After the last tribute falls and Brandon of district seven is declared victor, all the people who worked on the games have a party. A few days will be spent returning the victor to top health and beauty so all the victors, mentors, stylists, sponsors, and Gamemakers spend the time indulging and watching the raw replays before the finished production at the after interview.
"Happy hunger games," Claudius Templesmith cries and pops the first bottle of champagne.
Everyone cheers and holds up their empty glasses. Septimus takes Cinna's and goes to fill them up. After relinquishing his glass, Cinna decides to mingle instead of waiting. He doesn't much feel like drinking with party time joy. He thinks about Mara, four days and a knife in her back. To be honest, Cinna didn't believe she would really win but he certainly had hoped she could. Cinna is as least glad she was spared the violence of the Cornucopia. He hopes the things he said helped her to feel not so alone.
Cinna makes rounds through the room, lazy circles simply watching the crowd. The main sponsors of the games all sit at a long table shouting at each other either with pride or righteous reasoning.
"She had a poison dagger and two axes! You'd have bet on her too!"
A woman shrieks with laughter. "Oh, but I didn't, did I? And you send bread? How boring!"
"We know who wields axes best any way, Flavius," a man barks, "and it certainly isn't district nine!"
"Well," A blue haired woman slaps the table, "I gave my girl that medicine, you saw! District eleven I tell you! Final three!"
"All that matters is the victor!" A red faced woman throws her strawberry at the blue harried one. "And you lost!"
"Stella, you always pick the winners," a man gripes. "Give one of us a tip sometime."
Cinna keeps weaving through the guests so the sponsors' squabble becomes more of a background rumble. A group of stylists cluster near a set of cameras replaying the interviews. Cinna knows they are critiquing each other's work. He scans the crowd and finds Septimus talking to a couple of victors. Cinna wonders absently where Cecelia is.
Then Cinna walks past an alcove and sees a man slumped over in his chair, draped across the table in front of him. Two glasses lie dripping beside his head. Cinna steps closer to make sure the man still breathes then realizes it is victor Haymitch Abernathy of district twelve. Cinna slips into the alcove and crouches low.
"Haymitch?" He gently shakes Haymitch's shoulder. "Haymitch."
Haymitch jerks once and mumbles some nonsense syllables.
"Come on, Haymitch, bit early to pass out." Cinna shakes him harder.
Haymitch suddenly spasms, jolts up, and grabs Cinna's lapel, yanking him against the table. Cinna gasps in surprise, Haymitch's face only inches from his own. Haymitch breathes heavily, breath reeking of a combination of too many alcohols. He blinks slowly then releases Cinna's coat. He leans back in his chair and stares.
Haymitch cocks his head with a look of confusion. "Who are you?"
"Cinna," Haymitch repeats, "Cinna, Cinna, Cinna."
"Are you all right?" Cinna asks.
Haymitch laughs. "Oh? Am I all right? I'm alive!" He points over Cinna's shoulder. "Better than them."
Cinna turns and follows the line of Haymitch's finger to the largest set of screens on the center wall. Cinna turns back but has no reply.
Haymitch sniffs loudly and pulls at his waistcoat. "I thought this year – no, no never." Haymitch waves a hand in the air. "Smack! Bam! And another year done!"
Cinna touches Haymitch's arm. "Haymitch, I could get you –"
"What? Get me a new set to dress up?" Haymitch knocks Cinna's hand away then laughs again. "Naw, I had plenty of fun this year. Loads! Did you see the little one smashed at the…" he trails off as he sits up and grabs for the empty glasses on his table.
Cinna wishes for one moment he could really be one of the ridiculous, naive Capitol citizens who would only take Haymitch's words as drunk, meaningless ravings. Instead Cinna sees the last victor of a district in over twenty years.
"I have no drink," Haymitch says abruptly clear as if sober. He looks right at Cinna. "I have no drink."
"Those would be on the floor now."
Haymitch laughs once then tries to stand up, knocking a glass over when he falls back into his seat. Cinna jumps up and reaches out, ready to help.
"Got it," Haymitch waves his hands emphatically. "I… I've got it."
"Oh, great." Cinna turns suddenly at the voice behind him.
A man, probably Haymitch's age, with part of one arm missing, towers over Cinna. He holds a bottle in his only hand and Cinna recognizes him as a victor but the name escapes him.
"Beating me to the punch, Haymitch?" He says.
"Catch up, Chaff," Haymitch replies, "and give me that bottle."
"Why should I give you the bottle if you want me to catch up?"
Haymitch grins. "I'll arm wrestle you for it."
Chaff snorts and finally looks at Cinna. "Didn't throw up on you, did he?"
"Then you've been spared so far." He claps Cinna's shoulder and moves around him to sit beside Haymitch.
Cinna smiles unsurely. "I was just checking he was alive."
"Unfortunately!" Haymitch cries as he grabs the bottle from Chaff.
Chaff steals it right back and takes a swig. "Oh, you'll never die, Haymitch. Who would I drink with if you did?"
They both burst into laughter, slapping each other on the leg and on the chest. Cinna smiles sadly and shakes his head. Chaff suddenly focuses on Cinna.
"Wait, who are you?"
"Cinder!" Haymitch fills in.
"Try again," Cinna says, smiling."
Chaff and Haymitch fall into a new fit of drunken laughter. Cinna doesn't even feel insulted.
Instead he smiles and walks backward. "Enjoy the party."
Cinna turns out of the alcove leaving the pair to their bottle and their sorrows.
"Cinna!" Cinna hears Haymitch shout after him. "Got it! Cinna, Cinna, Cinna! Third time's the charm."
Cinna makes a note in his head to check on them later.
Walking through the crowd, many now dancing with less inhibition, Cinna picks up a glass of wine and searches for Septimus. He passes by the new victor's team, all of them talking animatedly and already pointing at papers all over their table. Obviously, they wish to start planning the coming victor interview or maybe even the victor tour of Panem right away.
"Cinna," Septimus appears beside Cinna and loops his arm around Cinna's, "You've left me to the dogs."
"You love it."
"Of course, but occasionally I need a talking point to steer conversation and I wanted to use you."
"I have to be present for that?"
"I told you I would pay you back, Cinna." Septimus let's go of Cinna's arm. "That means talking all about you."
"And showing me off?"
"Like a tribute."
Septimus stops walking and gazes at Cinna. "Ah, I see the games have sent your mood down again."
Cinna crosses his arms. "I'm fine." Septimus gives him a skeptical look. "I just don't think now's the time."
"Of course now is the time." Septimus sweeps his hand indicating the crowd.
"Well," Cinna taps a button on Septimus' vest, "You talk all about me then and I'll be mysterious!"
"Hmm." Septimus takes Cinna's wine from his hand. "I suppose I can work with that."
"I have faith in you."
The two part and Cinna searches for a quiet corner. He's not exactly depressed but he sees no reason to celebrate, Mara dead along with the others. He understands it all now, the Capitol fervor with the games, he just does not share the zeal. At the moment Cinna glides through the chaos so everything washes over him, just sound and color – don't listen to the words.
"Cinna." Someone touches his arm.
Cinna turns. "Finnick."
Finnick smiles, perfect gold brown hair, teeth perfect, perfect eyes like clear water and wearing a tight navy blue suit, sea green shirt open at the neck. He looks just as attractive as usual.
"Follow me." Finnick grins mischievously.
Cinna blinks rapidly but follows despite all the ways he imagines this could end badly especially as Cinna isn't a hundred percent sure what Finnick intends. Finnick weaves through people smiling and blowing the occasional kiss. Everyone watches him pass, a few spotting Cinna following. Cinna wonders how elaborate a story the gossips will create. They round a corner into an abruptly empty hall. Finnick walks a bit further in and stops, back against the wall. Cinna stands in front of him.
"I know who you are," Finnick replies, face suddenly different. All the easy flirtation disappeared and Finnick looks like a normal person.
"Cinna Bell?" Cinna fills in.
"Of district eight," Finnick finishes.
