Cinna’s apartment is the messiest I’ve ever seen it. He’s not a messy person--the opposite, really--and I’m sure the workroom would be pristine if I took a look back there. But his living room is in (as my aunt Ruth would say) a state. The coffee table has three mostly-empty orange juice glasses and several cans of protein shake on it and a flurry of scraps of fabric spilling off over the edge, the carpet is littered with edges of thread and corners of bias tape, and I just sat on a pincushion. It hurt.
“Did a typhoon hit while I was out?” I ask.
“Maybe,” Cinna says, He doesn’t look up from the jacket he’s altering. “I missed it. I missed a lot of things. But I finished your scarf. Annie’s, I mean. It’s over there on the wall, the one with the beads and the tassels. What time is it?”
“Morning or evening?”
“Evening. Cinna, when was the last time you left the apartment?”
“Interview? Yesterday. I think.” He turns the jacket over and stoops to squint at a hem. “What day is it?”
I pluck the jacket out of his hand. “Cinna. Take a break.”
“I don’t even know if he’s going to wear the damn jacket,” he says, swiping for it like a cat with no claws. “Careful with that, it’s got a dangling needle.”
“I’ve been stuck by worse.”
“--You sat on the pincushion.” He breathes. Twice. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. He has enough to worry about, from the looks of it. “You’re making alterations?”
He sighs, and now that he doesn’t have the jacket in hand he reaches down to the basket beside his seat to pull out a pair of pants in the same dark fabric. “Have to. They’re holding the closing ceremonies earlier than I expected. Peeta’s already awake. So Portia fit his suit.”
I drape the jacket over a nearby chair. Cinna’s about to spring up and snatch it back, but I block him. “How is he?”
“Taking pretty well to the prosthetic, glad to be alive--gladder that Katniss is alive, by all reports.” I have no idea where Cinna got another needle and thread from. Maybe they were already in the hem. Annie pre-threads her needles too. “She’s still unconscious.”
I nod, and fold the jacket over in my hands. It’s lined with a gently flickering yellow fabric, like a distant lighthouse, but the suit itself is a sturdy shining black. I can tell just by the thickness of the fabric that it’s meant to conceal the shape of the body instead of revealing it. “You’re putting them in black?”
“No, gold,” he says. “Katniss’s dress is in the workroom. It’s probably too large. They wanted to augment her bosom and Haymitch put his foot down, so now I have to shrink it or pad it. It would suit her better, anyway. Not having big breasts, I mean. I’m rambling.”
“Yes.” I draw him up from the chair, which is easier than it should be. Has he been eating enough? Probably not. “Come on, take a break, at least for half an hour. You’re going to sew through your fingers at this rate.”
He laughs, but he doesn’t stop sewing, and sits back down. “I did that once. On the overlock machine, back in design school. I never went to class hung over again.”
“Good plan. Cinna?”
“Put it down.”
“Your powers of persuasion, while admirable, have ceased to work on me,” he says, deadpan.
I grab the pants and dangle them out of his reach. He strains up out of the chair and actually makes an effort to swipe them back, which means shoving me back and trying to step up on the coffee table, but he slips off the corner. I catch him and pin him to the chair with a kiss, which at least stops him babbling about hems. And it takes a couple more seconds and a few deeper swipes of my tongue for him to start kissing back, but he does, like a drowning man coming up for air. I slide my fingers through his hair and he leans into my hands, draws me down closer, and for a while we set everything else aside. Except the pincushion. I have to kick that aside when I accidentally wind up on top of it again.
After, Cinna plucks a loose yellow thread from my hair. “I need to clean up in here.”
“You need to relax,” I say. “Or you need someone to clean up for you.”
“I can’t relax,” he says. “Well, any more than I just did. Thanks. Um. But I can’t. They’ve already pushed up the closing ceremonies since Peeta didn’t reject the prosthetic, the Head Gamemaker’s been fired, Haymitch is just as demanding as he was before but now he isn’t sober, and I have to sit interviews. I hate interviews. The work should speak for itself, and I haven’t even designed all the work, I have to build lines around them--them, there are two of them, two victors, and they’re both mine, and Portia’s going to be a great help, I know, but I’m the one that does the designing, I always have been--”
“Cinna. Slow down.”
