He leaned against the doorway of the Capitol bedroom, a clean white towel wrapped around his hips and a warm mug of tea in his hands. The cold light from the hallway narrowed into a long stream that flowed across the floor and bed. Within it, his long, thin shadow was trapped. He stared at it for a while, thinking of all the different philosophical implications. He shifted, and the track of light fell across a figure in the bed. A petite brunette was tangled in the sheets. Her cherub's face was placid in sleep, perfect lips just parted, glossy tendrils of hair curling about pinked cheeks and down a porcelain, sculpted back. She was better than most, a well-balanced mix of coquettish experience and blushing reticence that could be cajoled away.
After a moment, he shoved his body off of the doorjamb, set his steaming mug on a nearby dresser, and climbed into bed behind her.
"Glinter... Glinter, wake up." He whispered in his best seductive tone, his now-minty breath tickling her ear. She stirred, and he repeated her name. She mumbled something softly. Her eyes fluttered open and stared sleepily into his, her voice hoarse with sleep.
"What time is it? I must have just drifted off, you wore me out. You brought me tea? How sweet! But it's still dark out..." She rolled onto her side and checked the clock. 0313 in the morning.
"What's going on, Annek?"
Still in his seductive voice, a honey-coated, rolling bass, "You bought me for five hours, which started at ten sharp. You're thirteen minutes over and running swiftly through your generous twenty minute grace period. You have seven minutes to find whatever clothes you had and leave, or my rates double, and payment is due immediately. Seeing as I have more money than I know what to do with, get out."
She stared at him dumbly, uncomprehending.
"What?...But Annek, I thought we were.. and all the things you said..." She fumbled for the right words, sleep robbing her of eloquence. She rubbed her eyes and ran fingers through her tangled hair, trying to focus.
"You mean like, 'I've never felt this way before', and 'You're different', and 'I could stare into your eyes forever'?" He pulled a mocking face with each phrase.
She gaped at him, plush lips forming a near-perfect little O. "But... but you brought me back here!"
"Five and a half minutes," he said brightly, with a smile. Now he was a trainer, excitedly calling out times from a stopwatch.
He hit a small panel near the headboard and the overhead lights blazed to full intensity, making him squint and her shriek and cover her eyes with her hands, until he relented with a twinge of guilt and turned them down to a manageable level.
She scrambled out of bed, ripping the damp towel from him and clutching it to her dancer's body. She scurried here and there, trying to find her tunic, leggings, underthings and belt before her time ran out. Annek had tossed them all over the room out of spite. As she rushed, he lounged on the bed. Head propped up on one hand, hair dripping and skin damp from the shower he had luxuriated in, he watched her with a bitter smirk. Once found, she fumbled her way into her outfit. Dressed, she balled the stolen towel up and threw it at him. He caught it and returned it to its place over his hips.
"Oh look, two minutes left. I think that's a new record. Yaaay for you," he said, giving her a thumbs up.
" What? I.. You...You're horrible! Besides, you seemed to be enjoying yourself! And what are you going on about a … a price?" There was an odd, stricken look to her face. She still hadn't quite woken up yet, and Annek was pushing his luck. Still, he pressed on.
"Business is business, doll, and I always have satisfied customers. Leave the tea, it's mine."
Glinter gave an indignant squeak as she flushed tomato red. She picked up the cup and threw it onto the cold slate, tea and ceramic splashing everywhere, soaking into the bedsheets and scattering around the room. She stomped out, carrying her sandals. She tried to slam the door, but the hinges were made for preventing just that, and the wide doors closed with a quiet, hissing click.
Annek rolled onto his back, listening as the elevator dinged outside in the landing. He was light as air, still nursing a significant buzz from the evening's party, nerves jazzed from evicting a Patron in such a disgraceful fashion. A small part of his mind told him this was a very bad idea and he'd be paying for it soon, but for now he was reveling in this one small victory. Once he was sure she was gone, he climbed out of the sea of a bed, swaying a little, and flicked on the light. He pulled on some shorts from a drawer in a stately teak bureau, and set to work stripping the bed of all the heavy silken linens. His mood dropped almost as quickly as it rose. He hated, hated that he had to do this in his own bed. The jacquard duvet, cream-colored and soft, came off, then the deep hunter green down comforter, the top sheet, and finally the fitted sheet. He gathered it all into two piles in the middle of the room. With plain cotton sheets a sullen blue, he painstakingly remade the bed. Fitted sheet, pillows, top sheet, comforter and duvet, with crisp corners and perfectly positioned pillows. He turned off the light, climbed in again, and lay where Glinter had dozed off, feeling her warmth seep from the mattress. He shifted to a cold spot. Sleep would not come. He stared at the blank white ceiling, the previous night playing through his head.