Cinna tenses, frozen for a moment only staring back at Finnick. Then he slowly slides his hands into his pockets. Oddly Cinna feels relief instead of fear. Maybe he'll be sent back to district eight, maybe he'll be publicly embarrassed, ostracized, maybe they'll turn him into an Avox. (Though somehow he feels exposure is probably not Finnick's plan). He watches Finnick and waits, why run?
"It was my first year as a mentor," Finnick explains, "And there was a small tribute from district eight, Cora Bell, who wore a dress made by her brother to her interview; her brother, Cinna Bell."
"I'm surprised you remember her." Cinna glances at the floor. "She didn't last long."
"That first year after tends to stick." Cinna looks back up at Finnick. "And I remember her smile. She kept it on like armor."
"And you remembered my name."
"Well, I…" Finnick falters for a moment. He clears his throat and stands up straight. He reaches inside his coat and pulls out a small book. "I keep track."
Cinna reaches for it then stops, glancing up for permission. Finnick hands the book to him. Cinna opens to the first page.
66th Hunger Games
1. Crystal Reever – brown hair, beautiful laugh. Liked how the night sky at the Capitol seemed brighter.
1. Vincent Ward – dark brown eyes, very catching. Confident but had an odd mercy.
Cinna jerks his head up. "What is this?"
"After I won and the tour and then things started to…" Finnick pauses and pulls at one of his cuffs, "to change. I decided to keep track of every tribute starting with the game after mine."
Cinna shakes his head. "But why? They were all your own tribute's competition."
"Because no one deserves to be turned into a number then forgotten."
Cinna stares at Finnick then looks back at the notebook.
8. Samuel Lawson – shy with freckles, never looked at the camera.
8. Cora Bell – always smiled, a brother Cinna who can design, didn't give up at heart.
"And sometimes," Finnick continues, "because I envy the ones that died."
Cinna closes the book and hands it back. "Who are you Finnick Odair?"
"Who are you, Cinna Bell?" Finnick counters. "And why are you here? Your sister was a tribute, not you. Yet here you are."
"I'm a designer; I work for Septimus Moran, as I told you."
Finnick raises his eyebrows. "And that's the whole story?"
"What more would you like?"
"Well, you didn't magically appear."
Cinna folds his hands together. "After the 66th Hunger Games, Septimus came to my house and brought me here because of my talent for design."
Finnick stares. "You say it so calmly."
"Do you want me to be angry?"
Something flashes across Finnick's face for a moment. His teeth clench and one hand balls into a fist briefly before relaxing.
He shakes his head. "Not for myself."
"So then why are you telling me all this? Why are you asking?"
Finnick sighs. "I suppose I thought you should know that someone else knows. And," he steps into Cinna's personal space, "Why do you stay?"
"Well, my designs that I make here –"
"That can't be all it," Finnick interrupts.
Cinna swallows. "I'm not sure I can leave if I'd want to."
Finnick frowns. "Why? You're not a victor told where to go."
"This is the Capitol."
Finnick only stares at him.
"Septimus had a letter from the President's council."
Finnick looks unconvinced. "I see."
Cinna steps back so more space lies between them. "See what?"
"Nothing, it's just unusual."
Finnick turns back toward the party. "I just think maybe you should find out how much of what Septimus told you is true. You should have a chance to go home."
"And why do you care?" Cinna snaps suddenly. "Is this redemption for the arena?"
Finnick glances back at Cinna. "Yes." He smiles, flirtatious again. "And to give the gossips something to talk about."
Finnick turns and walks back toward the noise and celebration.
"Finnick," Cinna calls and Finnick stops. "Thank you for remembering my sister."
When Septimus and Cinna return to the apartment, Cinna pours Septimus a drink then sits down in the chair directly opposite him.
"Oh dear," Septimus says, "you have that serious conversation face on."
Septimus takes a sip of his drink. "Well, by all means, proceed."
"It's about when we first met, about district eight."
Septimus only stares back, waiting.
"When you first came for me after the hunger games with Cora you had an envelope, a 'special dispensation' or something from Snow's council."
Septimus rolls his glass between his hands. "Yes."
"But that wasn't real, was it?"
"You came to get me, all on your own, just to benefit you."
"Did you bribe the Peacekeepers?"
Septimus snorts softly. "You think that's a hard thing?"
"So… you kidnapped me?"
Septimus sighs. "Cinna…"
"I'm not angry, not anymore." Cinna leans forward, forearms on his thighs. "I just want to know."
"I suppose you're right but if it wasn't me it would have been someone else." Septimus looks up at Cinna. "I just got there first."
They sit for a minute only staring at each other.
"The silly back story about a mountain family?" Cinna asks, breaking the stand off.
Septimus smiles. "People will believe a lot of ridiculous things here but if you'd been found out as a district citizen." Septimus pauses and glances to the side before looking back. "Well, that would have been rather bad for both of us."
"It still could."
"Not now, it's been too long. Plus," Septimus takes a drink, "I've altered your records, including the video from your sister's interview."
Cinna raises his eyebrows. "Cost a lot?"
"Not as much as you'd think."
Cinna sits back again and shrugs. "Didn't you ever worry that some one would recognize me or my name at least after Cora?"
Septimus laughs once. "That was never a problem, Cinna. The people here in the Capitol, as you should know by now, only remember the victors of the Hunger Games. The rest is just a blur of parties and carnage, never names." Septimus clears his throat and speaks softly, "Especially those who die so quickly."
Cinna wishes he didn't understand but he does, completely.
"Septimus," Cinna says after a pause, "I'm going to district eight."
Septimus, for once, looks completely surprised. "What?"
"Are you going to stop me?"
"I…" Septimus' hands clench on his glass. "No. No, I'm not going to stop you. I just don't see why you –"
"Yes, you do."
Septimus makes a noise close to a growl. "…of course."
"Yes, your family."
"Septimus," Cinna stands up, voice calm. "I'm not yours; I never was."
"Did I say that?" Septimus almost snaps.
"And you are not my father," Cinna continues firmly.
Septimus' mouth falls open slightly then clamps shut.
"My mother and father who haven't seen their son in five years deserve to now." Cinna pauses again and Septimus stares at the carpet. "So, I'm getting on a train and going."
Septimus sits up straight, puts his glass down on the table beside him and looks at Cinna. "When?"
"Tomorrow. Do I have anything to worry about?"
"As a Capitol citizen you can travel to the districts, though it is not common. You should think of a good excuse." Septimus drums his fingers. "Research perhaps, for future games?"
Cinna nods. "Thank you."
He turns and walks toward the stairs, packing to do not to mention he needs to think of what he's going to say to his parents.
"Are you…" Cinna stops and looks back at Septimus. "Are you coming back?"
Cinna breathes in once then begins to climb the stairs. "I don't know."
In the morning Septimus waits for Cinna at the bottom of the stairs. He smiles and holds out a small card.
"Your Capitol ID."
"You have IDs?"
Septimus shrugs and smiles a little. "They're issued for people who need to travel outside the Capitol. Wouldn't want to be mistaken for a district citizen, would they?"
Cinna chuckles. "I see."
They stare at each other for a moment then Cinna puts the ID in his pocket and adjusts the strap of his bag.
"Well, I'll be off."
"Be prepared," Septimus says abruptly, face with a hint of worry behind his smile. "Be prepared for things to be different."
Cinna only nods in reply and heads out the door.
The train ride to district eight feels longer this time around. Perhaps the fear of the unknown quickened the journey when he was younger or perhaps he simply is older now and feels time as it really is? Whatever the reason, Cinna has plenty of time to mull over time past, ponder what to expect. He knows he can't expect things to be the same. They're all going to be five years older after all and so is he. He wonders if the house still looks the same or if they all have the same jobs. He considers, should he blame Septimus for the time? Should he blame himself, blame his ignorance? Everything could be blamed on the Capitol some way or another. Or perhaps he simply shouldn't bother with excuses, just wait and see what he finds.
Above all joy fills his heart at the prospect of seeing his family again.
