Coriolanus wakes to a crying out, and his first thought is that he’s in the arena.
It’s a foolish thought, and his eyes adjust quickly to the grey walls of the base and he suddenly understands that he’s in twelve.
That just leaves the mystery of the cry, soon solved by another. Coriolanus is conscious enough, now, to tell where the sound is coming from: Sejanus’s bunk.
Must be screaming in his sleep. His first night here, already plagued by nightmares? Pathetic. Coriolanus turns and pulls his blanket up to cover his ears.
Sejanus is, simply put, his ally. Their time in the Capitol made them something like friends. And it couldn’t hurt to treat Sejanus well, not when his own economic standing could be thrown into the hands of Old Strabo Plinth.
Coriolanus eases down the ladder and pads across the floor to Sejanus’s own bunk. The blinds let in just enough light for Coriolanus to see the silhouette of Sejanus. Sweat beads his angular face, and his lips tremble while he murmurs something Coriolanus can’t quite hear.
He stills; no noise elsewhere except for Beanpole’s faint snoring. He makes a futile wish the others haven’t awoken before he presses the flat of his palm against Sejanus’s shoulder.
“Sejanus,” he whispers. Nothing. He presses again, shaking him a bit. “Wake up, Sejanus.”
Then, faster than he can react, the boy’s hand shoots out to seize Coriolanus’s wrist. It‘s all he can do not to cry in shock, too, but he quickly dampens his fear into something like annoyance. “It’s me, Sejanus.”
And his dark eyes soften when they meet his face. “Coryo.”
Coriolanus bristles at the nickname, but there’s no use correcting him. (No, Sejanus, we’re not close enough for that. Not after I risked my life to pull you from the arena. Not while I’m rescuing you from a nightmare out of the pure goodness of my heart.)
He doesn’t have anything to say, but that turns out to be just fine, because Sejanus takes over. “Oh, isn’t it awful? I can’t stop dreaming about it. I’m glad you’re here. You understand.”
Coriolanus doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He nods anyway, and they seem to both at once realize that Sejanus is still clutching his wrist. He drops it, and Coriolanus uses his now free hand to itch the back of his neck.
“You were screaming,” he whispers. “In your sleep. I just wanted to check that you’re alright.”
“Oh.” Sejanus seems to think for a moment. “I think I will be. Thank you.”
Coriolanus nods, and that’s the extent of their conversation. He finds his way back to his bunk, up the ladder. His own sleep is dreamless, unplagued by the horrors of Sejanus’s, and he thinks that’s just fine.
It’s hard not to worry about Sejanus when he’s slipping into dangerous territory. Ironic, it is, how dangerous his pacifism is. How unwilling he is to defend the peacekeepers, if it comes to that. It almost had at Arlo’s hanging, and yet Sejanus had still been nervous to act.
And it’s Coriolanus’s business, now, to take care of this mess. The two of their fates, irrevocably linked by the mentorship and the games and the influence of Sejanus’s daddy’s money. He had to be grateful for that, at least.
And there was no denying he felt for Sejanus. Coriolanus remembers, of course, the pure joy of seeing him for the first time in twelve. The falling in his chest when Sejanus had implied suicide. That was inevitable of someone he’d gone through this much with.
He just wished Sejanus wasn’t so stupid.
The dreams continue.
There’s something painful about Sejanus’s cry—something that, even though Coriolanus has heard it a dozen times by now, makes the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.
He’s become so good at scrambling down his bunk ladder that he does it in seconds—it’s a few more before he manages to cross the room to Sejanus, who’s still mumbling and twitching in his sleep.
Last night, he sat on the edge of the bed and took Sejanus’s hand while he calmed his breathing. It was almost embarrassingly intimate, and Coriolanus would’ve given more than a second thought to it if he had even a suspicion that anyone else was awake.
Tonight is worse, and Sejanus’s body is shaking even as he wakes. Coriolanus sits on the bed, up by the pillow, and pulls Sejanus’s head into his lap.
