The hoarding was instinctive. Somewhere was the unwritten rule of survival that if you got food, you kept some behind, even if you were reasonably sure of where your next meal was going to come from. Nothing was guaranteed.
What was more, all of them hoarded. Finn couldn't count the number of times he'd found breakfast bars or fruit cups or an apple hidden somewhere in their room. He'd watched Ronon do it unconsciously one day when they were all together at lunch. It was habit.
At first, Finn told himself that was all it was when he'd go to pancake breakfasts with the swim team and be unable to stop making good on the all-you-can eat offer until he was in the bathroom, bringing it all back up. He thought the need would abate, that he'd level out. The ones who had run the fights had kept him on the edge of starvation as far back as he could remember. It was natural for his body to try and compensate.
If Finn had allowed himself to consider why—if he thought his actions were so normal—he was careful never, ever to do it at the tower, where JARVIS would see, he might have asked for help earlier. But Tony and Pepper were always telling him how well he was doing by venturing out to school, joining the team, regaining his life.
For a while, he honestly thought Jo and Kat knew. They knew everything about each other. Finn knew that Jo wouldn't wear blue clothes, not even so much as a shoelace, because she associated blue and water, and it sometimes caused her to panic. He knew that Kat's biggest dream in life was to live in an honest-to-goodness treehouse. They knew each other's embarrassing quirks and quibbles.
It never occurred to him that they might not have realized. He kind of assumed they were doing the same thing, and just keeping it out of the tower. He was uncomfortably aware he probably should tell someone about his suspicion, but he reminded himself they were just recovering. Everything took time.
Not that Finn had really thought himself to be in control of the situation—Finn doubted he would even know what control of any depth felt like—but he knew when he had completely lost any power he'd had over the eating compulsion. Seven months after the raid, he was at Duo's birthday party, the first birthday he'd ever attended. They were all just getting into this rhythm that seemingly made up normality. There were burgers and brats, pizza and macaroni, cookies and cake.
Finn found himself moving around the party, making sure to be with new people every time he took another plate. By half-way through the evening, he was in the bathroom, sick from everything. In and of itself, that would have been enough to tell him he needed to stop.
When he'd rinsed his mouth out and sipped some water from the faucet, he went out to rejoin the party. And immediately went to go get himself more food.
He tried to stop the cycle himself. In his mind, it should have been easy. Food was available for the asking, so there was no need to eat it all in one sitting. All he had to do was keep reminding himself of that and he could stop. It wasn't as if he was on drugs.
Only, the first time he tried, while at a school mixer, no matter what he told himself, he couldn't help going back to the buffet for more. He tried ferreting things in his pocket, but even that didn't stop the need to keep eating. He threw up in the bushes behind the school, where people were less likely to notice than the bathroom, and promised himself that next time it would be different.
Afterward, Finn would think he'd let it go on so long because it hadn't been all the time. It wasn't an everyday thing by any means. At the very least, he went four or five days without a binge. At the most, he could manage two weeks or so. But in the end, he always did it again, no matter how much he told himself he wouldn’t.
The insides of his mouth began to hurt, feeling bruised and inflamed. He stopped drinking soda and juices because they burned. Milk and water helped, though, so he drank them constantly, hoping they would keep the hunger that wasn't really hunger at bay. They never did, though, and Finn knew some of his teammates were starting to wonder, that Peeta was certain something was up. Worst of all, Jo and Kat were watching him, aware he was a little off but unsure of why. He'd long since realized that not only were they not doing the same thing, they had no idea he'd been doing it. Perhaps that moment of awareness should have been when he knew he needed help, but Finn had never claimed to be smart.
He didn't want to hurt the girls, not any more than they already had been. None of them could stand to say Gale's name, despite it having been years. Jo still panicked taking a shower more days than not. Katniss rarely ever slept through the night. The tower, Tony and Pepper and Peeta, they were helping, and Finn couldn't stand to be what messed that up.
He went to Eliot because Eliot had somehow become their default leader some time between his transformation from Kane to Eliot. Finn called him at the Burkes and asked, "Think you could come over and go for a swim, or something?"
Eliot was there after school the next day, either having heard something in Finn's tone, or just knowing that when the others called him, it was usually because they'd exhausted all other options. Finn wanted to shrug and say it was nothing. Eliot was just as broken as any of them, and Finn had his suspicions about how often Eliot was called in by one of them to carry extra emotional burdens, or help fix problems that truly were not his own.