When the train pulls into the station less than half a dozen people get out. Cinna recognizes two of them from years ago as factory foremen who travel to the south for raw product while another he knows used to take the train every two weeks with finished supplies of fabric to the Capitol. Cinna hadn't sent any sort of word that he was coming, though who knows if it would have made it to his family. Messages between districts have never really happened for common folk and he had never entertained the possibility of writing to his family before. Now that he thinks about it Cinna feels so idiotic that he never tried, assuming too much.
Cinna walks the streets from the station down toward the factory housing district, houses all the same as he remembered, colors all the same. Oddly, the air does not feel as cold as his memories. People glance at him as he passes by, some with surprise or perhaps faint recognition. Cinna's nerves tense further with each street until he stands in front of a familiar door.
"Okay…" Cinna knocks.
He hears a clatter and someone say, 'the door,' and then footsteps. Cinna's heart jumps to a new speed and he clenches a fist around his bag. Then the door opens and Clasta stands between him and every memory of sixteen years of life.
She stops before even finishing the word, smile froze on her face. Her hand clenches on the door frame like a vice and she only blinks.
For some reason Cinna can't smile. "Hi."
"Cinna." Her voice sounds different, older.
"Clasta, who is…?" A man steps into view behind her. It takes Cinna a moment then - Bale Westerby, did leather work.
"Hi," Cinna repeats, "I'm…" suddenly Cinna wishes he actually had rehearsed some sort of speech or thought up something to say instead of just believing it would come to him in the moment. "Can I come in?"
Clasta's face relaxes slightly and she steps back. "Yes, of course, yes."
She steps back, Bale following, and Cinna walks into the house. The first thing he notices is the paint. The main room they used to use for any activity which wasn't bedroom related or cooking is no longer splotchy green and brown as it used to be but white, repainted. Cinna feels a chip flake off the illusion of the past.
"Are we having dinner?" Cinna's father walks out of the kitchen. "Don't tell me it was Merrily from next door again?"
He looks at Clasta, eyes coasting right over Cinna at first, then he suddenly snaps back and his mouth falls open. "Cinna!"
"Hi." Cinna smiles and has a small heart attack. "Hi, dad."
He strides over to Cinna and stops in from of him. He reaches out a hand then stops in mid air as if he doesn't believe his hand won't fall right through Cinna if he touches him. Then he rests his hand on Cinna's shoulder. He laughs once.
"You're… you're here." He frowns with confusion then smiles again. "You're here."
Cinna nods. "Yes, I am. I'm sorry it's been so long."
Clasta makes a choked sort of noise from behind him and Cinna hears Bale make soft shushing sounds. Clasta sniffs loudly. Then Cinna drops his bag, reaches out and pulls his father to him, trapping the man in a tight hug.
"Oh my god," his father gasps. "It's really you."
Suddenly, Clasta's feet stomp over the floor and she hugs Cinna's back, locking him into a sandwich of warmth and a million lost memories. Cinna clings onto his father and just breathes. The two of them smell just the same. After about a minute Cinna drops his arms and all three let go. Cinna peers around his father into the kitchen.
"So," Cinna swallows, "where are mom and Cherra?"
Cinna's father glances over Cinna's shoulder. Cinna already knows the answer.
"Let's lay another place and sit down for dinner, all right?" Clasta says from behind him.
"How?" Cinna asks.
Cinna's father looks back at him, his mouth a thin line. He sighs. "Factory accident, a year ago."
'Isn't it always?' Cinna thinks.
"One of the furnaces that heats the vats to melt the dyes blew, took out half the building and… well, a lot of people."
Cinna frowns. "And… both of them were…"
"A lot changed after you were gone, Cinna," Clasta says, "and it's been a long time."
The four of them sit down at the table in the kitchen, stew with biscuits on the side and iced tea. Cinna learns, as expected, Clasta and Bale married two years ago. They live a few streets away and have no children. They tell him about the things he has missed – Cherra had received a promotion, gotten a raise before the accident. She'd been so happy about becoming a foreman. She'd been the first on call with the malfunction of the furnace that day. Their mother had taken a second batch of hours in the dye factory in addition to the cotton factory after they lost Cinna's income. Cinna's father transferred over to leather to work with Bale, change of pace and keep family close. Bale and Clasta married in the fall, her wedding dress was pink and the traditional cloth they tied around their hands at the ceremony was a ripping from the skirt Cinna had made her.
Cinna cannot force himself to tell them about the Capitol because suddenly he feels how very, very wrong this entire situation is. His life then compared to his life now and how life here has moved ahead without him.
After dinner Bale makes coffee while the three remaining Bells sit together.
"So, what… I mean…" Clasta stares at her hands on top of the table, twisting the right around her finger. "It's been five years and we didn't… I thought you…" She looks up. "I thought we would never see you again."
"How did Cherra take it?" Cinna asks, remembering Clasta's last plea to Septimus to let them get Cherra to say goodbye.
Cinna's father laughs once and shakes his head. "Worse. She didn't say anything at all. She went upstairs and it wasn't until three days later that she suddenly started crying."
Cinna looks away. They sit silently for a moment then Clasta sits up straight.
"We saw Septimus on the Hunger Games." Cinna turns to Clasta. "District five?"
"He looked pleased."
Clasta tilts her head. "So, is that it? You're still… what? Working for him?"
Cinna nods. "For these past five years, yes; I've been designing for his shop. The Boutique."
"The Boutique?" Clasta repeats.
"Designing?" His father leans forward over the table. "Actually designing all those things you used to try to scrape together here?"
Cinna nods. "Yes, exactly. In fact all those outfits I doodled away in my notebook? We made them, all of them and more beyond that." Cinna smiles suddenly feeling some pride because he has done something. "And people in the Capitol have liked what I've done, The Boutique has become more popular and Septimus said right from the start I have a natural talent. I think I've even changed it a bit, brought an amount of sense to Capitol style in clothing at least. It really makes…"
Suddenly Cinna trails off because he sees his father and Clasta staring at him with confusion and surprise. Cinna clears his throat and the mugs behind them clatter.
"I'll… um, be right back," Bale mumbles and leaves the room.
"So, well," Cinna clears his throat, "Septimus has been doing what he said when he came here." Cinna has no idea where these words are coming from. "Nurturing my talent." Everything sounds so flat, so ridiculous sitting here in his family's kitchen.
"I see," his father says.
Clasta sighs and nods. "Yes, I see."
Cinna sees too because it is not pride he feels now toward him, it is disappointment.
"And now," Clasta says, "the Hunger Games?"
"Yes, well… that is… I try to help."
"How exactly?" Clasta's voice changes, harder and less like his sister.
"Clasta, I can't very well –"
"Say no?" she interrupts. "Because that man certainly hasn't been keeping you locked up from the look of it."
Cinna suddenly realizes how fine his clothes are – his shinny shoes, his tailored coat, and the gold eye liner on his eyes. Why didn't he take that off? What was he thinking?
"It wouldn't help anything," Cinna retorts.
"I wouldn't help to say, 'No, I won't work on this horrible thing; I won't add to the misery by being a part of it?'"
"No," she snaps, "no, those games took your sister! Your little sister died in those games and now you –"
"I was there with that girl!" Cinna shouts back. "I held Mara's hand and let her cry because she had no hope! I tried to give her some before she was throw to the dogs and you know that no one else there would have felt anything to give her that! But I did!"
Cinna grips the edge of the table and breathes through his nose to calm his hammering heart. Clasta only stares back at him, her mouth shut tight.
"All right," their father says, "we knew you would be different, Cinna, if you ever came back. We knew things would change."
"We never thought you'd come back," Clasta whispers.
Cinna wants to say 'I'm no different' but he knows with certainty that is a lie.
"Why didn't you come back sooner?" Clasta asks.
Cinna glances down at the table. "I didn't know I could until now."
He doesn't want to admit that just maybe he began to like the comfort of the Capitol despite the pretention and opulence. He hates himself for changing because he knows now that he cannot change back. There is no place for him anymore in district eight.