Tigris used to hold him like this. When his own dreams were full of explosions and gunfire and he needed to feel safe for just a moment.
Sejanus is still shaking. Shivering, like he’s cold, but he can’t be in this heat of summer. Coriolanus runs his fingers down the side of Sejanus’s head, past his ear. Does it again, and again, until the shaking subsides.
They don’t say a thing to each other. Coriolanus wants to ask what the dreams are about, but he’s got a pretty good idea. Marcus, the games, the hanging, all carry their fair share of trauma. His duty here is not to pry.
Sejanus extends his hand to Coriolanus: probably the closest thing to a thank you he’s going to get. Coriolanus takes it and they sit together in silence, for a bit. He’s not sure how long it takes for Sejanus to fall back to sleep, but he does, and Coriolanus is careful to move himself from under him and set his head back onto his pillow.
In the mornings, it’s like nothing happened. Coriolanus wonders, selfishly, if word of his good deeds has gotten back to the Plinths. Ma thanks him as usual via her treats and letters, but this, he thinks, is something else entirely. First Coriolanus saved the life of their son, now it’s the comfort. Surely he deserves something more for that.
They go to the Hob, and he’s drunk, and it’s fun. The song is less fun. Kind of stupid, if he thinks about it too much, but he doesn’t have time to, because Sejanus‘s idiocracy means he has something else to focus on.
Coriolanus rises from his crate as soon as he realizes his friend’s gone missing. What an idiot, to be out and about right now. Planning some treasonous garbage, no doubt. And who better than Coriolanus to dig him out of it after every time he already has?
He makes it out the door, stumbling a bit, and runs face first into Sejanus. So much for searching for him. “Where’ve you been?”
Sejanus steadies himself in Coriolanus’s arms—since when were they holding onto each other?—and huffs a laugh. “Just over there. That white liquor runs right through me.”
“You’re lying,” Coriolanus says immediately. “You’re sober.”
“And you, my friend, are far from it.” Sejanus takes his arm and leads him away from the entrance. “Sit with me.”
He does. They’ve found a place against the Hob where people hardly pass, and they can still hear the music. When Coriolanus lays his head against the wood, he can feel the vibrations of it.
Sejanus taps his knee with the beat of the song. “She’s talented, isn’t she?”
“Of course.” Coriolanus isn’t sure what trap Sejanus is laying him into. Or maybe it’s just that of small talk. He fights to focus his attention, to chase away the liquor’s nagging.
“You love her,” Sejanus observes. “What’s that like?”
He seems genuinely curious, so Coriolanus drops his guard a bit. “It’s nice.” He thinks about the field, where he and Lucy Gray has sat together and kissed and talked about how they might have a future. “It feels warm, I don’t know. Being with her. It’s like a blanket.” He rubs at his eyes. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Why do you ask?”
Sejanus leans his head back a little. “I just wanted to know what it feels like. I wasn’t sure if I felt it.”
Here Coriolanus goes, flying too close to the sun. “What do you feel?”
He thinks he expects it, the way Sejanus lunges forward to capture his lips. What he doesn’t expect is that he kisses back.
It feels the same way it had when Lucy Gray kissed him. Electrifying, world-changing. Sejanus’s lips are softer, no doubt, and his hands are softer, too, when they weave their way into Coriolanus’s hair. His head‘s spinning, but whether from the liquor or the heat of the moment is anybody’s guess.
And unlike Lucy Gray, he keeps going. It’s passionate and raw and it’s... it’s Sejanus, and Coriolanus brings his hand to his chest to push him off.
Sejanus scrambles back. Coriolanus screws his eyes shut, then looks at Sejanus, who’s looking at him, so they’re both looking at each other and it feels different. It should feel like a battle, but it feels like a mutual understanding. “I wasn’t thinking,” Coriolanus says, and Sejanus smiles and says “I know.”
He gets up and extends his hand. Coriolanus takes it to stand. It’s comfortable, casual, and it’s against everything Coriolanus wants it to be.
