Finnick Odair is late. I should have anticipated this, considering the hassle his previous stylist endured to brief me on Finnick’s schedule and the habitual disregard thereof, but it’s still disappointing. Mostly because I went through all the trouble of building up my confidence and getting over the fact that I’m waiting in Finnick’s apartment without his consent or even prior knowledge, so he probably has no idea who I am and is in good enough shape and well within his rights to gut me alive and rip out my skeleton and filet me.
It keeps life interesting.
And as long as he’s late, I have more time to make sure I don’t offend him. I sit on one of the standing chairs instead of on the couch. I take out my sketchbook so I don’t look like I’m just sitting here waiting. I touch up my eyeliner. I really don’t like the lighting in this apartment. I’m still more nervous than I want to be, and I’m sincerely expecting to be greeted with a trident to the throat. I hope it doesn’t show. It probably shows. There are reasons I’m a stylist, not a public figure in my own right, and that’s one of them.
So I draw. There’s not much I can do for Finnick without seeing him firsthand, but he’s a public enough figure that I know enough to construct a few of the basics. I draw some lapels, play with the scalloping. He never wears shirts with his suits, so that limits my options, but that challenge is refreshing. Waves, I think, crest them at the top where the peaks would be, and if his hair is long enough these days I can complement the waves at the nape of his neck. I hope his prep team likes me enough, hair’s not my strong suit—
The door opens, then shuts. “I don’t have the wrong apartment,” someone says, and it’s probably Finnick, it sounds like him, but I’m still too absorbed in the sketching to check.
“Probably not, but the apartment has the wrong lighting,” I say. And apparently my brain-to-mouth filter is shot. That was uncouth. I should stop drawing. “Ah. Sorry.”
“No problem. If the lighting’s wrong, fix it, if that’s what you’re here for. Drusus didn’t say anything about a contractor.”
I stand up, turn around and look at him. This is Finnick Odair in the flesh. Well, not in all the flesh, he’s wearing some clothing, but it’s clothing designed specifically to make you want to take it off him and it is doing an exemplary job of that. I have my rules, it isn’t going to happen, but I’m well within my rights to appreciate his beauty. It’s even my job.
...I’m not doing very well at the rest of my job, at the moment.
“I’m not a contractor,” I say. “But if Drusus didn’t say anything about me, I apologize.”
“Oh,” he says. He takes off his jacket and hangs it up, and, as ever, looks like he doesn’t notice he’s not wearing a shirt. “Oh, you’re with Drusus. I thought he told you, he’s not working for District Four this year until the Games.”
“With him? No, he’s not my type. And I know, that’s why I’m here.”
This isn’t working.
I should say that aloud instead of appreciating Finnick Odair.
“This isn’t working.” I offer him my hand. “Cinna Ward. I’m covering for Drusus, as long as you’re in the Capitol.”
He shakes my hand. I’m sure most people who’ve touched Finnick Odair brag about more than shaking his hand, but I still plan on remembering it. Apparently some of his remake treatments have fallen away, or else those calluses at the top of his palms are intentional. If I’ve noticed, I’ve probably held his hand too long.
“For how long?” he asks, once we both let go.
“Your schedule says six weeks. Then you’re set to go back to District Four until the Games. Are you mentoring this year?”
“He gave you my schedule?”
“And the passkey to your apartment,” I say. “Are you mentoring this year?”
“I haven’t decided.” Evidently, it’s a touchy subject. That’s fair. He didn’t mentor in the seventy-first or the seventy-second Games, even though everyone expected him to after bringing home a winner in the seventieth. It’s not my business what went wrong, but it is my business to pretend not to notice. “Did Snow send you?”
“The President? No, just Drusus. Though since Drusus is working for Snow right now, he probably knows.” I can’t help asking, “Is there something I should know?”
Finnick shakes his head, no. He comes into the room proper, sits down on the couch, so I take the chair that my sketchbook is still resting on the arm of. “So, what does my schedule look like?”
“Impressive,” I say. Almost everything in his schedule is listed under names rather than events. It’s more like a stylist’s schedule than a luminary’s, and it struck me at first. Before this I assumed that the people in Finnick’s nightlife were consequence, not cause. But it doesn’t surprise me that he’s become a courtesan. “I think you have one day per week to yourself. On average. Is this better than usual?”
“Worse,” he corrects, and props his feet up on the coffee table. My urge to draw him is almost overpowering.
“Worse,” I repeat. This close, I can see he has a tan line at his waistband. I’m probably supposed to do something about that, and not the same something I think I want to do about that. How does Drusus stand it, working with this kind of beauty and not getting lost?
“And how much time do I get in remake before you send me off to—who’s first?”
I take out my organizer. “Lothario Jensen, starting tomorrow night at five-thirty.” People actually named their son Lothario? Then again, I shouldn’t talk. “Which means you can either have the night to yourself and spend all day tomorrow in remake, or the other way around.”
Finnick groans. Drusus prepared me for this, that Finnick isn’t as game about putting his face on as the cameras make him seem. I’ve seen this before. The victors I’ve been on prep teams for so far haven’t exactly been sanguine about staying children for as long as possible.
“Your choice,” I say.
He laughs. This isn’t the same laugh I’ve heard on my television for the past seven years. “Whichever inconveniences you less, Casca.”
“Cinna,” I correct him.
“If it’s any consolation, I’m not the only one I know.”
He laughed at a simple your choice, and he doesn’t laugh at what’s possibly the best stock joke I have.
Clearly, we have gotten off on the wrong foot.
“I’m here now,” I say, “and other than that, nothing you do could possibly inconvenience me beyond the parameters of my job.” It’s a bald-faced lie. But it’s one he has to hear.
“Want to test that?” he asks, grinning, and this, at least, is the Finnick I know from television.
“Not particularly, unless you do.”
“If I have to be remade,” he says, “remake me in the morning.” He stretches his arms overhead. “I never sleep on trains.”
And if his schedule is any indication, he won’t be getting much sleep tomorrow night either.
When Finnick is through with remake, I’ve learned several important things that Drusus neglected to tell me. First, that there can never be enough sugar in the house for Finnick’s coffee. Second, that he shouts when he’s being waxed, but doesn’t curse. Third, that the rumors about the trident are true. And the carpet matches the drapes. Naturally, I think.
I should stop looking.
So I outline the fashions he’ll be going through these six weeks. His wardrobe has staples, and Drusus has seen to it that Finnick’s suits never really go out of style. I dress him in the one that I devised based on his television colors, black with green shot through that catches the light, brightest at the outer stitching on the lapels, and he seems to like it well enough. He asks if he can add a ropework bracelet from home, and once I get a look at the workmanship I tell him that’s fine. Since it’s still chilly out, early spring, I’ve also made him a new overcoat in bone-white. If I had time to do it over I’d make it more bone and less white but I don’t, not with the weather how it is today.
He’s scheduled with Lothario for three nights and two days, and night two is a party that I assume he’s going to. I run through the outfits I’ve packed and the toiletry combinations he should use, and hide a paper copy of the list in his wallet with the painkillers.
And I tell him I’ll be here, and if I’m not here, here’s my number.
Once he’s gone, the sketchbook comes out again. Now that I have a better idea of him, I should fix all the designs I’ve done. That smirk he wears on television? Not as real as I thought. The line of his posture is centered higher, not all in his hips. I know very well how old he is but he’s younger and older at the same time.
My eraser gets more attention than my pencil. I should probably just start some new designs.
“So I’m in Finnick Odair’s apartment,” I tell Portia, because she’ll want to hear it first.
“Congratulations, honey,” she says, a little jealous, a little lewd.
“Not like that. I mean I’m working for him.”
And that, she reacts even more enthusiastically to, shouting in my ear, garbled by the phone. “—Congratulations! What happened, did Drusus come through for you?”
“I think so. He got called away for an event planning. Did you know he’s doing the President’s granddaughter’s birthday this year? I didn’t. But he tapped me to cover for him with Finnick for six weeks.”
“You’re living in Finnick Odair’s apartment for six weeks.”
“Well, he’s not here most of the time. Glamorous life, all that. And I have to have done most of my alterations for him by tomorrow night. He’s not like he is on television, Portia. He’s—I don’t know, more real. Harder to pin down. Intuitively.” Well, probably physically too, he’s got a head and several pounds of muscle on me, but that I knew already.
“A good thing you love alterations.”
“His color palette, less so, but he’s still fascinating to work with. Water all through. You’d think not, with that hair, but the eyes overwhelm it. More like water so strong that it could burn if you lit it.” I am waxing poetic. I should design instead of think about this. I can translate that water into something, I know, if I can get a hold on it— “I should ask. That lacquer you and Lepidus were working on?”
“I’m still only getting subtle shifts, or translucence, but the color base is changing. It works with layering, at least. Put a solid color on as a first coat, seal it, and if you cover it with this the design will fade in and out. So it can’t make a bird’s wing flap, but it can hide and reveal the entire bird. I’ve already got orders for it from the network.”
“I should be the one congratulating you.”
“Want me to send you some for Finnick?”
“Sure, if he doesn’t mind being tested on.” And the idea of brushwork, fading and revealing on his skin, is stunning.
“It’s makeup. The Avoxes don’t mind, so he probably won’t either.”
“Well, make sure it’s past the testing stage when you send it. If something goes wrong with Finnick Odair’s makeup, the whole world will notice.”
“Done and done. So should I send it to his apartment, or yours?”
“Mine, if you’re sending it now. I’m heading over there to pick up some notions. And I should probably do most of my work there, the lighting at his place is awful.”
“Understood. Good luck with him, Cinna.”
“I’ll need it. At this rate, you’ll get an appointment at the Games before I do.”
“Doubtful. But if I do, I’ll keep my promise. Kiss kiss.”
I purse my lips against the phone, click my tongue twice.
I look up from embroidering the tail end of a scarf and three things hit me at once. One, Finnick’s back, two, it’s four in the morning, and of course I’ve been squinting even after bringing one of the spare work lamps over from my apartment but I have a swimming headache.
“Welcome home,” I say, putting the scarf down. I look him over. He’s a bit hunched to the side, plainly tired, and his hair has clearly had quite a bit of force applied to it. His overnight bag hits the floor and his shoulder jerks reflexively upward, and I know it’s not the line of my suit that’s hindering its motion.
“Come on,” I tell him, taking his jacket off. “Lie down.”
He’s obedient enough, but when he sprawls on the bed I have to remind him, “On your front,” and he laughs once, deep in his throat where it’s probably not meant to be laughter at all. There are fingertip bruises on his shoulders; nothing too awful, but either way I take a moment to grab some balm and lotion from the bathroom before I start in on it. “Pull yourself out a little further so you can keep your neck straight. Over the edge of the bed.”
“All right,” he says, and arches up, drapes himself so his jaw is at the foot of the bed and he can hang his head while I work.
He hisses when I touch the bruises, but the balm works quickly, and by the time I’ve wrung the worst of the knots out of his neck they’ve faded from blue to gold. I can tell the creases in his shoulders are from having his arms above his head, cuffed or tied, I know well enough what those look like. Once the muscle’s loose enough, I extend his right arm out to the side, rotate it until all the air snaps out of the joint. “Lothario lives up to his name?”
“He might have twenty years ago,” Finnick says quietly.
He doesn’t laugh, so I don’t either. I look at the fading fingerprints on Finnick’s skin. “Big man?”
“Probably used to be. Fading, now.”
“Next time someone ties you up, try to stretch first.”
“I don’t usually get a chance,” he says, “but thanks.”
I nod, and start working on his other arm. His breathing evens out, and I think he’s drifting off. The bruises are almost gone, so I work at him a little harder, knead lotion into his back. I’m getting a cramp in my own shoulder from how I’m reaching, though, so I ask if I can shift up, and he says he doesn’t mind. I kneel over his thighs, use the leverage. It’s easier, now.
“Where’d you learn to do this?”
“School,” I tell him. “I’ve been working toward becoming a stylist since I was about twelve. Most of us have to start from the bottom, move up through prep work until we can design on our own. So I do body conditioning, makeup. Not hair, there’s a reason I keep mine short.”
“It’s good on you.”
“Thanks.” I guess loosening his back is loosening my tongue.
“Makes you stand out, in a place like this,” he says.
“I know.” I can’t help smiling. “In a place like this, where excess is the norm, simple, solid colors project real authority.”
He laughs into the blankets.
“Theatrical logic,” I go on. “I noticed it when I was about fifteen. I was watching a live concert, and the band was all colors and lights and gold, and I kept staring at the amplifiers.” I remember, close my eyes, hear the music. “All that chaos...it’s one of my strategies, I guess. One of the things I want to say about myself. I’m above that. I’m more dependable than that. And besides, it’s who I am. I’m much more comfortable showing that than trying to force myself out of my own skin.”
“Is that what you’re trying to do with me?”
The way he says it—on a slight moan, probably from how hard I’m working his shoulders right now—startles me enough to make me laugh. “You’re a difficult man to enhance, Finnick Odair,” I say when I can.
“I know,” he says.
“But yes,” I say. “My goal with you is the same as my goal with any person I design for. I take what you want to show, and make sure it’s not at odds with who you are, so you project your best. That’s why you’re difficult. I designed your track for these six weeks based on what I knew. Now I know more, so I’ve been making alterations. If I manage to figure out who you are and what you want, it’ll make my job even easier. But until then, I don’t know you. The man who walked in the door half an hour ago isn’t the boy I know from eight years of television.”