“Okay. Sorry.” He sinks back into the couch, and finds another loose thread, this time plastered to the sweat on his thigh. He runs it under his thumbnail, like flossing teeth. “They’re asking a lot of questions in the interviews about what it means--about what what Katniss did means,” he clarifies. “And I can only say you can ask her when she’s awake so many times. I’m not supposed to be on camera, Finnick. Not with how much I know. I can’t hide it like you all do.”
“Let’s hope she can,” I say. I’m no expert on Katniss Everdeen, but I didn’t see undying love when she held those berries to the sun, to the cameras, to all of Panem. This is what I think of your Games, she said.
But a fistful of berries can mean so many things. So many possibilities...
“Are you kidding?” Cinna laughs, bitter and low. “She’s got less guile than the people who buy your coffeemaker.”
“It’s a good thing she’s got Haymitch.” I pause. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
“I took back most of the awful things I said about Haymitch a few nights ago,” Cinna says. “But I’ll still stand by that he needs to shower about twice as often as he does and should let me make him some new clothes. And drink less. But he’s less pleasant when he doesn’t drink.”
“No arguments there.” I stretch, toss the jacket back onto Cinna’s lap. “How much trouble are you all in?”
Cinna lowers his voice. “A lot. The President himself came in to talk to us and the prep teams about how precarious our positions are. He threw around a few if something should happens. At least no one laughed.”
I don’t bother to hide my wince. “Neither of them know what they just did, do they?”
“You mean Katniss and Peeta? No. Or if Peeta does, he hasn’t shown it.”
I nod, sink back into the couch. At least I’m not stabbed with anything this time. “This is insane,” I say. “I know I’m one to talk, considering what you’ve been up to, but--”
“It is,” he says. “But you know what? It’s right. It’s the right time, they’re the right kids.” He sighs, looks at his hands. “I did it. I set her on fire.”
“Congratulations, Cinna Ward. You started a revolution.”
“Not yet,” he says. “But I provided the spark.”
I came in through a different bar this time, and I’m not the last one here either. Johanna’s still out, and Beetee says Wiress won’t be coming. And Haymitch wanders in with Chaff, bottle in hand like it never left.
“We’re still doing this?” he says, showing more teeth than I thought he had.
“Looks like,” Chaff says, “since this pack of losers all showed up. Me included.”
“Well, looks like we’ve got ourselves a conspiracy.” Haymitch shuffles over to a chair by the shelves in the corner, and I swear he does a little dance on the way. “So how many of you have gotten a state visit this week?”
“Snow visited Baste and me,” Cecelia says. “Briefly, but he made himself clear.”
“Not us,” Beetee says. “But he went to Two, oddly enough.”
“Not us either,” I say, “unless there’s something you haven’t told me, Mags?”
She shakes her head.
“I was half-expecting him to, honestly. But I guess he’s busy these days.”
“Well, he came to us,” Seeder says. So she’s not on lookout this time--that must be where Johanna is. “And he didn’t mince words either.”
“And I’d pay to watch the replays of the rigmarole he gave my team,” Haymitch says. “Hell, I’d sell tickets. I swear he turned colors he can’t plant in his garden.”
“What did he say?” I ask.
“After the laundry list of responsibilities we’ve all got now? Well, he made it plain that everything we do is gonna be his to see, so we’d better all be the Junior Peacekeepers helping old ladies into their fancy cars, or else.” He snickers. “You know how that speech goes. And then he pulled me aside and showed me just what he did to Seneca Crane.”
“Do you have any word about what’s going on in the Districts?” Cecelia asks.
Haymitch shakes his head. “Not yet. You got anything?”
“Only rumors. Baste got into contact with Woof. He said the victory celebrations at home turned almost riotous, and that a few more of us are starting to get in on the planning. But nothing’s been set up, as far as I know. I think we’re trying to figure out where to go next.”
“That makes all of us,” Seeder says. “My husband back in Eleven, he told me about the new curfews, new Peacekeepers shipping in. Can’t stop us talking, but they’re making it harder to meet.”
