President Snow is standing in the middle of the twelfth-floor dining room, and he's scattered my prep team into corners like ricocheting billiard balls.
It's seven-thirty in the morning on the second day of training. My arms are full of garment bags with interview outfits that need last-fittings. Effie Trinket tries to put a glass of orange juice in a hand I don't even have, let alone a hand I have free, and the first thing I manage to say is, "How long have you been here?"
It's not the worst thing that could have come out of my mouth.
"Good morning, Cinna!" Effie trills. Effie has an amazing ability to sound cheerful under any circumstance, apparently including unexpected state visits.
"I didn't want to upset your busy schedule," says the President, "so I thought I'd get to you before anyone else did. Venia and Alaric tell me that Katniss and Peeta are still sleeping off yesterday's training. I'm sure they're working very hard."
Flavius, bless him, takes the garment bags from me and goes to hang them up in the prep rooms. I drink the orange juice in a single long swallow. It gives me almost enough time to stop feeling like I'm going to faint. Or be arrested. In either order.
"They are," I tell the President. "How generous of you to come and see for yourself. Is there something I can do for you?"
Snow smiles at me. "It's more like something you can do for Katniss."
I'm honest when I say, "Anything I can do to help Katniss, I'll do."
"I'm so glad to hear that, Cinna. I just can't stop thinking that everyone here in the Capitol was hoping that girl was going to have the kind of wedding that even you and I can hardly dream up. Well, maybe you could – I'm no stylist!"
I swallow. The scent of roses doesn't mix well with how much orange taste is in my mouth. Portia would know how to balance it better. Portia is safely in the laboratory and I hope she stays there for another half hour at least.
"It would have been a fantastic spectacle," I agree.
Snow leans against the counter, like he's completely at home. Venia is staring at him as if he's a mirage and Flavius still hasn't come back and if Effie gives Snow a glass of orange juice too I'm not sure what I'll do. Maybe she should. Snow can't know that I've made the mistake of imagining that the twelfth floor of the Training Center was safe even if it wasn't private.
"She's been through so much. It's such a shame no one was going to get to see her in that beautiful wedding dress."
Over Snow's shoulder, I see the door to Haymitch's room open and disgorge him, disheveled, half-dressed, and hangover-green through the cheeks. I can't do anything but widen my eyes at him and hope he's more alert than he looks.
"So I thought," Snow says, "that she should wear it."
As smoothly as I can, I ask, "—when were you thinking would be appropriate? Maybe a photoshoot tomorrow morning, on the roof—"
"Actually, Cinna, I was thinking of her interview with Mr. Flickerman. Everyone will see that."
"What the hell?" says Haymitch, which saves me the trouble.
"Why, Haymitch. So generous of you to be upright at this hour," Snow says, cheerily. Haymitch makes a completely inarticulate noise.
"I have an interview dress for Katniss," I interject. "It's done, save for fittings. It's here." It's lead-grey bias-cut silk that explodes into gold, beads all through the collar and bodice, alchemical transformation; Katniss and Peeta revealed as the precious things the Capitol is throwing away. I've been working on it for weeks. Portia's figured out how to do a timed pattern on the color shift in the silk. It's all the anger of fire that refines, and I want it seen, on every television in the Capitol and every screen in the Districts.
"I'm sure it is," Snow says, "and I'm sure it's lovely. But she'd be so disappointed to not ever get to be a bride in white."
The dress the Capitol voted on is cream and pearls, huge bell sleeves and gathered, ruched silk through the bodice. It makes Katniss look six years older, like a woman who could choose luxury if she wanted it, softer, desirable. It's a beautiful dress and I'd never put her in it. Sending her out to Flickerman in that -- it'd get her killed, make her into a perfect tragedy. Pure and star-crossed to the end.
Snow taps his fingers on the countertop, soundless, and smiles. "Don't you think she deserves that, Cinna?"
None of that is what Katniss is. Katniss is a mockingjay, wild and unplanned and echoing across Panem. Katniss is the girl on fire.
My best ideas have always been sudden and all-encompassing, sparks that consume. This one is, too.
"Of course I do, Mr. President," I say. "She'll look beautiful in it."
"You've got to be kidding me," Haymitch mutters, and Effie shushes him, high-pitched.
It's in the sleeves. The exaggerated shape of them. They distort the human line of the body. Not distort. Augment. Change. I can see it. What I'll do to them.
Snow nods, pleased. "I'll have the dress sent over right away."
"Thank you, Mr. President," I say. I want a sketchbook. I want him out of our dining room. I think I want the first more. "Why don't you have it sent over to my apartment so I can make the alterations immediately."
"Naturally. Thank you, Cinna, for being so accommodating. And you, Haymitch, for taking advantage of the Capitol's showers. Good day."
At least when he leaves, he leaves quickly.
Venia and Octavia creep out of their corners and Effie pours more orange juice for everyone, her pink curls bouncing. Haymitch dumps half of his in the sink and replaces the liquid volume with something high-proof out of a flask, and then drinks the entire mixture in a gulp.
"Great," he says. "I'm not explaining this to Katniss."
"She'll be so sad!" Effie agrees. "I liked the other dress, Cinna. I didn't even know you could turn lead into gold!"
My fingertips itch for pencils and ink. Thread. Feathers. "It'll be fine," I say.
Haymitch lifts a heavy eyebrow at me.
"I have to go," I tell him. "I have – a lot of work. Trust me."
"Trust you," he snorts. "Wonderful. Snow is in my dining room and I have to trust a stylist."
By eight-fifteen, I'm in my workroom, all the windows thrown open and the tracklights off, so that I'm surrounded with natural light while I turn that wedding dress into a shell. I unline it, pick apart some of the seaming on the bodice and the skirt, see how much room I have to work with. It comes apart clean – the machinists who made it were more than competent.