The problem was, he had to tell someone. That much was clear. He knew he wouldn't be able to make the words come around Tony or Pepper or even Peeta. And the girls, well, it wasn't that he didn't think they could handle this, could help him; he knew they could. It was that the one thing Finn still had to give to them was not adding to their troubles. He might not be proud of the fact that he was willing to use Eliot for what he would not dump on the girls, but his lack of pride didn't mean he wouldn't. Pride was a luxury he might one day be able to indulge. That day was not today.
They went up to the roof, because it was cold enough out that they wouldn't be bothered up there, and because JARVIS's attention toward the roof was solely to insure a lack of intruders. Finn curled up onto one of the lush patio chairs, Eliot sinking into the one across from him. They were silent for a moment, Finn trying to remember any of the million ways he'd thought about bringing the problem up.
Finally, he asked, "When—at first, when the Burkes let you stay with them, did you over-eat a lot?"
Eliot looked Finn over slowly before shaking his head. "Kind of the opposite. Most of us were, y'know, trying to get them to keep us, figured being cheap was the way to go."
Finn nodded, that made sense. "But once they started the adoptions?"
Slowly, Eliot said, "Peter hired a nutritionist one of his coworkers recommended. She monitored all of us for six months. I think she still checks in with Ryan and maybe Neal."
"Oh." That made sense. If Tony or Pepper had been in the medical community, he suspected they might have done the same thing. It made this harder, though.
"Finn," Eliot said, something careful in the single syllable.
Finn looked away, but made himself say, "Sometimes I can't stop eating. Not even—I feel sick and I still can't stop."
Softly, Eliot asked, "Sometimes like every few months?"
Finn swallowed. "About once a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less."
"Have you—" he stopped. "I'm the first person you've told."
Finn nodded tightly. "I didn't—just, I mean." He made a helpless gesture with his hands. "It's bad enough, you knowing I'm totally fucked in the head."
After a second, Eliot laughed at that, a sharp bark that was anything but amused. "Finn, I don't know how to tell you this, but we are all fucked in the head."
Two days later, Finn skipped swim practice and met up with Eliot after school. The two of them went to Dr. Foster's clinic in Brooklyn. Eliot had called ahead so the doctor, who was half the size of Finn, was expecting them. She had Finn fill out some forms and then came into the room and asked, "You want Eliot to stay, or for it to be just the two of us?"
It wasn't that she seemed threatening—hell, she wasn't even wearing a labcoat, and her sweater was roughly three sizes too large—but Finn didn't like being in rooms alone with people he didn't know. Sometimes he wasn't sure whether it was them or himself he didn't trust, but either way, he was uninterested in finding out. "I'd like him here."
"Okay," she said easily enough, "but I need you to be honest about what's going on, tell me everything as far back as you can remember."
Finn opened his mouth to start where he'd planned, and then shut it. After a few minutes he said, "I was the oldest of six. Maybe more, but there were six of us when I was eleven. We were all raised to fight."
Eliot kept his gaze on Finn, quiet, but Finn could still feel his surprise. "My parents, or whoever it was that trained us—we called them Rose and Preston, I don't know if that was their actual names—they fed us like the cages did. Enough to keep muscle on us, not enough that we were ever full."
Eliot did speak up then. "Rose and—"
Finn smiled bitterly. "The people who raised me, they owned some of the fights. Maybe they had us to supply them, or maybe we were black market kids, I don't know. But eleven was when we were put in the actual fights."
"You've never, to your knowledge, then, had a regular diet?"
Finn shook his head. Dr. Foster said, "All right. What's been happening since you've started having the consistent ability to access food?"
Finn explained the need to seek out food, to eat until it hurt, past when it hurt. He said, "It's like…like hoarding, but with my body."
"Are you hoarding on the side, as well?" she asked.
After a moment, he nodded. "Working on that, too."
Her expression, which was already compassionate, softened. "Don’t, for the moment, all right? The binge eating is a much bigger problem, and both behaviors make complete and total psychological sense in your position. Let's work on that one, and then if it still bothers you, we can start on the hoarding. Sound like a plan?"
Finn dug a toe into the ground. "Do you have to tell my guardians?"
The doctor sighed softly. "Yeah, but not just because of legal concerns. You need a support system, Finn. This…this is going to suck, frankly, and as many people as can reasonably be there for you? You need them there. If you want, I'll have a meeting with you and your family, but yes, they need to know."