“No one knows him.”
“Everyone knows him, Finnick.”
He sighs, sinks into the bed. “Why did you become a stylist?”
“Because I want to make an impression on the world. I want to get through to people, really touch them, show them it’s possible to be moved by something other than death.” I shake my head, dig my fingers into his back. His muscles loosen but his breath tightens. There’s no happy medium for him, is there. “I feel things. I feel them strongly, strongly enough that most people I’ve ever talked to about them balk. Or laugh. It’s worse when they laugh. But when I put that into my work, sometimes they see it and it’s really not funny anymore. It’s vindictive of me, but I love that feeling. Triumph. Mutuality. Understanding.”
A shiver runs through Finnick’s spine, crawls up my fingers. I catch it and turn it back on him, knead a bit harder. I wonder if I’ve put him to sleep. I sigh. “I’ve failed on that last count.”
“No,” he says. “I’m trying to think about what you said, but it’s hard to think at all right now.”
“That,” I say aloud, “is the Capitol in a nutshell.”
He doesn’t say anything to that. I finish rubbing out his shoulders, and slink down from his back. I hope the realization that I was just straddling Finnick Odair’s hips only hits my body later. “You don’t have to be awake until one in the afternoon tomorrow,” I say. “So I’ll come in at about twelve-thirty. Do you need anything to help you sleep?”
“I think I can take care of that on my own,” he answers, stretches out. “Thanks.”
I smile. I would ask how he takes his coffee in the morning, but I remember. I hope we have enough sugar in the house.
I, on the other hand, am up at about ten in the morning, and finish the scarf by eleven. Finnick won’t be wearing it to the gala he’s attending tonight, but it’s one of the things to pack for his subsequent engagement. I’ve tested out Portia’s fading-lacquer over some eyeliner on the top of my foot, but I still don’t have a concrete idea of what designs I could use it for on Finnick. Out comes the sketchbook, and I muddle with it for a while, sipping orange juice and trying to think about parts of Finnick that fade. His humor. His sense of self-command. His eyes. It’s all very abstract, and I’m not an abstract artist.
Noon comes, and then twelve-thirty, and it’s time to wake him up anyway.
I knock. He doesn’t answer, even to complain, so I come in, and find him sprawled and tangled in the covers. “Twelve-thirty, Finnick.”
“Five more minutes,” he groans.
“Five more minutes?” I ask.
“Ten more minutes,” he amends, and rolls his shoulders back against the pillow.
“Ten more minutes.”
I laugh. “You can have a half an hour half-awake if you lie still enough for me to sketch you.”
He smiles, “Done,” and settles into the bed. I sit on the edge, take my pencil out from behind my ear, and get to work.
He’s good about lying still, almost as good as models who’ve been trained for it, but part of that might be that he’s half-asleep. I get in a quick detail of his face, but I can’t manage authority on the lines, so I start another. He’s relaxed, smiling, not as loose-limbed as he was last night but the tension at least is natural.
“You’re an artist,” he says, which completely throws off my sketch of his mouth, but I don’t mind.
“Not as such.” I shade in the curve of his foot. His body is mirroring it almost exactly. “I just got into fashion through life-drawing when I was younger. So I do my designs by hand. It’s a bit old-fashioned, I know.”
“How old were you?”
“When I started drawing? Young, very.” He’s still difficult to capture. “How old were you when you learned to swim?”
He laughs. If only I could freeze that in place, it’s new. It’s not the laughter I’ve seen him use for the cameras, and I probably won’t ever see it again, but at least I know it’s there. I sketch what I can remember of the arc of his throat, shade what I can manage of his eyes. Grey does the green no justice.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because it’s my job,” I say. “I told you last night. I want to make you look your best, and for that I have to know you.”
He rolls over on to his side, stretches out so that the covers slip down his hips. “And why do you want to know me?”
When he asks it like that, there are a million reasons, but I feel, looking down at my sketchbook, that none of them are true.
“You want to move up in the world?” he asks, challenge through every arc of his body. I keep drawing. “You want to impress me, score a position with one of the better teams this year?”
“I won’t deny it.” I tilt my pencil to get at the shadows under his collarbones. “But I could do that by just being competent, couldn’t I?”
This laugh of his isn’t like the last, and I’m disappointed. “So you want to work for District Four. For me.”
“If Drusus offered me an assistantship I certainly wouldn’t turn it down,” I say, because it’s breaking an awful lot of my personal rules to actually play up to I want to work for you. “But not just that. I meant what I said last night about wanting to make an impact, wanting to create a spark.”
“Hard to create a spark with water as a theme.”
“Put enough water in one place and you’ll get the same results as fire,” I shade in his eyelashes. “You’re right, though. It’s hard, when someone’s already set the bar with you.”
“Then tell me. What do you want? Why all this?”
I slide my pencil into the crease of the book to mark my page, and then thumb through it to one of the first things I designed this year. “The nature of my trade is that I don’t work exclusively for the Games, even if it pays most of my rent, and I do get personal commissions for couture. You might remember a certain dress of mine from the President’s Ball at the end of the Victory Tour last year, though you wouldn’t know it was mine until I told you.” I find the pages, but don’t show him just yet, trace the panels I’ve glued to the corners, run my nail through the thick edges of the pattern detail. “The woman in question gave me as close to free rein as I ever get, but told me that she wanted me to design something that reflected the beauty inside her.
“The dress was made of mirrors.” I turn the sketchbook around, slide it across the bed to Finnick. “Most of them hexagons, a few diamonds, always turned out. The mirror covered as much of her as she ever covered, and the top of the gloves, the sides of her face, and I don’t know how well the makeup was holding up when you got a look at her, but you can guess what I did to her mouth and her eyes, mirrored lenses, ice and dust and fragments everywhere else. She loved it, raved about it, recommended me to all of her closest friends, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thankful for all the work I’ve had as a couturier since.
“And it’s all because I looked inside that woman and saw absolutely nothing.”
When Finnick looks up from the sketchbook, I finally see what’s really in his eyes. Shock. Elation, stronger than amusement. Vindication, maybe even hatred, but not directed at me. All this, as the realization dawns. “That was you.”
He opens to my marked pages, peruses the sketches of himself. That haze doesn’t leave his eyes, not completely, but I’ve seen what’s behind it now so I know what to look for.
“I can’t get a clear picture of you,” I say.
“I’m not sure I want to give you that kind of power.” He laughs, turns a page.
“It’s not power, it’s truth.”
He looks at me like I have three heads. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make that much of a body modification, actually. “Don’t tell me you think they’re different things.”
“What, truth and power? Of course they are, we have different names for them.” I smile, though. I know what he means. “But they’re like money and jewels. Trade one for the other, or use them both to buy whatever you plan to keep them in.”
Finnick slides off the bed, my sketchbook his only modesty until he hands it back as if he doesn’t notice. “Is there coffee?”
“Waiting for you with prep.” I shut the book, turn for the door. “With a quarter-cup of sugar and a splash of cream.”
He comes back after, or during, the gala, and I‘m waiting up to hand him his garment bag. This time I don’t bother hiding the list of toiletry combinations, or the painkillers, and I make sure to include a jar of the balm I used on his back, just in case.
“I can only use this on places I can reach, you know,” he says, slinging the bag over his shoulder.
“I assume you’re flexible.”
He laughs. “Survival mechanism.”
“For courtesans through the ages,” I finish.
He’d been in such good humor all morning, well, all afternoon. The way he looks at me now attests that that time is over. “I’m not a courtesan.”
And he looks far too—heartsick, I think, not offended—for that to be just a problem with my choice of words.
I step back, look down. “Sorry.”
“You said last night you want to get a clear picture of me? Figure out who I am?” By the time I look up, he’s halfway out the door. “You have me for five more weeks. Go ahead and try.”
He doesn’t wait to see whether I’ve accepted the challenge. That’s good, because I think I take too long.
The don’t ask me is implied.
So is the be discreet, though that at least I understand. As far as I knew until two o’clock this morning, nothing in Finnick’s life is private. The idea that yes, he does have secrets, ones so pertinent as to impact who he is down to the design level; well, I can’t go about finding them by tracking down past clients or friends or even victors. (Besides, the only victors I know that Finnick is friendly with are Haymitch Abernathy and Johanna Mason, and I would rather enter the Arena myself than seek out Johanna Mason.)
Which means the first thing I do is watch Finnick’s Games again. Not just the three-hour condensation, though Finnick doesn’t have that readily available in his apartment either. There’s also what’s called a Gamemaker’s Cut for every Games, one that follows the victorious tribute through the Games from start to finish, with downtime sped through but not erased. Ostensibly, it’s for his own records, him and his District and of course the Gamemakers themselves. As his stylist, I can get it, but just to be safe I have the tapes delivered to Finnick’s apartment, not mine, even though I’ll be watching them in my own.
When Finnick’s Games first aired, I was eighteen, and I’ll admit I spent a lot of that particular year hopped up with my friends, watching the Games out of the corner of my eye in clubs and in workshops. I remember my friend Postumus wondering if his dad would spring for eye surgery to get Finnick’s color, Cleo showing up to class in a suit without a shirt and bandages wrapped over her breast, Lilla Schiller alternately bragging and grousing that her dad had been the one to put Finnick’s sponsorship over the top and buy him his trident, but he hadn’t bought her a new overlock machine yet. I remember when Finnick killed his District partner, everyone remembers that, but while I know exactly where I was (in the second-to-last private room at The Fainting Couch, with Trajan and someone else whose name to this day eludes me), the finer details are somewhat understandably hazy.
I set myself up with orange juice, good lighting, my sketchbook open to the back page for taking notes, and the appliqué for a new sample dress, and get started. The Gamemaker’s Cut should take 24 viewing hours. If I just leave it on, I can get through it all before I have to be back at Finnick’s.
The notes quickly become a chart: INNATE and APPLIED.
INNATE: unselfconscious. the way he moves naked, same now as when he was a child
way he tilted toward me while sketching = way he talked to tributes re: fish
he does not notice
APPLIED: self-conscious, solicitous
only see that when he is awake, at work, on camera
INNATE: self-effacing humor
jokes about raw fish, staring during flickerman interview
INNATE: killer. compartmentalizes? tears are real, so is his aim. does not see people as objects. nevertheless.
WATCH AGAIN: 12g, 1g/2g, 7b, Pacifica
why am I not a real artist, I would draw him fighting that muttation, charcoal on charcoal on concrete until he stepped out of it
someone else should do it
why hasn’t Dru made him something out of a net yet?
I make a quick sketch of a macramé vest, until onscreen Finnick finishes building his rope-bridge.
so he hates us, that can’t be everything
INNATE: does not want to watch his games, good thing I brought them here instead, I must have remembered that
APPLIED: pride? would ask him about his games if I didn’t think I’d get FIRED. aren’t victors proud of what they’ve done?
then again what victors do I know
what do I know
I have to pause the tapes in the middle of the final fight to head back to his apartment in time, and even then I’m late. He’s hung up his jacket, but left the closet door open, and by the way one of the Avoxes is cleaning the bathroom I assume Finnick’s been here for a while.
“Finnick?” His door’s open and there’s light peeking out, but it’s still better to ask. “Sorry, I’m late, you wouldn’t believe the traffic.”
“I’d believe anything,” he says. Just from the sound I can tell he’s not sober.
That probably means it’s all right to come in, but I still hang back in the doorway. “There were elephants,” I tell him. “Elephants, parading through the streets. Someone genetically engineered them for the circus. I think it’s Drusus’ fault.”
“Elephants,” he says to himself in the mirror.
Finnick is leaning one hand on the vanity, the black bottle of my eyeliner nestled into the crook of his forefinger and thumb. Of course the brush is in his other hand, but he’s using it to write I SCREWED something on his forehead. The next letter, apparently, is a U or a V. “It’s backwards,” he says, “why’s it backwards?”
I laugh. “Here,” I say, and go to him, turn his chair to face me and take the eyeliner out of his hand. The gold stands out well on his skin, but not as starkly as it does on mine. “Who did you screw?”
“Everyone,” he says. His breath smells awful. “But no. I screwed up. That’s what it’s supposed to say.”
His forehead’s warm under my hand, and apparently his sweat is enough to hold his hair off his face. Whoever he was with might have taken him out dancing, his pants are sweat-soaked too, enough that they make the seat of his chair squeak. “I could erase it and write it out neatly for you.”
“Long as you write it out.” He smiles, looking up at me dazedly, settling his cheek in my hand.
I hold him still, get out a pad of makeup remover and wipe the liner away. “Got a font in mind?”
“You’re the stylist here, I’ll trust your judgment.”
“Any design choice I make depends on just how you screwed up.” But I don’t press it, just set up the brush to start the W just right-of-center on his forehead. “Tell you what, I’ll write it so big and glittering that everyone will know.”
He laughs, forcefully enough that I’ll have to neaten out the last ray of the W. “Sounds good.”
“A new fad,” I say. “Entirely to my credit.” I move to the left, start on the first E. “Wear your imperfections on your sleeve. Or your forehead.”
“I’m not supposed to have any.”
“No,” I agree, and add in the R, then the C. “That’s why it would start a trend. If Finnick Odair pretended to be only human, everyone else would have to.”