I don't have time for machinists, even if I wanted to let anyone else have a hand in this. I don't even really have time to sketch, but I do that anyway, partial designs, charcoal and chalk delineations for how I'm going to cluster the feathers, where the pearls will attach. Density, I write, a column of words down the edge of the drawings, depthlessness, stark, flight, pinioned, unpinned --
By nine-thirty, I've been on the phone to everyone in the Capitol who might possibly have a store of black pearls to sell me, which is beyond difficult, considering the state of imports from District Four lately. The feathers are easier, but only just, and the amount I end up charging to the District Twelve stylist's account is nothing short of obscene.
I can't bring myself to care. If I do this right, the budget for next year won't matter at all.
At eleven, when the packages begin arriving by courier, I've built and lined the base of the new dress using the original muslin from the wedding dress. The fabric is black silk taffeta, and it gleams purple and green and deep gold when the sunlight catches it. Caesar Flickerman's television-studio lights will love it, drink up every shimmer and shift. The smallest black feathers go onto the skirt, like a base coat of acrylic paint on a canvas, in layers like scales. The topmost I stitch on by hand, thin plastic twine looped around and pierced through each tiny hollow shaft, but the rest I do on the overlock machine. It takes almost three hours anyway.
I pull it off the dressmaker's dummy and let it pool in my lap while I sit at my drafting table by the window, and start adding in the black opals, iridescent, and the patterns of larger feathers. Everything has to go on by hand. The pattern isn't anywhere but behind my eyes, and I see it every time I blink.
At four-fifteen, Portia comes to find me.
"Cinna, are you in here? No one's heard from you all day and Haymitch was fuming about President Snow coming to visit—" She stops in the doorway, flat. I look up at her but my fingers don't stop stitching. I need pearls next, three of them in a spiral through the vanes of a feather as long as my hand.
"Cinna?" she says again, softer. For the first time, I think about what I look like, what this dress looks like, spilling out of my hands and onto the floor. The sleeves aren't anything but blank white yet, but what they'll be is clear enough.
"Come and see," I say, and she does.
I met Portia when we were twelve, in color theory class. When we were nineteen, during what I was convinced at the time was the worst winter of my life, she took me out onto the roof of Lupercalia and drank the other half of my screwdriver while we looked at the Capitol spread out in front of us and glowing, and we promised each other that whoever got a District stylist position first would pull the other in. She's a chemist and a painter and everything brilliant I've ever done with makeup is her fault.
She crouches down to trace the hem, stands to run her fingers through the open box of opals, pulls out one of the white feathers from a package I haven't even opened yet and disarrays it, spreads it out on the drafting table.
"You know what you're doing," she says, finally.
I breathe out. "Yes. I do."
"If you send Katniss out in this—"
"I know, Portia." I do. I make myself think it, a whole sentence. I'm going to get myself killed.
"Do you mean it?"
I can't smile, but I can quirk one side of my mouth up at her. "More than anything, I think." I've only ever kept one real secret from Portia, and she knows most of it anyway. Enough to know what I mean. Enough that she knows not to say, out loud, where there might be bugs in the walls, eyes behind the cameras.
She lets the feather go. "—okay."
Then she slams her hand down on the drafting table, hard, angry, and bites at the inner corner of her lip, smudges her lipliner. I wince. "Okay," she says again, exhales with force. "Cinna, honey, have you eaten anything?"
"Like I have time," I tell her. "I've got – what, twenty-eight hours now, before Katniss needs to be in prep for the interviews?"
"If you don't sleep," she says.
"Wasn't planning on it."
She laughs a little, soundless, just a shift of her shoulders. "Of course you aren't. I'll order you something, okay?"
"Portia, I have to sew on five hundred and seventy feathers, when am I going to eat?"
"I'll order you something you can drink with a straw."
That makes me laugh, nod, let her call an Avox for protein shakes with ginger and pear flavoring. She looks at my sketchbook while we wait and I keep sewing.
"—so the wedding dress goes over and then just -- comes off?"
"Like a shed skin, or a veil. I'm still figuring that part out. I have to do it with magnets, maybe cling-film tape…"
Portia hums under her breath, evaluative, and taps her nails, done up in fading-lacquer gold shifting to red, on the page next to the charcoals. "It's not dramatic enough."
"So tell me something better," I say.
Her eyes spark when they meet mine. "Why don't we really set her on fire this time?"
I picture that. It's glorious. "Can you do it? Burn one dress and not the other?"
Portia grins at me, stands up and brushes off her labcoat and pants. "Cinna? I can do anything you need me to do."
My phone rings. I ignore it.
I drink the rest of the protein shake and start work on the left sleeve.
My phone rings incessantly.
Fine. I'll answer it. "—Cinna Ward."
"What the hell did you buy?" Haymitch says on the other end of the line. "Because if I have to take one more call from the Ministry of Finance I am going to throw you off the top of the Training Center and see how far the forcefield can get you to bounce."
"Hello, Haymitch," I say. "You would not believe the price of black pearls. There's got to be something going on in District Four, don't you think?"
He snorts. "Yeah, something. Look. You get your ass over here if you want to talk to me about black pearls."
"You come here. I can keep stitching while you display your complete lack of artistic sense."
"Hey. I have artistic sense. I sing. They should probably record me."
I trap the phone between my ear and my shoulder and line up three more pinion feathers at the cuff of the sleeve. "Fine, Haymitch. You get a half hour. Anything to keep you from singing at me."
"Meet me at Messalina's."
"Messalina's?" I say, with some small horror.
"I want to get loudly drunk, Cinna, before you spend the rest of our money."
I throw things into my satchel – an embroidery hoop and enough appliqué base, pearls, and feathers to keep my hands busy while I take a cab into. The Capitol's out in force tonight, all lit up neon and shock-bright spotlights to catch the glitter in everyone's pre-Games makeup. There's traffic. I sew. I feel suspended, outside of time. The lights turn the feathers every color of black under my hands.
