then, he nods slowly. He brushes his sleeve over his face, wiping away water, bile, and a thick layer of makeup.
“I was on the elevator”, he remembers, his brows furrow in confusion as he struggles to reconstruct what happened.
“I was with… Never mind. We had this awful pink powder and a few of those star shaped pills, I think. I thought I was swimming in the sea.”
The pain in his voice is tangible. Haymitch wonders if he actively tried to overdose.
Finnick peers around the room and then fixes his eyes on Haymitch who all of a sudden realises he’s still not wearing a shirt and hastily says: “You threw up on me.”
“Right”, Finnick says. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I almost did the same thing when we met at your Victory Tour”, Haymitch replies which is probably the least appropriate thing to say, but Finnick gives a weakly amused snort.
He rubs his face again, peeling off another layer of makeup and reveals dark circles around his eyes and an ugly yellow bruise on his left cheekbone. Haymitch briefly wonders, what other marks his company left on him that were hidden away and concealed by his prep team to keep up appearances.
He’s barely seventeen, Haymitch remembers. The age that he had been when he was reaped. Youngest victor ever, his thoughts echo. And they’ve claimed him from the start, he’s been their possession since the very beginning. Most expensive sponsor gift in the Games’ history.
He, as a fellow victor, should not have judged him for what he did to survive.
“You’re lucky you didn’t puke on the carpet. Effie would have been outraged.”
Haymitch tries to lose the grave thoughts by ruffling his hair again.
“Who is Effie?”, Finnick asks, sounding mildly curious.
“Our escort. She wears these colourful wigs…”
“Ah, right. I would have made it up to her”, he says, probably because it is the only thing he knows how to do. Then, he pushes himself upright and makes an effort to remove his clothes, first his shirt, then his pants and underwear.
Haymitch watches him toss the clothes aside and reach for the buttons to increase the flow of the water. Soon, both of them are soaked. It feels wrong though, watching Finnick undress on his own and so, without any deeper intention, Haymitch gets rid of the rest of his clothes too. It only seems fair if they’re both exposed. Since there is nothing much to do for him then, except for making sure Finnick doesn’t drown himself, Haymitch sits still and stays quiet.
Finnick absentmindedly washes away sweat, vomit and more makeup, always more makeup, it stains the water and flows away in streaks of bronze and gold. Underneath, his skin is coated in welts and bruises, some of them old and faded, others appear to be rather fresh. Haymitch doesn’t want to know what fucked up things Capitol people desire.
“I hate the drugs”, Finnick mumbles. He leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes, the water streams over his face and he looks younger than ever to Haymitch. Almost fragile.
“I prefer the liquor too. The other shit’s unpredictable.”
“It makes me act unpredictable”, Finnick agrees. “I can’t afford that.”
If it weren’t for the drugs, Haymitch is certain, he would never have said something like that to him. And Haymitch is tired and drunk enough to not give a fuck, so he fixes his gaze on his fingers and says:
“They would have done the same to me. But they didn’t have anything left to hold against me. Not after…”
Of course, Finnick gets it.
“Bad example, huh? So victors like me fall in line and don’t question his authority? Honestly, I’m not sure what’s worse.”
They both take a moment to contemplate this, Haymitch has been wondering for a very long time, he knows he would have rather died in the arena, wishes he had in every sober moment. But for Finnick, it’s different. Apparently, there are still people left for him to protect.
“How much collateral?”, he asks.
Finnick sighs and he sounds unthinkably old when he says:
“My dad. My half-sister, her mother possibly. Mags, of course. It’s enough. I’m good at it anyway, pretending, I mean. Sometimes I even forget to turn it off when I’m alone, the camera smile and the bedroom voice. Maybe one day there’ll be nothing left of me and I’ll fully transform into Capitol-Finnick. Maybe I already have. I don’t know anymore, honestly. Most days, I pray no one will ever touch me again and desperately wish, I'd never left the arena.
There, at least I’d be allowed to fight back.”
Johanna Mason happens. Suddenly, she’s there, a bitter storm of angry screams and harsh words that no one can ignore. She’s utterly inescapable.
Haymitch doesn’t know what exactly happens between her and Finnick Odair, but the second he meets her at her Victory Tour (Effie wears a neon green wig with real pine tree twigs in it, and smiles at him as politely as ever, he knows he reeks of liquor and filth but she keeps her composure, it’s time, Haymitch, she says, I thought you might appreciate the heads up.), Haymitch adores Johanna.
She’s difficult and loud and untameable and he thinks that they should all be like that, that maybe if they were, Snow wouldn’t be able to restrain them ever again, they’d be uncontainable.
It’s probably what fascinates Finnick as well, since he is condemned to live his life as a slave, a plaything, a pretty sex toy to be bought and used and thrown away, he actively makes himself manageable to minimise the damage.
It’s no secret how quickly they relief Johanna Mason of her duty by slaughtering her entire family, just like they did with Haymitch’s. This only makes her more aggressive, more unrestricted because, really, what could they possibly do to silence her, now that they’ve taken everything she ever loved?
Haymitch doesn’t usually make friends anymore, sticks with Chaff and Seeder and Crissi, but Johanna Mason, he befriends without even trying. And that’s not because she’s such an open and outgoing person, but because of the simple, undeniable fact that they are the same.
They sit in the bar at the Training Centre, both pleasantly drunk, outbidding each other on sarcastic comments and sardonic jokes, Haymitch has lost both of his kids a few days ago already and as of today, Johanna’s last one, the girl, is also dead, so they’re accompanying each other, killing the time until they get to go back home, mostly with liquor.
“Look at him”, Johanna says, not even trying to hide her disapproval. She points her head at Finnick, who just then crosses the room with a Capitol woman on his arm, he doesn’t notice them, or maybe ignores them on purpose, leading his company outside.
“Always busy, our Finnick”, Haymitch comments dryly.
“He’s going to die of exhaustion if they keep him going at this pace”, Johanna spits. “Have you seen the state he’s in? It’s fucked up. Makes last year seem like a joke, I’m not kidding.”