At yet another Capitol soiree, he milled with other Victors and the bigger names of Panem. President Coriolanus Snow, with his white rose, and more sick-sweet perfume than any self-respecting Capitol woman. He avoided him studiously. There was Isabella Trinket, an escort for one of the other Districts. He always confused her with her sister Effie, who was standing beside her. Both were bubbly and rather photogenic, but it was Isabella who had the seamless artifice necessary to cheerfully condemn young boys and girls to their near-certain deaths. Effie still had something of a soul, it seemed. In large doses, both were completely insufferable. He wandered to the far end of the marble hall. A few of the hairdressers, stylists and other support staff of the Games were there fact-finding, trying to see the new fashions for the unfortunate new tributes in the upcoming Games. One in particular caught his eye. He obviously wasn't from the Capitol, as he wasn't dressed like a fop. He was handling himself remarkably well as opposed to the other fresh blood, who were out of hand with too much good wine: missing the effluvia bins tastefully placed around the buffet table, laughing too loudly at each others' jokes, standing too close to whomever they were talking to, spilling things everywhere, thrashing wildly to the quartet playing. Annek sidled up beside him, and they were soon engrossed in conversation, where he learned the man was a new hairstylist by the name of Cinna.
"So, what made you get involved in this whole sorry mess of things?" Annek asked after a while. Cinna had proven to be an adept conversationalist, and it didn't seem like such a ...sane person could want to be face-to-face with murder on a yearly basis and the excesses of the Capitol on a daily one.
"Quite frankly, the fact that most of the Tributes never stand a chance because of their prep team butchering their first presentation. I aim to be a stylist in a few years to remedy that."
Annek was taken aback, and it showed. Chatting up the support meant hearing the same sick spiel about 'eyes for fashion', 'new perspectives' and 'the Games being just delightful'. He never stayed to hear the rest.
"Of course, I have quite the eye for fashion, and I think these Games are the new runways of Panem." Cinna added, with a wink.
Annek had to laugh, and decided this hairdresser was one to watch. They watched the partiers, taking bets about who was going to commit what faux pas next. In spite of himself, Annek was beginning to enjoy the party, even if Cinna was making a tidy sum off of him.
Soon, however, he heard, or rather smelled, President Snow behind him. He turned quickly, smile in place. Snow was holding a glass of something that looked like champagne, but Annek couldn't tell.
"My dear Annek Alda." He had to raise his voice a bit to be heard over the din nearby, and they shifted a few paces away. Cinna took his leave with practiced ease, toasting Annek and melting back into the crowd.
"President Snow, it's such an honor to see you." His voice was carefully controlled.
"There's a guest here by the name of Glinter White, and you're just smitten with her."
"Is this lasting love, or just for the weekend?" Annek felt his face harden, and he did nothing to stop it. The smile stayed put, though.
"At least five hours, preferably all of tomorrow." He sipped his champagne and winced slightly, never taking his eyes off of the boy in front of him.
"We'll see where the night takes us." He said it flippantly, swirling the wine in his glass, not deigning to look up.
"I trust you will, Annek." Snow stared him down until Annek couldn't not look at him any longer, dragging his eyes up to meet Snow's rheumy gaze. He nodded, more of a jerk than actual agreement, and in a waft of nauseating stench, President Snow oozed off to another locale. Annek watched him leave, not quite daring to glare at his back. He hated being on probation, with President Snow menacing him every so often, making sure he stayed in line as he twisted the knife. It felt a little like he was a chained dog and Snow was trying to find an excuse to get rid of him.
He drained his glass of port, set it on the tray carried by a tuxedoed Avox, and grabbed another with a polite nod. He looked around the room for a Capitol girl who would have the silly District One name of Glinter. At least Four had proper names.
After sauntering and schmoozing his way around the hall, which was no small matter and took about an hour, he saw the last group of likely girls, a gaggle of socialites teetering on the edge of gluttony and drunkenness. He watched out of the corner of his eye, in a meaningless conversation with a sympathetic Victor.
"Look, Glinter, there he is! Go say hi!" A tall, statuesque girl with a literal waterfall of glossy, platinum blond hair said, smiling at him from behind a long, manicured hand. Annek was impulsively glad that Glinter wasn't blondie as he was momentarily fascinated by the mechanical, arcane magic of her hairstyle, trying to calculate how many extensions she had in to make the waterfall work as it did. Anyone who spent so much on an eight-hour style was either dumb as hell, or just starting out in the social scene and desperate to make an impression. The battery that powered it was already dying, and the churning river was slowing down to just a crawl.
"Shut up and stop staring, Shine! He'll see!" The shorter brunette punched the blonde in the arm, frantically glancing over at him. Annek breathed a small sigh of relief as he pretended to laugh at a joke. At least she took care of herself, unlike his last.
He drained half the glass of wine, nodded a goodbye to Jacques, who raised his glass in solidarity, and slid over. "So, who are we stalking? He better be cute."
Glinter gave a shrill squeak. Annek hid clenched teeth with a smile, praying that that wasn't a habit of hers.