Going into Messalina's with an embroidery hoop is not the most incongruous thing I've ever done but it's close enough. The place is a dive, loud and raucous with a three-foot-wide television in every corner. Tomorrow they'll all be tuned to the interviews. Right now it's gladiatorial combat. The retiarius is made up to look like Finnick Odair, except whoever he paid to dye his hair has gone for candy orange and it clashes terribly with his skintone and the green and grey painted waves on his cheeks.
Haymitch has three empty shotglasses and two full ones in front of him. He waves me down and I put the appliqué in my satchel where it won't get covered in white liquor. He slides one of the shotglasses over to me.
"I'm not drinking that," I say.
Haymitch shrugs. "Your loss. Next one you have to shell out for."
"Alcohol's a depressant," I tell him. "You get me some caffeine pills or something stronger? That I'll take."
He swallows his shot in a gulp. "I'm not buying you drugs, you spent all our money already."
I laugh. "You won't be sorry."
"Yeah? Why don't you tell me what the hell you're up to, then?"
My sketchbook's in my satchel. We bend over it while the retiarius on the television stabs a secutor in the throat with his trident and the screens explode in cheering, spilling lights onto all of Haymitch's glasses and my charcoals.
"Well, fuck," Haymitch says, finally. It's a compliment. "Put it away, Cinna."
"Can you get it done in time?"
"I'm in a terrible bar watching you get drunk," I say. "And I have a sleeve and a half and all of the bodice to finish."
"Katniss shouldn't know until you put it on her," he tells me.
"Not until she's out under the cameras," I agree, and explain Portia's accelerant, how I'm going to disguise one dress inside the shell of the other.
Haymitch chuffs laughter. "Flickerman'll have a heart attack."
"Flickerman can flop around like a dying fish and he still won't upstage this," I grin. "What I care about is – will it look right? For the people watching." Even in the cacophony of Messalina's, I still won't say the Districts. Haymitch knows anyway. We've been doing this for over a year now.
"The word's something like 'galvanizing'," he says.
I nod. "Are you going to be ready in time?"
He picks up the shotglass that was supposed to be mine and tips it in a salute to nothing at all. "You're about a week early, but yeah. We will be."
I don't sleep. I turn on the floodlights in my workroom and leave the windows unshaded so the lights of the Capitol can keep me company too. I don't always want to love the view from my apartment as much as I do, the city sprawled out garish and vibrant and poisonous. But I've never really been anywhere else.
I have to stop in the middle of the side panels of the bodice to dig through my medicine cabinet for the sort of thing Haymitch wouldn't buy me. The pills are faster than coffee and they gets me through three-thirty in the morning even if amphetamine doesn't make my hands steadier or my eyes stop hurting.
I finish the sleeves, huge wings, sometime in the short hour where even the Capitol is mostly dark.
They make me terrified. But I'm mostly terrified about getting enough of this right that I'll need to be terrified of what might happen afterward.
It's late morning when I hang the dress back on my dressform. It's been set to Katniss' measurements for months now, so the fabric floats down and settles, the feathers just skimming the floor. It looks far lighter than it is. It looks perfect.
Portia's right behind me when I step back to take it in. I can hear her draw in a breath, a sigh that's pulled tight through her teeth.
"It's fantastic," she says, and then stops.
I tell her, "I have to attach it to the wedding dress." I'm still staring at it. The sleeves hang in angled points from the elbows, huge, not just belled but pagoda. They're the only place where the feathers are white – not the cream-white of the wedding dress either, but a stark, winter-sharp white, a white that needs the shimmer of black feathers next to it. Mockingjay white.
Portia fumbles for my hand. My fingers ache, cramped from stitches and sore at the fingertips from needlepricks and pressure, but I twine them up with hers. "Cinna," she says.
I look at her. Her eyes are huge and glassy, like she's trying not to cry. A wisp of her hair's escaped from where she's pulled it back and brushes loose along her cheekbone. It makes the curve sharper. I should tell her to keep it like that. I don't say anything at all.
She swallows. "It's been an honor and a —"
I cut her off. "Portia, Portia, don't —"
She snaps her jaw shut and squeezes her eyes but I can see the glitter of tears anyway, brightening the smoke and coal-flame shadow on her lids. She presses the fingers I'm not holding between her eyebrows, hard, and hides that from me too. I wish I was crying, instead, but I'm not.
"It's okay," I say, helplessly.
I have to watch her pull herself together and that's awful.
Finally, she says, "It's better than okay," and lets me go so she can trace some of the black pearls holding the feathers to the bodice. "It's the best thing you've ever made."
When I laugh I sound horrified, so I stop. "I know. Isn't that strange? I never thought I'd know. When I'd done my best work."
"You're never supposed to do your best work. You're supposed to just keep getting better. Every time."
I pull her into my arms and hug her because I can't tell her I'm sorry and I don't know what else to say. I'm not sorry. Not for making this. She crosses her wrists behind my neck and leans our foreheads together. She breathes. I close my eyes.
Then she pulls away. "You have a lot of work to do if you want to get this done before the interviews, even if I already made the accelerant for the wedding dress."
"Portia," I say, "thank you —"
"It's in the workroom. I should go, the prep team needs the new makeup." She's smiling. I try to smile back. It's easier than it could have been.
"Kiss kiss, Cinna," she says, soft, and brushes her lips against my cheekbones, one and then the other.
"Kiss kiss," I tell her. My voice doesn't break. I'm glad. So glad.
Sewing the shell of the wedding dress over the gown is like applying eyeliner; a concession to the style of the Capitol which nevertheless shows me off.
Afterward I curl up against the arm of my couch and try to nap until it's time for prep. My eyes burn hot when I close them, and no matter how tired I am I can only manage sleep in scattershot bursts. The longest isn't more than two hours. I wake from it with my heart banging in my wrists and temples, sure that I've forgotten something necessary and shaky with afterimages of dreams I can't remember.