Haymitch vaguely thinks that she’s uncharacteristically protective of Finnick. But he also remembers the way Finnick went off when Johanna’s first and only client decided that beating her senseless was the way to go about it - it reminded him of the way he originally thought of him, too powerful, too dangerous. Lethal.
“You think he’s going to break?”, he asks and it’s a serious question. A broken Finnick would mean problems, inconveniences, corpses and punishment, not for himself, but for some reason he cares about what happens to the boy. Although he’s barely a boy anymore. Not that he’s ever been allowed to be one.
Johanna downs her drink and slams the empty glass down on the bar.
“I don’t know. But he won’t talk to me and, yes, I’ve actually tried to get him to. Did all the sappy feelings crap, but he shut himself off completely.”
Usually, they don’t talk like this. Not about the things they actually fear, the real horrors that could still come for worn out, useless victors like them, but behind her blunt attitude, Haymitch knows, she’s genuinely scared for Finnick. And maybe, if he thinks about what she said and the way he hasn’t talked to him this year at all, maybe, so is he.
They order more drinks, sharp burning white liquor, real alcohol, but still nothing like the unforgiving stuff they have in Twelve. The more they drink, the quieter Johanna gets, which really isn’t like her at all and Haymitch tries to bear it, but at some point, he can’t stand it any longer.
“What the fuck, Mason?”, he says, eloquently as ever.
She shoots him a furious look, but then stops herself from snapping and instead takes another sip before answering:
“I think he slipped up, Haymitch.”
It takes a moment before he makes the connection, but then he knows it before she has to confirm it for him:
“Finnick. I think he fucked it up with one of them. I think they punished him.”
“Why?”, he asks, because he’s honestly surprised. Johanna grits her teeth and gulps down her drink.
“He was completely out of it that one night. Worse than usual, wouldn’t even let me go near him. And he cried, a lot actually.”
That surely isn’t exactly normal for Finnick but also doesn’t prove anything, Haymitch thinks he’s either way too drunk or by far not drunk enough to have this conversation. Lately, that’s a feeling he’s been having a lot.
“Okay, but that doesn’t really mean anything”, he says. “We all have bad nights.”
Johanna shrugs, but there’s nothing casual about it.
“I know that, Haymitch. But we’re talking about Finnick. It’s not like him not to talk at all, not even Mags could get anything out of him.”
“Wouldn’t she know if anything happened to his family?”
“I’m not sure. Not as long as we’re here, anyway. And he said he barely has any contact with his father and his stepmother, not to mention the half-sister. Apparently, the stepmom is a real bitch. So, I think, Snow went for his father. He literally flinched when I mentioned him yesterday.”
Only Johanna Mason could have the guts to talk about Snow’s cruelty this openly in the middle of the fucking Capitol. When he doesn’t answer immediately, she leans towards him, impatient as always, a grim expression on her face. She hisses:
“Think about it, Haymitch. He’s running himself ragged, I think he’s just completely gone. Off the deep end. And even the famous fucking Finnick Odair can’t keep up with this forever, I know what it’s like and just a tiny fraction of what he endures daily made me shut down. He never cries normally. Before, he liked talking about his father. Think about it.”
Haymitch tries to, thinks youngest victor ever and recalls the way his body looked that night two years ago, battered and bruised, the way he winced at his touch and the fear in his sea green eyes, pupils too wide from the Capitol drugs, the dark shadows beneath them.
It’s possible he could have slipped up, it just had to be one bad performance, one unsatisfactory night to lead to disaster, especially for Finnick Odair. One tiny little mistake was all it took to give Snow a reason. He wouldn’t go all the way, not with Finnick, wouldn’t throw away his most expensive victor over a bagatelle. Despite all of his appalling traits, if there’s one thing Snow isn’t, it’s wasteful.
But killing Finnick’s father, one of many people he considers his collateral, to make a point, send a warning, get him back on track? It’s not just possible, it’s highly likely, actually.
“If you’re right”, he says, “what do you propose? I don’t believe any of his clients would want to trade for either of us, so we can’t really help him, can we? Imagine paying for Finnick Odair and getting jaded old Haymitch the drunk or the meanest girl in all of Panem instead.”
They have to joke about it. Haymitch knows it’s horrible, but it’s the best way to cope, the only way he knows. He calls it victor-humour, he knows Johanna gets it, all of them do, after everything they’ve been through, this is simply the easiest way to deal with all the fucked-up stuff.
“I don’t know if we can do anything”, Johanna mutters. “But you should try to talk to him.”
Haymitch barks a short laughter, amazed by the impossible situation they find themselves in. “Johanna Mason and Haymitch Abernathy try to care about their friend” sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.
“Because I’m definitely the person he’ll open up to”, he says sarcastically.
“I don’t know Haymitch”, she snaps. Her brown eyes sparkle fiercely as she stares at him.
“I just know that I don’t want Finnick to kill himself, alright? Is that too much to ask?”
“I don’t know”, Haymitch shrugs. “Maybe he’d thank you if you let him.”
When he enters the District Four suite, he still doesn’t know what he’s going to say to him. Frankly, he shouldn’t have to say anything, it’s not like it is any of his business, but he has to admit begrudgingly that Johanna is probably right. He doesn’t believe even Finnick Odair will be able to carry on like this forever, especially if he’s already started to crack.
He finds Mags sitting in an armchair, knitting something unidentifiable out of dark grey wool. She grunts when she sees him and shakes her head.
“He’s still out.”
Haymitch drops down on one of the sofas and shrugs, tries to seem nonchalant.
“Who says I haven’t come for a chat with my favourite grumpy grandma from Four”, he asks with a winning smile on his face. He’s aware she can probably smell the alcohol on his breath.
“You’re a shitshow, Abernathy. If you’re not here for the boy, you can leave.”
“So, it’s bad?”
A part of him hoped Johanna had simply gotten worked up in her paranoia. But the way Mags looks at him clears any optimism form his mind.
“Listen, Haymitch, I wouldn’t want you around him otherwise. You get people in trouble.”