“Mags?” I ask. “Anything from back home? All my contacts run in the other direction.”
Mags smiles, and tells me, and I translate for the others. “Your cousin Manuel wants to talk to you.”
“So it looks like sparks are starting to fly,” I say, and hope Cinna doesn’t mind me stealing his turn of phrase. “But if you don’t mind me asking, where the hell do we go from here?” I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in a revolution before. I can’t say I ever thought of being involved in a revolution before a few months ago.
“Hey,” Johanna yells from the door. “They’re busting up a fight upstairs in Messalina’s. Time to split.”
“Goes where it goes,” Haymitch says, and shoves out of his chair. “Like I said before. Do what you can back home, and I’ll do anything I can to keep those kids alive. The Games haven’t changed--”
“--just the Arena,” I finish for him, and help Mags to her feet before we part ways in the corridor. I kiss her cheek, and ask, “Ready for this?”
“Always,” she says, and walks off with Cecelia.
I don’t know if I am. But I don’t know if I was ready for half the things I’ve been through, or ever could have been ready, and I’m still here. That’s something, at least.
“What’s the fight about?” I shout at Johanna once I’ve muscled my way into Messalina’s.
“What else?” she sneers. “Instant replay. Sometimes I wish she’d shoved the berries down her throat just so I didn’t have to watch her spit them out fifty times a day.”
I duck a clumsily thrown bottle and lean in. “Preview, do you think?” I ask, loud enough for her to hear but soft enough that no one else should.
“Let’s hope. You wanna go somewhere else?”
“Where’d you have in mind?”
“Somewhere we can dance without dodging bottles.”
I laugh, step back a few inches so the man staggering dangerously close to my feet doesn’t fall on them. “I thought that was your favorite part.”
“It is when I’m throwing them,” she says. “Come on. How much more free time do you even have?”
“About two hours,” I say, and sigh. “Forget it. I’m just supposed to show up at a party, and they’ll all be too busy talking about the Games to notice whether I’m there or not.”
“Good.” She leans up close to me, stands on her tiptoes. “Looks like someone’s finally getting a taste of rebellion.”
Peeta isn’t wearing the jacket. I can picture Cinna backstage, prying it off Peeta’s shoulders and giving up and saying something about how little he cares that he worked on it for hours. I’d laugh, but then I’d have to explain the joke. On the other side of the stage, Katniss looks younger and smaller than she has since I first saw her, in a flickering gold dress that hides all the fire Cinna wove into the fabric, like a lantern just about to topple over. Everyone cheers as she throws herself into Peeta’s arms and kisses him like she hasn’t noticed he’s holding himself up on a thin silver cane.
Come to think of it, she might not have noticed.
But either Haymitch told her what’s going on, or she really does need Peeta the way she’s showing us all. Up there, on that stage, she’s a teenager in love, who proved to the world that her love was worth more than her death. She played the Games, and she changed the rules, and between Cinna’s styling and Haymitch’s coaching she’s convinced enough of the audience that it’s no more than love. She sits close to Peeta, and leans on his shoulder, and watches her own Games with the eyes of a stranger.
I remember my own Games, and how horrified I was, that that creature was me. I remember someone once said that that fear made the Capitol love me even more.
Katniss isn’t afraid.
I wonder if she should be.
“You’re going to ignore everything I’ve told you to do about your hair, aren’t you.”
“Just getting that out of the way,” Drusus says, and smiles at me the way that shows his developing crow’s-feet. “Do whatever you want, I won’t be there to stop you.”
“I solemnly swear not to shave my head, Dru.”
“If you want to, I won’t stop you,” he says. “I will, however, subject you to accelerated growth treatments when you return.”
“When’s that going to be, anyway?” I ask. “I haven’t heard anything about my schedule for next year.”
“Neither have I. It’s probably under review.”
I manage not to roll my eyes, but only barely. “Well, I guess someone will tell me.”
“I’ll be in touch,” he says. “But if the way you’ve been loopholing your schedule says anything, it’s that you need some time without it. I’ll give you a couple of weeks before I even think of calling, all right?”
“You’re a miracle worker, Dru,” I tell him, and kiss him on the cheek.