It’s hard not to think about that kiss, about that night, but Coriolanus makes do. It’s harder still when Sejanus spends nearly every waking second in his orbit, but that’s just the way things shake out.
Now, Sejanus is with the others in the lake. He’s stripped down to his undergarments, but he’s waded far enough into the water that Coriolanus can’t see them. He takes in what he can see: the slightness of Sejanus’s chest, smooth tan skin that glimmers in its wetness when the light catches just so. Strong, stable shoulders. His dark hair, and then, when he turns, his large, dark eyes, too. They look at each other from across the field, and it’s a moment frozen in time. On Sejanus’s face, something mischievous. Like he’s caught him in the act of something—but has he? It’s certainly no crime to look at his friend.
Coriolanus looks away anyway. Takes a sudden interest in the patch of dirt by his own feet. Lucy Gray hums something, and Coriolanus falls back against the grass to stare at the sky. It’s a pretty tune, not one he remembers her singing before.
For a moment, he lets himself daydream that this is his life. No obligations to the Capitol, just to Lucy Gray and her odd little family. To go to her shows and press kisses to her forehead and lips and elsewhere.
Romantic, yes, but dreadfully meaningless, too. He could never make a life here. Peacekeeping didn’t offer much that wasn’t a stepping stone to a better position. And though his belly is full here, his skin hasn’t felt truly clean in weeks, always layered with sweat and grime.
He looks again at Sejanus, splashing around in the lake. He looks happy here, but he’s district, anyway. Probably likes it better than the Capitol.
Shame, then, that there’s somewhere else he wants to be even more.
His hand does move involuntarily; that much is true. Coriolanus barely feels the indentation of the RECORD button while he presses it, but he knows he has, and he knows that Sejanus doesn’t suspect a thing because he’s blabbing immediately about a rebel base and an escape plan.
“Come with me,” Sejanus says, and takes both of Coriolanus’s hands. His brown eyes are wide, pleading. “And it can be like at the Hob, the two of us—“
Coriolanus’s mouth goes dry. He snatches his hands back and Sejanus goes silent, staring at him like he’s just severely miscalculated something. Coriolanus doesn’t care to comfort him, because he has.
He turns. Presses his hands to the counter. They find the remote; obscured from Sejanus’s body, he turns the thing back to neutral. “No,” he says then, and turns back around. “That’s not me, Sejanus. You know that.”
Sejanus swallows. The air feels heavy. Thick. “I know.” He attempts a smile. “I just thought I’d try. And I thought you should know.”
Coriolanus tries to talk him out of it, but it’s a fool’s errand. He’s made up his mind. Convinced, somehow, that he can do this, make a grand escape and fix everything for the districts.
They embrace. It’s not a goodbye, but it feels like one. Sejanus screws his hand into the back of Coriolanus’s shirt.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Coriolanus says, and they break.
Sejanus smiles. “I’ll try my very best.”
Being an idiot, it seems, was out of Sejanus’s hands.
He watches his name fall from Sejanus’s lips. Coryo. Pained, betrayed. Then he cries it again, and his shoulders move with the force of his yelling, “Coryo!” It’s an awful, broken sound, and Coriolanus can’t tell if it’s the jabberjays or his own mind echoing it back in his ears.
Coryo! Coryo! Coryo!
He spares a last glance at Sejanus. There are tears in his eyes as he takes in the trapdoors, the nooses. He’s scared. More scared than he’d looked in the arena.
Because here, Sejanus is no martyr. He’s an example. He’s dirt for the Capitol to crush under their heel.
Coriolanus closes his eyes. Trapdoors bang; the boy cries out. His boy. Best friend, district scum, treasonous betrayer.
He’s just one thing now: dead.
It was better for both of them this way, Coriolanus tells himself on his walk to the base. Even as he crumples against the lockers and cries into balled fists. Even when sobs wrack his chest and tear blur his vision, he knows that.
Sejanus was a danger to himself.
Sejanus was a danger to them both.