She pauses for a moment and then adds, a little more gently: “I don’t mean any offense. I just need the boy to be safe.”
That in itself is a contradiction. No one in Panem is safe, ever, especially not a victor, especially not one like Finnick Odair.
“I know, Mags, I understand”, he tries to comfort her, but Mags shakes her head again, this time with agitation, her white hair flows around her head in waves.
“No, actually, I don’t think you do. When was the last time you got someone out of that arena? He is my boy, Haymitch, I’ve raised him since he was fourteen years old, protected him as good as I can, took him in when that awful woman made his father abandon him. And I know how these things work, I’ve been around longer than even you, I know that he thinks he has to protect me and I watch him walk out of that door every day, to come back with less pieces of himself every single time. I see the way he’s fading and the only reason I think it is alright for you to bother him is that I don’t know what else to do.”
Her words sting, somewhere deep inside his chest, a place the booze hasn’t numbed effectively enough. It’s rhetorical, of course. Everyone knows District Twelve hasn’t had a victor in nineteen years.
Mags drops her gaze and says, sounding fearful for the first time: “I don’t think he can make it through another year like this. And I cannot lose him, Haymitch. I won’t.”
Briefly, he wonders how many Mags has seen come and go, tributes she couldn’t safe and victors she had to watch decay in front of her, admires that she still has the capacity to care for anyone. Then again, Finnick isn’t exactly anyone.
Youngest victor ever, Haymitch reminds himself.
“I’ll do my best”, he promises and hates himself for it. Hates that he got involved, got attached to this boy from Four who definitely still is too dangerous, even though he might be trying to control the damage he causes now. Haymitch hates the responsibility he takes on, another child he has to safe. Another hopeless venture.
“Heard you fucked it up”, he says when Finnick finally enters the apartment. Mags went to bed hours ago and Haymitch has waited, he is certain the sun will be up in a matter of minutes. Even in the dim grey light, he can see that Finnick is battered, he moves too carefully, every step a calculated action, and that’s not to mention the panic in his features when he recognises an unexpected visitor.
“Fuck you, Haymitch”, he says under his breath, eyes darting around the room, searching for an escape.
“Don’t be rude. I waited for you, you could show me some appreciation.”
“I’d appreciate if you fucked off”, Finnick huffs.
Haymitch regards him with a look of disapproval, he doesn’t get up from his place on the sofa and Finnick doesn’t move either, stands in the middle of the room, still as a statue and just about as stunning.
“What do you want?”, he asks flatly. There’s an unusual edge in his voice and worry scoots up inside of Haymitch’s chest, fuelled by Johanna Mason’s dreadful words.
He says: “I need you to talk to me, Finnick. You’ll need to talk if you want to continue life in sanity. Otherwise, you’re going to crash, and it’s going to be soon.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?”, he spits. Suddenly, his words are hard and thrown at Haymitch violently:
“Do you think I’m not already holding myself together merely by my fingertips? Do you think I expect to keep going like this? I’m not stupid Haymitch, despite what people might say. Just ‘cause I’m pretty it, doesn’t mean I’m dumb! I am fully aware there’s nothing to stop me from rushing into madness if I go on like this, but what’s the alternative, Haymitch? What the fuck am I supposed to do?”
The one thing people never appear to give Finnick any credit for is his intelligence. He’s smart, maybe too smart actually, but no one ever notices since they’re preoccupied with his dazzling smile and the striking sea green eyes. What scared Haymitch about him originally weren’t his looks.
It wasn’t his remarkable ability to force on a Capitol smile and make it work almost effortlessly, even with colourful bruises covering his lovely face. And it wasn’t the way he wields his trident either, like a deadly and shimmering part of his body, solely made for killing, most expensive sponsor gift in the Games’ history. It’s his cleverness that really frightened Haymitch when he watched him in the Games.
Because even a flawless actor is useless if he doesn’t know when to pretend and even the best fighter is worthless if combat is the only thing, he’s good at. What makes Finnick Odair dangerous is his brilliance and, most importantly, how easily people forget about it.
Haymitch knows that this is why he’s still here, how he made it through the arena and the prostitution until now, the knowing when to deploy which of his skills. How to fool an entire country into loving him at only fourteen while mercilessly murdering the other children, younger and older alike.
“What happened?”, he asks.
Finnick, still standing unmoved, whispers: “I killed him.”
And Haymitch’s heart sinks down to his boots, drops like a bird shot in flight. He sits up straight, wonders if a better person would get up and offer a hug, any display of affection to grant comfort. But he is Haymitch Abernathy and softness has never been his specialty, and furthermore, this is Finnick Odair who nowadays flinches at any physical contact, no matter how innocent the intention.
“Talk to me, Finnick.”
His hand moves across his face, an oddly defeated gesture for a young man of his statue.
Then, he says: “Sometimes, when they make me do the really messed up stuff, I zone out. Until now, I always managed to keep up the pretence somehow, but now, I barely endure a simple kiss without losing it.”
He turns his head away as he goes on:
“It doesn’t take much, really, just someone bumping into me in the hallway or Mags putting a hand on my shoulder, my arm touching others in the crowded elevator. And it’s getting worse. I kept asking myself why I was still going on, what I was doing any of this for? Surely, if I were gone, everyone would be happier. My father”, his voice doesn’t crack, but it shivers slightly and since it’s Finnick, that’s enough for Haymitch to know.
“My father didn’t want his family around me anyway, they were scared of me, he said, of what they saw me do in the arena. Can’t blame them, honestly. So, they wouldn’t miss me much and Mags, fuck, Mags has survived so many, she could survive me as well. I was so determined and then, one night, I was with this horrible woman and her scent alone mad me sick, when she touched me, fucked me, I wanted to scream, I was gone, left my body in that lavender stained hell with her. Apparently, I did scream. I found myself on top of her, my fingers on her throat, pressing and pressing, I was going to choke her and I happily would have let myself, but then I realised what I was doing and I scrambled backwards, away from her. She was passed out, I think, I don’t really remember. I was out of the door and running down the street, but of course, it wasn’t enough. In the back of my head, I probably knew immediately. Didn’t matter I was able to stop myself from killing her, despite wanting to so badly, the damage was done. He ordered me to his mansion the next day. Showed me tapes of what they’d done to my father. Made sure I knew I was fucked. Wasn’t necessary, really, I was fully aware of it.”