I don't sleep again.
Katniss raises her arms and twirls.
The flames come up from the hem and the sleeves at the same time, lick up the seams in curls of dark orange and a yellow so bright it burns white-gold. Katniss' face glows, framed terrified and then amazed in plumes of steel smoke that dissipate when she breathes, as if she's clarifying the air, transforming it as the fire's transformed her.
As I've transformed her.
Flickerman's studio audience was already in tears; the other Victors had taken care of that with a long string of political theater that I can hardly believe happened, it was so direct, so emphatically emotional, telling all of us Capitol citizens what we were losing, these people, people we destroy for our pleasure and our prosperity—
They were already in tears and now they're screaming, shrieking, calling out Katniss' name. Flickerman looks like he's been clubbed. The air around Katniss shimmers with the diminishing heat and she shimmers with it, feathers and fire, the white wings of her sleeves stark bars across the black column of the dress.
The sound of every camera in the room shuttering open and closed is a hissing susurration that's louder than applause. The flashbulbs have to be blinding her. She stands and lets the cameras take what they want and stands after they're done, herself, herself and a mockingjay and perfect and for one long moment I am satisfied.
"Well, hats off to your stylist," Flickerman is saying to Katniss, "I don't think anyone can argue that that's not he most spectacular thing we've ever seen in an interview. Cinna, I think you better take a bow!"
So I do. The cameras fixate on me, yawn their black eyes wide.
Everyone sees. Everyone's already seen. I smile, and incline my head, and sit back down.
The President is going to have me killed for this.
After that, I'm waiting. Every breath fills my lungs like wings.
Nothing happens except I go to the pre-Games gala and the Capitol descends on me like children snatching after a silver parachute, so actually everything happens. But no one arrests me and no one shoots me, and I don't even need to drink, the air is enough to make me dizzy.
Everyone is here. Celebrities, stylists, Gamemakers taking the year off, a smattering of actors and government ministers and what's left of the more popular victors, the ones who won't be back in the Arena tomorrow. The lights are very bright and they shift and swing, making the glasses and the windows glitter the same. Almost everyone I talk to has jewels in their hair, or shifting-patterns in their makeup or their clothing. It's like someone took all of my discarded sketches from the seventy-fourth Games and mass-distributed them to every fashion house in the Capitol. I'd be more flattered if it wasn't making me a little sick.
It'll be feathers next year. If there is a next year. If I see next year. Which I'm not going to.
The wife of the Minister of Finance asks me to design her a dress for First Night, and I refuse on grounds of there not being nearly enough time from now until the last day of August, though I'm tempted to say I'll do whatever she wants if she'll get her husband to stop calling Haymitch about the state of our budget. She revises, asks for Equinox, and I say yes, let her make an appointment with me for after the Games are done.
I say yes again to Melaina Gerald, mother of a debutante; Cordelia Hutchinson, film star; Aurelius Smith, the Agriculture Undersecretary; and most terrifyingly, Andrea Lobotae, Gamemaker, who smiles at me just enough that I spend the entire time we're talking about the gown she wants for opening night at the seventy-sixth Games waiting for her to reach into her exquisite steel-grey clutch for a gun or a poison needle. It'll be an accident. A tragedy. Stylist dies suddenly at party. A tabloid headline.
It's probably not dramatic enough.
Drusus, the stylist from District Four and almost my friend, rescues me, drags me off toward the bar and buys me a screwdriver I don't want to drink.
"Should I watch out for my job?" he asks, and I blink at him.
"I mean, I've been shifting towards more event planning anyway, except for dealing with Finnick, because someone's got to take care of that boy, but if he doesn’t come back from the Quell, well, I will be out of a job, and if you want mine – I'll write you any recommendation you want."
"I don't want your job, Drusus," I say. "I've done your job –"
"No, the doing part was not my job."
I flush. The six weeks Drusus hired me to be his substitute as Finnick Odair's personal stylist two years ago had been – illuminating. In multiple ways. Drusus only knows about the part where I had been, like everyone in the Capitol but Drusus, a little bit in love with Finnick. I wish I could tell him the rest, but he doesn't need to know. Knowing could get him killed. And if he hasn't figured it out after more than ten years working for District Four—
"I like District Twelve," I say. "Maybe they'll even increase the budget after they see what I spent on that dress."
"Good thing I wasn't going to put Finnick in pearls." He laughs. His eyes are very bright under their braided-silver eyebrows and he's already drunk the melon margarita he ordered when he got me this screwdriver.
"—gilding the lily, on him, unless you wanted to weave them into the nets?"
"Maybe if he wins."
I don't know, at all, if I should wish him luck.
I don't mean to leave my glass half-drunk on the bar but I do. Someone shoves the insect-eye of a camera in my face and hands me a business card from High Street magazine as they sweep me away. Drusus raises his next drink to me as I go, and I wish people would stop toasting me, every moment is cinematic and none of them end in gunshots and I can't tell what's adrenaline and what's sleep deprivation anymore.
The journalist from High Street wants all the juicy details on how I came up with what she's already calling that mockingjay dress. I'm just drunk enough to think of saying you don't want to publish this, you'll get blacklisted and not drunk enough to say it.
Instead I explain. "In the shape of the sleeves for the original wedding dress, that exaggeration – that's where I got the idea."
"And the part where you set it on fire?" she asks me, the camera perched on her shoulder. "That was so shocking!"
I can't help laughing. It'd have been shocking if I was working for Three. "Yes," I say. "Well. Explosive more than shocking, but yes."
"Okay, explosive!" She writes that down. "Seeing that pretty dress – the one the whole Capitol picked for Katniss! – burn up, all my readers are going to want to know why you wanted us to see that?"