“Then you gave me the best materials a master could work from.” He hugs me back, and gives me a gentle push toward the platform. “Go home.”
I slump into my seat once the train doors hiss shut behind me. Less than a day until I’m home, and until then I don’t need to smile at any more cameras or wave at any more reporters or flatter anyone else who makes my skin crawl.
Mags is already sitting cozily in an armchair, eyes closed, a relieved smile on her face. “Not asleep yet?” I ask.
“Not yet. I’ll have plenty of time to do that on the way.”
I concede the point. “It’s going to be an interesting homecoming.”
She glances out the window as the train groans to a start. “It is. But for once there will be something for you to do once you are there.”
“You’re telling me,” I say, and prop my feet up on the table next to her, mostly because I can. “What about you?”
“I will do what I can,” she says. “And I plan on sleeping in the sunshine.”
“You know,” I say, “I think Annie and I just might join you.”
She smiles, drifts off, and neither of us says much for the rest of the trip but we don’t have to. I watch the mountains give way to lower ones, then to rolling green hills, then at last to the sand and cliffs of home.
The windows are open, so I can smell the ocean drifting in with the wind. That never fails to make me smile, not even when I came home from my own Games, or from Annie’s. I nudge Mags awake, and help her out of her chair and down the platform.
“We’re home,” I say --
My family is here. I expect the smiles, and the sun, and the rush of cousins up the stairs, grabbing my knees and hands and pulling me and Mags down. And I do hear a couple of them shouting, “Finnick! Finnick’s home!”, but that’s just Timothy and Patrick, and mostly I just hear the sort of forced “Hi”s and “Hey”s that I used to throw off when I shut myself in my room.
I count everyone’s faces, and only come up with twenty-two.
And then I realize that Aunt Ruth is wearing black.
I expected the skies to be overcast today. They aren’t. They’re as bright a blue as I’ve ever seen, and the water sparkles in the clear sunlight. There’s enough of a breeze to stir the sails but not enough to guide them home, so I turn on the motor to take Annie and me back to shore.
She curls up at my feet, in the shadow of the bench, while I work the till. She’s stayed wrapped in the sheets all morning, dragged them up onto the deck with her and everything. I know I should tell her we have to get dressed for the funeral but frankly I don’t want to, either.
“How did it happen?” I finally ask. My throat is cracking--from the salt or from something else, I don’t know. I just know the burning hasn’t stopped yet.
“Fire,” she whispers. “The boat caught fire.”
Of all the things you’d expect to face out at sea. I nod, can’t bring myself to say anything else just yet. The Branwen cuts through the waves easily enough, and the gulls flock towards us when we get nearer to the shore, circle the mast and caw. I’m going to have to wear a suit. With a shirt underneath. The thought almost makes me smile, but I remember Uncle Jonas ribbing me about my fashion choices in the Capitol and I can’t.
“Was it just Uncle Jonas on the boat?” I ask.
“No,” she says, muffled in the sheet. “Niall was with him too. But he got away. I was watching. They screamed...” she trails off. “They screamed at each other, but I couldn’t hear the words.”
“So it wasn’t that far offshore.” I want to swallow again, but my throat won’t let me. Aunt Ruth hasn’t said more than two words to me since I stepped off the train; before I took the boat out with Annie, I saw her sitting at the kitchen table, Aunt Coral’s hand on her shoulder, staring through the screen on the door.
Annie leans against my shins. “No. Not far. Close enough for the tide to bring pieces in.”
I’m dreading the next question, but I have to ask. “When?”
She doesn’t answer at first, just tightens up. We’re nearing the docks, I’ll have to get up soon, but I don’t want to pull away any, don’t want to leave her or the ocean or anything.
“Three days ago,” she finally says, barely louder than the hum of the motor cutting out. “The night before the Closing ceremonies.”
The night of the meeting. Snow hasn’t visited, I said then. Well, he’s left his message loud and clear now, hasn’t he? I asked Mags if she knew something I didn’t, I remember--did she know about this? No. No, Uncle Jonas was as good as her nephew, she’d never hide this from me.