He relaxes into the chair, swivels it from side to side. Good thing I’m working on the S. His eyes are just as unfocused as his hands so often are, drifting between points of light. I finish the left side. It only reads I SCREW.
“What did you screw up?”
“Everything,” he says.
“Everything?” I don’t have to point out the luxurious, if busy, life he leads, but then, I probably shouldn’t, if it’s brought him here drunk.
His laughter is dark, but it fills his whole face, enough that I pull back the brush until he settles. “It’s something I used to promise I’d do. Drusus. I was going to ask him, tattoo it on my face.”
“This should do just as well,” I tell him, paint in the ED and then the UP with a flourish that he can see, maybe feel. “Do you want an exclamation point? Just a full stop?”
“Full stop,” he says, tilting his head to the wrong side. I right it, and then write, one dot at the corner of his eye. “How is it?”
“Not my best work.” I make a few touchups and then cap the eyeliner, set it aside and get out some sealant, spray it onto the letters and blow it dry. His hair is heavy enough with sweat that my breath doesn’t rustle it much. “There. Have a look.”
He struggles to read the letters reflected in the mirror, but he does seem to approve. “I like the color.”
“It’s a neutral enough gold that it works for both of us.”
“Better on you,” he says. He turns to me, leans in and smiles. “I like your eyes. They’re steady.”
They don’t feel steady. Nothing feels steady. And that goes for everything I learned about him from watching the Games too.
“When do I have to be up tomorrow?”
I step away from the chair, look at him in the mirror instead of head-on. “Five. Out of the house for a late dinner.”
“Good,” he says, and he looks genuinely happy, brings his knees up to his chest in the chair and props his chin on them. “I think I’ll sleep right up to that.”
“I have to know what else you’ve had tonight, if you want me to get something to help you.”
“Don’t need it,” he says, and uncurls himself, sprawls out again. “I bet I can stay under so long you’ll have to wake me at sunset.”
“You’re on,” I say. “Do you need help getting to bed?”
“No, I’m all right.”
He isn’t, but he’s probably fine enough to get his clothes off on his own, so I don’t press it.
From there, it’s a matter of questions and days. Finnick’s next two weeks are tighter than either of us is really prepared for, but I imagine it’s easier for me than it is for him. He goes out and works, I mend or emend his clothing, update his palette, and take care of him when he comes home sore or ragged or high. When he’s home, he sleeps as much as he can, knots rope if his hands have nothing else to do, and orders up sweet things to eat. We don’t talk much, when he isn’t in prep. I’m convinced that either he actually doesn’t notice, or he thinks not talking makes things less awkward.
It doesn’t. At least not for me. But that’s because even when he’s not around, I’m talking about him.
Finnick Odair is an easy person to get obsessed with. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how he really survived the Arena. It’s not just that everyone wanted him—how could they, back then, he was still a child—but that no one could look away. And I can’t either. Not physically, even now that I’ve almost gotten used to him walking around the apartment naked; not intentionally either, since I’m poring through all of my contacts to try and figure him out.
Be discreet, I keep reminding myself. Be discreet, while researching the most indiscreet person in Panem.
That means talking to the prep team as if I’m only concerned. It means keeping my conversations with Portia to the superficial—how he is, what he thinks of what he’s wearing this season, how unenthused he is about the Games, kiss kiss—and making sure those conversations happen only when we’re face-to-face, which doesn’t happen as often these few weeks as I’d like, since Portia’s embroiled in fading lacquer and synthetic fire. It means not talking to Drusus at all, because Drusus is even busier, and besides, the idea of talking to Drusus feels like cheating. And as for my clientele, well, even the ones who can afford Finnick don’t have much to say about the man behind the courtesanly mask.
And that’s the biggest hurdle, really. If Finnick hates his job so much, and comes home wasted and sore, being a courtesan does not make sense. He doesn’t have to work, he’s a victor, and with pensions like that they’re set for life, and he’s not greedy. I can’t afford an apartment like his but at the rate things are going for my career I’ll be able to in a couple of years (especially if I land a Games stylist position before the Quarter Quell), so it’s not about his upkeep. He hates it. And no matter how much the cameras love him, he doesn’t love them in return.
“He’s not the only victor who does it, you know,” Portia says, one of our few mutually free early-afternoons, which because of their rarity this season we’re spending at The Fig Tree, like old times.
“You mean who supplements his winnings?”
She nods and stirs her cappuccino. “I’m pretty sure Cashmere had a run at it, back in her day. Atia and Ari said something about it.”
“I can see that,” I say, and it’s true. Cashmere’s still beautiful even though she’s clearly grown up, and as far as I can tell she hasn’t had a stitch of work done, other than removing her scars. “How are Atia and Ari these days?”
“Looking forward to the Games. You should drop them a line, if you’ve got the time.”
“I think I will.” I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. Those two have been around for years, even if they’ve been attached to District 1 for as long as I can remember. It’s not the kind of position you turn down. “Why do you think he does it?”
“You say he doesn’t come home sober. Maybe he does it for the drugs?”
“That could be it.” The thought seems to chill my coffee a little, but at least it makes sense.
She goes on, “Or he could be in debt from something else. It’s almost eight years since he won, he might have run through his pension for a couple of them. He spends more time in the Capitol than most of the other victors, it might be hard for him, maintaining two homes.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admit. It’s more than two homes, though—it’s two lives. Three, if you could what little he’s shown me of what’s behind those eyes. “That at least gives me another angle to search by. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome!” She wipes a bit of foam off her lip and smiles. “So, how’d you get the afternoon off?”
“He doesn’t have an engagement until late. Very late.” I lean in, and she does too, conspiratorially. “They closed down Tantalus for him.”
“Not at all. Exclusive admission.” I’m pretty sure Rex is the bouncer tonight, though, so between that and my position as Finnick’s stylist I might be able to talk my way in. “So he doesn’t start prep until after dinner.”
Now that I’m really concentrating on my career, Tantalus is a once-a-year-maybe-twice place for me. Even when I was still in school, I was there more to watch the scene than be, well, acted upon, but I’ve run that gauntlet and come out the other side knowing what I like.
I like to watch.
Right now, though, I am watching Finnick let himself out of the cab. This close, I can tell that the paintjob I’ve done on his torso hasn’t rubbed off on his suit jacket. He tips the cab driver excessively. Is he really doing this for the money?
He asks me, “Are you heading home?”
“I might,” I say. “But if I’m not, don’t worry, you can still reach me.”
The smile he gives me is camera-ready. That might be because there are cameras, ready. They don’t even wait for him to turn away from the cab before they start snapping and swooping in.
Once the door is shut I tell the driver, “Just take me around the corner and out of sight, all right?”
The driver nods, and whistles through his teeth. I don’t know what he means by it, but I feel like I’m being laughed at. He pulls us back into traffic and drives two blocks, then turns right for another, so that the lights of this club strip are at our backs, reaching down a more residential street. When he lets me out, I follow Finnick’s example and tip more than I usually do. The driver bows his head, and of course, says nothing, but I smile.
“I’m probably being an idiot.” I say.
The driver shakes his head, no, and even if the look in his eyes is reassuring it’s not quite validating.
The walk back to Tantalus takes a good five minutes, enough for me to calm my nerves and run through how to be convincing. The crowd outside the club was too thick for me to see Rex or whoever else might be working tonight, but that also means it’ll be too thick for anyone to notice me until I actually try to sneak in.
And that would be Rex. I keep my voice down and my smile on. “Rex! You’re working tonight?”
He doesn’t look startled to see me, but he doesn’t look pleased either. “Yeah.”
“Me too,” I say, edging toward the door but not past him, not yet. “Finnick forgot something in the cab.” I have my hand in my pocket, and give the bottle of aspirin a gentle shake so he can hear it. “Mind if I take it to him?”
His eyebrow goes up. “Artists,” he says, like it’s an insult, but then he tosses his head and crosses his thick arms. “As long as he’s already paid, go ahead and take it to him. Don’t go selling those to anyone else. You still know your way in?”
I owe him. “Yes, thanks. And my way out.”
After the dark hall and the coat check, which isn’t seeing much action tonight, Tantalus starts to look like itself; walls the colors of fire and blood and stone, lit from the inside so that they never quite reach the tangle of light-bearing branches overhead. An impossible river of rushing light along the floor, parting for me while I walk. A swell of sound, the deep and grinding music that Tantalus always seems to play. The reek of sweat soaking into the concrete between tiles. Red and gold, everything, everywhere. I remember why I come here, and why I don’t come here often.
And then the difference in the crowd itself strikes me, all at once. I’ve never been here for a show—I didn’t even know they do shows—but aside from the proprietress, whose name I can never remember, I don’t see anyone I know. The crowd is gathered, an assault of colors that I don’t ever see here, where it’s usually mostly flesh. People are talking, instead of taking each other to task. There’s no one strung up on the walls or on the crosses yet, or strapped to the benches. And there’s a dais in front of the DJ booth with an auctioneer.
Someone pokes me in the side. “Get in there quick, bidding’s about to close.”
“Yeah, I mean, four got to pay in advance, but there are still three slots open! Nice eyeliner.”
“—Thanks?” I don’t even look at her. They’re bidding on Finnick? I’ve never seen a courtesan auctioned off before, but I suppose it makes sense. And he’s standing right there, shucking off his jacket as someone drives the already frightening prices higher. I knew Finnick was worth more than a month’s rent. I didn’t think he was worth a year’s.
I can hear people gasping and squealing when they see my designs on Finnick’s skin. I finally figured out how best to use Portia’s fading lacquer. I think I was watching Finnick’s Games again when it hit me, staring at him in the river. The tide washes in and out on Finnick’s hips and chest and back, draws up to cradle his ribs, and then sinks down, leaving curls of white glitter. A man in the front row breaks the silence by lifting his counter high and doubling his bid. Finnick smirks and tosses his jacket aside so that it drapes over the DJ booth.
I keep to the back until the bidding ends. The man who doubled it wins a slot, and the two to take it higher, a blond man about my age and a tall person with hawkish grey eyes and curly black hair, pay even more. The auctioneer strikes up a cheer. The young blond man asks to go last. You paid the most, the auctioneer says, that’s only fair.
The crowd curves to accommodate the seven lucky winners, but I can’t see them from back here, not if I want no one to notice me. The dais itself, though, with the restraints they’re buckling around Finnick, holding him naked and spread and in just the right light for the waves I’ve painted on his skin to shine; that, I can see perfectly.
For all that I’ve seen Finnick with no clothes on—for all that I saw him with no clothes on just a few hours ago to paint that on him—I’ve never seen him sexually bare, and it is breathtaking. The way his skin flushes at exposure, the way his muscles strain against the cuffs, the way he bares his throat and arches his chest just as the waves on his ribs recede, I see all of it at once and I don’t want to draw him, I want him. If he were like this at the apartment I would have cast off every scrap of professionalism I have and gotten on my knees for him right there, in the kitchen, waiting for the sugar to settle into his coffee.
The first person to get his hands on Finnick is an older, distinguished man, who comes to Finnick without any implements or tools. Finnick gives him a winning smile, says something cheeky that I can’t hear. The man is pleased by it, and pats Finnick under the chin with cavalier familiarity. It’s beautiful. They must know each other, and that’s good for Finnick, I can see him anticipating the first wrench of his hair, the moment where the man’s flippancy shifts into command. Finnick sinks in his restraints. I can hear the chains over the music, but none of their voices. The man gets Finnick hard, but doesn’t bring him off, and doesn’t take care of himself either, just pulls at Finnick’s hair and claws at Finnick’s inner thighs until all the green of his eyes is gone, staring at the ceiling.
A woman takes over, stalks into Finnick’s space, all tight black hair and ageless skin. She presses herself against Finnick’s body, but not so close that no one can see she’s got a hand on him, drawing slowly back and forth. She stands on tiptoe to whisper into his ear, and he grits his teeth like a mad horse. When she pulls away, her steel-grey nails dripping white, I can see the red welts she’s raised through my design on Finnick’s hip. Those don’t fade, even when the blue around them retreats into iridescence.
I only recognize her after she’s turned away, wiping her hands on a towel one of the Avoxes hands her. That’s Andrea Lobotae. She was appointed to the Gamemakers two years ago.
The woman who comes to Finnick after Lobotae is younger, prettier, a compact and athletic candy-blonde. It looks, for a moment, like a cheap tabloid cover, an advertisement for the kind of club I wanted to go to before I was allowed. Then she punches Finnick in the jaw.
I’m not the only one who reacts to that, not the only one who’s just as short of breath as Finnick. The difference is that I get the chance to breathe after, and Finnick doesn’t. She doesn’t hit him again, not with her fist, but she has a crop with her and pretty soon my wave design is cluttered with smears, like debris after a flood. She makes Finnick suck on the handle of the crop until it gets him hard again.
I think my heart is trying to force its way out of my chest, either up to Finnick on the cross or down to my groin.
The next man on the dais has a cane and doesn’t walk as if he needs it. Somewhere past the heat behind my eyes I wonder why he’s carrying it. That makes itself perfectly clear when he brings it in, hard, on Finnick’s thigh. That’s the first time I’ve heard Finnick scream. That sound hasn’t changed since the Arena. The man doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care, because he shoves the cane into Finnick’s mouth and I can’t hear anything but the music and the crowd anymore. When he takes it out, and reaches the cane around behind the restraints to stretch between Finnick’s legs, Finnick’s throat is too red and sore to scream. His jaw hangs open, and it’s the same color in there as the welts on his hips and thighs.