Haymitch, who remembers being presented the corpses of his mother and Sam, bloody and worn out, River’s dead body next to them, still clutching at the silver necklace he’d given her, knows exactly what Finnick went through in this moment, is still going through.
“He threatened me”, Finnick says, his voice an almost inaudible whisper in the twilight.
“He said, he needed me to perform. Said, if I killed myself, it would mean lost profit and inconveniences to him and he’d dispose of the others as well. Selia and Viona, my father’s wife and daughter, Mags, maybe even Johanna, I don’t know. He said, with me gone, they’d be of no further use to him.”
Now, his voice does crack.
“I can’t risk it, Haymitch. I’ve killed so many, so so many already, I can’t kill them too.”
“I know”, he hears himself say, “I know, Finnick.”
Somewhere at the edge of his consciousness, he realises, Finnick has started to cry.
“I don’t even like her, Selia, that is. She thinks I’m a psychopath, thinks I shouldn’t have been able to survive the Games, not at fourteen. She’s probably right. But Viona? She’s just a girl, not even old enough for her first reaping yet, I can’t kill any more children.”
“Of course you can’t. That’s because you’re a human being, not one of those twisted creatures they breed in Two. But all of us, even Mags, even Seeder, all of us did kill innocents to get here. We’re victors too, Finnick. And we’re probably all a little deranged, not gonna lie, but you have to stop shutting yourself off if you want to stay alive, keep your loved ones alive. You understand me?”
He sees him nod, sees the tears on his face despite the half-light.
“Alright then”, Haymitch says, “better start putting yourself back together, Four. It could take a while.”
This year, Haymitch has a boy who might actually have a shot.
At least he convinces himself he does, tries to reduce the liquor and think of a strategy, allows himself to get invested. It breaks him, as it does every time but after last year’s stunt with the flood, Haymitch thinks that maybe, he can hope for a small miracle.
Johanna laughs at him when he mentions it to her, declines the drink she offers.
“Look at you”, she mocks him, “you don’t actually think you can pull an Odair, do you?”
Haymitch tells her to fuck off and tries not to think about her words too much, remembers where Johanna Mason’s predictions got him last time he listened, a shadow filled room with a crying victor, talking of horrors Haymitch can’t afford to care about if he wants to keep what’s left of his sanity.
He tries not to think of anything, except for getting Ash through, not this year’s girl’s hollow cheeks, (she’s from the Seam and of the starved and weakly kind), not Johanna Mason’s cruel remarks, not Finnick Odair’s tears over whispered sorrows.
As long as he can focus on Ash, maybe there is an actual chance for him. He’s taller and more muscular than most kids from Twelve, seventeen years old and the butcher’s son, knows how to handle a knife and what part of an animal is safe for eating.
Still, he is nothing next to the giant from Two, who volunteered at sixteen but looks like he could be twenty-one, or the girl from One who’s been throwing spears since before she could walk.
His girl is gone after the first day and Ash dies on the fourth, pierced by One’s spear.
Haymitch finds Johanna at the bar and she wordlessly pours him a drink from her bottle, he then decides to never, never get involved again. After everything, he doesn’t believe he could survive it.
“Maybe we should be thankful”, Johanna murmurs glumly. “Can’t really wish this life on anyone, can you?”
To both of their surprises, they are joined by a moderately stable Finnick who takes a sip from Johanna’s glass and grimaces.
“Of all the things they sell, why would you deliberately drink this?”, he asks.
“You’re a pussy, Odair”, she replies, but without the usual spite in her voice.
Finnick hums and grins at Haymitch, shrugging.
“She’s not wrong, Four”, he says.
“You’re a pair of dickheads, you know that, right?
Sometimes, Haymitch has to force himself not to hate him. If anything, Finnick’s easy-going nature and natural beauty are his curse, but right now, Haymitch wants to despise him for it.
“How’s Cresta holding up”, he asks, not sure if he’s trying to provoke him or genuinely feels interested.
Finnick Odair’s first victor, Annie Cresta who won last year’s Games, is an objectively pretty, young woman who surpassed all of them on the insanity scale when her fellow tribute from Four got decapitated. For some reason that only seemed to make Finnick more determined to get her out, he threw himself into his work as a mentor and pulled in favours, secured the sponsors she couldn’t have gotten without him. Like this, he somehow got the earthquake initiated which flooded the arena and saved Annie Cresta’s life.
Something flickers across his face and he leans back in his seat, eyes Haymitch with a mild suspicion.
“She’s fine. Improving by the day.”
Which is a lie and they all know it. Annie Cresta couldn’t even go through with her Victory Tour or maybe Finnick bought more favours so she didn’t have to, if anyone could have done it, it’s him.
“Why aren’t you glued to a rich Capitol pervert?”, Johanna asks, shooting Finnick a sceptical look.
“I will be in a minute. But nice to see you care, Jo”, he grunts. Strangely, he doesn’t seem very distressed about it though. After he’s gone, Haymitch turns to Johanna and raises an eyebrow.
“What the fuck happened to him?”, he blurts out and she shrugs, there’s a hint of affection on her face.
“I think saving Annie was good for him”, she simply says and Haymitch decides to leave it at this. Frankly, Finnick’s cheerfulness, as annoying as it is, means he managed to piece himself together again, and that is, in fact, a good thing.
Later that night, Finnick finds them again. His hair is messy, and his lips are swollen but there’s a smile on his face and he even brushes Haymitch’s shoulder when he sits down, barely even acknowledges the touch.
“I think I’ve never been more anxious to get back home”, he says lightly and reaches for Johanna’s glass. The latter barely even tries to protest, she’s far too drunk for that, and instead snorts:
“Someone’s in love.”