"Most of that was for Katniss," I say, as truthfully as I can. "This Quarter Quell – sending Katniss Everdeen back into the Arena destroys all of the future she was expecting. And it destroys all of the futures we dream up for her. It's not about us anymore, about what we want, even if what we want is for her, even if what we want is her – it's about her in the Arena, her and every District that sends a tribute like her, and if I could make your readers feel that just by setting a dress on fire and showing what's underneath, then I've—"
—done something right— I'm grabbed by the shoulder, spun around, and I have just enough time to recognize Trajan Stephenson, District Eleven's stylist, before his tongue is in my mouth and I'm being dizzyingly kissed.
I kiss back, take back some of the air he's drinking out of my mouth, bite his lower lip a little. The camera flashes. I've lost track of where my hands are. Trajan is kissing me like he hasn't done since we were nineteen and in art school and thought that collaborating with each other wasn't the worst idea either of us ever had. Oh. One of my hands is in his hair and the other would be inside the back pocket of his slacks if Trajan was ever so gauche as to wear slacks with back pockets. This is nice. I'm going to die. They're going to shoot me. My blood is going to get all over his suit. He'll hate me. It's a nice suit.
I pull back. "—hi."
"I want you tonight," he says.
I am going to die. Possibly I have already died. No, I would have noticed. "Clearly," I breathe. "Should I count this as some kind of moral victory, Trajan?"
"If that'll get you up against my wall, go right ahead." Is that how I'm going to die? Firing squad up against a wall? How do we do public executions in the Capitol anyhow? Trajan's fingers are still splayed out firm on my shoulderblades. "Just let me claim the moral victory in getting you to use memetic warfare."
"It had absolutely nothing to do with you," I say, and grin at him, sharp and exultant.
"And everything to do with you being brilliant. Which is why I want you tonight."
"So you're admitting I'm brilliant."
"That dress was spectacular."
I run my fingers over the lapel of his jacket. The pattern in the fabric shifts under pressure. It's gorgeous. Probably the best prêt-a-port use of the idea I've seen. Naturally it'd be Trajan who'd come up with it. That's always been what he's best at, turning a concept into a trend to be envied and copied. "Believe me, I am well-aware," I tell him.
He traps my hand under his, makes me look up at him. "And that's why you're brilliant. I love your work when you're not posturing."
"And I love yours when you're not pandering."
He laughs, runs his free hand through his hair to make me notice it, every shade of gold except the one in my eyeliner, and leans in, propping his elbow on my shoulder. "Oh, Cinna," he murmurs. "Don't make me beg."
My mouth dries and my eyes almost flutter shut, and then the cameras go off in bursts.
I step away, shake my head. "Trajan, I—"
He turns to the journalist and smiles down at her. "Are you going to publish this?" he asks.
"Only if he says yes!"
We both laugh. "Go away," Trajan tells her. "You've got enough exclusive material for one night."
I nod, wave her off. "Call me after the Games if you want to finish the interview."
If I'm still around to pick up the phone, I think, but then she's gone and Trajan's fingers rake through my hair just like they did through his own.
"I just want it to be me," he says. "Tonight."
"You mean, if I go home with anyone at all I go home with you?"
"Yes. No strings."
I nod – of course no strings. But I have to ask. I want him to tell me. "Why?"
"The same reasons I always wanted to go home with you. Brilliance and execution of brilliance."
When he says it like that I'm back in our first year and wanting nothing more than to get under Trajan's skin and make him admit that I had, over and over. I managed that. He did worse to me. We were young and we were stupid and in the privacy of my own head I can think that he's as brilliant as I am, if not at all in the same way – patterns, not people, he's fashionable in a way I can't help but resist being – and it was bad by the end, both of us tangled up in one another's work to neither of our benefits. But he's Trajan and even if we were young and stupid once this is a victory and it'd be a pleasure and I want him.
"Trajan, I can't—" I say. It's not what I want to say.
"What, is there someone you'd rather—?"
The President is going to have me arrested and shot and I don't want you there when he does it. "No! No. Just. The Games. And tomorrow morning. I have to—"
Relief looks strange on Trajan and I like what it does to him. I like that I did that to him. "Well, yes, I should check on Seeder and Chaff, anyway. But tomorrow?"
"Yes," I say, before I can say anything else, and I want it to be possible. "Yes. Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow." His fingertips wind through my hair. "Still so short. It suits you. I'm going to kiss you again."
He does, grabs onto my hair and pulls me against him and almost into his mouth, teeth and tongue, and my hands match his, hold him still so I can chase him down. We're both breathless when he pulls away. "Tomorrow," he repeats.
I think, very clearly, that this isn't fair at all.
I open the front door of my apartment and turn on all the lights at once, fast, like ripping off the bandage the darkness makes. No Peacekeeper guns bristle at me from my livingroom. There's nothing but my couch, the framed photographs above it, the glowing city out my windows, the bare dressmaker's dummy and all the leftover feathers.
I sit down and put my head in my hands and wish I knew what to do with myself.
I don't want to be asleep when they come for me. I wish I'd gone home with Trajan, or gone out to a club or another party, except I don't think I can stand being around anyone who wants to congratulate me right now. Maybe no one has arrested me because the only people who saw that dress and liked it are here, in the Capitol, and none of them understood what I meant by it. Maybe all I've done is make myself the toast of the fashion world, like I always wanted to be before I knew anything about the Games other than what they could do for my career.
I don't know if it's that thought or the remnants of the adrenaline that makes me sickly dizzy, but either way when the knock at my door finally comes, I'm relieved.
I open it.
Haymitch is on the other side. Right about then I notice that the muscles of my legs have turned to unstable water and I go sit back down on the couch and leave him to finish letting himself in while I try not to shake.
He sits down on my coffeetable and hands me his flask. This time I drink from it, one long swallow that burns my sinuses as much as my throat. Then I choke and shove the flask back at him.