Cinna stays to have coffee. Bale returns and tells Cinna about the last spring festival, the streamers in town and how Clasta won one of the gift basket raffles. They tell him about families he knew, babies born. His father repainted the other room after mother died. Clasta's house is painted pale red inside, two floors and they splurged after the wedding to buy two down pillows. Clasta's students work harder every year; she's been trying to throw in things like algebra for the smarter ones. The Peacekeepers have changed some, a few new ones who are less inclined to friendly conversation though there haven't been many punishments in the square. Wages were cut in the some of the factories and demand seems to have grown, a lot of factory shifts and job changes. It's odd but everyone seems to make due. They tell him about last winter and the sudden snowman contest which lasted for a week. Clasta and Bale built a pair outside their house with matching blue hats.
"It never stops being cold, does it?" Cinna says.
"Colder than it used to be," Clasta says with a sadness that means more than just temperature.
"I suppose I should go," Cinna says noticing the darkness outside. "I know you all have work and I certainly can't ask you to stay up talking all night with long shifts ahead."
His father sighs. "Back to the Capitol?"
Cinna looks around at the three of them. They all look normal; cotton clothing, sturdy shoes for working, Clasta's hair tied up with just a simple band, slight scruff on Bale's face. Then Cinna wears glossy leather on his feet with linen and silk above with that light touch of gold.
Cinna only smiles and they all know it together, too much has changed.
Cinna hugs Clasta and his father, a nod to Bale. "Belated Congratulations," Cinna says with a smile.
"Find a way to keep in touch," Cinna's father says abruptly when Cinna's hand touches the door knob.
Cinna nods. "Yes."
"Goodbye," Clasta says.
Cinna opens the door then stops and glances back. "I want you to know." He stands just a bit taller. "I am going to change things somehow. I am."
Then Cinna closes the door and walks back over the streets blindly until he hits the train station and – after a bribe to the conductor – hops on the night train with finished factory fabrics back to the Capitol. He can't decide if it feels like running away or going home.
When Cinna opens the door to Septimus' apartment, Septimus sits on one of the couches of the main lounge. The TV is off – no one else is there – as if all Septimus is doing is waiting which, Cinna knows, is exactly the case.
"So?" Septimus asks quietly.
"It was different," Cinna answers.
Septimus nods. "I see." He looks away at the bright green walls. "And you blame me for that?"
"I don't know yet."
Septimus turns back. "What do you know then?"
Cinna stares at Septimus. "That I don't have a home there anymore."
"Your home is here."
"I'm not sure I'm happy about that."
Septimus breathes in slowly and Cinna sees his fingers digging into the upholstery. "But you are happy here."
"Maybe." Cinna drops his bag to the floor and leans against the spiral stair case, arms crossed. "Maybe I also wanted to go home someday but it's too late now."
"You had to have known that –"
"Known how much I've changed? How much I've missed?" Cinna sighs with frustration. "Known how they've moved on without me and I've become…"
"Yes," Septimus insists. "You had to have known all that before you left."
"Well, maybe I didn't, Septimus!" Cinna shouts finally. "Maybe I didn't!"
He whips around the stairs, storms all the way up then slams the door of his own room. Inside he leans heavily against the door, breath coming in great gulps. All this time the reality of the Capitol never actually hit home. For a long time Cinna thought he would never see home again but he did not believe it. Somehow being uprooted and thrown into a new environment with no in between made the entire thing unreal. Even when the Boutique and the Capitol and the hunger games all became his life it was just Cinna part two – completely separate and unrelated to life in district eight.
What had he thought, that he could hop the train to district eight and everything would revert back five years? How could he ever go back? He told himself on the train that things would be different but seeing them, feeling them, talking to his diminished family and the meeting of their changed lives actually cemented into reality. Now Cinna understands the loss. Perhaps it's even worse than death or 'never to be seen again.' He has seen them again and they have seen him and the bridge between them has crumbled away. Cinna is Capitol now and they are still district eight. His own family is a different world.
Cinna's knees shake and he slowly slides down against the door until he sits on the floor. He knocks his head back against the wood and stares at his red curtains. Curtains. Even his curtains are fine, made of heavy fabric. If Cinna could stand up he would tear them down.
For the next few weeks Cinna works in a fog. He thinks of nothing, simply letting his hands move with the needle over cloth or pencil across the page. He draws simple outfits – loose pants to the ankle, one color dresses with straight sleeves, coats with three buttons and plain collars. He does a lot of menial grunt work which could go through the automatic sewing machine or helps Misty and Lilac dress mannequins. If he keeps his hands busy then his mind won't dwell on what he's become.
He hardly speaks to Septimus and Septimus lets him.
"Do you think maybe Lilac and I could come to the Hunger Games this year?" Misty asks one day as the four of them close up shop for the night.
"Oh!" Lilac gasps. "That would be amazing."
"I am afraid not, dears."
The both whine at the same high pitch, giving Septimus matching expressions of disappointment. Septimus folds a jacket in half and offers only a stern look in return.
"Cinna gets to go!" Misty whines again as though she is only ten years old.
"Cinna has a skill which is of use to the Games."
Cinna freezes where he stands locking the door of the shop.
"Ugh! That is definitely not fair," Misty groans, "there are prep teams aren't there?"
"Not for clothing, that's Septimus," Lilac corrects.
"Exactly, Septimus, not Cinna. See?"
The girls argue on as Cinna stands still, staring out at the street. Snow covers the pavement right now along with patches of ice from the melted snow of yesterday. He thinks about throwing a snowball right at Cora's head, perfect shot and the best scream of anger back. He thinks about wearing two pairs of socks to school because the heater in his history class never worked. He thinks about the half of his closet upstairs with fur lining and how easily he can pick up a heated street car if he needs to go out somewhere more than five minutes away.
"Cinna…" Septimus says.
Cinna turns around and walks toward the back stairs to the apartment, handing off the keys to Septimus.
"They have a bit of a point, Septimus," Cinna comments as he passes.
Cinna waves a hand back at them and imagines the expression on Clava's face, how quickly her emotion turned to rage, how he defended himself.
"Cinna, please!" But Cinna ignores Septimus' plea and climbs the steps.
Cinna thinks back about how he could have done things differently:
["You go to the games alone, Septimus; I want to go back to district eight."]
["I'm 18 now, Septimus; that makes me an adult and the reaping are past this year. I can't be ordered around like a tribute. It's time for me to go home."]
[When the train hits the station in the Capitol, Cinna runs, weaving through the crowds deeper into the city so Septimus loses sight of him. Cinna hides down alleyways, keeps quiet until night falls and then he creeps back to the train station. The next morning he checks the manifest, hides in the cargo car and rides back to district eight.]
["I don't care what that paper says; I am not going to the Capitol."]
Cinna wonders if his family would even want to see him again now. Do they even see him anymore or do they only remember the sixteen year old boy who left? If he came back would it just be awkward silences filled with surface level comments – how was the winter this year? Is it just as cold in the Capitol? How was the spring festival this year? Did you do anything special for your birthday? Ridiculous questions with banal answers and never talking about how the puzzle pieces no longer connect. Is it easier for them to not see him, to forget?
Cinna and Septimus sit in the first floor lounge, Septimus staring at a book but obviously not reading it and Cinna staring at nothing, food half eaten on a plate beside him.
Then Septimus sighs and puts his book down. "Cinna, if you can't have both and you can't have eight then what are you left with?"
Cinna shifts his focus to his plate, pasta with too much sauce and not enough basil. No wonder he only ate half.
"You are left with the Capitol and despite your wallowing in despair you don't live the idle privileged life most people here do." Cinna looks up and frowns. "No, you're not hungry or cold, but you also held on to Mara's hand and I know you'll do it again."
Cinna looks at the floor. "How is that really helpful?"
"I'm sure it was very helpful to her."
As is often the case, Septimus is right. Brooding does no good and the past cannot be changed. If Cinna cannot go back then he must move forward.