Finnick tilts his head just a little, his smile stays radiant as ever, but he looks at her for a moment too long and this is how Haymitch knows the comment seriously offends him. Since the drinking has washed away most of her inhibitions and the little thoughtfulness she possesses, he is certain that Johanna doesn’t notice, she’s too caught up with glaring grimly, provocatively raising her chin at Finnick and squaring her shoulders.
“No, I don’t think I am”, he says pleasantly.
Johanna makes her disagreement vocal in a way that would have made Effie Trinket choke on her lipstick (which is sunflower-yellow this year and matches the colour of her contact lenses) and concludes:
“You’re so in love with that Annie girl, Odair.”
This time however, it’s obvious that Finnick is angered by her words, he slowly places the drink back on the counter, furrows his brows and then says, very quietly but with resolution:
Haymitch thinks that this is probably a good moment to interfere and say something self-deprecating to ease the tension.
“I don’t blame you for being homesick, Four. This year is a fucking nightmare.”
“Isn’t it always”, Finnick replies with a mild grin.
“Well, yeah, but I feel like this time it’s even worse.”
Finnick laughs and raises his glass.
“I’ll drink to that”, he says, Haymitch bumps his drink against the one that used to be Johanna’s and takes a big gulp of burning liquor.
“You two are unbelievable”, she hisses, but it’s more a formality than an actual insult.
“We’re the only ones who put up with you, Mason, so shut it”, Haymitch shoots back and Johanna sighs but smiles at him nastily.
“More like I’m the only one that puts up with you”, she grumbles, it’s clear it’s only directed at Haymitch. With a wide camera-ready grin, Finnick puts his one arm around his shoulders and reaches for Johanna’s hand with the other.
“Lucky for me that everyone just loves putting up with me. My company is like a nice glass of water, easily digestible and everybody seems to be thirsty for it”, he jokes.
It’s the sort of victor-humour that’s only funny as long as you don’t think about how horribly true it is. Johanna slaps his hand away but laughs in spite of herself and Haymitch wonders how the fuck he could have thought Finnick was irredeemable when he’s just the same kind of monster they all are.
“But seriously”, Johanna demands, tipsily leaning back in her chair, “what is it with you and Cresta?”
“For fuck’s sake, Jo”, Finnick snaps.
“What? I’m curious, okay? That thing with the flood was fucking risky and she isn’t exactly the average victor, is she?”
He abruptly pushes himself away from Haymitch and the bar and runs one hand across his face as if to wipe away the frustration.
“What exactly is that, an ‘average victor’, in your opinion, Johanna?”
“Listen, kid”, Haymitch chimes in, but Johanna cuts him off.
“Oh, you know, someone who’s not completely mental?”
Finnick just gives a bitter laugh in response. Now that the glamour’s worn off, Haymitch can see the edges beneath the makeup and behind his flawless act, notices the weariness in his pretty eyes.
“Don’t tell me you actually believe you’re completely sane”, he growls, “that you believe that either of us is anything but mad. You’re not that stupid.”
“No, I’m not, Fin. That’s how I know she’s different, you asshole. Because I’m not fucking stupid.”
“Well, I’m not in love with her, Johanna.”
“No, fuck. She’s difficult and unstable and insufferable sometimes, but she’s good. She keeps me grounded. Gives me a fucking purpose. A reason to keep up the performance, because I promised her, I’d protect her and that’s what I’m doing now, alright? I’m just not going to let her down. I’m not going to kill any more innocents.”
He says it with so much vehemence that it shocks both Johanna and Haymitch for a moment. Then, finally, she takes her drink back and shrugs.
“Course not. You’re Mr. fucking Perfect”, she snarls and downs the rest of her liquor.
Haymitch thinks of Ash and the girl from One, wonders what it would feel like to finally get a kid through - just to watch them fall apart in the cruel world of the Capitol. It doesn’t take much imagination to know that it would be excruciating. Considering this, he thinks he understands Mags a little better and the defeated sound of her voice when she allowed him to stay and wait, it’s the same kind of dedication that binds Finnick to Annie Cresta, the unfinished job of keeping her safe becoming the only thing he’s capable of focusing on.
That’s how the people in Four are, how Finnick Odair is, determined and absolutely ruthless when it comes to survival and getting things done. Annie is his victor and that is all that matters to him.
Despite his vow to shut himself off, Haymitch knows he would feel the same.
Haymitch meets her during the Tribute Parade. She’s smaller than he recalls (or maybe the extravagant ocean-inspired outfit makes her look tinier than she really is) and even though her prep team clearly made an effort to hide it, her face is gaunt and bony. Still, she’s pretty, just not as youthful looking as a woman who’s just about twenty should be.
Since she’s alone he decides to join her, something about the mildly confused look in her eyes makes him want to wrap an arm around her shoulders and carefully guide her back home.
“And you must be the notorious Annie Cresta”, he greets her, smiling as friendly as he can manage. He’s had a couple of drinks tonight already.
For a split second she looks startled, but then she simply smiles back at him and says softly: “Not as infamous as you are, Mr. Abernathy.”
“One does what one can”, he grimaces.
“Oh, I’m sure of it”, Annie replies, she doesn’t seem to be fully there, her eyes keep peering into nothingness.
Then, she adds: “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. We’ve got something in common, you and I.”
It’s safe to say that that isn’t exactly the reaction other victors typically give upon meeting him.
“Do we now?”
“Oh, yes. We’re both really, really damaged”, she says cheerfully. “And people have decided we’re just that. The mad girl and the drunk.”
Haymitch is honestly surprised to find unstable little Annie Cresta to be this cynical. She’s a victor, after all, he reminds himself and remembers what Finnick said about her. Difficult and insufferable. Maybe she’s got a point.
“Well”, he says, “I for one don’t really give a fuck about what people think.”
She chuckles and then sighs, running her fingers over the glittery fabric of her dress, gaze drifting off into the distance.
“Finnick says I should play along”, she mutters. “He’s always thinking of strategy.”
The way she says it, it sounds as if Finnick were a born killjoy.