This is my fault. My hand slips from the till, hangs limp at my side. He as good as warned me, didn’t he? And I ignored him like an idiot, like the worst kind of idiot imaginable, because I thought I had something on him.
Fire. He’s turned our weapon against us. I know he meant that as a message.
I draw Branwen to the docks, nudge Annie so I can climb out and hitch the boat. She climbs out after me, still wrapped in the sheet, and presses herself against my back. I lean in, I’ve missed her so much, and right now I don’t care who’s looking or what they see.
“I’ll walk you home,” I say.
“You’re home,” she says, but takes my hand anyway, rubs our thumbs together in slow circles.
I don’t let her hand go, not after we’ve walked through the door and Dad is holding me tight and Uncle Brian is trying to lead us upstairs so we can get dressed. “Not yet,” I say, and Annie’s thumb nestles against mine. Aunt Shannon is embracing Aunt Ruth more tenderly than I’ve seen her hug anyone. I wonder if Aunt Shannon’s remembering Uncle Douglas, and how he dashed his boat against the jetties years ago. “You never know what will happen at sea,” she whispers, her lips bloodless, her eyes shining.
Aunt Ruth shakes her head, and it drifts on the way to hang like her neck can’t hold it up anymore. “It wasn’t the sea that took him.”
“Ruth,” Aunt Coral whispers, coming over to join them.
“I’ll say it even if no one else will.” She shoves Aunt Shannon off and sits at the table again, pours herself a glass of water. It spills over the edge and she doesn’t seem to notice at all. “It wasn’t.”
I nod to Annie and cross to the table, rest my hand next to her, lean down to whisper, “Not here.” I look at the corners of the room, and hope she’ll follow my gaze. “It’s not safe.”
“Then what is?” Aunt Ruth snaps at me, glares over the dark circles under her eyes. “What’s safe, Finnick? Would you know?”
Annie squeezes my hand. Her hair tickles my shoulder, her breath warms my skin. How did I get by so long without her? “I’m sorry,” I say. I can’t look at Aunt Ruth, and the floor’s blurring dangerously. “Let’s get dressed, Annie.”
She nods, and I can’t tell which of us is leading the other upstairs. She keeps some of her clothes in my room--Mother says that Annie sleeps here a lot, when I’m away, and she hasn’t been home since Uncle Jonas died--and we put on our clothes in silence. I have trouble buttoning the shirt, and my fingertips leave streaks of sweat around the buttons when I slip. Annie helps, but keeps making the buttoning motions with her fingers even after she’s done. I cover her hands, bring her fingertips to my lips. “I never wanted this,” I say, and my voice won’t hold steady at all. “I tried so hard--”
Someone knocks. “Finnick, you decent?”
It’s Roarke. “Yeah, and so’s Annie. Come in.”
He pushes the door open, steps inside. “My tie’s too short,” he says, “do you have a spare?”
His suit strains at the shoulders, and the sleeves stop a half-inch short of his wrists. He’s almost as tall as I am now, I realize, and he hasn’t put on as much muscle as I have but he’s getting there. For a moment I can’t do anything but stare. You’re a kid, I want to tell him, but he’s already too old to be reaped next year. I wonder if my parents feel that way when they look at me, like I can’t have possibly grown so big so soon, like every time they think they’ve gotten to know me I’ve changed again.
“Check my closet,” I say.
He nods, pats Annie on the shoulder as he makes his way over. “She’s right, you know,” he says. “I mean, Aunt Ruth.”
“You think so?” I try to keep my voice neutral, though I haven’t been very good at it lately.
“I’m not the only one who does,” he says. He pulls a red tie off the rack on my door, holds it up to ask for my approval, and I nod. “But it’s just thinking. We can’t know.”
“Yes you can,” Annie says. She looks at Roarke, but past him, like she could see into the mirror through his body.
I rest my hand on her shoulder, as much to steady myself as anything else. “Don’t talk about it,” I say, and tap my ear, they’re listening. “You can’t put too much stock in rumors.”
“If we did, everything would happen because of ghosts,” Annie murmurs, “or things that come out of the ocean. Or us. Ghosts.”
Roarke smiles, and finishes knotting his tie. “I know. I shouldn’t bring it up.”