"You, actually. Hi, uh, Mr. Alda, um, I'm Glinter White, and this is Shine, and this is Frill, and this is Ruffle, and this is Silk..." She rattled off her friends' names, and he tuned out until she was done.
"It's so nice to meet you all. Please, call me Annek." He held Glinter's gaze and her hand for two seconds longer than he should have.
They all chattered away for a while, and despite his best efforts, he learned that Glinter was a descendant of the Victor of one of the single-digit Games. Her family had made the move to the Capitol soon after she was born. She was eighteen, and today was her birthday. Eventually, her friends found ways to escape until it was just the two of them. He looked her over. Petite, dressed to the nines in the latest. Ancient Rome was in vogue, with goddess gowns and leather skirts for all. A blinding white toga-tunic with an intricate silver brooch, silver leggings, and gilded sandals crisscrossing her feet. Her chocolate hair was interwoven with silver i-cord, swept back, with bouncy ringlets framing her face.
"Do... do you like the view?" She giggled coyly.
"Quite a bit, actually. Just look at the Capitol, sprawling at our feet. Tonight, the world is ours." He turned melodramatically towards the wall of glass overlooking the city, a modern sea of multicolored lights.
"But it can't compare to the one right in front of me..." He said softly, rolling his eyes at his own overwrought speech.
She giggled again, putty in his hands. He was getting a bit irritated by it.
The conversation followed a similar vein, until he finally suggested they find someplace a little more private. He decided to take her on what he called the Grand Tour, which he had carefully scripted some time ago to make it easier on himself.
"Are you hungry?" He asked, knowing the answer. It was always "I could eat."
"Well, there's plenty here..." The uncertain response.
"I mean, doll, let's go find something more substantial than party food. I want you to myself for a while." He stared deeply into her starstruck eyes, willing himself to feel sensual. He consoled himself with the fact that she was rather pretty, and closer to his age than most. A little young for him yet, but he wasn't about to complain. Not after Kitty and her ancient skin so frail it felt like paper.
"Oh!" She was caught off-guard, double meaning finally sinking in. "Oh... is there any place open this late at night?" The restaurants on the boulevard stayed open well into the wee hours on Party Nights specifically for this purpose, but there was no need for her to know that.
"Probably, and if not, we could always... order in," he answered with an impish grin.
"The second one sounds like fun, let's do that!" He momentarily felt a spark of interest.
He led her on a circuitous route, stopping at the roof and hoping for inspiration from the night cityscape. Little was forthcoming.
They were silent for a while, taking in the sight and breeze, when Glinter spoke quietly, almost more to herself, full of reedy emotion.
"You know, I watched your Game, and I was rooting for you the whole time, from the very beginning. I even got my parents to pay for the extra footage of you. I mean, they kept switching away from you to focus on the other Tributes and I was so worried for you when those awful-"
"Glinter, doll, the Games are for discussing at a later time. They're not as interesting as you, but I'm... terribly flattered you cared for me that much." He fixed his gaze on the horizon and gripped the low stone wall. He tried to talk himself into it, convince himself he wanted her, but he felt nothing besides boredom and slight irritation. He wondered what Meghan was up to. Probably having dinner with her husband. He wasn't really sure what she did when she wasn't with him.
"And now I'm here with you, on the roof of the Tower, and I'm so happy." She was right next to him now, and looked up at him through her lashes, pressing her hips into his thigh, running a small hand up his side, letting it rest on his waist. He let her, forcing himself to stand still. He turned to look at her, and gave in. He stroked one rosy apple cheek and pulled her into a kiss, fighting the urge to break it and shove her away when she clung to him like peanut butter on the roof of his mouth. He hated the taste of her lipstick. Whatever brand it was was waxy and bitter, masked with too much fake blueberry flavoring. He wished he had more wine. It was always a little easier with wine.
0445. He slammed his head against the yielding pillow, ran a hand angrily through his mussed hair, threw off the too-hot linens. Padding softly on the freezing gray slate, he returned to the shower. Stripping off his boxers, he set the temperature as high as the computer would allow and stepped in. He supposed it was the added barb that he paid his dues for fame and fortune (as President Snow so euphemistically called it) in his own room, where he had to sleep. Never mind his dues were the slaughter of the twenty-three other tributes in the Fifty- Ninth Hunger Games, six by him. It was always there, just under the surface. Inescapable. The water was a degree shy of scalding, turning his tan skin a mottled red, stinging and smarting on the long scratches lovingly left by Glinter.
His life was over. He was twenty-one, and his life was over. Not that it was much of one to begin with, but still. He was a murderer of tribute and citizen alike. Directly responsible for the deaths of eleven people. Three were his family and friends. And two... he fell heavily against the long wall of the shower, sliding against the heated tile to the floor. He held his head in his hands. Curled against the wall in a miserable heap, he stayed there, hot water surrounding him, long after the shower stopped and the computer beeped the end of the cycle.