"How do you drink that," I sputter.
He shrugs. "Helps if you keep going."
I shake my head. "For some reason, I think I actually want to be sober?"
"You're an idiot," says Haymitch, "this is 180-proof, I got it from Beetee." He pulls a small and metallic rectangle out of his pocket, sets it down on the coffeetable next to him and flicks a switch on its side.
I raise an eyebrow at it.
"Radio jammer," Haymitch says. "Five minutes. I don't know if this place is bugged or not but it's not like we can waltz in here and turn them off. Anyway. The rebroadcast of the interviews was canceled. Presidential order."
"Censored, you mean?"
"Not censored. Canceled." He smiles at me, jaw tight. "How does it feel to have started a revolution, Cinna?"
My head's in my hands again but this time I don't remember putting it there. "I. I—what's happening out there? Can you tell me?"
"A lot. Pretty fast and pretty violent. And no, I can't."
I nod. I don't know how I feel, except for like I'm floating, hot prickles racing down the back of my neck, out through each finger. I'd say that, but it's not really an answer to what Haymitch asked me. "Snow's cutting televised communications. Is he going to broadcast the Games?"
Haymitch grimaces. "Looks like it. We don't have that kind of luck, that he'd cancel. The kids are still in the Arena tomorrow morning."
"Then I'll be there for Katniss. If I can."
He gets to his feet, gathers up the jammer and tucks the flask back in his belt. Then he claps me on the shoulder, hard. "Thanks," he says.
I swallow. "Least I could do."
"Nah. Oh, yeah, about the other thing—I'll see what we can manage. Shame if Katniss won again and no one was around to make the damn dresses."
"Wouldn't be dresses," I say, "too hard to move in. Pants and jacket. More triumphal."
Haymitch laughs, but he's nodding just the same. "Something like that, yeah."
When he's left and I'm alone again at least I have something to do. I open up a new sketchbook, crease the spine and date and sign the first page before I turn it over. I've always started sketchbooks on the second page – it lies flatter, and it won't rub against the cover.
I sketch in the lines for a uniform, blur military details with sweeps of black and white. Not a costume, not a showpiece; this has to be functional as much as it's iconic. Functional because it's iconic; one rises out of the other. I draw it again, twice, three times, trying hem lengths and types of collars, imagine Katniss wearing it. I add small pockets, curved like the lines of a bodice across the lower chest, narrow the sleeves so they won't ever catch on a bowstring.
Then I grit my teeth and write out instructions on the side. Which fabrics. What kind of stitching. What can be skipped, what can't be, even under extreme conditions.
I don't believe, even with what Haymitch said to me, that I'll be the one making these.
The second time there's a heavy knock on the door, all of my racing heart and sweating hands are for hiding this sketchbook somewhere the Peacekeepers won't immediately see. It ends up in the stack of other sketchbooks on my drafting table, one more black-bound volume like the rest.
"Cinna? Are you in there?"
That's not a Peacekeeper, shouting at me through the door. That's Finnick Odair.
"What are you doing here?" I say, pulling the door open. "I thought you were trapped in the Training Center with everyone else—"
"You don't want to know what I did to get out," he says, and grins at me, light.
"Okay, I don't want to know," and I probably really don't, "come in already, you're standing in my hallway."
He does, and once the door is shut behind him he wraps his arms around me. My hands come up to cup his shoulderblades, pull him closer, automatic. He leans down and presses his mouth to my ear. His breath is warm, and I'd shiver if I wasn't listening too hard to.
"You should run," he whispers. "I'll call people, I'll have Haymitch call people, you can get out tonight."
Finnick is going back into the Arena tomorrow, just like Katniss, and unless everything works out perfectly, either he's going to die or she is. I think he's in my apartment because he thinks – he knows, the way victors know – that I'm going to, too. It hurts. I can't say anything for longer than I should. I clutch at him, instead, dig my fingers into his back.
Then I push him away and tell him that I can't. "You saw what I did," I say.
He nods. "I've been watching since the beginning, Cinna."
I go on. "Then you know I can't run away from it now."
"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I know it. But I had to say something."
I wish I could tell him something different, or tell him anything at all that would help, would make this easier for either of us, but there's nothing. I'm still standing in the circle of his arms, even if they're loose and resting crossed in the small of my back now, and what we should be saying is goodbye and I can't bear to be the one to start that.
Neither, apparently, can he. He ducks down and seals his mouth over mine, liquid and hot. There's nothing coquettish in the kiss, no seduction, no tease, not this time. Just Finnick being clear with me, licking into my mouth, letting me want to suck on his lower lip and taste every part of him. I kiss back, give him as much as he's offering me, let myself drown a little.
My fingers are caught in his hair when we pull back just enough to breathe. "Finnick," I say against his lips, "Finnick, don't do this to me now."
His thumb sweeps back over my cheekbone, gently.
I stumble over my own tongue explaining. I can't get enough air. "If I take you back to my bedroom we're not going to leave it and you can't be here if they come to get me—"
He laughs, short and sharp. I laugh, too, because it's as funny as it's awful. The next kiss is softer, nearly chaste except for how we breathe into one another, and then he lets me go.
"It's your choice," he says. "But the option's there if you want it."
"I wish I could," I say. "Here you are, having to go into the Arena tomorrow, and I'm turning you down."
"Hey, I'll find someone, don't worry. Caesar Flickerman is not going to be the last person I ever have sex with."
"You're kidding. You didn't have to – this year? Really? Caesar Flickerman?"
"I think he must have funded the entire Seventy-Sixth Games with what he paid, but yeah." Finnick's expression is queasily flabbergasted, even after the fact, and I'm sure mine is echoing it.
"Okay," I say, quite seriously, "kiss me again, we can be fast, I'll get you off, we don't even have to leave the hallway, eugh, Flickerman –" By the time I get to that we're both snickering, leaning against the walls.