“Not that I have much interest in any of this, really”, she gestures vaguely at their surroundings, the empty chariot hall, the other mentors and stylist chatting in small groups and occasionally throwing them dirty looks.
“It just gets terribly boring, being insane and all.”
Of course Finnick is always thinking of strategy, Haymitch realises. Selling Annie as the uncurable mad girl is probably the only way to protect her from being sold in the most original sense of the word, and that’s something Finnick Odair definitely isn’t going to risk.
“I’m surprised to see you here”, he says carefully.
“Oh, I know.”
She rolls her eyes at him, but her voice still sounds calm and melodic.
“You didn’t think I could stomach it.”
“More like I didn’t expect Odair would let you out of his sight, not to mention allow them to take you back here.”
“Well, he surely isn’t happy with it, I can tell you that. It’s just after what happened to Mags…”, her words trail off and she curls her hands into fists, clutching her dress tightly. Haymitch feels his heart sink.
“She had a stroke… I think.”
All of a sudden, her voice sounds fragile and she seems to strain herself trying to remember what happened, it causes an adorable little wrinkle between her brows.
“Is she alright?”, Haymitch asks.
“I don’t know, I think she is, yeah. I mean, not really great, just…”, she looks around as if seeking for help.
“Alive?”, he suggests and when she nods, Haymitch is surprised by the enormous feeling of relief that hits him. Mags and he aren’t exactly friends, still, he admires her in a way.
Before either of them can say anything else, Finnick Odair appears behind Annie, a bright grin on his face and his golden hair styled as perfectly as always. If Haymitch didn’t know him quite as well, he could have missed the way he stands a little too close to Annie and how his eyes linger on her for just a second too long.
“Haymitch”, Finnick greets him, but it sounds more like a Capitol cheer and that’s how Haymitch knows he’s pretending.
“How are things in Twelve, buddy? I see you two have already gotten acquainted…”
Haymitch’s insides twitch at the artificial sound of Finnick’s voice. It requires a little too much effort, but despite the level of alcohol in his system, he produces a somewhat decent facial expression, joins in on Finnick’s game and says:
“Oh yeah, Miss Cresta appears to be absolutely delightful. How are you doing, Finnick?”
Annie giggles inappropriately and gives Finnick a look that suggests she finds his demeanour exaggerated but remains quiet other than that.
“Splendid”, he replies, gracefully swallowing his annoyance.
Then, he turns to Annie and gently places one hand on her arm. Haymitch thinks if anyone was actually paying attention, his effort to appear unbothered would immediately be cancelled out by this simple touch, it conveys so much affection it’s almost unbearable to watch, especially since Annie seems to lean into it.
If Finnick’s trying to convince anyone he doesn’t care for her, he’s failing miserably.
But then again, this is the Capitol and here they only look at the grand gestures, the spotlight and the brightest of colours, and something as plain as Finnick’s hand on Annie’s arm wouldn’t even be registered by most.
“Are you alright?”, he asks quietly.
“Are you?”, she counters without hesitation.
With another sigh and an irritated glance over his shoulder, she nods and Finnick quickly pulls his hand away again, as if he hadn’t even realised, he was touching her. He breathes a bit too audibly and then turns back to Haymitch again, the sparkling Capitol approved smile on his face makes Haymitch feel unexpectedly uncomfortable.
“We have to join the stylists. See you later, Haymitch”, he says and Annie, who doesn’t seem too thrilled about the stylists, waves at him, her dress still in her hand, before they both make their way across the hall. Haymitch looks after them for a moment, watches Finnick lean in to say something and Annie giggle in a strangely carefree way.
“So, you’ve met her”, a voice behind him observes.
Johanna Mason, arms crossed, and jaw clenched, nods in the direction of the couple.
“Fucking hell, Jo”, he grumbles, and she looks pleased she caught him off guard.
“What do you think?”, she asks.
“Well, I wouldn’t have labelled her ‘insufferable’.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. He’s a goner.”
Haymitch ruffles his hair with his hand and spots Effie Trinket out of the corner of his eyes, she’s crimson red in every possible way and is marching straight towards him.
“Odair’s clever”, is all he replies and even Johanna Mason is discreet enough not to elaborate on this, after all, they could be monitored and although the two of them hardly have anything left to lose, their unintended affection for Finnick Odair is something they have in common - and neither is going to sabotage him.
Sometimes, Haymitch just doesn’t sleep at all. Mostly during the nights when he can almost feel the nightmares taking shape before he even closes his eyes, the ones in which he clutches the knife under his pillow at home and barricades the door in the Capitol.
Tonight is one of those nights. Haymitch can taste it like he tastes the welcome bitterness of his drink, and since he knows what awaits him in his sleep, he decides to stay awake.
Luckily, Effie Trinket has a strict sleeping schedule, as she probably has a schedule for every other thing in her life: she always excuses herself to go to bed around 08:30 pm and gets up again at exactly 07:00 am. Haymitch knows because he’s spent many sleep deprived nights in the living room of their suite, listening to her getting up in the morning and wishing himself away.
This is how he knows he can stay on the sofa and be undisturbed, his room holds unpleasant memories and Haymitch isn’t in the mood to deal with those. The tributes won’t dare to come out and wander around (which is precisely the reason they don’t stand a chance in the Games) and even the Avoxes leave around a certain hour.
So, it’s just Haymitch, a stolen bottle of something alcoholic he can’t even identify and the generic green velvet sofa they have in all of the tribute suites. Haymitch hates these kinds of nights, hates the way they crawl under his skin and manifest long forgotten pictures, of River, wearing her precious faded pink dress, the one she always saved for special occasions, like date nights and reapings.
His mother, in the coal-dust-covered kitchen of their dingy home in the Seam, always exhausted and with swollen fingers from sewing all night long, but never without a gentle smile or encouraging words. Little Sam, running after him when he tried to sneak away to meet with friends, dutifully waiting in front of the school every day until Haymitch would come to pick him up, the way his face always lit up, exposing the gap between his teeth. He tried to run after him at the reaping too, when the former escort called out Haymitch Abernathy and all he could think was thank God it’s not Sam.