He doesn’t care. That man up there doesn’t care. And then the rest of it hits me all at once, no one’s let Finnick down, no one’s asked him for his rules, no one’s prepared him or coaxed him or even introduced himself, or given Finnick time to come down. These people are paying for something they don’t know how to use.
These people are paying for Finnick and I don’t know if he can safeword out.
The next man on the dais, the one who doubled the price for the bidders tonight, wraps around him from behind and makes him come untouched, exposed. The person with the black curly hair beats him hard enough to draw blood, enough that I can see his stains on her white tunic. The young blond man who asked to go last shoves something up into Finnick and every time he pushes it deeper I feel a shout welling up in my throat. I should stop this. I could. I want to.
There are cheers and toasts, when it’s over. For Finnick. For the people who used him. For the proprietress, for making this possible. There is not supposed to be alcohol in Tantalus at all, it’s one of the hard and fast rules, and now it’s broken. The people closest to the dais try to touch Finnick, try to sweep residue off the stage with their fingertips, until the auctioneer swats them away. The Avoxes don’t let Finnick down until the crowd’s already begun to disperse. He falls to his knees, but doesn’t curl in on himself, boneless and listless like a doll.
By the time I get to the stage, I have to wipe my eyes. My eyeliner is probably ruined, which means they can see it, and all I can hope is that they don’t guess why. “I’m his stylist,” I tell the Avoxes. “I’m here to take him home.”
I get his jacket from the DJ booth, wrangle him back into his clothes. The proprietress offers to help but I don’t want to speak to her, perhaps ever again. When I call the cab company, I tell them to send the same driver from earlier, and to send him to the street he dropped me off on, not to Tantalus itself. Rex lets us out the back door, congratulates Finnick on a job well done. Finnick is practically dead weight for the two blocks we walk through the dark to meet the cab, and heavier in the backseat, crumpled against my shoulder. I give the driver all of the cash left in my wallet when he drops us off.
Finnick almost sinks to the floor in the elevator, and it’s all I can do to hold him up, even when we get to the door to the apartment. Apparently I make enough noise trying to get out my passkey that one of the house Avoxes opens the door for us and helps me carry Finnick to bed.
I rattle off what I need to the Avox. Two glasses of water. Towels. A first aid kit, for now, and I can get the rest of the medicine I need once I’ve looked him over. She nods and runs off to comply.
Finnick lifts his head from the pillows. “Dru?”
“It’s Cinna. Is that all right?”
His jaw shakes a little, but it’s because he’s trying to nod.
I take his clothes off again, and realize I forgot to ask the Avox for makeup remover, but that’s just in the prep room, so when she comes back with the towels and the first aid kit I send her off again. I sit Finnick up enough to drink a glass of water. Once I coax him into it he doesn’t stop trying to even after it’s empty.
I clean the makeup away, rinse the sweat from his hair, then wash through the scratches and the welts. I spread one of the dry towels out under him and he curls into it. Nothing’s torn, inside, or if anything was it’s stopped bleeding, but I still make sure he’s clean. He drinks another glass of water while the Avox goes off to refill the first.
“Fundraisers,” he says.
“I hate them.”
“I know.” I don’t ask.
When everything I can see on him is clean and medicated, I turn him over onto his front to work the knots out of his back and shoulders. His breathing slows, but it still rattles, even after I’ve loosened his muscles enough to let him think about sleeping. I lay him out again, and his eyes are less glassy, but still violently dilated, black swallowing all but a thin ring of green.
“Cinna,” he says, and there’s laughter in it, trying to sneak out past everything else. “Why do you do this?”
“It’s my job,” I say, and touch his neck, where the balm is starting to bring the bruises down from blue to gold. “Not everyone hates his job.”
“I hate mine,” he says, but he’s smiling, clinging to me. “I just wanted to fish.”
I lie down beside him, let him wrap his arms around me. How he can stand to be touched after everything those people did to him tonight, I’ll never know, but his embrace is so vehement, so natural, that I don’t question it. He nestles his head into my shoulder, and murmurs to me about the ocean, about home, about where he goes when he isn’t here. I can’t follow all of it, not while stroking his spine, feeling the lesions smooth out under my fingertips.
When he falls asleep, he’s not holding me too tight, and I don’t linger, just tuck him in.
I take one look at his schedule for tomorrow, and decide that I’ll be up at ten, coming up with excuses for Finnick to be late.
“Chrysalis Visual Alchemy Labs, Portia speaking.”
“Cinna? Cinna, what’s wrong?”
“I am—” I gulp in air, and start again, “I need—”
“Come over,” she says.
I love Portia and Lepidus’ workshop, I always have. It’s always warm, always bright, and smells of science that hasn’t become beauty yet. I designed their lab coats three years ago, to celebrate them paying rent on time for a full year. They both still wear them, even if I’ve insisted on improving the construction. For the five year anniversary, Lepidus says. That’s fair enough, and I’ve already made a few notes.
When I get there, it’s early evening, not yet closing time. Lepidus greets me and I nod my thanks, but Portia’s in the breakroom and I go straight to her. She pulls me down onto the couch and holds me and strokes my hair and I let myself calm down.
“You didn’t sleep,” she says, and I should be offended that it’s obvious, but I just nod. “Cinna, what happened?”
I tell her. About them closing down Tantalus for Finnick and what it meant for him. About the auction. About how none of the people in the club were regulars, about how no one used the rules, how no one treated Finnick like a person. About how they would have just left him there and told him to sleep it off in the back if I hadn’t come up to the dais and taken him home.
I hate to say it, but it’s reassuring that when she speaks again, Portia is as terrified and confused as I am. “Is he all right?”
“Physically,” I say, “I made sure of that.”
“He was himself this morning,” I say, but I still can’t believe it so the words come out uncertain. “Woke up at noon, took his coffee, was sweet to the prep team. He makes his own bed. I don’t know why he does it.”
“District thing,” she says. “Maybe.”
“Maybe. But aside my sending him off an hour late and playing traffic into the phone, we didn’t talk about last night at all.”
“Who are these people? How could something like this happen?”
“I don’t know.” I take her hand and hold on. “I only recognized one of them, There was a Gamemaker, Portia. Andrea Lobotae was there.”
Her fingers shake. “The new one? Do you remember any of the others?”
“I don’t think I could ever forget them.”
I realize her meaning at about the same time she untangles herself from me and leans over, reaching into my satchel for the sketchbook.
She puts her arms around me again once I sit up, but leaves me space to work. The first man comes to life on the paper easily, his spacious eyes and the heavy curl of his bangs. “The hair’s grey, with a gold cast to it. He’s about my height, stronger shoulders. And his eyes are blue, almost electric blue. They’re definitely enhanced but I don’t think they’re transplants.”
“Wait.” She squints, tilts her head. “Change the part of his hair to the far left.” I do, and then she nods. “That’s Tiber Richards, the actor.”
“You’re right.” I didn’t recognize him without the makeup. A chill runs down my spine, thinking of the familiarity in the way he touched Finnick’s jaw. I push it aside. “He was first, and then Lobotae went after him. Then—” The blonde who punched him. I sketch her. “The hair’s light, blond with green, but I have to shade it in because of the way it curls.” The rest of her face is easier, a tiny pug nose, kohl around her eyes. “The braid goes down to her breasts, and she dresses like she wants you to know they’re there.”
“I’ve seen her in the tabloids,” Portia says. “Someone’s daughter. I’ll keep an eye out.”
The fourth, the man with the cane, is easiest to draw. “And here’s the device on his cane. I’d say he was military if it weren’t for that hair.”
“He is military.” Portia winces. “That’s Aldus Hawksley.”
“The one and only. I guess he’s back from Two.”
I nod. “They’re the ones who paid in advance. These four.” I look at the blond girl. “Or whose parents paid, I guess.” I start on the fifth, the man who went behind the restraints. “This one doubled his bidding price. His hair’s natural, he’s letting himself go grey around the temples.”
“He looks like Trajan will when he gets older.”
Well, that’s an uncomfortable thought. “You’re right. I’ll ask him, if I can figure out how.”
“How you manage to stay on speaking terms with your exes never fails to astound me.”
“It’s different, when you both know from the start neither of you is going to stick around.” Thinking of Trajan and looking at my sketch of this man, it’s easy to see the differences. I shade in the man’s cheekbones, try to recapture his smile. Portia can’t come up with more than that for him, though, and neither can I, so I start on the next. “I’m pretty sure this person is presenting female, but I wouldn’t put money on it. She’s not like Atia, though.” It takes me a couple of tries to get the particular curl of the black hair on her shoulder. “Up to Finnick’s eyes, so she’s at least six feet tall. The hair’s black, and her eyes don’t have pupils, they’re grey all through. Like slate.”
Portia shakes her head, and pulls her lab coat tighter around her shoulders.
“Wait.” The white tunic. She might be a doctor or a scientist. Some of them wear the color like a status symbol. I hand her the sketchbook and go to the breakroom door. “Lepidus? Do you have a minute?”
“Yes, let me wash my hands.” I sit back down and start on the seventh’s sketch, get the shape of the young blond man’s face before Lepidus comes in.
“What’s going on in here?”
“Composite sketching,” Portia says, and I guess it’s fair for her to be amused. The idea of me turning life drawing into identification is surreal enough to be funny. She turns my sketchbook around for me, holds it up to him. “Know her?”
“Dr. Jameson,” he says without missing a beat. “She gave a guest lecture for my class when I was in training. Biochemist. Where did you see her?”
I lie. “We hailed the same cab yesterday. I let her take the first turn.” I can feel Portia glaring at me for it, but I go on. “She’s a great tipper.”
“Ha, she would be. Did you see the owl mutts in last year’s Games? The ones that spoke like jabberjays? She was on that project.” He nods, impressed. “I wish I could’ve been there.”
No, Lepidus, you really don’t. “Thanks.”
“Not a problem. Anything else I can help with?”
I shake my head, no, and he asks Portia if he should check the spectrometer, and she tells him, yes, and I work the sketch of the young blond man out. Once Lepidus is gone and the door is shut again I turn to Portia and start, “Last one, he’s about your height—”
“Cinna, that’s Gallus Heavensbee.”
“Who?” I almost don’t want to know, looking at her face, how wide her eyes are blown.
“Gallus Heavensbee. Picked up on assault charges last year, there was a huge scandal.” She shivers. “How could they let someone like him into Tantalus?”
“Why isn’t he in jail?”
“I don’t know, his father bought him out? Cinna, this is a real problem.” She shuts the sketchbook on my fingers, like she doesn’t want to look at him. “Finnick can’t have known.”
“No, he can’t. He doesn’t screen his clients, I’ve known that for a while.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if he doesn’t screen them, he didn’t buy out Tantalus. Who did?”
“I don’t know.” And Finnick calling last night a fundraiser echoes in my head, in his voice, overlapping like sirens on the street.
Portia puts her hands on the sketchbook’s cover, then on mine. Either she’s cold, or the blood in my hands is starting to run warm even when the rest of me is frozen all over. “I’ll look into it,” she says, her voice barely a whisper. “I know a guy who knows everyone in the banks. And don’t you dare say no, because if I do it, no one will trace it back to you, all right?”
I shut my eyes and hold my sketchbook close. “All right. You do that. I’ll talk to Ari and Atia. I have to see them about references anyway. And Finnick’s not back until late tomorrow night.”
“Oh, Cinna.” She sighs, and tilts me on to her shoulder, the way she’s held me through design blocks and stolen patterns and men who I pushed too far, the way I’ve held her through lost grants and abusive partners and embarrassing color combinations. “No one’s taken care of you.”
“It’s no one’s job.” I turn my face into her thigh and hope my makeup doesn’t smear. “And I shouldn’t need it.”
“Bullshit,” she says, and I don’t argue.
“Cinna, honey!” Atia looks more like herself every year, natural-colored wigs in outlandish peaked styles, skin blushing hard against age. I stand on tiptoe and kiss her on the cheek before she hands me off to Ari. “New necklace?”
“Not new, it’s one of mine,” Ari says, and twirls it around his finger. “Sentimental but stylish, Cinna. I adore it.”
“Thank you,” I say, of course, and they sit me down on their couch, pour tea and set out chocolate, nestle close together opposite me. All these years together and they’re still partners in everything. I’ve envied them that as long as I knew. I know who my creative match is, and we’re not sexually interested in each other, let alone sexually compatible. Then again, for every man I drive away because I’ll always be closer in mind to Portia, I draw in another man who knows he won’t have to suffer or compete with me artistically. So it’s a fair trade.
“Before you even ask, Cinna, I’ll just go ahead and say it.” Ari sets down his teacup and gives it a little twist. “I love what you’ve been doing with Finnick Odair this season. It’s subtle, and it’s decisive, and so mature.”
“Not just him,” Atia teases. “You. It might just be a case of knowing where to look, but I look at his photos in the tabloids and I feel like I’m watching you grow up. Honestly, I never thought I’d say this, but it’s nice to see you do minimal. Don’t get me wrong, I love your gowns, but remember what I used to tell you about limiting your palette? You don’t get more limited than a naked man.”