"I'm going to miss you," Finnick says, and I exhale all the air from my lungs at once.
"Thank you," I tell him. "For coming to see me. And for letting me see you. Letting me find you."
He takes my hands, holds them in his. "I'm glad you wanted to. And that you wanted to do this, for us."
"Still want to," I say. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
"I need to tell you," he says, fingers tightening on mine, "before I go. Annie says thank you. For taking care of me. She sends her love."
It's too much. All at once, too much, benediction from an unexpected source, it blindsides me and suddenly I'm crying and I can't stop. I haven't cried at all, not this entire time, not in front of Portia and not in front of Trajan and not even alone and now I am, horribly, dissolving with it.
Finnick winces, pulls me closer and hugs me hard, holds on until I can breathe again. It takes too long. I'm scared for him. It's not safe for him, with me here.
"If you get out of the Arena," I say, trying not to choke on it, to talk around how close I still am to sobbing. "Tell Annie she's welcome. And that I'd do every bit of it again, and she has my love, too—"
He nods. "She knows."
I crane up, kiss his cheek. "Don't get caught here."
"I won't," he says.
I watch him go. Then I curl on the couch, my knees to my chest. The lights of the Capitol die slowly outside my windows, dimming toward the hours when no one is awake.
The last person I expect to be the third knock at my door tonight is Plutarch Heavensbee. The sound of it is so loud and self-assured that I jump, think to myself finally. I'm almost too tired to be afraid.
When I recognize him, realize that the Head Gamemaker is at my apartment door at three-thirty in the morning, all I can do is wave him in and say, "And what can I do for you, Mr. Heavensbee?"
"I believe you've done quite enough already," Plutarch says. "The issue now is what you're going to do next."
I just look at him. He smiles, like a flash, there and gone.
"There'll be some men waiting outside the prep room tomorrow morning," he goes on. "All you have to do is get out the door. We'll take care of the rest."
"—so you're the—" I stop talking before I say the informant in the Gamemakers.
He nods. "Mm. Yes."
"All right," I say, exhaling. "Okay." He's not who I'd expected. He's – probably better than who I expected. We might actually have a shot at getting some of the tributes out alive.
"Just get out the door, Cinna. That's all."
I'm exhausted enough to ask, "Should I trust you?"
"Does it matter if you do?" Plutarch says.
"No," I say. "Not really."
"I don't have much time to spend here. There are a few things I need to know – a list."
"What kind of list."
That quicksilver smile again. "Of who else you want to save."
I laugh, lean one-handed against the wall, shut my eyes. That list is too long. But I've always known it would be, if it came down to this moment. "Portia," I say.
He nods. "Portia Gibson, and?"
"And my prep team. They don't know anything, they're going to be horrified."
"Your prep team. Admirable. All right. We'll try."
I push myself upright. "One other thing. Wait here."
I leave him in the hall while I go get the sketchbook I've started. I open it to that blank first page, pick up a pen.
It takes almost no time at all to sketch Katniss' mockingjay pin, write below it, I'm still betting on you.
I put the sketchbook into Plutarch's hands.
"What's this?" he asks.
"What we're doing next season," I say, and smile just as sharply as he does.
"Remember, girl on fire," I tell Katniss as she steps onto the plate which will take her into the Arena again, "I'm still betting on you." I kiss her forehead and she almost smiles at me, and then the glass cylinder descends over her and I can't do anything anymore.
She mouths "Thank you," through the glass, soundless. I wait for her to be whisked away, out of my hands and into the cameras, all those waiting hungry eyes across the Capitol and the Districts. I think we're both holding our breaths.
We're still waiting, half a minute later. She looks at me, confused, and I'm confused, too, I don't know why there's a delay.
I figure it out just before the Peacekeepers arrive. All you have to do is get out the door, Plutarch had said to me. But they're between me and the door, a wave of them pouring in through it, and even if I could get out I know they're in the hall. Katniss' eyes go huge and shocked and she bangs voicelessly on the glass.
The President's waited this long so that she'd have to watch.
I am not going to scream. I am not going to run. I can't get away and I've known for two days now that I've committed treason and incited revolution and that I'm going to die for it and if the President is cruel enough to make Katniss see this the only thing I can do is show her that I'm not surprised and I'm not ashamed—
They hit me with batons. It hurts more than I thought it would. My lip splits and my knees crumple and I wish they'd shoot me instead but that'd be too simple and not awful enough and now that I'm on the floor they stomp on my fingers and who knows how they're going to get the blood out of the carpet and I am not going to scream, I'm not, I'm not, not yet, not where she can see me it isn't fair to do this to her—
Cells under the Capitol have no windows, only cameras in each corner where the walls meet the ceiling, smooth black domes on the grey metal, like they've grown there. There's nothing else in the room except a drain in the floor, a grating that opens onto darkness.
I don't know how far under the mountains I am, or who is watching me.
The grating's there so they can wash the cell after they're done with me.
The Peacekeepers have me by the upper arms. With the pressure of their hands on my shoulders I go down on my knees, and one of them cuffs my ankles to each other and then to the wall. They leave my hands free, open and palm-up on my thighs. They must not think I'm dangerous. I could laugh. I do laugh, and one of them slaps me across the mouth, hard enough that my split lip reopens. The spots of blood are bright on his white glove, past bright and into vivid where they spatter on the thigh of his pants.
It hurts but that's only going to get worse from here, so all I do is shut my eyes. It's good design, all of that white. It makes the Peacekeepers into walking records of every wound they inflict, says purity and infallibility and every stain is your fault for marring that clean perfection.
If I was designing for them, I'd add mirrored helmets, like camera eyes, reflective.
I'm more than scared. My mouth is dry of everything except the blood and I can't swallow.