“I like your pin,” Annie says.
“Thanks,” he says, and then I finally get a look at it, just a small gold tie-clip I never thought he had.
He’s wearing a mockingjay.
I missed sleeping with Annie curled up against my chest, more than I’ll ever let myself admit. Even after all the horrors of today, the funeral, dinner after, listening to Dad and Niall and Brian and Ruth getting drunk, listening to Connor crying and Lucy sniffling and Katie slamming her door--at least I can still lie next to Annie and know that, even if my dreams try to tear me apart, she’ll be here when I wake. I bury my face in her hair, kiss the top of her head lightly enough that I won’t wake her up. She sighs, shifts against me, but doesn’t wake. “Love you,” I whisper, and even though she doesn’t say anything back the way her arms circle me and her leg twines with mine say I love you clear as anything.
The sun hasn’t risen yet, but outside, it’s grey, lightening every minute. I can’t sleep, now that I’m awake, but I don’t want to move from here, from her, from this.
So of course the phone rings. The sound cuts through my ears like an arrow through my skin, and I remember it the same way.
I wrap a sheet around my waist and run to the downstairs phone, because I don’t want to wake Annie up this early. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing by the time I reach it. I didn’t expect it would.
“Good morning, Finnick.”
The ocean roars in my ears, loud enough that I nearly stagger back. “It’s early,” I say, because everything else I can think of might get someone else in my family killed.
“Yes, but you weren’t asleep. And besides, Finnick, I wanted to speak to you alone. Your family must be exhausted--grief is always exhausting. My condolences.”
How would he know? I doubt he’s grieved a day in his life. Not over his enemies, not over Argentia, not over his own daughter. “I’ll let them know.”
“Thank you. Now, with that out of the way, you must imagine I have some concerns.”
“I do,” I say, dig my nails into my palm to remind myself not to say anything stupid, no matter how much I want to.
I can hear him smiling, can practically smell the blood at the corners of his mouth, now that I know what’s hiding it. “In light of your behavior these past Games, I will not be calling you back to the Capitol until the Quarter Quell.”
I almost drop the phone. “Thank you,” I manage. It’s as close as I’ll get to genuine with him.
“I’m glad you appreciate the gesture, Finnick. But I’m afraid, once you come back to the Capitol, it will be a permanent relocation. You have one year to remain in District Four--and it will be up to you whether your family is still there to see you leave.”
I don’t say anything. I can’t. The ocean isn’t just in my ears anymore, it’s around me, swallowing me, deep and black and stabbing me through with ice.
“Don’t presume that I am unaware of the sentiments that these past Games have aroused in your District,” Snow goes on. “I do have eyes and ears, you know. When I said I expected a certain standard of behavior from you in the Capitol, I meant it, and you betrayed my trust. You’ve paid the price, and you know that I won’t hesitate to remind you of that price, just as I remind you of those standards. It’s really very simple, Finnick. You behave as a victor should, and you will be rewarded as a victor should be rewarded.”
“Victors never live in the Capitol permanently,” I say. It’s all I can think of. It’s the only defense I have. I can’t think of the rest. I can’t.
He laughs. “Victors seem to be doing things differently of late.”
I lean against the wall. I have to. I can’t breathe. The ocean’s crept into my lungs now, and every breath I take is so cold.
“One year,” Snow repeats. “One year, to make it clear to me that you know whose country you live in. And I don’t have to tell you what will happen if you decide you stand against me.”
“No,” I say, numb, and struggle to clarify: “You don’t.”
“Good. I’m glad we understand each other.”
I can’t. I have to. I can’t.
I rip the phone from the wall and dash it to the ground. Sparks fly. There’s your thank-you, Mister President. There, a bunch of tattered wires in my kitchen wall, and broken plastic on the floor.
Smoke curls out of the socket, sour and awful, and drifts toward the screen door. I follow it--
--and Annie’s reflection stares back, hazy in the glass.
I turn, leave the kitchen, find her at the bottom of the stairs. She’s holding the banister, her knuckles as white as wavecaps.
“It’s not over,” she says, shaking her head but keeping her eyes on mine.
“No,” I agree. “But now we know who the enemy is.”