“Limitless, but limited,” I agree.
“Yes but that limitlessness has been messing with the heads of artists since forever.” Atia reaches over and ruffles my knees. “And you’re an artist now, Cinna. You took that heroic hunk of marble and you’ve made him move.”
“Have you slept with him?” Ari asks, bluntly.
“No.” I can’t help blushing, but it’s a conscious choice to derail that with “I can’t afford it.”
They laugh, both at that and at each other. “Tell me about it,” Atia says, but in the way that makes it clear she’d rather tell me more. “Remember when we had do drive Gloss’ suitors off with a sword?”
The first thing that comes to mind shouldn’t be where did you get a sword?
Ari laughs, though. “I couldn’t ever forget. Cashmere nearly tore them apart! I was afraid we’d have to call the Peacekeepers.”
“Honestly, we could have just told the poor men just how much it would have cost them! Cashmere didn’t have to be so cruel.” Atia pouts. “Though who can blame her? She loves her brother so much.”
“Is that sort of thing still going on for them?” I ask, and hope they just think I’m glad the conversation is no longer about me and Finnick.
“Oh no, no,” Atia says. “Cashmere’s past her time, mostly, and once they figured it out about each other, she wouldn’t have much more of it.”
Each other. I hold on to that. “So they were both—”
“Selling themselves, yes. The lucky dears. But they went about it so dutifully and discreetly from each other that they didn’t know the other was doing it! It was beautiful, honestly, like something out of the Games. Can you imagine! There’s that horrid story of the husband and wife, Cashmere used to describe it, how did it go? About how a wife sold her hair to buy her husband a watch chain and he sold his watch to buy her a comb. Tragic, really.”
“A comb doesn’t cost that much,” Ari says. “But the symbol matters more than the material, in this case.”
“The fallout was awful,” Atia agrees. “I felt so horrible for them. And they haven’t been back to the Capitol almost at all since.”
“When was this?” I ask.
“Only two years ago. During the seventy-first Games. They still come to the Capitol sometimes, but it’s not the same. And Cashmere’s getting a little old for all but her most devoted.”
Cashmere is two years older than I am.
“Besides.” Atia says, “the world has Finnick now. And you’re doing a marvelous job with him.”
“We know you’re here for references,” Ari says, and opens the book on their coffee table to reveal a stack of envelopes tied with a gold ribbon. “And you can have them with our compliments.”
I hand Finnick his garment bag. My hand is shaking enough that the beads on his scarf and the pin of his belt chitter until I let go.
The door to Tigris’ shop has real chimes attached, low and clanging. They startle me, enough that I turn back, and only after do I actually hear Tigris padding toward me.
“Cinna.” Her voice gets softer every time I speak to her, and harder to find the subtleties in, but Tigris has never been one for mincing words. “You’re early.”
“I got here as fast as I could.” And I did, because I never know how long it’s going to take to walk through the kitsch quarter. The last time I tried, I ended up staring at a wax mannequin for an hour, wondering if it really was supposed to be Caesar Flickerman, if they froze him in the market square between television appearances. I avoided that entire street today and still got to Tigris’ shop before sunset. “I’m sorry to bother you.”
“You’re not a bother.”
I smile, and look over some of the designs. Tigris used to do some of the best work with fur and leather I’ve ever seen, and while the patterns are a little uninspired now, the workmanship is flawless as ever. She lets me appreciate a leather vest for a while before she suggests, “There’s a better color of that one, for you. Downstairs.”
I nod and agree.
Her storage is spacious, lined wall to wall with stacks of fur. The lighting is dim and gentle, so she probably doesn’t do any work here, just means to use it to ensure us privacy. “So,” she says, curling up on one of the piles, whiskers twitching. “You suspect something.”
“I suspect, and I need to know.”
“You’re working for District Four this season.”
“And probably through the Games,” I add, thinking about Ari and Atia’s references, Finnick’s acceptance of my presence, the shimmering ocean-blue suits and gowns that are already taking shape in my sketchbook.
“Then what more is there to know?” She straightens one of her whiskers, flicks her nails dismissively. “You’ve seen what he has do to. What he is.”
She nods, her eyes lidding into shadow.
“He doesn’t do it for the money, does he.”
“He doesn’t ever see it,” Tigris corrects. “He’s not a whore, he’s a slave.”
Hearing Finnick called that—both of those, both of them equally awful—makes my chest burn and my palms sweat. “He’s a victor.”
“That just gives Snow an excuse.”
I can’t put my hands on the furs, I feel like I’ll stain them. Snow. President Snow. “But why is Snow blackmailing him? What did Finnick do to deserve that?”
All Tigris says is, contemptuously, “He won.”
Finnick comes home, wasted, with welts on the side of his face, and I almost fall over myself helping him to bed. Is there anything he needs, no. Wants, no. Let me fix those scratches, let me wring out your back, let me get you something to drink. Let me kiss you. Let me take on the world for you, let me go the next time you don’t want to, let them brutalize me instead because I deserve it more than you.
He laughs and calls me the most talkative Avox he’s ever heard.
I wake up in a cold sweat, with my throat too dry to scream.
“Lepidus, is Portia here?”
“—Cinna, you look like hell.”
Of course I do. I couldn’t look in the mirror this morning and let’s see you put on liquid eyeliner blind. “I know. I’m sorry. Is she here?”
“She hasn’t come in yet.” But Lepidus lopes an awkward arm over my shoulder and shuts the door behind me and takes me to the breakroom. “Here. Have something to drink—wait, let me get you one that hasn’t been out all night being color-matched. Pulp or no pulp, I always forget.”
“So much pulp it’s practically still an orange,” I say, sitting down on the couch. I almost wish there were a blanket, but there’s no point in making Lepidus want to know what’s wrong. “Thank you,” I say when he hands it to me. “You’re using the other one for color-matching?”
“The fire,” he explains, smiling. “We’re not exactly making leaps and bounds. Portia had a breakthrough about a week ago getting the vapor to limit itself but the consistency’s still a problem.” He goes on, and I drink the juice and listen, try to let everything fade. “But it’s easier to hold the color of a glass of orange juice than it is to keep a fire going.”
“They’re completely different colors,” I say.
“Fire doesn’t have a color.” Lepidus pours himself coffee and sits on the end of the counter. “It has a spectrum. But first, we have to get just one color. A spark.”
“You could’ve put it that way to me,” Portia says from the doorway.
“I could, but then I’d be ignoring all the hassle.” Lepidus looks up at her and smiles. “Tell you what, I’ll go tinker and let you two talk.” He passes Portia on the way out and gives a lock of her hair a twist. “Morning.”
“Morning,” she says, following him out with her eyes. That’s new.
Oh what a tangled web we weave.
She smiles warmly until the door closes, and I’m about to ask what’s going on for the two of them when I actually see the way she’s looking at me.
“I heard back from my friend at the banks,” she says. Her lower lip trembles and I realize she’s not wearing lipstick, hasn’t tweezed her eyebrows, left the house with her hair still wet. “It’s true, isn’t it.”
I hang my head. “I went to Tigris. A lot—a lot of things are true.”
She almost trips over her heels on the way to the couch and I don’t blame her. “Cinna, the order came straight from the Ministry of Finance.”
Hanging my head isn’t working. I have to hold it in my hands or else I think it’ll snap my neck.
I can’t tell her everything. I know I know too much. But I have to tell her something, and not just because I can’t hold on to this alone. “Finnick never sees the money.”
I think she sits down next to me. That’s the most likely reason for the couch to lurch. But I’m feeling everything by halves right now, at least everything external. If Portia touched me I’d probably just wonder if the window was open.
“It’s not Tantalus’ fault,” Portia says, so far away. “It’s not like they can turn down a Presidential order. So. I should tell people to stop blacklisting them.”
“Right,” I say. There’s nothing else.
“And I’ll do it. You don’t mind your integrity taking a hit,” she murmurs.
“I don’t. Not for this.”
Lepidus knocks on the door. “I left my coffee, can I come in?”
“Sure,” Portia and I say. I’m more startled than she is. And so Lepidus comes in, and Portia smiles, and we give him a show.
“So you’re living in Finnick Odair’s apartment,” she says, like this is what we’ve been talking about all along.
I can feel my cheeks heating. “Yes.”
“You straddled Finnick Odair’s hips and gave him a back massage.”
“And a foot massage.”
“And a foot massage,” she corrects.
I specify, “Not at the same time, I only have two hands.” Lepidus snickers into his refreshed coffee.
Portia goes on, “You walked in on a drunken Finnick Odair playing with your eyeliner.”
“It wasn’t on my face.”
“And you cuddled with a naked Finnick Odair desperate for physical contact.”
“He wasn’t desperate for physical contact, he was desperate for aftercare, physical contact is a component of aftercare.”
She laughs. It doesn’t sound hollow, but the echo does. “And you still haven’t slept with him?”
I hang my head. I didn’t want to think about this. I don’t want to think about this. “It’s not my job. The rest of that? That’s my job.”
“Anyone else in the Capitol would have slept with him ages ago,” Lepidus says, sharing a nod of agreement and what I distinctly think are bedroom eyes with Portia.
I sigh. It might not be the right time to say it, but the words come out on their own: “No one else in the Capitol cares what Finnick Odair wants.”
I get back to Finnick’s apartment with about thirty-six hours before he’s supposed to walk in the door. Hours one and two I just sit on the couch with my sketchbook open and a pencil sliding out of my fingers. There’s more sweat on the page than graphite. Hour three, I take a shower, fight with the programming the whole way through. The water’s never hot enough. The exfoliants are never sharp enough. The soap doesn’t sting. Somewhere in the back of my head I know I’m being appropriative and melodramatic but it’s what I feel, and I feel childish for feeling it.
The rest of hour three, and most of hour four, I get dressed and sit at the vanity, going through the motions of taking care of my face, which is difficult when what I really want to do is rip it clean off. Hour five, six, seven, the sketchbook again, hour eight I remember I should probably eat something, hour nine I order it up, hour ten the smell stops nauseating me but by then it’s too cold. The Avoxes take it away. I tell them it’s fine, they should eat it if they want to, and they shake their heads and I feel like an asshole.
Hour eleven, and still there’s nothing on the page but the faint silver dots my pencil leaves behind when it slips out of my grip. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. I don’t know where fifteen and sixteen go. I probably sleep. So at the end of hour sixteen I haul myself off the couch and to bed. I dream, and I know it’s a dream because like hell I’m setting foot in Tantalus again even if it’s not their fault. But I dream I’m in Tantalus, and Finnick’s up there on the cross again, smiling down at me and saying it’s my turn, and of course I go up to him, of course I touch him, of course I comply when he says I should do it harder and learn him. Figure him out. Find where he ticks, where he moves, what he wants, what he is. My nails, my teeth, my fists, nothing marks him, and when I tear at his flesh new skin bubbles up instead of blood, smoothing him over, thinning him out. He comes. I don’t. I wake up.
It’s hour twenty-one and I still can’t draw. I sit in the chair instead of on the couch. An Avox brings me orange juice. I do manage to drink it, slowly, over the course of hours twenty-two and twenty-three. Twenty-four, twenty-five, I finally remember to turn the television on. He’s on it, like he’s haunting me, reminding me that whatever else he did last night, it wasn’t me. There are other programs on. I split the screen, keep Finnick in the bottom corner until he goes away because I know if I don’t I’ll just keep changing the channel, and I let Wear and Tear fill the other three quarters of the screen. Scarves are coming back in. Good, I’ve done my job.
Twenty-five, six, seven, eight. I haven’t been blocked this badly for years, maybe a decade. There are suits to design and patterns to glue and inspiration to look for somewhere and here I am, holed up in Finnick Odair’s apartment without a clue of what I should say when he gets home, let alone what to do until he gets here.
This is how we started. When we started, he was late.
He comes home two hours early, and I’m still in that chair, with my sketchbook open on my lap and nothing in it.
He hangs up his coat. He says hello. He takes one look at me and I feel it on the side of my neck, since I can’t look him in the eyes.
“Have you slept?” he asks.
I don’t want to think about sleeping. I tell him “Some,” because it’s true.
“Not much,” he teases, then comes around me to sit on the couch. He turns the television off, rolls back his shoulders. He’s not hurt, I can tell, just sore, and I should take care of him, it’s my job it’s my job it’s not his job, he never sees the money, and before I can tell he’s looking at the sketchbook I throw it down.
It startles him. I startled Finnick Odair. I guess that ranks me with the top eight tributes. “Cinna, what’s wrong?”
I say, “I know.”
I don’t look at him. He could be confused, he could be white as a sheet, he could be angry, amused, anything. “What, who I am?” he asks.
“No.” I breathe. It hurts. “But I do know what you don’t do for a living.”
For longer than I think this deserves, Finnick stares at me. It’s more like being accused by the television than anything else, like having the walls close in, like being judged. He sits across from me and I stare at the shoes I picked out for him three days ago, no longer wondering why they don’t need a shine. I should hem his pants. I should do a lot of things. I should say something.
Finnick looks over my shoulder at a place in the corner, and says, “Beetee.”
So I look up, and it’s not because I can, it’s because I’m confused. “Beetee? What does District Three have to do with this?”