When the 72nd Hunger Games begin to draw near Cinna learns this year is going to be a hail storm. Right away, weeks before the reapings even occur, Clava and Septimus start to fight like alley cats, griping and spitting at each other over every thing.
"Septimus!" Clava bangs her way into the shop nearly knocking Lilac over in her frenzy, large plume of a feather on her pink hat. "I must insist we swap genders!"
Septimus raises an eyebrow at her from the second floor. "I am quite fine as a man, Clava; you must deal with your identity issues yourself."
Clava huffs loudly and yanks off her black, gem studded gloves. "You know perfectly well what I mean! I want the female tribute this year."
Septimus passes the clipboard in his hand with the measurements of their recent client over to Cinna and tromps down the staircase. "And why is that, Ms. Peeks? Is it not often the trend to have the opposite gender stylists for tributes to be able to bring a broader view to the designing? You are the veteran after all; I would have thought this would be entrenched in your feelings for the Games."
Clava frowns. "It is often custom but it is certainly not a rule nor mandatory. I want the girl."
Septimus stands firm in front of her, hands on hips. "Why exactly? The male form too difficult for you? Would you prefer the ease of being able to bang out a dress with extra ruffles and misplaced gems?"
"Don't you demean my abilities! You know perfectly well the designs for the female tributes gather more attention and have more opportunity for flair."
Septimus shrugs. "So the male tribute is too difficult for you. By all means, Clava, take the girl and cop out."
Clava frowns even more and turns on her heel. "The girl is mine!"
The door slams behind her and Misty laughs shrilly with obvious nerves. Septimus turns around and looks up at Cinna. Cinna just shakes his head.
Septimus writes to the Hunger Games office inquiring about specific rules regarding gender assignments for stylists. Clava and Septimus appear before the Hunger Games board together to determine the legality of tribute assignments, if they can simply switch tributes without consent of the Gamemakers; if such a thing is allowed.
"It was a sight!" Septimus growls as he and Cinna roll up extra fabric. "The woman is determined to force me out before I am even a fixture at the Games."
"You did say last year she was bitter."
"Bitter and backstabbing and utterly ridiculous."
Cinna takes the rolled cloth and slides it into the stand beside the maroon and the rose cotton. "Is it really so bad to trade genders? It would give you a chance to go for a different angle."
"That is not the point!" Septimus snaps, throwing a pair of scissors into their proper box. "She cannot just decide she gets to have the girl tribute! Not to mention she would make a complete mess of it, I am sure. You remember the suit she made for her tribute last year."
"The board ruled in her favor, didn't it?"
Septimus grumbles and shoves the box back on the shelf.
However, Clava finds more to complain about. Once again, Clava accosts the shop, shouting for Septimus though Cinna tries to tell her he is working with a client.
"Clava, you cannot keep coming here and demanding this and that for the Games when they are still weeks away!"
Clava laughs, high and shrill. "Oh, Septimus, if I don't discuss it with you now there will be no time. You know how busy the week before the arena is. There is hardly time to breathe."
"You call this discussion?"
"Do not try to divert the conversation."
"Clava," Cinna interrupts, "perhaps if you two did this another time when –"
"When we don't have clients who –"
"Enough of you, little one, shut up!" She snaps.
Cinna's mouth clicks shut in surprise and Misty gasps quietly, rushing away to the back tailoring area. Septimus cocks his head at her holds up a statuesque finger.
"Clava, I would remind you whose place of business you are currently standing in." He points to the floor as if she were a child in need of careful instruction. "And I would also request," he slides over the word with the most mocking and fake deferential tone, "you to not speak to my employee in such a way."
"Oh! Employee?" Clava snorts and scoffs together. "Is that all?"
"Yes!" Septimus snaps back, for the first time bothering to quell the ever present gossip. "And another thing –"
"And on he goes!" She throws up her hands. "I came here to talk about a mutually beneficial arrangement for this year's Hunger Games and you want to bandy about gossip!"
"I do?" Septimus growls then stops and breathes in slowly. "By all means, Clava, what is your idea then?"
Clava throws a glare at Cinna then cocks out a hip and twirls one hand in the air. "I think it would be best for the both of us to share all of our design plans for our tributes this year so we can keep with a similar theme for the parade and the interview."
"Share all our design plans?"
"Well, not like last year."
Septimus crosses his arms. "This is about the lights, isn't it?"
"Oh, come on," Cinna rolls his eyes, "You can't –"
"You know, you did that on purpose to –"
"Get out!" Septimus snaps pointing to the door behind her.
The minute the door closes behind her high green heels, Septimus whirls around and knocks a mannequin clean over sending an arm skidding across the room to bang into the wall.
"Septimus," Cinna says soothingly, "calm down. The games aren't far away and when they are done –"
"When they are done I can throw her through a glass window," Septimus counters.
"Maybe I'll open it first."
Clava attempts to write to the Gamemakers just as Septimus did on her issue of 'sharing information' but the question never makes it to the board. Instead Clava receives a letter back to the extent of: 'Really?' Septimus crows with delight and Cinna suspects a pay off, if only to keep the matter out of deliberations.
"Septimus, are you planning on causing a scandal or something?" Cinna questions, chop sticks in hand.
"Clava is the one clamoring for scandal." Septimus stabs a dumpling repeatedly on his plate. "Scandal would certainly get her noticed again."
"You stylists are all noticed."
"There are levels."
Cinna sighs. "I am unfortunately aware of that."
"Groan all you want, Cinna," Septimus abandons his plate with a clatter on the table. "One day it will be you on that stage sharing the spot light."
Cinna considers a sarcastic retort but recalling Septimus' promise to 'pay him back' and with the way his life has progressed, well, it certainly could be possible.
The day of the reapings Cinna sits between Septimus and Clava, though Cinna think it's hardly safer. Clava's tribute holds her head up high, brown hair tight in a bun on top of her head and piercing green eyes. Septimus, to his credit, refrains from hitting Clava in her smug face. The boy, in contrast, sports short blond hair with a light curl who only stares straight ahead looking through everyone and everything. She is Rea Blain and he is Loren Hauges. When the reapings change over to district six, Septimus and Clava sit up straight as if on cue, tug their jackets into alignment and glare at each other over Cinna.
'Oh shit,' Cinna thinks.
Once the tributes arrive the real drama begins. Septimus and Clava whisper at each other in the parlor while the prep teams finish up with the tributes. The whispers sound more like shouts with the way the two spit at each other, arguing over light bulbs and similarity and 'my idea not yours.' (Cinna luckily has an outfit already made prepared for their tribute in case of total chaos).
"Are they..." the little purple haired girl from last year – Cinna believes her name is Poppy – taps his shoulder. "Are they done? Loren is ready."
"I'll go," Cinna inclines his head briefly at the bickering pair, "can you make sure they don't kill each other?"
Poppy frowns. "Do I have to get in between them?"
"Just get a stick or something." Cinna winks at her and circles around down the hall.
Cinna taps on the door and slips inside. Loren stands facing one of the walls as though inspecting the paint. His robe lies on the prep chair leaving him naked and apparently unconcerned about that. Cinna cocks his head and clears his throat. Loren's eyes tick toward him but his body remains still.
"Hi," Cinna smiles, "I'm Cinna."
Loren turns his head and frowns. "You're the stylist?"
"No, Septimus is." Cinna points behind him. "That odd noise you hear out in the hall."
Loren cocks his head and nods once. He shrugs then watches Cinna as he steps inside and closes the door. He lifts one hand, nail on the edge of his teeth then he stops suddenly and drops his hand.
"Don't worry," Cinna says, "Even if they fight every day I'll make sure you have something to wear."
"Because that matters so much."
Cinna flips open his notebook, jotting down some notes about Loren's measurements. "Believe me, Loren, it does."
Loren sighs and looks unconvinced.
Cinna smiles with all the feeling he can muster. "Just remember, I'm here to help you, not hurt you."
Septimus and Clava swing back and forth on ideas, trying to collaborate, trying to fight, trying to fix each other and undermine at the same time. Clava wants to dress them both in lights again. Septimus wants to dress them in silver.