The peacekeepers held him back and Haymitch climbed the stage without looking at his baby brother, knowing very well that if he did look, he’d surely burst into tears, and he was aware, already then, that that was something he couldn’t afford if he wanted to survive.
He didn’t cry saying goodbye either – and neither did Sam. He just looked at him firmly, a stern expression in his bright hazel eyes.
“You’re going to win, Hay. I need you to win”, he said.
“Of course I will”, Haymitch whispered and pulled him into a hug.
Their mother, with her kind heart and calloused fingers, put her arms around them and her tears prickled on Haymitch’s skin.
River cried as well, but Haymitch could see how she did her best to stay strong for him, and he loved her for it. She gave him back the silver necklace he’d given her as a gift for their two year anniversary, a piece of jewellery that his father had given to his mother when they eloped and which Haymitch had passed on to River with the promise of marrying her too, one day.
His father, always a faceless mystery in Hamyitch’s mind, hadn’t been from the Seam but that’s about all he knows about him. He’d been gone before Sam was even born, dead or simply run off to another woman’s arms, his mother wouldn’t tell them.
“He’s gone”, was all she would say about him. Of course, Haymitch’s promise to River came without the intention of leaving her, either way, which, looking back, the cynical part of his brain finds strangely ironic.
“You can take it with you”, River told him, placing the necklace in the palm of his hand.
“As a token.”
Then, she kissed him, and he almost made her another promise. This was how it came to be that he entered the arena with the silver necklace that had once belonged to his long gone father.
He didn’t make River a second promise but keeping the one he had made was enough reason for him to survive the Games. Haymitch was determined to get that necklace back to her and propose, he never would have dreamed that after doing so the Capitol would still find a way to tear them apart.
But as always with the Capitol, of course they did.
Haymitch, trying to keep afloat while his mind is flooding with memories, brings the bottle to his lips and takes a sip, as lovingly as he once kissed River, his River. Thinks of the untroubled enthusiasm Sam seemed to have for anything Haymitch-related.
After he’d come home, sometime during those precious two weeks of his life in which he actually tried to ignore the nagging suspicion and told himself they were finally going to be fine, Sam woke him from a nightmare.
He watched him trying to compose himself and sat on the end of his bed, waiting patiently until Haymitch could breathe steadily again. His eyes were dark and grounding, and he said, his voice as gentle as their mother’s but with the same rough sound to it that Haymitch sometimes recognised in his own:
“They have to pay for it, Hay. For what they did to you, what they’re doing to all of us.”
That must have been three days before his death.
Now, Haymitch doesn’t know how long he’s been lying awake, hugging his bottle and staring at the ceiling, making angry plans for the payback his dead baby brother had already schemed at fourteen years old.
So, when Finnick Odair (out of all people why always Finnick Odair?) stumbles into the room, it catches him by surprise.
“Fuck”, he announces, leaning against the wall with one hand and apparently trying to regain his balance. Haymitch slowly sits up and studies him, takes note of his incorrectly buttoned shirt and the hickeys on his neck.
When he doesn’t say anything, Finnick explains:
“Figured you might be awake. Couldn’t go back to Annie. Don’t want her to see me like this.”
Then, he adds: “Also, they gave me that stuff that keeps you awake for days so I couldn’t sleep anyway.”
He doesn’t say, couldn’t sleep without waking the tributes by screaming like a maniac, but he doesn’t really have to.
“Make yourself at home then”, Haymitch grunts.
When Finnick takes a seat on the second sofa, Haymitch leaves the number of cushions he arranges to sit on uncommented, just as Finnick doesn’t mention the empty bottle in his hand. Despite the considerable amount of padding, he still winces and shifts his weight uncomfortably. When he moves and his shirt rides up, Haymitch spots a dark purple bruise right above his hipbone.
“So, you prefer me over Johanna?”
Finnick shakes his head and then stops immediately, hands moving up to his temple.
“I didn’t really want her to see me like this either. More of a last resort”, he admits, sounding defeated.
“That bad, huh?”
“I’ve had worse.”
He cringes at his own words, and Haymitch thinks that no one should consider him their last resort, he’s definitely not the kind of person who’s qualified to take care of anyone, as 23 years of being an unsuccessful mentor have proven.
“So”, Haymitch begins weakly, “what is it with you and Cresta?”
A brief indication of emotion crosses Finnick’s face, but it’s gone too quickly to be properly examined and instead is replaced by an impenetrably neutral expression.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on, Four. I’m not that stupid. You are in love with her, aren’t you?”
For a moment, Finnick stays silent. He brushes the back of his hand over his mouth, smudging his lipstick, and then says, like a child that’s been caught eating forbidden sweets:
“I never lied to you. I didn’t use to be in love with her, it just… happened. I tried not to be, trust me, I really did, but she… She crept up on me, Haymitch.”
“Ah”, Haymitch says, “I see.”
“Yeah…”, Finnick murmurs, rubbing his eyes.
“The thing is, on the good days, we’re actually happy”, he sighs. “It’s just that these good days are kind of rare and I’m so sick of being damaged, Haymitch, I’m so sick of the fact that I know she suffered so badly she’s always going to be influenced by it, even if things get better, we’re both still scarred and fucked up and I am tired of going back to kneel and perform and jerk off the people responsible.”
Haymitch looks at him, eyes dark and dangerous in the dim light, looking worn out and slightly insane.
Maybe, he thinks, Sam got it right. Maybe it’s time for some payback.
Things are different this year. For so many reasons, really, but most importantly, of course, the revolution.
Whenever he starts to have any doubts, he forces himself to remember Katniss, looking trapped and helpless in her pompous wedding dresses, like a child dressed up to play a bride, and Peeta, hands burned from baking, with paint under his fingernails, grimly drilling them to train for the arena. How they both begged him for each other’s lives and how, after being lucky enough to have them both survive, the Capitol once again chimed in to make him do it all over again: Choose one of them, one of his victors, one of the children he put under his protection, and choose only one, leaving the other to die, knowing how whatever decision he’d make, the survivor would never forgive him his choice. As he wouldn’t forgive himself.