“It’s a signal,” Finnick says. There’s a smile on his jaw I’ve only seen when he’s half-asleep. “The room’s bugged. If I mention Beetee it starts a feedback loop that gives us about half an hour, twenty minutes if people are actually trying to listen in. So. Say what you want to say.”
“This place is bugged?” Wonderful. That was articulate.
“There’s not much in the Capitol that isn’t,” Finnick says. “So. Go on. Please.”
It’s only appropriate that the first thing out of my mouth is “I’m sorry.”
For a thousand things trying to race out of my mouth all at once. They clash on the way and I end up saying nothing, just forming words with tangled sounds. He comes closer, sits on the arm of my chair and laughs, “Well, that’s a waste of de-bugging,” and I have no idea what comes over me but whatever it is, it loosens my tongue.
“I’m ignorant,” I say. “I’m sorry I’m ignorant. I’m sorry I send you off every night to do something that isn’t your job, it’s something that hurts you, and I’m sorry it took someone really hurting you for me to see it, and I’m sorry that I feel like it’s about me even now that I’ve found out what you are because I can’t get over it and that’s nothing. It’s nothing to you. It’s nothing compared to you.” When he says nothing, I breathe. “And I haven’t even asked if it’s true. It’s true, isn’t it?”
“That the President is blackmailing you. That he plays victors against their families if they won’t prostitute themselves. And that a lot of people in power aren’t just turning a blind eye, they’re your—patrons.”
“It’s true,” Finnick says.
“I talked to the stylists for District 1,” I say. “Cashmere and Gloss—”
“The real sticker for Cashmere and Gloss is that they were being played against each other,” Finnick says, flat but assertive. “Gloss was the person they threatened Cashmere with, when she won her Games in the first place. She pulled for him to win his Games, made a lot of coincidences happen. And then when Gloss won, Snow told him that if he didn’t sell himself, Snow would sell Cashmere in his place, never mind that she’d already been doing that to keep Gloss alive.”
I feel like my tongue has turned to carpet. “How long?”
“Eight years, before either of them found out.” I watch his knuckles whiten on his knee. “It’s amazing what you can do when you’re trying to protect someone.”
“Have cousins,” he interrupts, “thirteen cousins, four aunts and four uncles, and a mother and father in District Four.” His mouth shapes, like there’s more, but he doesn’t say anything.
“And this is what he does to the victors,” I can’t help saying now. “This is what he does to the ones who win.”
“Well, it’s not like he can do it to the ones who lose,” Finnick says.
“That wasn’t funny. None of this is funny.”
“It’s easier to laugh about it.”
“Easier for you.” What do I sound like? Damn it. “But this is about you, it’s not about me, it can’t be about me. You’re worse off. I’m just an idiot.”
“You didn’t know.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Yes, you did. When you knew what to ask.”
“But I should have known from the start. All this talk, all this want I have, about transcending the Games and making people feel and notice and being subversive and I never once thought to ask, why. What am I subverting? What am I preventing? Because it was all power to me, all about the opportunity to change people and I don’t have the right to change them if I’m just like them, if I’m just as ignorant as they are, and Finnick this still isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s you, you’re the one that’s being hurt, and I’m part of the thing that’s hurting you so what I feel doesn’t matter.”
Finnick Odair smiles at me, without the little searchlights of the cameras to make his teeth shine, and looks like he’s trying to hold back a laugh.
I refuse to cry. If he’s laughing at this (and I deserve it), crying will probably put him in hysterics.
“It has to stop,” I say.
He blinks, but doesn’t drop the smile. “What has to stop?”
I breathe. “This. The Games. Everything.” I can’t look at him, but my head’s too heavy to turn, so it ends up sinking. “I can’t believe that I—want—I still want—”
“How would you stop it?”
The change in Finnick’s tone, softer, closer, chills me up to my shoulders. “I’d make them see. I’d make everyone in the Capitol see that we’re monsters. Us, not them. Not you.”
“By showing them that the tributes are humans. By showing them who the tributes are. Like I saw with you. Like you let me find, with you.” I shut my eyes, try to piece it together. My hands are shaking, too slick to hold a pencil, like they’ve been for the last thirty-six hours. “Make them see. Make them choose. Look at what it’s done to me, Finnick, what just knowing has done to me, and there are better people out there. If the Capitol knew what it was doing, it would stop. It would have to. We’d have to.”
Something touches my cheek, and I panic before I realize that it’s his hand. I look, try to fill my peripheral vision with his fingertips, because there’s no way I can look him in the eye.
“But how would you show them?” he asks.
“Through the Games. I’d have to go through the Games. Find a tribute, find someone who they can’t ignore. Someone like you.”
“But that wouldn’t stop him from turning out like me,” Finnick says.
“Then two. Two people the Capitol needs to live. Or three. Or all of them. If the Capitol cared about every single one of the tributes, knew them and cared and thought of them as people—”
“Can you do that?” he asks before I can say anything more. “Can you, would you do that?”
“If it was the last thing I ever did,” I say, and don’t take it back.
His fingertips slide down my cheek, fall away to the arm of the couch. I have no idea how my breathing’s gotten so ragged but it has, I can hear it, feel it straining the cushions. He stands up, and I think he’s leaving, but he sits on the coffee table instead, his knees framing mine.
“I’ll give you the chance to prove that,” he says, low enough that I don’t think the bugs would have picked it up, if they were still on.
I have to look at him. I have to make sure it’s Finnick saying that, the Finnick I’ve been trying to find for the past five weeks.
But I never expected the first thing I’d hear the real Finnick Odair say to be “Welcome to the resistance, Cinna Ward.”
My mouth is hanging open, so I close it.
He puts his hand on my knee and leans in, looks me in the eyes. “We do need someone on the inside. But you’re wrong. It’s not the Capitol you need to convince, it’s the Districts. It’s not about shifting power, it’s about taking it.”
“I’m in,” I say. I breathe, and say it again to make sure. “I’m in. I can’t let this go on.”
“Do you have anyone they could use against you?”
I think of Portia and Lepidus, of my parents, my brother, his kids. Finnick has cousins, he said, cousins and family and more, and Cashmere and Gloss had each other. Portia would be like that for me, but not if she knew why, and she’d trust why. It would hurt. It would be awful.
But she’d know. They’ll all know, as soon as I do what I’ve promised, what I’ve set out for.
And it’s design. It’s me. I’ve always said all my power is in my work, all my emotion, all my anger and sadness and fear and hate, and as long as it’s there, it only hurts me.
Whatever I do for Finnick, for the victors, for the tributes, for this, will only hurt me.
“No,” I say, and believe it as much as I can. “As long as I leave something behind, I don’t care what happens to me. They can’t use someone like that.”
“No,” Finnick agrees, his eyes clouding over. “They can’t.”
I hear a faint scrape from the corners, a turn of the screws. Finnick turns away, looks over his shoulder, and then back to me. “The bugs are going to come back on soon. I’ll just say this quickly. I don’t want the victors to know about you yet. Haymitch knows, but not who you are. I’ll see if I can get you to meet him, during the Games maybe, or after.”
“All right,” I say. It doesn’t surprise me that Haymitch Abernathy’s at the center of this—well, it doesn’t surprise me any more than that there’s a this at all. I actually think I’m just wrung out of revelations.
He puts his hands on my knees, leans in, and kisses me.
My eyes don’t close. Neither does my mouth. I swear I must have flatlined. But then my breathing and tasting and everything but thinking starts all at once and I kiss him back, push off the back of the couch and take, the way I always take. His hands are on my thighs, I cover them; his tongue is against my lips, I meet it; he draws back and I reach after, strain off the back of the chair to follow him.
“Thank you for finding me,” he says. It’s him.
I hold on to his hands, keep them where they are, touching me. It takes three breaths for me to speak because the air just won’t go down far enough. “Please tell me you wanted that.”
“I wouldn’t have challenged you to if I didn’t want it.”
“No,” I say, and then realize what it must sound like. “I mean—”
He kisses me again, just short, like he’s asking if that’s what I mean, and it is what I mean, so I tell him “Don’t you dare stop.”
He doesn’t stop.
Neither do I. I don’t stop kissing him, I don’t stop surging up out of the chair to bend him over the table. He laughs, and I laugh, probably because this is the end of anything resembling professional courtesy, and we kiss until I feel the table start to protest our combined weights and Finnick says, “Couch,” and wriggles out from under me to sit on it. I get to my knees before he can tell me otherwise, before I can spare a thought to what I’m doing, and I undo his pants and take care of him the way I’ve wanted to for weeks, months, years maybe even though that wasn’t really Finnick, this is Finnick, Finnick against my cheek and down my throat and everywhere I look, everywhere I touch. And he wants me. He wants me enough to hold me by the hair and roll his hips and call me by name when he comes, and that’s more than I could ever have hoped for.
I wipe my jaw on his thigh, and that makes his breath catch. “Lie down,” he says, and it takes him pulling me up from the floor to kiss me for me to realize that’s not something he wants to do, that’s something he wants me to do. Oh. Yes.
“Back or front?” I breathe. I can still taste him.
“On your back,” he says, reaching over the edge of the couch for his garment bag.
I know what he’s going for. “I am so glad I packed that.”
He grins. “You’ll be gladder to pack this,” he says, reaching behind himself and straddling my hips.
Everything behind my eyes goes white at the thought, the image, the sight of him. This is real. This is happening. Finnick Odair is sliding down around me, scalding and tight and slow, too slow, but then if it were any faster I couldn’t watch him. I watch him. I watch us. I drive my hips up again and again so I can see everything and get more, so much more than that. He rides hard and I don’t make it easy trying to touch him and watch him and have all I can, but it’s good, so good, burning through me and wringing me dry.
He tells me how it feels. I give him more and more until I can’t.
After, after, I sink into the couch cushions, and it’s like swimming in sweat. I can’t help asking again, “Please tell me you wanted that.”
He laughs, and I can feel it across my thighs. “Showing you wasn’t enough?”
“It’s never enough,” I say, but I hope the way I’m smiling tells him just what I mean.
I know at some point I’ll have to come down. I have a world to face, a world I’m learning to fear but can’t bring myself to hate. I have promises to answer for and keep. I have games and Games to play, and change to spark, and so much more to learn.
On the other hand, I have Finnick Odair, and his apartment.
“I should shower,” he says.
“Yes,” I correct, “we should.”
I do truss him up and send him off, the afternoon after, as his schedule demands. Knowing doesn’t make it any easier. But the look he gives me as he takes the garment bag out of my hand, and his jokes about having a few new tricks to turn since last night (which are funny even though I don’t believe them for a second), those calm me down enough that at least my hands don’t shake.
All evening, I draw. My sketchbook is a torrent, a flood, an uprising.
“I slept with him,” I tell Portia at The Fig Tree, like there’s nothing wrong at all.
“—oh my god, Cinna, honey.” She gets out of her chair and nearly pirouettes around the table to hug me. “Congratulations!” Of course I hug her back, and I can’t help grinning, but the blush doesn’t start welling up under my skin until she sits down again and demands, “Details.”
I take a drink of water. “I told him a few things,” I say because she should know he knows I know, “and we got to talking, and one thing led to another—”
“That’s the part I want details about!” she says, teeth perched on the tip of her straw.
“You don’t see me asking for details about you and Lepidus.”
“Lepidus is Lepidus, this is Finnick Odair.”
“So what, everything he does is public?”
“Yeah, including you.”
“So,” she asks, “is it really a trident?”
Maybe I shouldn’t have been drinking water when she asked that. “Yes. But I could have told you that before.”
“It’s different when you’ve seen it intimately.”
“Portia, I wax him.”
“I mean intimately! So how long is the—”
She still raises her eyebrows at me to continue.
I look around, make sure there aren’t any waiters about. “No complaints,” I say, “but I haven’t capitalized on all of the design features yet.”
Portia squeaks, and someone comes over to take our orders. It’s probably a bad idea to order sopressata, even if they almost never have it here. I should stick to salad. No seafood, either. It doesn’t stop Portia, she probably gets the squid to torment me.
Once the waiter is gone and the drinks are set down, Portia glances to either side and takes a deep breath. “So he’s okay with this?”
“It was his idea,” I say, and I know I’m only addressing one of her concerns, but for once in my life, I can’t tell her everything. “And as for the rest, well. It’s not that he’s okay with it, but we’re going to make it work.”
She nods, and makes to ask more, but I lift my hand to stop her.
“Thank you. I can’t tell—” I pause, so she takes that on its own, “—how things will turn out. But there’s more to him than meets the eye, and I’m honored to catch a glimpse of it.”
“I’d be honored to catch what meets the eye,” she says. But she nods, and her eyes don’t shine, and I don’t think we’ll be talking about Finnick on a non-superficial level again for a long time. It’s for the best. I tell myself it’s for the best.
But the last time I kept a secret from Portia, she made me swear I wouldn’t do so again.
I guess we’ve both grown up.
“Finnick Odair’s residence. He’s out, but if you don’t mind talking to his stylist—”
“I am his stylist.”
“—Hello, Drusus! Long time.”
“Not that long, Cinna. Has he killed you yet?”
I laugh. “Not yet. And I think I’ll make it through the rest of the week too.”
“Good to hear.”
“How’s the Snow party coming along?”
“I never want to dress an elephant again.”
“That could definitely make you miss Finnick.”
“Ha. So, if you do survive the week, you still want to come work for me during the Games?”