I remember how Katniss looked, both times I've sent her into the Arena with the Capitol's heart pinned to her sleeves and the hope of all the Districts woven into the braids of her hair. At least I don't have to try to stay alive. I only have to keep her alive. Her, and Peeta, and Finnick, and Chaff, and all the others.
It doesn't make me less scared, but it lets me open my eyes.
The President is there.
I feel savage with pride, seeing him in this little, featureless room.
"Cinna Ward," Snow says, shaking his head. "I expected better from you. We were all enjoying your work with Katniss so much. This chain of events – such a terrible shame. Has anyone read you your charges yet?"
"No," I say. "No one thought that was necessary."
"Well, they start with treason," Snow says, and lifts his fingers to enumerate, "and go on quite a ways – incitement to riot, incitement to revolt, resisting arrest, I think we can throw arson in there, you almost set that poor girl on fire, destruction of government property … should I continue?"
I tell him I get the idea.
He smiles at me, avuncular – it's marred by the way his teeth streak red when he isn't paying attention – and steps back so the Peacekeepers can have me.
They ask me who I was working for. Whether I enjoy the Games. Why I'm destroying my career. Whether I've ever been to District 12. I keep my mouth shut. They hurt me. It's almost easier, once they're hurting me and I'm not waiting for them to anymore.
One of them stamps on my fingers. Another grabs me by the jaw and makes me look up at her, at Snow over her shoulder.
"Whose idea was it, Cinna?" he says. "The dress under the dress."
"And you sewed it all yourself? I can't believe that, don't you stylists all work together?"
I would laugh if I had the breath for it. "It took me thirty hours and I didn't sleep. Every stitch of it is mine."
"Every stitch. Portia didn't help you?"
That's supposed to be a threat.
"My idea," I say. "My execution." I don't realize how funny that is until I say it.
Snow laughs uproariously. "Cinna," he says, when he has himself under control again, "Cinna, why did you become an artist?"
"I'm glad you think my work is art, Mr. President."
"Don't be silly," he tells me, softer and more vicious, waving the Peacekeeper away so there's nothing blocking my view of him. "You make us all feel so much. You made a dirty, sullen little girl from the poorest District in Panem beautiful. Inspiring. You made her shine for us, and you made us love her. I was so proud of you."
"I showed you what Katniss already was," I say. "Determined. Impassioned. And yes, that's art. It's art to show the eyes of the Capitol something real, something honest, and make us love it anyway. It's art to show the Districts themselves, and make them believe in their own power—"
He gestures, and a Peacekeeper kicks me in the stomach. I choke, double over.
"And now you've disappointed me just as much," he says, as if I hadn't said anything at all, except he's closer to shouting now, or maybe that's just how quiet everything else is except for the rasp of every breath I manage to drag into my lungs. "Why did you throw all of your art away on a little stunt like that dress?"
I grit my teeth. "I've been doing this for a year and a half."
"Are you confessing, Cinna?"
"I've been doing this for a year and a half. You should have been watching me."
This time the blows come down on my left shoulder, my right hip. Snow is inches away from me, he's smiling but it's all contortion, a twist, a ripped place where I can see him clearly – all I'd have to do to show him for what he is is make him smile like that, the seeping red underneath the bone. I can imagine the suit I'd make, but slashed fabrics aren't in right now. That's funny. That's so funny and I'm not laughing, I have too much to say.
"No one ever watches the stylists, but you could have, and you should have been watching me because I have been doing this right under your nose. Thank you, Mr. President, for writing my checks. How does it feel to reap the fruits of Finnick Odair's labor?"
Snow hits me on the side of the head with something heavy, a baton or a club or the weighted grip of a gun. I feel my cheekbone smash, the orbit of my eye fragment. The blood runs down and mixes with the blood on my lips, tastes like molten copper and a huge flare of nauseating pain from where it struck my skull that explodes into darkness.
When I wake up it's harder to talk. Harder, but not impossible. I can't find some words. They're there, but it's mostly fire. Pressure that builds and spreads, like tendrils, lava under cracked earth. I could draw it. I think I say that.
Snow is still there. The scent of all his roses is burning up in the blood. His teeth are bared and it's not a smile, it's fury. "Oh, Cinna," he says. "You're never going to draw anything again."
He takes my wrist in his hand, holds tight, like he's keeping me from reaching toward him, my bruised fingers extended. The knife in his other hand slices down through my palm, between each finger. I can feel the tendons snap, see my hand turn into a rag at the end of my arm, trailing sheets of red.
"You should do the other one," I say. My voice is slurred, no volume, no precision. I don't care. "To make sure."
He doesn't. He smashes it against the wall behind me instead, over and over. This time the pain is white, roaring and distant and growing like a tide. I think that's because I've lost too much blood. I wonder if Snow knows he's made a mistake. I think he must.
He cups the sides of my skull in his palms, and the nausea crests, shaking me, or maybe that's him, shaking me, he's getting my blood all over his hands, down to his wrists, smearing the cuffs of his suit. The edges of my vision spark and gutter, dimming to gold. Inanely, I wonder if my eyeliner is dripping into my eyes.
"You're going to die here in this cell in the dark," Snow tells me, gently. "Just like your Katniss and Peeta are going to die in the Arena. Except no one will see you. No one will remember you. No one will care what you've done."
I try to say that I'm not frightened. I try to say that I meant it, I meant every part of it. I try to say that everyone has already seen. I don't know if I manage. I know what I don't say. I don't say District 13. I don't say revolution, not resistance. I don't say any of their names.
Snow asks, as incredulous, as scornful, as I've ever heard anyone, "What did you possibly think you could accomplish?"
I smile. "Everything," I say. "Everything—"
The pressure explodes into a darkening swarm, the gold at the corners of my eyes rushing inward, a conflagration that steals the last of my breath and chokes me, a blaze, rising, rising.
I rise with it.