"Lights would draw attention and –"
"And tell everyone we do the same thing every year?"
"They are electricity!" Clava throws her notebook down on the table with a smack. "It's perfect."
"Use some imagination, Clava, or did district two burn you out of that?"
"You stupid –"
"You only have an hour!" Cinna insists. "And you had all day yesterday! Here, Septimus," Cinna thrusts his notebook under Septimus' nose.
"What is it?" Clava grabs for the paper, "Let me see!"
"Do your own designing, Clava," Septimus replies with a smile.
"But that is not yours either, is it?" Clava retorts.
Cinna points at her. "It is now."
They turn and jog down the hall away from Clava. Septimus smiles at Cinna and shakes him good naturedly by the shoulder.
"I take it you made this yesterday in case of this firestorm?"
At the parade, Loren rides out with sleek sliver pants, a swirl of neon yellow going down one leg. He wears a matching silver jacket, chest bare, and the yellow accents look like currents of electricity. Perhaps the design is not as eccentric and eye catching as some but at least it is not idiotic. Clava fumbles after wasting time and throws Rea into a tight yellow dress with thigh high boots and a gold crown (matching Loren at least in the theme of yellow and metallic).
"I think that must have come out of her closet," Cinna whispers to Septimus as the chariots roll down the street.
"Oh dear, you're getting into the spirit of the rivalry, aren't you?" Septimus grins.
"Just trying to make you feel better."
The fighting between Septimus and Clava only intensifies during the training and into the day of the interview. Cinna tries to intervene, to make them calm down and focus on their tributes instead of attempting to cut each other down at every opportunity. Cinna worries Rea and Loren will suffer because Septimus and Clava won't be able to spare five minutes to even enter their rooms.
"I am using silver for Rea so you can't -"
"Don't try that, Clava, I can put Loren in whatever color I please!"
Cinna steps closer, considering getting in between them. "Perhaps you should both -"
"No!" Clava puts up a hand. "Shut up!" Then she points at Septimus. "You used silver for the parade anyway and I know you won't repeat."
"Fine!" Septimus crosses his arms. "I won't."
Clava grins. "Perfect. Rea will certainly look far superior in the silver dress I've designed."
"Ha!" Septimus throws up his arm. "'Far superior?' You don't know the meaning of the word."
"I would rather my tribute die at the cornucopia dressed by me than live to be the victor dressed by you!"
"Hey!" Cinna shouts. "They are people!"
Septimus and Clava both turn to stare at him. Cinna puts his hands on his hips and glares at Clava.
"This isn't about which one of you gains more attention, Clava, this is about them!" Cinna points behind him toward the corridor where their rooms lie. "This is about trying to help them just a little bit so maybe they'll survive this madness!"
"Madness?" Clava frowns. "What are you talking about? And why should I even listen to you?"
"Because you are self involved and maybe you should care a bit about your tribute's life. She's a person and so is Loren."
"Oh well!" Clava laughs. "Such a child you are." She turns back to Septimus and points at Cinna. "And another thing, him."
"Oh, don't you try to use you 'patient' tone Septimus, each tribute has a prep team and one stylist and yet here you are with this boy."
"You know very well that Cinna is -"
"Is here to give you an unfair advantage? Oh, I see that!"
"Stop!" Cinna snaps. "Why don't you argue after the games are over? It certainly isn't gaining anything now." Cinna breathes in slowly. "I am going to make sure Loren does not go on stage in his underwear, Septimus." He then points at Clava. "And you should worry about Rea!"
Cinna snatches up the box he brought from the Boutique then turns and stalks down the hallway.
"Going on in his underwear would probably be better!" Clava calls after Cinna.
Cinna knocks on the door and slips into Loren's prep room. Loren sits on a chair hunched over with his forearms on his thighs. He looks up at Cinna, face blank. Cinna holds up the box and attempts to appear encouraging.
"So, I won't be going to my interview in my underwear?"
Cinna shakes his head. "No, you have a suit."
Septimus makes a growling sort of noise out in the parlor again and they hear Clava squawk in reply. Loren sits up straight and sighs.
"Are they always like that?"
"Well..." Cinna rubs his forehead. "It's been building."
"I guess I chose the wrong year to be selected as tribute."
Cinna sighs. "As though there would be a right year?"
Loren stands up. "What does it matter? I'll be dead in a day or a week or two. It's only time now."
Cinna puts down the box and clutches Loren's shoulder. "Don't think like that, Loren. It's your life."
"My life?" Loren chokes out a dry laugh. "My life ended the minute they pulled my name. I'm just a piece in the game now."
Cinna drops his hand. "Well, try to make yourself more than that. You're a person no matter what they try to turn you into."
Loren blinks and seems to finally focus on Cinna's face. "How can I even think like that?"
"It's your life, Loren. Value your life enough to try. You have to try to win because you dodeserve to live."
Loren breathes in slowly and nods at Cinna. Then someone knocks on the door. It cracks open and Septimus pokes his head in.
"Hello." He smiles. "Have no fear; I do intend to do my job."
Cinna raises his eyebrow but Septimus only shakes his head. "Let's get down to it."
The next day after the interviews - Loren keeps a smile in place to talk about his plan to use his brain to get out of any situation in the games - while the tributes are delivered to the arena, Cinna waits beside Alexa and her fellow mentor in front of their small arena screen. Cinna worries still that Loren is so disheartened about the entire thing he won't even try to keep himself alive. Cinna imagines him staying on his circle waiting for someone to cut him down or worse running head long toward some career so they knife him.
"I hate this part," Cinna mutters.
"The waiting or the cornucopia?" Alexa asks.
"Don't you hate the whole thing?"
Cinna turns his head and Alexa stares back. After last year and Mara, Alexa sees him now as an aberration among Capitol citizens. He is one of the few not in love with the games. If only she really knew.
Suddenly, the screens burst to life and the announcer's voice booms above everyone welcoming them to the games as the tributes begin to rise up. The arena appears to be a desert - cactus and rock, sand mixed with hard red earth, no shade to be seen against a blazing sun.
"Wouldn't it be perfect if our tributes were in silver now?" Cinna turns to see Clava beside him.
"Where is Septimus?" Cinna asks.
Clava shrugs. "Oh, I am sure he'll be along. But perhaps it is better he isn't hovering around you at all time to shield you from anyone's prying, isn't it?"
Cinna crosses his arms. "Just what do you mean by that?"
She stares at him and smiles slowly. "Nothing."
Then the count down hits three - all eyes zip around to focus on the arena screen and the shining cornucopia planted in the sand - two, one. The tributes jump off their spots and grapple for backpacks and weapons in a mass of speed. Cinna finds Loren among the chaos as he snatches a bag and throws it over his shoulders. Then he runs, not away from the battle, but through it.
"What is he doing?" Cinna hisses.
"Dying quickly," Clava replies with too much humor.
However, Cinna realizes Loren's aim when he ducks under the arm of another tribute swinging an axe. Loren picks up a clear canteen full of water just as he comes along side Rea. Rea throws a knife straight into the chest of a tribute in their path then the two of them run side by side away from the blood bath.
"Looks like they're more cooperative than you and Septimus," Cinna comments.
"Seems an apt strategy to me." Cinna glances back at Septimus now behind them as he speaks. "They are in a desert after all."
"They are in the arenaafter all," Cinna amends quietly.
The killing continues at the cornucopia for thirty minutes or so, one poor tribute from eleven used as target practice by the careers instead of gaining a quick death. The audience loves it and the betting tables over flow with people putting money down on different careers.
"Star from two to win!"
"No, no, Cash from one! He is a sure thing!"
However, as the hours pass Cinna learns the tributes in the game are not the only ones being watched. Where ever Cinna walks among the people - watching Loren with Alexa or talking with Finnick or just getting a bit of food - Clava follows. She watches him from across the room or somehow ends up standing beside him as he watches the screens.
"You are an odd boy, Cinna." Clava never ceases to try and knock him down a peg by calling him 'boy' or 'kid.' "Where did Septimus find you anyway?"