“I wouldn’t turn you down if you asked.”
“I thought I just did.”
“Then I’d better accept.”
“Good. I like what you’ve done with him, you know. He must be crowing that you’re treating him like an adult.”
I’m glad this phone is audio-only. He doesn’t need to see me shiver. “I wouldn’t say he’s crowing, but he does seem to appreciate it.”
“Good. Then come back and be my assistant for the seventy-third Games. I’ll have to run it by the board, but they can’t really turn down a direct recommendation. Not to mention Atia and Ari are talking you up pretty much everywhere that’ll listen.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” I say, and it’s true. I do want this. Not just to work with Finnick again, but the chance, the chances, that it provides. I need to move up before the Quarter Quell, now more than ever. I need to touch the Games as soon as I can. “Should we talk terms?”
“I’ll talk the ones I can set, at least,” Drusus says. “Twenty-five percent of the design team earnings—to my forty-five, in case you were wondering—with five percent each to prep, which you can tack on if you want to do conditioning for one of the tributes. Room, board, notions, all taken care of. Depending on which of us ends up shadowing Finnick and how long the Games go on, there’s a stipend attached, plus materials cost, since his doesn’t come out of the treasury anymore.”
Of course it doesn’t come out of the treasury, it just goes in. “I think we should let the prep teams keep their jobs.”
“I do too, Finnick’s a full-time commitment on his own. Not that our tributes tend to last very long since him, except Annie Cresta, but that’s a can of worms I don’t feel like opening. Anyway. I have to say, Cinna, I hope this is the last step you have to take before you break out. I know how you work, and I hate to say it but I’ve heard people laying bets on when you’ll burn yourself out.”
“Not too soon,” I say. “Never too soon.”
Our last night together before Finnick goes back to District 4, we don’t sleep. It’s surprisingly difficult to coax him out of bed when I’m in there with him.
He doesn’t ask, so I don’t tell him that I’ll be here when the Games roll around.
There’s a message about a gown commission waiting on my machine when I get home. Metellus Miller is apparently interested in hiring me to dress his daughter, who has seen the makeup work I’ve done with Finnick and wants me to turn her into a moving work of artfor the opening ceremonies. Even in the message Miller says he’ll spare no expense, he’ll do anything to promote his daughter in society, and show the Capitol how wonderful she is.
Of course I call back, I’d be an idiot to turn that down. When I get through to Miller himself, he says he’ll send her over tomorrow afternoon, so I can measure her, get her colors, get started right away. Two months until the Games, after all. That should be enough time for something truly beautiful.
So I set up my apartment the way I’ve started to for commissions, clear the workroom, make sure there’s tea. Everything else is a clean slate.
“Hey there,” the blond girl who punched Finnick in Tantalus says. “I’m Caecilia Miller. I’m here about the dress.”
I don’t speak. I don’t move.
She sneers. “Are you Cinna the stylist, or does he have an Avox or something?”
“—No,” I manage. “I mean, no, he doesn’t have an Avox. I’m Cinna. Sorry, you just startled me. I wasn’t expecting someone so beautiful.”
Of course she’s the kind of person who believes that. “Oh, good. I hope I’ll be inspiring. I just love your work!”
I show her in, sit her down, and offer her tea, which she takes thick with sugar like she doesn’t have to worry about her figure. I don’t think she does. The muscles in her arms are real, but the dent of her waist clearly isn’t. Her hair still has the green streaks through the blond but I think they’re bluer than they were two weeks ago, as are her eyes. “Let’s get down to it. I want something built around that shifting design you did on Finnick for his Tantalus gig.”
She calls it a gig. A gig, like he’s a musician or a stylist like me. “I can do that,” I say, because it’s true. “What do you want to show?”
“Me,” she says. “The best parts of me.”
Sometimes I truly love my job.
Four scheduled fittings.
Three visits to Portia.
Two Avox test runs for the makeup.
Eight words that play over and over in my head no matter what’s on the television: This proves to them what I can do.
Portia perfects the lacquer, between visits one and two. It can fade between colors, layer over itself. But the trick, with this design, is the subtlety of human skin, of creating something to peel itself away. Portia says it’s either a complete waste or a stroke of genius, using her lacquer to create a basic foundation and the powder to blend it.
The gown is translucent and clings, illuminated underneath for subtle modesty, strapless and slit at both side seams for her legs to slip through. She’d sweat through the makeup if I had her wear the dress over it, so I preserve the theme of the makeup in the lining and wire the lights in the outer fabric to perform almost the same functions as the lacquer.
Caecilia genuinely enjoys being prepped and painted, the day of. She talks to me about her pre-Games workout, as if she’s a Career tribute going in, or as if she wants me to be proud of her for making my design conform to her. She’s excited, smug, curious, but I don’t explain what the design is, precisely. And of course there’s no way I can know the exact path of her arteries and veins, but I have been doing anatomical drawing for over half my life, in one way or another.
So all through the night, what’s inside Caecilia Miller conceals and reveals itself, shade by shade, at the turn of the clock. Her bones, wound through with glowing red and blue, branch off under the web of her gloves into capillaries so fine they’ll never bruise. The arteries coil and spiral down her legs, her arms, everywhere. The best parts of her are her blood and her bones.
She loves it. She preens, can’t stop staring at her skin even after I send her off to deal with her hair. She doesn’t mind that I’m removing her green streaks, whitening them, paring away everything she’s done to herself outside.
I won’t be at the ball, of course, and I won’t have time to watch it, since Finnick and the tributes arrive tonight. But there will always be tabloids, always broadcasts, always who’s who wearing what.
“Take the girl,” Drusus commands, once he gets a look at Molina and Cherlie at Beauty Base Zero, “at least for the interview and training. I’ll handle the opening ceremonies outfits, like we planned. I’ve updated the colors for them.” He hands me his organizer, lets me stroll through it. Drusus digitizes most of his designs and palettes, and it works for him, but it actually makes me dizzy. He says he likes knowing precisely what pigments go where. “And I’d be an idiot if I didn’t let you do their makeup.”
“You’re just as good with it as I am,” I say.
“Sure, but you’re a public relations wet dream,” he says. He nudges his organizer out of the way with a paper tabloid.
Caecilia Miller’s circulatory system smiles up at me.
“Done,” I say. “Jellyfish?”
“Jellyfish. And now, thanks to you, I can make them see the poison barbs.”
“Hi,” Molina says, once I shut the door behind me. “You look sane, compared to the others.”
“I try to be,” I tell her. “I’m Cinna. I’ll be taking care of you until the Games, maybe after if you win.”
“Good,” she says. Molina’s bold, with dark red-brown hair cut almost as short as mine, broad shoulders and a build I’d actually describe as boyish. I can tell the prep team has covered up some white discolorations on the sides of her face, but I think I’ll be removing that whenever I can.
“Can you tell me a little about yourself?” I ask. “Something you think I can’t see.”
“Sure. Well, I’m eighteen. I’ve been training since I was ten, so I volunteered because this year would be my last chance, and the girl they drew wouldn’t have brought it in, you know?” That, I could see on her, but I let her go on. “I work on one of the tankers. I’m going in there and I’m going to fight. But you know, this is the part I looked forward to the most, during training.”
“What, being styled?”
“Yeah. It’s probably silly of me, but I wanted the chance to feel worthy. You know, to shine. To stand out.”
“It’s not silly.” I kneel down next to her and start getting her measurements. “It’s the best chance you have.”
“Jellyfish,” Finnick says, once Drusus and I show the tributes out. I guess it’s not the worst thing he could say to me after two months away, but then again I haven’t asked if he’s actually mentoring or just here for—work. Societal obligations. That.
“Jellyfish,” Drusus says. “Teaching an old design new tricks.”
“Could work.” And then Finnick cracks his neck and ducks into the kitchen. Not mentoring, then. Already has aching muscles. I don’t like it. I don’t think I ever will.
I take one look at Drusus and barely have to open my mouth before he tells me, “Go ahead. You take him, the prep teams can deal with the tributes.”
I nod, and knock on the kitchen door, but step right in anyway.
“I’m only up here because Beetee’s doing work downstairs,” he says. The walls click, the screws turn. “Audio only,” he says. “Fifteen minutes.”
I glance over my shoulder anyway. “It won’t be this year,” I say.
“Not this year,” he agrees. “Not one of ours, anyway. People are still out for District Four blood. Did you watch the Reaping ceremonies?”
“Only ours.” I didn’t have time.
He nods, and convinces the coffeemaker to give him hot chocolate instead. “Eleven’s got a fighter, and so does Eight, but I don’t think they’re right for what we need.”
“We’ll see after the opening ceremonies.”
“Gianna is in Eight this year, right?” he asks. I nod. “Good, she got promoted. It might be impressive enough to make a splash.”
“We don’t need a splash,” I correct. “We need a spark.”
“Then we need to get you to a District you won’t drown in.”
I laugh. “I don’t think you’ll put me out completely.” I have my sketchbook with me—the newest one, I’ve filled up three in the last two months, but this one has at least some of what I need to show him most. “I need a test run the same way you do. I hate to say it—and I hate to do it, because it’s unfair to her—but I’m going to make them all watch Molina. We’ll see how far she gets.”
“We’ll see,” Finnick says. His hot chocolate is probably still too hot, but he drinks it anyway, around the pile of whipped cream on top. “I can talk to the mentors about steering her away from the Career pack.”
“I don’t think that’s a bad call,” I say. “She wants to stand out.”
He shudders. “You should have seen her volunteer.”
“I did,” I say.
Seconds of unbugged time pass, with nothing either of us is willing to say.
“Let me take care of your back,” I ask him.
“Now,” he agrees. “The rest of me later?”
All through training, Molina wears something a step outside the box. A knotted scarf the first day. Bracers the second. A top with three zippers, the day she meets the Gamemakers, and she comes away with a solid 9. For the interviews, her dress is like oil, dripping in wet sequins from her strong shoulders, translucent over her legs. Finnick tells me her sponsors are falling in line, choosing her over Cherlie. The mentors coach her unassuming and straightforward, herself all through. I let the white lesions around her eyes shine out. Oil, spreading over the surface, laying the foundation for catastrophe.
She hugs me and thanks me, before I send her up into the Arena. “Thanks for trusting me,” she says. “I’ll make sure you didn’t misplace it.”
I run my fingers over the side of her face. “You never told me how you got these scars.”
“They’re not scars,” she says as she steps back onto the platform. “It just started happening.”
“Let’s hope it keeps happening,” I say, and I think she hears it because she smiles, but the platform’s already begun to rise, and she’s gone.
Televisions line the halls on the way back to the hovercraft. By the time we take off for the Capitol, I know she’s survived the Cornucopia, and struck off into the desert alone.
“The year we decide to fight back is the year the Arena tries to kill us,” Finnick sighs, sinking back into the vanity chair as I line his eyes. “Clubs. Sand.”
“Salt,” I say. “It’s not that different than being on the ocean, is it? Water everywhere and not a drop to drink?”
“You can filter the ocean, now,” he says. “Slowly, but you can.”
“Not the same, then.” I cap the eyeliner, set it aside. “But it worked, until that.”
“We’ll see,” I repeat. I know where Finnick’s going tonight, even if Drusus is nominally in charge. A fundraiser. Another club, another set of chains, another place I can’t hold him back from. Another auction. The first night of the Games and at least now I know how much things cost, how much they have to wring out of Finnick in order to keep things going. Knowing doesn’t make it any easier. I have to wonder if it ever does. Finnick Odair is real, the television is more than shadows on the wall. “I’ll go with you.”
“I’d like that,” Finnick says, smirking. “Just don’t enjoy yourself too much.”
“There? Not at all. But here, I hope you’ll let me.” I tilt back his chair, take up my paint, and go to work.
I walk in with him. I stand by as they auction him off. No Gamemakers in the crowd tonight, just omnipresent in the corners where the desert filters in onscreen, but the older man who looks like Trajan managed to pay in advance this time. He’s the only one I recognize from last time, the only one I recognize at all.
In the end, he goes first. Finnick is hung with his arms over his head, still clothed, and the man tears through Finnick’s shirt, on seams I hid and loosened. An albatross hangs on Finnick’s back and chest, on a thin double noose Finnick wove himself. Its wings glisten with blood and bile, spread over Finnick’s back and wrapped around his sides, as if to say then strike me first, go through me to get to him. The eye is the only part of the bird that blinks and shifts, its lid and pupil lacquered over to fade in and out and follow whoever dares look. Its head curls over Finnick’s shoulder, beak gaping near his heart.
Last time, at Tantalus, this very man had hesitated at nothing. This time, he marvels and stares, silent enough that I can hear the names of tonight’s dead tributes announced, and see their televised faces wash over his.
Finnick still needs me, when it’s over, when we’re home. He laughs, punch-drunk and delirious, and clings to me as we tangle through the doors. I may not find this funny, I still have work to do, but it’s a relief, all told, all over, that he isn’t last time’s kind of broken. I smile. I rake my fingers through his hair. I hold him by the noose and take him into the shower with me to wash the makeup away. There’s less blood, fewer bruises, rope burns on his wrists and ankles but nothing under his skin. The albatross itself is nearly intact, barely frayed at the feathers, and the water runs black and white and gold down Finnick’s body as I smooth it away, dismiss it like magic, like a ghost. It’s dangerous, and I know it, wanting him and feeling this and having this power, but Finnick puts himself into my hands and holds me close and asks for me, begs me to give him something he wants.