But this time it’s going to be different, he’s going to get them through it, break the wheel and keep them safe, both of his victors.
When Katniss says, she wants Mags as an ally, he sighs but secretly, he’s glad. If she’s not going to trust Finnick, and he understands that she can’t, wishes he could explain to her how Finnick isn’t the Capitol’s property, despite being treated as one, but if she’s not going to choose Finnick Odair, at least, by requesting Mags she unknowingly and indirectly decided on him anyway.
He tells him just that and Finnick, who has never looked more alive than he does now, says: “I tried to get to her. But she wasn’t fooled by the usual. She’s cleverer than those silly tulle dresses let on.”
Which of course is the whole purpose of the silly dresses and Haymitch is sure Finnick knows that. Apparently, Katniss Everdeen, as maybe the first human being in the history of Panem, including Haymitch himself, isn’t floored by the phenomenon that is Finnick Odair.
“Yeah no shit you’re not gonna get her by treating her as if she’s Capitol”, he grumbles, feeling strangely proud of her.
“Look”, Finnick says, glancing over to the door to make sure Annie is out of earshot.
“I have limited options, alright. Can’t afford to fuck the playboy image up, not so shortly before the grand finale. And she isn’t exactly a very trusting person.”
No, Haymitch thinks, she isn’t. He’s never been more frustrated with this one of Katniss’ more redeemable qualities. What originally made him respect her, now seems to have become an obstacle.
“Just get her Mags and she’ll have to let you tag along”, he says. “I’ll get you some sort of insurance.”
Which, as most things in life, is easier said than done. Johanna, who from the very beginning on clearly stated she’d rather focus on saving Peeta than “that stupid giggly bitch”, also doesn’t turn out to be a big fan of collecting other victors to buy her way into Katniss Everdeen’s alliance.
“She should be fucking thankful that I want to team up with her”, she hisses, but Haymitch knows she’ll do what’s necessary.
If it means going against Snow, most of the victors seem down to go out of their comfort zone to help.
Haymitch also notices a change in Finnick, he seems to deal a lot better with the situation than any of them and it takes Haymitch a while to realise that he already told him why that’s the case. Year’s ago, in the shower of Haymitch’s room, he confessed it to him, like a dirty little secret.
At least in the arena, I’d be allowed to fight back.
The only thing Finnick appears to be scared of is endangering Annie.
“If they took her”, he tells Haymitch, the old intimidating glow in his eyes that had faded or been hidden away for the past few years seems as bright as before, “I’d fall apart.”
Haymitch wonders when he became the co-founder of a rebellion and how he managed to adopt so many young victors in spite of vowing he wouldn’t get attached to anyone ever again. (He also wonders how Effie Trinket, golden as the Mockingjay pin, fits into this narrative and if he’s going to think of her, once the actual war is happening.)
Johanna Mason seems to be the only one who doesn’t fear any possible consequences, her commitment fuelled by her anger, she proclaims: “As long as I get to kill myself before those bastards get me, I’m fucking ready for anything!”
It sounds reasonable to Haymitch. Just a while ago, he would have thought about it similarly, but now, with all these unasked-for devotions to other people at risk, there are a lot of scenarios he doesn’t feel ready to deal with at all. After all, whatever happens, he will be responsible, and he doesn’t think he can have another death on his conscience. Not of one of the few people he cares for anyway.
The night before the Quarter Quell, he seeks out Finnick one last time, to give him the bracelet and to say goodbye. He looks luminous in a way, eyes like two piercing green diamonds and his teeth glowing white, precarious, almost like Enobaria’s fangs.
“If I die”, he says pleasantly, smiling like a predator, “take care of Annie, will you, Haymitch.”
If there’s one thing Haymitch doesn’t need, it’s another victor to care about. But of course he knows what Finnick really means. Make sure our people get her first.
“Sure thing, Four”, he replies, returning the smile. He really hopes Katniss doesn’t shoot him.
“She worries”, Finnick tells him.
“Of course she does.”
He shrugs and puts the bracelet on, holds it up to examine the way the golden flames sparkle in the light. It seems to satisfy him, and he says:
“She shouldn’t. She knows I’ll do what needs to be done to get back to her.”
Don’t worry. I’ll do what’s necessary to get Katniss out alive.
“How romantic”, Haymitch comments dryly. Finnick grins at him.
“Oh, haven’t you heard? I’m a very monogamous man.”
They both have to laugh at that, shortly and in a terribly cynical way, but enough to stop the worry for a few seconds.
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“Oh Haymitch. You’re the only one who gets it”, Finnick hums.
Haymitch thinks back to the first time they met, it feels like that was ages ago, the way Finnick already seemed like a grown man back then, at fourteen years old, exactly the age that Sam had died. Suddenly, he’s overcome with a rush of emotion and there’s a lump in his throat when he says:
“Don’t fuck it up, Four.”
Then, it’s time for him to leave.
He makes his way back to his room, ignores the light that’s still shining through the gap under Effie’s door despite the late hour, and lays down to wait for the sun to rise. He thinks of Katniss’ little smile when Peeta took her hand at dinner, how proud Peeta sounded when he told them he’d painted Rue.
He thinks that Effie’s tears weren’t fake tonight.
Thinks of Johanna Mason downing drinks and spitting insults in his face, Annie Cresta telling him that they’re alike and Finnick Odair, always Finnick Odair. In a pool of his own vomit on the elevator floor, crying in the dark, all bright eyes and ready to jump, bruises, smiles and smudged makeup.
Youngest victor ever.
He thinks of his mother and the necklace, River in her pink dress and Sam’s hazel eyes.
When the morning comes, it brings the revolution.
He does as the therapist told him and lists the things he knows he is in his head.
District Four, he thinks, fisherman.
Tribute. Victor. Mentor.
Killer. Plaything. Whore.
Protector. Lover. Rebel.
Madman. Husband. Soldier.
Finnick closes his eyes and decides, after everything he’s been through, he’s not going to start failing now.