Finn looked out the one window in the exam room. He thought of the beach Tony had taken them to over January, just so they would be some place warm. He thought of the pull of the undertow, and the crash of the waves pushing him back to safety. After a moment, he said, "Maybe. But just, let's talk about how this works, first."
The doctor nodded. "Are you seeing a therapist?"
"Social worker," Finn said. The state had required it. Pepper had brought up something more, but hadn't wanted to push and none of them had been willing to agree just then.
Dr. Foster said, "If you like that person, we can start there. If not, we're going to need to find someone you work well with. This is about how your eating habits have been controlled and both your fear of having to return to that as well as your need to establish your own control. I can help with the steps toward feeling like you have a handle on the actual nutrition of it, but you need someone who is a professional to help you with the heavy psychological aspects of this."
Finn rubbed his hands over his arms and nodded, kept his thoughts to himself. She must have noticed, because she said, "Hey, listen: you're not crazy. If anything, this response makes complete sense in light of your experiences. We just have to convince your brain that, sensible or no, it's not good for you."
Finn noticed Eliot moving, but was still somehow surprised when Eliot was suddenly squeezing his hand. Finn held on tightly and made himself nod.
Dr. Foster sent Finn home with some pamphlets that he could use to talk to Tony and Pepper. Finn checked his messages and there were two from Jo, who had clearly figured out he wasn't at swim practice and was trying to figure out where the hell he actually was.
He texted her, "heading home, explain when I'm back."
Eliot, on his part, called Neal and relayed that he was going to stay at the tower that night. It was a Thursday, but the kids were all generally allowed to stay at each other's on school nights, just not elsewhere. By the time the two of them got back to the tower, Jo and Kat were waiting to ambush them. Kat said, "We haven't told," but Jo's eyes were promising retribution.
Finn just asked, "Are Tony and Pepper home?"
Jo blinked at that. Kat looked past him at Eliot and said, "Um, yeah."
They assembled in Tony and Pepper's living area. Finn had requested Peeta and Haymitch be there as well, since Dr. Foster had suggested it when he'd explained the structure of food preparation in the tower. Finn had come up with a million ways to start, everything from simply blurting it out to asking if Tony had hoarded after Afghanistan. They didn't really talk about Tony's stuff, but it had seemed like a way to make it relatable.
Instead he put the pamphlets out on the coffee table and said, "Could you, uh, just read through those first?"
Then he'd reached out for one of the pretzel knots Haymitch had brought up, and appreciated it when Eliot grabbed his hand again, after the first, and held it still.
After a few minutes of scanning the materials, Pepper crossed the room to where Finn was sitting between Eliot and Kat. She worked her way in between Kat and Finn, and said, "I'm going to hug you now."
Finn was glad she didn't make it a question. It was easier not to have to admit just how much he craved her affection. Somehow, despite the fact that at fifteen he was bigger than her, she managed to completely surround him. She rocked him a bit before pulling back and saying, "I'm glad you told us. We are. We're glad." And then, tucking her forehead against his, she murmured, "I'm never going to get over how brave all of you are."
Finn didn't feel brave. But, for the first time in a while, with her holding on, and Eliot at his back, the others having a quiet discussion about steps to take to help him out, he didn't feel so weak, either. She put a hand to the back of his neck and said, "My assistant's daughter had anorexia in high school, and the person she went to really helped. You want me to get the name? Or we can talk to your social worker. She probably knows people."
It wasn't that Finn didn't like his social worker. He got the feeling she really cared and was trying her best, but they hadn't been able to connect much. "Maybe your assistant's person."
"If that doesn't work, we'll find someone else, hot stuff."
Finn laughed a little. His body, which had always been a weapon, was beginning to feel more like his own, but every time he couldn't control his own food intake, that went away. It was strangely nice to be identified by his physical self, as though it were something he could bring back into his own power.
Jo leaned around Kat to where she could make eye contact with Finn. She asked, "Wanna go for a swim?"
Finn reached out with his free hand and threaded his fingers through hers. She held on and said, "I'll even sit in the same room."
Tony said, with his personal thin edge of humor and understanding, "I'll risk it, too."
Finn wasn't sure he wanted to move, but being in the water always calmed him, would make it easier to talk about going forward, to answer their questions, to allow Kat to kick him for not telling earlier, and Eliot to pull her off and get her to admit that none of them were exactly the picture of mental health. He took a breath. "Yeah. Yeah, let's go for a swim."