"It is a very big city, Clava."
"It is." She continues to stare at him. "And yet he finds such a gem among it all?"
"How do you know I didn't find him?"
She snorts. "He wasn't exactly the big thing until a few years ago, was he?"
"Neither are you."
Clava frowns and marches away. Cinna counts that as a 'kill' to his score board.
The actual Hunger Games continue in an increasingly depressing fashion as the search for water becomes the key goal. Five die from thirst during the first few days. Loren and Rea share their two bottles of water, rationing and surviving longer.
"I am not sure they will figure out the cactus," Septimus comments, "there isn't much desert in district five."
Cinna knocks Septimus' arm. "Well, we could send one of them something so they do figure it out."
Septimus shakes his head. "Try selling that to a sponsor. Also, that is not your job."
"Technically my job isn't here at all."
"No," Clava suddenly appears beside the two of them, "no it isn't. So why is he here, Septimus? Hmm?"
"Clava, your continued jealously is a positive light to my day." Septimus smiles, all affection.
"And your ducking of questions is of continued interest to me."
Cinna thinks he should be worried.
After a week Rea and Loren die from hunger. Though Rea figures out how to get water from the cactus, together they make poor survivalists, unable to find adequate food. They last as long as they can on the food in Loren's pack but no further. Alexa and Michael try to encourage sponsors to send food to their failing tributes but neither one appears to be likely to win. They die weak and unconscious instead, faces burnt red under the sun. The only comfort Cinna finds in their situation was at least neither was alone at the end.
"Happy Hunger Games," Septimus says to Cinna.
At the end, Amiee Mast of district four is crowned victor - her experience in spear fishing just as useful to spear lizards and people alike. Cinna finds Finnick at the after party, surrounded by sponsors looking for a handshake or a pat on the back for their 'generosity.' Cinna waits at the edges of the cluster, hoping Finnick will notice him or make an escape.
"Have you come to congratulate me?"
Cinna turns to Finnick suddenly beside him, the little sneak. "Do you want me to?"
"Congratulations on a tribute saved."
"And made a victor." Finnick grins. "She should take to it well, the fame at least. The rest? Well, we'll see."
Cinna raises an eyebrow. "The rest?"
Finnick shakes his head and does not answer. Instead he turns to look at Cinna. He glances around the room once then back.
"So, you're still here?"
Cinna just nods.
"Did you... did you go back to..."
Cinna nods again. "I did."
Cinna sighs and lets his eyes wander over the crowd. "Too much had changed."
Finnick touches Cinna's arm and he turns back to Finnick. "I'm sorry."
"Care for a dance then?" Finnick smirks in his 'public face' way which Cinna is starting to be able to recognize.
"You're just trying to cause a stir again."
Finnick holds out his hand. "It's what these people live on."
After the parties end and the banners come down, people grumbling about a return to 'normal' life, Cinna receives a phone call from Clava.
"I think the two of us should get together for lunch."
"The two of us?"
Clava laughs and through the phone it sounds mechanical. "Why yes! You're not chained to Septimus, are you?"
"You want to have lunch? With me?"
"Oh Cinna," she laughs again and Cinna can see the fake expression through the phone line, "I just feel I don't know enough about you."
Cinna taps the back of the receiver with his fingers. "What do you mean? What more do you need to know?"
"Well, you work with Septimus; I work with Septimus. It makes us colleagues and we should really be on closer terms."
"What is this Clava?"
"What do you mean?" Her tone is all innocence.
"You never wanted to know more about me before? A sudden change of heart?"
"Oh Cinna, it's Septimus and I who fight, not you and I." Then her tone changes and a chill runs up Cinna's spine. "Unless there is something about you which would displease me perhaps?"
"Thank you for the invitation to lunch," Cinna replies quickly, "but I decline." Then he hangs up the phone.
Cinna sinks low into a chair and leans his head back against the edge. He hears foot steps behind him then Septimus comes into his line of sight and sits on a couch.
Septimus slides his hands together and tilts his head. "We may have a problem there."
Cinna scoffs. "I've noticed."
Their problem turns out to be akin to an intelligence attack. Clava visits the shop at least once a week to 'talk' to Cinna, asking questions about jobs before he worked for Septimus or who his friends are in the Capitol or where he went to school or his parent's history. Cinna pushes her off with vague answers or, more often, informs her that he is busy and could she please stop bothering him? Septimus tells Clava time and again through patient words or angry shouts that she should stop inflicting her presence on his place of business.
Cinna knows they're acting guilty and he knows it only increases Clava's interest but what else can he do? He obviously will not tell her the truth and making up lie after lie will end up a disaster.
"She has to give up eventually," Septimus reasons; "She has probably looked you up in the main citizen directory and there she would find all the 'proper' information about your citizenship."
"I don't think she's the kind to just give up."
Septimus frowns and cuts a ribbon with as much violence as his scissors can muster. "She has to."
Then, finally, Clava comes to the shop just as they are closing, Misty and Lilac already gone home for the night. She walks past the 'closed' sign straight into the shop. In her hand she holds a roll of paper and from the smile on her face Cinna knows he is finished.
"It all makes sense now." She waves the roll of paper slowly around in the air. "The mysterious background, appearing out of nowhere, the lack of fashion sense."
"I have fashion sense not your fashion extravagance."
"All the more lacking for you and it is no wonder." She grins, bright blue lips against her pale powdered skin and long feathered eye lashes. "District eight."
Suddenly the door to the back room opens and closes behind Cinna. He hears Septimus' foot steps then his sudden stop.
"Septimus, Septimus, Septimus, what a surprise to learn of what you've been up to!"
"Ah, I see. Cost you a lot to get into the expunged records, did it?"
Clava smiles more. "Nothing disappears," She cocks her head and wiggles the paper. "There is always a way!"
Septimus steps up beside Cinna, hands behind his back. "What's your plan then Clava? Expose Cinna? Expose me?"
"Oh, certainly. I want to ruin you." She glares at Septimus and points between the two of them. "Both of you."
"What good will it do, Clava? It won't make you a more popular stylist or change your district in the games. All it will do is ruin my life and Cinna's."
"Maybe that's enough for me." She smiles, face like a viper.
"Clava," Cinna admonishes, "You don't need to do this."
"But I wantto!" She steps forward and unrolls the paper. "I want to show everyone you've been leaning on this boy from the districts, Septimus, and you've broken the law by bringing him here, hiding who he really is. I want to watch you crumble!" Then she points to Cinna. "And I want you sent back where you belong!"
"How are you so vindictive?" Cinna shouts, real fear starting to seep in.
Cinna dislikes many things about the Capitol but he does not have a death wish. He does not want to become an avox or worse. Cinna knows mere expulsion back to district eight would not cut it. And what would happen to Septimus?
"And why are you here?" Septimus breaks in before Clava can make another speech. "If you wanted to ruin me then why not just go to the council? The peacekeepers? Why not just throw us in the boiling water?'
Clava shrugs. "I suppose I wanted to see your face, Septimus."
"Gloat..." Cinna whispers, his mouth dry.
"Maybe give you a chance to beg," Clava adds with a sneer.
"Give me the paper." Septimus holds out his hand.
Clava laughs, high and shrill and it sounds like death. "Are you serious?"
"Give it to me." Cinna glances side long at Septimus because he has never heard Septimus' voice so still and hard. "Now."
Clava frowns. "I don't think so. I paid quite a bit for this piece of paper."
"Would you pay again if I took it?"
"Don't you threaten me, Septimus."
"You've threatened us!"
Impulsively Cinna reaches forward, attempting to grab the paper while Clava is distracted by Septimus. His finger tips touch the edge of the paper but Clava jerks it away.
"Enough you..." her face morphs into one of disgust, "you district trash! Don't think I won't cheer to see the both of you strung up and left to hang. I will certainly see it! Prepare your epitaphs, gentlemen."