He knows me. He knows I’ll give him anything he wants.
So once he’s clean, once the bruises are gold and the cuts are sealed pink, I let him take control. He kneels, holds me against the shower wall by my wrists, takes my fingers into his mouth and then more, alongside, at the same time so I can feel what he does to me. His tongue, his skin, the heat of the shower—with all that, he’s not the only one with parts of him boiling away. He whispers my own words back at me, put enough water in one place and you’ll get the same results as fire, and that’s what comes over me, that’s what happens when he wraps my legs around him and fucks me into the wall.
We go to bed with our hair still wet. He sleeps draped over me, his skin mending as I trace it, faster than I dared before.
Cherlie is the sixteenth tribute to be eliminated, choosing to be flayed in a sandstorm rather than face the snake muttation that’s killed four other tributes so far. It’s a mistake, but it’s a mistake he chose, and that’s as much a choice as he’s probably ever gotten. They’re interviewing his family in District 4 while it happens, and the Capitol watches Cherlie’s mother and father and two younger brothers look on, turning green with disgust and horror.
Molina is the twenty-first. Her mentors send her plastics to seal her skin and gather her sweat, filters to wring the blood of the small snakes and hares and mutts she beats to death. In the desert sun, her already dark skin tans as brown as the leafless trees, but the white vitiligo on her face thickens and spreads down to her jaw. The commentators start calling her the Jackal. When the snakes drive the last four tributes closer she goes out fighting, and mortally wounds the girl from District 2, before the spikes drill into her brain.
They have to show the aftermath of her death, because the hovercraft doesn’t get there in time to scare off the giant snake, and it’s as hungry as the tributes.
Finnick calls me from the victor’s lounge, the night after Molina dies, and tells me, “Turn on Wear and Tear.”
Ligaria Baum, the most fashion-conscious woman in the Capitol, is wearing white stripes on her cheeks.
“You did it, Cinna,” Finnick says in my ear, quiet, urgent.
“So I did,” I say just as quietly, because yes, I believe it, but my heart is in my throat and it’s difficult to speak around.
“Meet me at the victor’s lounge. Do you know where that is?”
“Good. We should talk. And celebrate.”
“What the hell is he doing here?” Johanna Mason snaps.
Standing in the doorway of a room with half a dozen victors, I don’t say. One of these things is clearly not like the other. Chaff. Beetee. Wiress. Johanna. Me.
“Who are you, kid?” Chaff asks, but I don’t get to answer him before Wiress asks, “Where are you going?” and Beetee asks “How did you get here?”
“And if you’re one of Finnick’s, he doesn’t mix business with pleasure,” Johanna adds.
“I’m not here for Finnick’s business,” I say.
“Well, you’re not pleasing anyone else by being here.” For someone as small as Johanna Mason is, she seems to take up a lot of my space.
I tell her, and all of them, “I’m just here to pick him up.”
“Where are you going?” Wiress asks again.
“I don’t know, that’s his decision.”
“So I’ll ask you again,” Chaff says, “what’s your name?”
I expect them to laugh, and they don’t. Are these the people I’m collaborating with?
It doesn’t matter. They’re not collaborating with me.
“You should probably wait outside, Cinna,” Beetee says. “If he said he’d meet you here, he’ll see you in the hall before he gets in here.”
“There’s only one door,” Wiress agrees. At least she smiles at me.
“Fair enough,” I say, and step back, start to shut the door. “Sorry I intruded.”
My hand is still on the knob when Finnick laughs behind me. “They’re not the friendliest bunch.”
“They don’t have to be.” I turn to him and try to smile.
“Sorry about that. There’s a lot they don’t know,” he says once we start down the hall, him leading, just slightly out of step.
“And a lot they don’t like.”
He signals the elevator to take us down. “As long as they don’t tear you down, there’s nothing to worry about, right?”
There is. There always is. But it’s nothing I can talk about, not here, so we don’t.
Dinner is on me, drinks are on him. The Games lurk on the restaurant walls, past prime time and into the commentary and recaps before the inevitable showdown tomorrow afternoon. The desert sand is grey at night. I wish I didn’t know the tributes’ names.
Finnick drinks more than I do. Out of the Games or not, he’s here until closing ceremonies, so I don’t blame him. He drinks things in vivid colors with sweet flavors and names that I think must have been foreign once, but wouldn’t have given a thought to before. They stain his tongue pale purple, green, gold.
“So what’s it look like for next year?” he asks, draping himself over his chair as if he doesn’t know what he looks like, which I know, now, is true.
“It depends on who retires,” I say. “Or if anyone’s promoted.”
“Can you ask?”
“If there’s an open position at a low enough level, I can request, at least. Like if it’s a choice between Eleven and Twelve. Not that Twelve ever opens up.”
“That’s because Troy is part cockroach,” Finnick says. “To hear Haymitch talk about it, anyway. Are they even trying to get rid of him?”
“No more than they’re trying to get rid of Haymitch.” I think I did see him in the victor’s lounge, asleep on a couch while the others were driving me out.
“They can’t get rid of Haymitch,” Finnick says. “He’s the only living victor in District Twelve.”
“Yeah. All the other districts have at least three. Some have only one man, or one woman, but at least three total.”
“Then you’d think Haymitch would try to help his tributes win, if he wants to get off the hook that much.”
Finnick smiles brightly, raises his glass to toast me. I am getting much, much better at giving him lines to read between.
“And it’s hard to win,” I go on, “if you can’t catch anyone’s attention at the opening ceremonies.”
“Then Haymitch had better hope Troy gets it into his head to retire,” Finnick says, drinking. “What about Three and Eleven? Three’s also having problems. No victors at all since Wiress.”
“I could do wonders with Three,” I say. “Better than I could with Twelve. Three has a higher budget too, a stronger theme.” Three has a better tactical position, geographically, and a larger population as well, but that’s not for this conversation, not overtly. “And Eleven’s stylist position is probably opening up this year, since Laetitia did so well. Did they rule Sabal into fifth or sixth place?”
“Fifth. He had the higher kill count, even if the cannons fired at the same time.”
I nod. “So I could ask for Eleven, if Troy doesn’t leave Twelve.”
“You’d like working with Chaff and whoever else he brings, Seeder or Ami,” Finnick says. “They’re solid people. My mother would say good neighbors. Dedicated to their tributes, too, more than Haymitch for sure.”
He’s saying that Eleven’s in on it too. It’s not surprising. And Chaff wasn’t unkind to me before, just gruff. I try to envision an opening ceremony concept for Eleven, a theme. Life. Growth. Abundance. Endurance. Roots and vines and the inexorability of nature. I could build a line of clothes around it for any tribute, I’m sure. “We’ll see what opens up.”
“We’ll see,” Finnick repeats. “But you’re as good as in.” He toasts again, looks at me over the rim of his glass.
“And you’re in for the night,” I say, keeping his eyes, “unless you want to spend your night off—”
“At least at home, we can turn the television off,” he says, once the glass is on the table. But he’s still looking at me, still challenging me, still saying he knows what I mean.
“Yes,” I agree. “Yes we can.”
Innate: Finnick Odair is a tease.
Applied: His hand in my back pocket for the duration of the cab ride home.
He doesn’t even withdraw it to pay the driver, just drops his wallet into his lap and works it open with one hand, and tips exorbitantly as usual. When I try to slide out of the seat, he stays close, presses his fingertips hard against the cloth and looks at me like I should know exactly what he’s doing. Good thing I do.
What he’s doing—what we’re doing—starts as soon as the door to the apartment closes, and starts with me. I back him into the closet door and kiss him until he laughs. He whispers filthy things in my ear, his breath sweet from all the bright liqueurs, about what he’s going to make me do and how well it’ll show up on my clothes. I’m more for showing than telling but I can’t deny what his voice does to me any more than I can stop it. I goad him on, take what I can, run my fingers and my tongue over the parts of him I know are his. He says he knows I like to watch him, if I like it so much he’ll give me just the right angle, just the right light, if I can keep my eyes open at all the way he plans to touch me. We make it to the bedroom and almost to the bed, there are still drawers to rifle through and clothing to take off, and when he finally pulls me on top of him I can’t slow down. He has us both in one hand, makes me rock back on my fingers just to go faster, to have this sooner, to see what it does to him, and then he’s under me and in me and spread out gorgeous on the bed, tearing at sheets that can’t contain him. And I’m struck with the desire to make water burn.
I don’t know when it changes, but I’m there, and the way we move is making my eyes flash white and my knees ache and fire race through me, immolating my blood and choking me and reducing the world to one haloed point just out of reach—
—and that point becomes a spark.
“—my sketchbook,” I say, somehow, between all the ragged yesses and pleading and stilted breath. “I need my sketchbook.”
I don’t even see Finnick’s face when I climb off him and reach over the edge of the bed. I know my satchel’s in here, it was still on my shoulder when we came in here, he didn’t let me drop it in the hallway. There. No, those are his pants.
“Cinna?” The bed rustles. His skin slides against mine. Not now. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, I just need to get this down.” There—yes. I get the book out, and my pencils, and balance on the edge of the bed. It all comes together, once I have that in hand; start with the forms, the helmet, the cape, fire licking back against the wind but too strong to extinguish, the light at the base bringing out their faces. I’m dimly aware of Finnick excusing himself and the lights creeping under the bathroom door but it doesn’t matter, once I taper this line it’ll all look like flames within flames. Portia has to perfect the fire this year. She will, once she gets a look at this. The bathroom door clicks open and Finnick’s shadow passes me and I know.
FIRE, I write in the corner once I’ve shaded the contour of the flames.
“To understand the impulse for fashion is to understand the impulse for fear,” I say.
“You’ll have to explain that.”
I didn’t know he was listening. I keep drawing. “What were you afraid of growing up, Finnick?”
I laugh. “I mean on a deep primal level. Loneliness. The dark. The unknown. You can train yourself not to fear fire and you can train yourself not to fear death, but you can’t drive away the fears that preserve you.” I make a few quick lines, cause the cape to cast a graphite shadow. “Why do people assert themselves? Because they want to be seen. They want to be known. And they want to be in the light. Fashion grows out of that fear. Fear of obscurity. Fear of loneliness. Fear of the dark.”
“I’m boring you.”
I shake my head, no. “I need more light.”
He pulls away from my side, and brings in my lamp from the parlor. By the time he returns, I’ve started a new page. Interview clothes. A suit with peaked lapels and lining like lava, a handkerchief twisted into flame.
“This won’t ever work for District Eleven,” Finnick says. The lamp snaps on, and I don’t have to squint anymore, pull back from the page enough to see the whole.
“No,” I agree. “Three or Twelve. Three the fire is electrical, green, the spark of technology, of creation.”
“Beetee will like that.” The walls click, the screws turn, the bugs are gone and a good thing too, because I’ve probably already said too much. “Haymitch will like it more.”
“Fire from coal. Resurrection. Coal is a fossil. Fire out of death.” I start on a dress that rises from the hem to crest in flames around the girl’s chin. I balance them out, fan out the hem into a mermaid cut, scalloped in front to support the gems. “And always last. Twelve always goes last.” I finally look up. “That’s where I need to be. Last. Where they’ll remember.”
“I’ll talk to my people, see if we can get Troy to move on.” Finnick’s hand nestles on my shoulder, and his shadow creeps over the corner of the page but not into the design.
“This is it,” I breathe. “This is why.”
“Should I leave you be?”
“No. Stay.” The dress needs gemstones, sequins are too flat, too wet. Edges. Facets. The sun gone nova, consuming the earth.
“I never thought I’d be anyone’s muse,” he laughs.
“You never think about yourself at all,” I say. Fire all through, blue sources, more at the skirt, all gold through the bodice, fire has a thousand colors, no, not colors, a spectrum. And gloves, I can paint those on her arms, make them flicker and fade. “Who do you fight for?”
“Annie,” he says.
The inspiration is a haze, and that name is wandering through it. Annie. Annie Cresta. The victor of the seventieth Games. District 4. Finnick was her mentor, the last time he mentored at all. She went mad. The tabloids said she loved him.
I’m not sure I should care. There are still gemstones and graphite and seams pouring out of my fingers. “Was it true from the start, or did it become true?”
“It became true,” Finnick says. “When I let myself love her. When I decided they couldn’t take that away from me.”
I put it into the dress instead. Whatever I’m feeling, it belongs there now, where it can’t hurt anyone else.
It all takes shape in silence. Fire. Dresses and suits and training clothes that capture destruction, power, erasure, renewal. Parade outfits built of living flame. My place in the revolution, laid out in sketches and notes, unsigned but indelibly mine. Finnick breathes, and the sweat chills on my skin, and I draw.
In the morning, the seventy-third Hunger Games will end. Finnick will sleep in, and I will pack his bags and make his coffee and prep him for what’s probably the last time, and he’ll go to whoever has requisitioned him. He’ll make my connections, and knowing how things are going and what his word counts for and where I stand in this mad world, I’ll get what I want, and request District Twelve for my first appointment as a Games stylist. I’ll keep my secrets. It’s me and the fire, not against it but with it, wielding it, and whoever tries to keep us apart will burn beside me.
For me, the seventy-fourth Hunger Games have already begun.