She turns to leave but Septimus and Cinna lunge for her in one motion. Septimus grabs her arm and Cinna yanks at the paper. Clava spins with surprise pulling all three of them off balance. Cinna slips and Clava hangs on the paper, holding it high above her head. Septimus pulls her forward, away from the door.
"Give it to me!"
"Let me go!" She hits Septimus in the face with her other hand, the paper fluttering to the floor.
Septimus groans and loses his grip on her arm. They both stumble and Cinna dives for the paper. He hits the floor and snatches up the paper, ready to rip it or run in the other direction. Clava sees him and leaps over Septimus, heels and all, inches away from Cinna. Septimus grabs her ankle and she falls, knocking Cinna down with her, and tugging Septimus along.
"You can't stop me!" Clava shouts, nails clawing at Cinna's arms. "Give it to me!"
"Stop!" Cinna shouts.
Septimus tugs and pulls her off Cinna. She flips over and shoves Septimus hard in the chest so he knocks back and slams into the check out counter knocking a supply box to the floor with a crash. Septimus gasps in pain and lets her go. Cinna jumps up and staggers back, paper tight in his hand.
"Give that back!" Clava growls, lips pulled up like a snarl. "I willexpose you and you can't stop me."
She jumps forward and fists her hands in Cinna's shirt. Her long nails rip his shirt and dig into his skin so Cinna cries out. This cannot be happening. Suddenly, Septimus appears behind her again and pulls her off Cinna, throwing her to the floor with one hand.
"Don't touch him!" Septimus screams.
"You are both dead!" Clava leaps to her feet and lunges for Septimus.
Abruptly she stops in the middle of her momentum as if she hit a glass wall. Cinna stares, waits for her to spring to life again. Then Cinna sees the long scissors in Septimus' hand plunged full in Clava's chest. Clava and Septimus share the same shocked expression, eyes locked on each other. Then Septimus pulls back and Clava collapses to the floor.
Neither Septimus nor Cinna move for a long moment then Septimus drops the scissor and stares down at his hands.
"This is regrettable."
Cinna touches Septimus' shoulder. "Septimus, step back, come on."
"Hmm," Septimus turns to Cinna, "I am having an odd moment of irony."
Septimus smiles without humor. "Scissors."
Cinna blinks. "What?"
"Those scissors which I use to design for the Hunger Games, a thing which always leads to blood and death, and now I here I am using them far more literally."
"Septimus, sit down."
Septimus and Cinna step back and sit on the bottom step of the spiral stairs a few feet away from where Clava lies. Septimus breathes slowly and stares at his hands. Blood coats four of his fingers and drips slowly onto his pants. Cinna pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and hands to Septimus.
"Everything you always said about the Games, Cinna," Septimus whispers. "I know this isn't the same but I suppose I understand a bit more."
"About how insane we here in the Capitol can be. So intent upon power we'll ruin each other's lives. Ruin the lives of other people without even thinking about that cost."
"She could have even done worse than ruin us."
"I meant what I did to you, Cinna," Septimus wipes the blood off his hand, "when I took you away from your family."
Cinna stiffens and feels an ache in his heart. He sighs quietly. "Septimus you didn't -"
"I didn't think? No. When I watched those games, saw your sister's dress and learned about you, all I thought of was what attention you could bring to me; what your new designs would do to further my name and advance my position. I did not think about how it would change your life."
"It's too late now, Septimus. You can't change any of that."
Septimus sighs. "I never thought that... I never thought you would..." Septimus sighs again and tosses the now red handkerchief to the floor.
"You didn't think you'd... care."
Septimus and Cinna turn to each other then Septimus nods. "I neverthought I'd care about you so much."
Cinna laughs once. "Surprise."
Septimus laughs as well and shakes his head. "You're quite the trouble, aren't you?"
"Do you have any siblings?" Cinna asks suddenly.
Septimus tilts his head and smiles a fraction. "I had a sister, parents as well, in case you were in doubt of where Capitol citizens come from."
Cinna raises his eyebrows with mock surprise then continues. "Were you always a designer?"
"I started out with hats."
Cinna furrows his eyebrows. "Hats?"
"It was a phase."
"What is your real hair color?"
Septimus chuckles. "Red."
"I said 'real' not preferred."
"No, no, it is red, natural red though, more like carrot."
Cinna peers at Septimus' hair, black with silver high lights at the moment, and tries to picture plain red hair - red like Blake back in district eight. "Maybe you should let it go back to that sometime."
Septimus leans back against the steps and only smiles. Then he looks sidelong at Clava, completely still on the floor with her blue jacket turning reddish brown.
"How did this happen…" Septimus mutters.
Cinna stares at Septimus, somehow now the closest person in his life.
"I care about you too, Septimus." Cinna says abruptly. Septimus jerks his head around and Cinna smiles. "I didn't expect it either. Plus, it seems like now you've saved my life."
"Balancing effect I suppose, kidnap you then save you?"
They smile at each other. Cinna almost laughs at the absurdity of such an emotional moment after one of violence; high emotion breeds high emotion. Cinna reaches out and grasps Septimus' hand, squeezing once. Septimus squeezes Cinna's hand back.
Then Septimus breaks their bond and says, "I do believe we have another pressing matter at the moment to deal with." They both turn and look to the floor again. It seems unreal. "Go ahead, Cinna." Septimus stands up. "You are my family now and I take care of family."
"I'm your fa…"
Septimus smiles. "For a long time, Cinna, you know that. Now go."
Cinna hesitates a moment but at Septimus' expression he only nods and creeps back upstairs to the apartment. Septimus does not tell Cinna what he does with Clava's body and Cinna does not ask.
The investigation into Clava's disappearance lasts for a month. Friends and her few relations are interviewed.
"We don't associate outside of the game, I'm afraid." Septimus tells them. "I am little help."
A fashion rival gains head suspicion - Bilus Morden who wanted to buy out her shop - as well as her avox servant. However, no conclusive evidence of murder or reason as to her disappearance emerges and the case falls into 'unsolved.' Less people care than Cinna feared. He should be pleased but he also feels sad Clava should garner such so little response.
"Do not pity her now, Cinna," Septimus advises, "she would have done worse to us."
So, for once, Cinna decides not to care.
At the 73rd Hunger Games, Septimus allows Cinna to design the dress for their tribute's interview. Cinna makes her a long tight gown which poufs at the very bottom around her ankles - off white fabric with hints of gold that compliment her short blond hair. The dress climbs all the way up to her neck and leaves her shoulders exposed. Cinna leaves a large circle in the back, sweeping low just above her hips so her strong muscles can be seen and the points of her shoulder blades. Cinna includes a stripe of gold embroidery over the white curving around her neck then crossing over her chest and curling low around the back until it comes around the front again near her feet - a jagged, spiky line like the path of a firework. She smiles proudly through her interview, the epitome of confidence and in the dress she is a goddess.
Her strength from years of climbing tall electricity towers keeps her alive in the games for a full week and a half, even killing one tribute by throwing a knife into his chest. But she dies when the Gamemakers decide to add some spice to the game and cause a rock slide from the towering mountains which fill half the arena.
After the games many of the stylists and, even some of the Gamemakers, ask Septimus about his riveting dress, a splendid and innovative design.
Septimus says, "As a matter of face my protégée designed that dress, Cinna Bell."
When Cinna comes to the 74th Hunger Games as a stylist all in his own right - "new blood, an amazing choice, one so very young, superb talent" the Gamekeepers say - they assign him district nine. However, by the time the tributes arrive in the Capitol, Cinna walks down the halls to present his design ideas to the girl tribute from district twelve.
[Cinna watches the reapings among the other stylists and suddenly the name 'Primrose Everdeen' is called for district twelve. Cinna watches Katniss Everdeen shove her sister away from the stage and shout, "I volunteer!" Cinna flies back in time - his sister marched to the stage, no one to volunteer for her, Cinna wishing he could save his little sister. There is Katniss, everything Cinna wished he could have been so many, many years ago.
Katniss could be the one to end all of this. Cinna can feel it.
Cinna walks from the viewing room and finds his way to Seneca Crane. He asks, "I would like to request district twelve."]